It’s 5am and you’re sat on a wooden box painted to look like a coffin in the middle of a muddy garden drinking a can of Carrefour beer. To your left there’s a group of people clapping and singing flamenco; to your right, a gaggle of punks huddled around a threadbare sofa.
This was the scenario we found ourselves in last weekend after we unwittingly stumbled upon L’Eskombrera – a CSO (Centro social ocupado, or squat house) in the vegetable fields around Benimaclet, Valencia. The huge building, which was probably once used as an alquería or farm house, lies at the end of a dark, narrow road near the Benimaclet cemetery – just to make things that little bit more weird. Crossing the threshold we were treated to a mixture of flamenco and drum and bass playing in the rudimentary bar area, accompanied by strobe lighting that would no doubt induce an epileptic fit for any sufferer daring to enter. Stroll through the crowded building, past other attendees drinking, dancing or in drug-induced stupors -and a barricaded staircase leading to the upper rooms of the house- to enter the large «garden». Odd chairs, make-shift tables and worn out sofas as well as strange sculptures and wild shrubbery populate the empty space – which may or may not be the reason why this particular casa okupa (everything is more punk in Spain if you write it with a K, alright?) is dubbed The Tip.
Just like many dumping grounds that you may have frequented, L’Eskombrera boasts an old porcelain toilet – it is not connected to the plumbing and is partially hidden behind a couple of hanging sheets in the corner of the garden. Yes, this is the bathroom.
But aside from that, the highlight of the evening was probably all the bizarre conversation. The main characters included a large, rawcous man named Coca-Colo who kept trying to assert his status as top squat dog, a Polish boy who demanded to know exactly what the British think about all the Polish immigrants in the UK and a gobby, gesticulating punk. Now imagine all that under a haze of marijuana smoke to the back drop of a flamenco-drum and bass melange and you’ll get a good visual of the night as a whole.
It was a memorable evening to say the least and led us to think about other squats we’ve been to in Spain over recent years. Underground, cheap and community driven, squatted houses are becoming more and more common. Those which open to the public are called CSOs (centro social ocupado), CSOAs (the A standing for autogestionado or anarquista) or CSAs (perhaps not squatted but self-managed) and often charge no entrance fee, open until late and sell cheap beer.
While not attempting to pose as avid squat goers, we at Sepia central have been to a couple. And, spurred on by our night at L’Eskombrera, decided to share with you some of our favourites:
This casa okupa on the Cabanyal beach front was my first ever experience with a Valencian squat. It was late on 23rd June 2011 and Valencia’s Malvarrosa beach was teeming with people celebrating San Juan. Bonfires, botellón, chinese lanterns and wave jumping sums up this yearly fiesta celebrated on the shortest night of the year. It just so happened that that year Proyecto Mayhem also put on a San Juan fiesta of their own, including drinks offers and live punk bands -which was commonplace most weekends- made possible because of being illegally connected to the electric and water grid since 2006. A stage occupied the far wall of this open-plan, garage-like space, with a bar lining the left hand wall. Mayhem is sadly no longer operating due to part of the building falling down in late 2013, but their Facebook is still put to good use advertising activities in CSOA Horta.
Located on the eastern edge of Benimaclet, CSOA Horta offers more cultural-based activities such as film screenings, debates, free workshops, horticulture, bike repair, a library and jam sessions. It also regularly appears in events publication Benimaclet Entra because of the wide range of activites that it hosts. The general message the collective in charge want to transmit is that they’re tired of opression, controls and discrimination and prefer to create an empowering, profit-free space as far away as possible from the constraints of the current climate. If you’re angry at the current state of affairs, indignado and have cultural and community-based interests, then this is your place, man.
CSA La Residencia sits nestled in the middle of a block of terraced houses, tucked away on a lonely road on the southern edge of Valencia. It is slightly different to the other places mentioned here as it does seem to have a more organized and controlled vibe. Proper lighting, a fully functioning bar (beer on tap – not just cans of Steinburg) and a state-of-the-art portaloo – this venue goes one step further in facilities and hygiene; the King of the squats or clandestine bars, if you will. Despite trying to keep the venue on a bit of a down-low so as to avoid it becoming too busy and «mainstream», La Resi often hosts top notch gigs. Last December indie-post-hardcore giants Nueva Vulcano played a sold out show in the bunker-like concert room, accessed by peeling back the heavy black curtain that separates it from the bar area. The small capacity limit means that gigs here are much more intimate than those at any of Valencia’s more popular venues – and this is something that the owners of La Resi are trying to protect.
Primarily putting on rock shows, La Residencia is the perfect place to catch bands from the both the Spanish and Valencian underground. This Saturday 15th November sees a gig in honour of La Residencia’s fifth birthday, featuring Valencian electro-rockers Siesta! and Madrid pop-punks Biznaga. More info here.
Back to the world of the more textbook squat: a friend of mine once stayed at a flat in Barcelona’s Born neighbourhood and came home with some very interesting stories to the tune of communal drug funds, old fridges being used as wardrobes, discarded mattresses and walls full of drug-fuelled dawbings and graffiti. One of the most memorable moments was ‘medicine time’ where one of the residents walked around with a tray of drugs and distributed them to everyone in the room. My friend then got really high and completely paranoid about a painted goat on the wall that she was convinced was staring at her. Ultimately, the lovely folk who lived there let my friends stay «gratix» and showed them a hell of a good time.
Feel free to make your own assumptions about squats but, talking from experience, they’re likely to be full of interesting and generous people. Despite being generally seedy and strange looking on the surface, these casas okupas more often than not welcome people who have nowhere else to go – and are also usually just the ticket for those looking for ‘un after‘ when the normal bars have kicked out.
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