Radio show host and record label founder Maria Elisa Gomez on her childhood in the middle of the Amazon, London squat parties and her new hometown Barcelona
Interview by Britta Burger
I always knew I was going to end up being something creative, a writer or a fashion designer or an artist, and if you see my school yearbook page it says “I’m going to study Art, Literature and Cinema” (I didn’t end up doing any of those, but you get the idea).
I grew up in a tiny Colombian village in the middle of the Amazon, and despite it not being all tree houses or canoes it was a pretty special place to grow up. Having the freedom to move around on my own and be surrounded by all kinds of people was a big influence. Having said that, by the age of 12 I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
After I finished high school in Bogota I decided to take a gap year and go to London for 8 months. I ended up living there for 7 years. I fell in love with the place from the moment I arrived there, there wasn’t one moment when I felt like being somewhere else.
I didn’t know anyone in the beginning and spent the first few years going to random parties, meeting people, having weird jobs… In the 7 years I lived there I moved about 25 times and changed jobs just as many times. I studied English but that got boring fast so I did art and literature courses and then art and fashion for a year, but I couldn’t afford to go to Uni so I just learned everything from working in different places. I never wanted normal jobs, so I found jobs that were as flexible as I needed them to be.
I started taking pictures with a small digital camera, I felt the need to document absolutely everything that was going on around me; the people, the parties, the everyday experiences I had. Eventually I bought a digital SLR and just kept photographing everything. I also started taking gig photography a bit more seriously and built up a pretty good archive of not-technically-perfect-but-intense gig photos.
I’ve always found it hard to decide on only one thing I want to do. I’ve done music writing, photography, styling, graphic design, journalism, video…
People who have one passion or talent are lucky since they know what they want and where they’re going. These people are rare.
I’ve tried my hand at everything. Now that I’m older I can see that each of those things has given me different skills that allow me to do pretty much anything I put my mind to nowadays.
Having to move to Spain was one of the toughest times of my life. I stopped taking photos for a long time, and when I finally started again my work was a lot more introspective. In London it was all about the people that surrounded me and my crazy life, in Spain it was the tiny corners of my room, or the light that came through my window, or self portraits. I felt like my life here could never be as amazing as it was in London. As years have gone by (I’m now on my fifth year in Spain) I’ve made lots of friends, been involved in great projects and found whole new ways to feel inspired, and inspire people too, which gives me even more satisfaction.
A few years back I decided to finally go to Uni and studied photography for three years. As my technical prowess grew my desire to take pictures went away. Nowadays I only use film on an Olympus mju that I take out with me to gigs. At some point I will go back to photography and do some kind of exhibition with all the random pictures I’ve taken over the years.
My radio show Hao! started off as a Halloween party where I got bands to dress up and play Halloween-themed covers. A year later I started doing a radio show where I basically played music I liked, stuff that no one was playing anywhere else. It slowly gained a local following and has become a way of championing the local scene and exposing people to amazing international music. Hao! recently became Hao!Discos, a record label, our first releases are from two cool Barcelona bands. Most of my time is spent between the radio show and the record label, but I also play guitar and sing in bands that never rehearse, and during the day work at Hercules Universal, a men’s fashion magazine.
My favorite bands at the moments are obviously the two bands I’m releasing: Piñata and Son Bou . Other Spanish bands that are worth checking out are Za!, Aliment, Mujeres, Morenas… Bands I have on repeat at the moment are The Splits, Dune Rats, Bos Angeles, Vacation, Digital Leather, Splashh, Plant Parenthood, Keel Her… I’d say go to the bands page on my blog.
Barcelona is really different to London. The weather and the beach make for a much more relaxed lifestyle. It’s easier to live on less money or less hours of work, but there isn’t such frenetic activity in terms of art, culture and music.
It’s gotten tougher for any kind of subculture to survive but there are a lot of people doing really cool things and trying to keep the city alive despite the government’s efforts to make Barcelona a tourist playground.
Skate is big over here. I have lots of friends who skate and there’s a constant stream of people coming from all over the world just for the spots in Barcelona, also for the bars and the whole culture around it. I don’t really see a lot of girl skaters, or not in the usual spots like Macba, where it’s more about showing off.
Spain is messed up in terms of the economy and the politics. It’s hard to find jobs and there’s a lot less money going around, but since most of the people around me have always had unusual jobs or don’t have mortgages, we don’t really feel the crisis as much as the people who are being laid off their lifetime jobs with loans to pay and families to maintain.
I squatted during my last two years in London. We lived in an old antiques market, a motorcycle showroom, an abandoned flat and a big house in South London which became known as Squallyoaks, infamous for the parties and gigs we hosted there. Every day felt like an adventure in those empty spaces we temporarily called home. Out of our group of writers, musicians, artists and freaks there’s only one person left who still squats. We would have never had the chance to live in the way we did if the new squatting laws were in place at the time. Criminalising squatting is not the way forward, most squatters are just looking to make use of disused buildings as an alternative way of living. And I’m all for that.