Obituary for Enrique Sierra: A Pillar of 1980s Spanish Musical Innovation

Enrique Sierra on MotorcycleEnrique Sierra, Radio Futura guitarist, seated on a motorcycle. Photo by Carlos Yague.

Obituary for Enrique Sierra: A Pillar of 1980s Spanish Musical Innovation
The Radio Futura guitarist was coauthor of generational hymns like Escuela de calor
He was one of the most active members of the “Madrid Scene”
El País: Muere Enrique Sierra, pilar de la innovación musical de los ochenta
Iñigo López Palacios reporting from Madrid February 17, 2012

The career of Enrique Sierra, who died yesterday in San Carlos clinical hospital in Madrid at age 54 of complications from a long renal infection, will always be linked with Radio Futura. Even though the group broke up in 1992. Even though he won Latin Grammys in 2002 and 2004 as a sound engineer for Rosario Flores. Even though he recorded discs with groups like Los Ventiladores and Klub (in which he reunited with his old friend Luis Auserón. Even though in 2007 he founded the music site 127.es with the idea of legally providing free music, text, images, and videos in a digital format. That name, 127, was also what he used for a children’s music project he developed his wife Pilar Román. All that was still overshadowed by the twelve years in which his steel guitar was part of Radio Futura.

The sound he developed was that fundamental to the group’s songs. It was the punk crest on their image. The project that would become one of the essential bands in the history of Spanish rock was put into motion by the brothers Luis and Santiago Auserón at the end of the seventies. Sierra came over from Kaka de Luxe (Deluxe Poop), a seminal group of the Madrid Scene which also featured Carlos Berlanga, Fernando Márquez, El Zurdo, and Olvido Gara (also known as Alaska).

After that band dissolved in 1978, each one of its members went his own way. That was when Enrique came to Radio Futura to stay. For years, the band had been swerving about in search of its own sound. Its members later admitted that their first disc, Música moderna, put them on a path that wasn’t their own. Their company, Hispavox, had tried to convert them into a band for youth, with terrible results. All that changed when they recorded La estatua del Jardín botánico (The Statue in the Botanical Garden), a historic song that is fundamental to understanding the success of Spanish Pop in the 80s. Released as a single in 1982 (Rompeolas (Breakwater) was the B-side), this song marked the road they would follow.

They had had to reinvent themselves with a sound that at that time was defined as experimental rock, although three decades later their songs sound like authentically timeless hymns. Regardless, it was in that context that they published Radio Futura’s first disc as a foursome in ’84. La ley del desierto/La ley del mar (The Law of the Desert/The Law of the Sea) included another of their fundamental songs, Escuela de calor (School of Heat – video above the fold), a catchy canción and an immediate hit which was guided by Enrique Sierra’s guitar. Another of the singles from that disc was Semilla negra (Black Seed), which rested on the bases of what would come to be known as Latin Rock.

If anything defined Radio Futura’s run, it was the extreme seriousness with which they approached their work and their constant investigation of new genres. Their searches, contrary to what usually happens, coincided with the changing tastes of the public. Each new album – De un país en llamas (From a Country in Flames) in 1985, La canción de Juan Perro (The Song of Juan Perro (or Dog)) in 1987, the live album Escuela de calor (School of Heat) in 1989, and Veneno en la piel (Venom in the Skin) in 1990, which would be the band’s farewell – took them farther away from their New Wave roots and toward a Latin sound.

As the band’s turns widened, the tension within the band increased as well. Their spending increased as much as their revenue did. Enrique Sierra’s health also suffered. Two decades ago, he had his first kidney transplant, and some time later he had a second. Those close to him said yesterday that aggravations from complications of this operation caused his death. In recent years, Sierra had diversified his artistic career: his digital paintings can be seen on his web site, which is still active.

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