Malasaña will always be characterised by its admittedly heroic past. In the 19th century it was the stage to revolts against Napoleonic troops; in fact some streets, like the one from which the neighbourhood takes its name, the streets Daoiz and Velarde and Plaza del 2 de Mayo are still striving to uphold that memory. During the 40-year dictatorship the University district, as the neighbourhood is officially known, was obscured by Francoist repression and it was not until the arrival of the democracy that the it became the epitome of underground culture. All of a sudden all that had been buried by the dictatorship broke free rapidly and spontaneously. Some of the most prominent examples of culture of that time began dropping by: Lou Reed, Ramones, Warhol and Siouxie came to Malasaña not unlike Camden town, playing in Madrid’s venues alongside still amateurish bands like Radio Futura, Alaska y Dinarama and Aviador Dro. All this boosted Madrid’s transformation into the centre of alternative culture during the early 80s.
In the decades following the tumultuous 80s the neighbourhood experienced a decline that pushed it to the margins and brought to an end a process that sank it into a limbo between what it was and what it would be. Its streets were dirty, its walls cracked, and venues like La Vía Láctea or la Sala Sol lost their importance. The area got stigmatised with prostitution and drugs.
Today the panorama is different, and the concerns are elsewhere. Malasaña’s streets, complex and irregular, invite us again to enjoy an aimlessness that leads to chance encounters with certain places that tend to disappear. The subversive spirit of the 80s with the decrepit aesthetic that followed have turned the neighbourhood into a bastion that resists the new image Madrid is trying to project. Turning a corner you might come across surprising works of street art, many of which have been made by artists whose creative roots are on these streets. ElTono, 3ttman, Borondo, Remed and Nuria Mora have all contributed to the rebirth of the neighbourhood during the last 10 years. Malasaña has gone from being the cradle of the crazy 80s to once again symbolising art focused on the street, picking up the most radical proposals of situationism, punk, graffiti and counter-advertising.
The streets La Palma, Fuencarral and Plaza del 2 de Mayo form a nucleus which offers the most alternative entertainment in Madrid, with some of the city’s most noteworthy venues such as Taboó, The Maderfaker and the legendary Vía Láctea, and a commercial hub with The Fuencarral Market as the focal point.
But if we centre around the westernmost part of the neighbourhood, between San Bernando street, plaza de España and Alberto Aguilera street, we can find Madrid at its most artistic. This carries, if possible, an even greater importance since there are hardly any institutional buildings of the kind: no contemporary art museums of any relevance, just the ABC Museum of Drawing and Illustration, too young to be seen as defining the spirit of the neighbourhood. What makes the area special is the proliferation of studios and workshops of artists based there and the resulting trail of art they leave behind. In a dark and narrow little space in Noviciado street there is a workshop where some of the most important artists of Madrid’s past and present have come together. Noviciado9 has hosted ElTono, 3ttman, Nano 4814, Spok, Remed and Luciano Suárez. Nowadays they represent the prime examples of European urban art, though 10 years ago, brought together by Erasmus grants, none would have believed it. A few streets up we can come upon Boamistura, a collective which works around the world bringing colour to everyday life.
The union of nostalgia for the 80s, the re-emergence of places like Madrid Me Mata, which try to revive the Movement, and the fresh spirit of the alternative vanguard are the true attractions that make a visit to Malasaña a unique experience for those seeking a unique experience.