Rolling in the Fire of Spain’s Ilegales
July 10, 2018 | by James Greene, Jr.
There’s a very specific burn to Ilegales (Illegals), the 1983 debut LP from the Spanish rock group of the same name. It’s a gently tense heat, romantically searing, and it rises mostly from leader Jorge Martinez’s astringent guitar and voice. The album has a dream-like feel overall, even when it nakedly incorporates elements of ska, rockabilly, jazz, and traditional domestic sounds. Not that Ilegales is without levity — “Problema Sexual” lurches around a (purposely?) goofball chant of “ah, ooh ah!” as Martinez complains: “Tengo un problema… problema sexual… me gusta ver la televisión” (“I have a problem… a sexual problem… I like watching television”).
Ilegales were founded in 1977 by Martinez, his brother Juan Carlos on bass, and drummer David Alonso under the name Madson in the northern principality of Asturias. The trio changed their moniker to Los Metálicos (the Metallic) before ultimately settling on Ilegales. The Ciudad de Oviedo Rock Contest in 1981 is where these three won the opportunity to cut their music in a real studio. A year later, Hi-Fi Electronic released Ilegales and it proved popular enough to be swept up for re-release in 1984 by Epic Records. Carlos was gone by the time of the first record, though, replaced by Íñigo Ayestarán.
Audiences in Spain hooked into the passionate landscape of Ilegales. However, the record was not without controversy. The cover painting is The Suicide by Ouka Leele, which depicts a man in despair aiming a gun at his own head. It might be the clearest signal that Ilegales found their footing via punk rock — no group with commercial aim in the early ‘80s would lead with imagery this grim. Time heals most artistic infamy, though. Today The Suicide is regarded as an iconic symbol of Spanish rock music.
More concrete and widespread strife erupted over the seventh song on Ilegales, “¡Heil Hitler!” The lyrics outline another punk lament directed at hippies, condemning the peace and love generation for growing too obstinate and leaping to the most extreme, damning comparison. Naturally, Ilegales have had to clarify they aren’t Fourth Reich many times over the years.
“The hippies had become everything they criticized,” Martinez wrote in response to an email inquiry about “¡Heil Hitler!” “[They were] tremendously dogmatic, staunch supporters of the unique thought and therefore enemies of all freedom… [punk rock] seemed hateful to them, mainly because it represented a novelty. Nothing new should disturb the hippie universe.
“I wrote the song… because I knew that hippies would be furious. The Sex Pistols also used the same ingredients in England with similar results. [It] worked perfectly at the time although today [it] probably would not work in the same way. People are not so naive anymore, they have seen and heard too many things.
“Besides, the hippies have vanished!”
Ilegales, on the other hand, have not. The group continued to release albums at a steady clip through the remainder of the ‘80s, the entirety of the 1990s, and they march on through the new millennium. These days they’re often lauded as one of Spain’s greatest rock acts and it isn’t hard to figure out how they built such a legacy when rolling in the fire of their 1983 debut.