Image by Pedro Roque

Art is Hard: bbb hairdryer and the State of the Scene

On a Thursday night in Club B.Leza, singer and guitarist Elisa Guerra and bassist Francisco Couto stand with their backs turned to the crowd, facing drummer Miguel Gomes as their audience thickens and quiets in anticipation. Before long, bbb hairdryer is at full throttle, pushing songs through B.leza’s speakers that are just as much harsh noise pieces as they are melodic alt-rock anthems. Guerra’s guitar spends the set in the depths of distortion hell where it cries and creaks under the lashings of her chaotic strumming hand, while Couto and Gomes push their instruments to the limits of speed and volume. Guerra and Couto rarely break their circle with Gomes, always huddling together at the back of the stage as if exchanging secrets they don’t want the audience to hear. The crowd hears it all anyways, and meets Elisa Guerra’s howls with their own energy that turns the floor into a sea of head-nodding movement. 

Image by CRUZ

That night, all three members of bbb hairdryer played as though their lives depended on it. They performed for a practically full club on the banks of the Tagus, their debut record is getting air time on FM radio, and they’re booking more concerts than they ever have before. 

Despite all these marks of success, each of them still had to go to work in days following their July 27 show at B.Leza. 

Alternative music in Lisbon and Portugal at large is made out of passion, and any hopes for quitting the day job are, for the vast majority of Lisbon artists, quickly dashed. 

“You can’t make a living out of it. The scene is hard,” Couto says some days after the concert. “Pretty much everyone from the scene has a full-time or part-time [job].”

Image by nëss

Guerra, Gomes, and Couto seem to have all the proficiency, passion, and ingenuity that should be needed to make it as a successful band. They’ve all been making and writing music since childhood; Guerra and Couto have been playing together since high school, and Gomes has been involved with various groups and projects in Lisbon for many years. bbb hairdryer’s debut LP, 2022’s Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix: pretty generic radio pop with a few fucks and edgelord lyrics, is a triumph of DIY recording. Guerra worked with other musicians, before Gomes and Couto joined the fold, to craft a powerfully personal record. The album’s 10 tracks vary in style and substance from soft, self-aware murmurings to explosive sonic fights against crisis and hardship. Whether she is whispering or screaming, Guerra’s voice and musicianship reaches out to the sentimental and misunderstood hearts of kids who have a complicated relationship with themselves and their hometowns. Although at times starkly different in delivery, favoring walls of distortion and DIY simplicity over melodic choruses and finger-tapped riffs, Guerra’s record finally does for Lisbon what emo revival bands like Cursive and American Football did for the American Midwest over 20 years ago.

Despite not joining until after the release of Kingdom Hearts…, Couto and Gomes fleshed out Guerra’s project into a bonafide group, incomplete without the totality of its members. New music written and recorded by this complete lineup is on the way, but these things are difficult when so much time and energy has to be put towards paying the bills. bbb hairdryer is part of a flourishing DIY music scene in Lisbon, full of talent and passion but lacking in funding or even fair pay. 

Image by Pedro Roque

“There’s a lot of creative people in Lisbon. There’s a lot of things going on, a lot of projects,” says Couto. “It’s not that hard to keep the scene going, but no one gets a good paycheck.”

It is a strange thing to hear your songs on the radio and still be working in a bar or behind a computer for rent and food money. It’s not exactly the rockstar lifestyle that young musicians envision. 

“When I was a kid I thought that, at this level, we would be making money for this shit,” Couto says. 

“I never thought I would be playing at ZDB. Never,” adds Guerra. 

The story is the same, even in the upper echelons of the Lisbon scene. 

“We have a friend who is the vocalist of a really established band, and he washes dishes at my work, and he literally has a Golden Globe for writing. Even the people who make it are cleaning dishes at the fucking bars,” Guerra says.

Image by Pedro Roque

It’s not just about paying the bills, either. Guerra, Couto, and Gomes are all at the mercy of their day jobs when it comes to finding time to practice, record, and perform. Usually, their busy schedules only converge once a week. “If there’s one day we can’t rehearse,” says Couto, “we can’t rehearse for two weeks. If we’re trying to make an album, we’re trying to rehearse to fucking play live… I don’t know how you find time for that. It’s really tough. This year, pretty much all of my holidays are going towards rehearsing, playing, recording.”

Despite the odds being stacked against them, bbb hairdryer keeps going, just like many of the other brightest lights in Lisbon’s music scene. There is something that keeps them in the practice room, and keeps pushing them back up on stage where they work their bodies past their limits. Guerra seems to exorcize herself on stage, throwing her voice into the microphone with a shocking power that seems to envelope the entire venue. At one show, Guerra says, “I left in the second to last song because my vision was getting blurry. And I’m not even getting paid for this shit.”

Image by CRUZ

The money isn’t there, but to Guerra, Gomes, and Couto, it’s still better than not making music at all. 

“Most of the time it feels like you’re doing this for nothing,” says Guerra.Besides, well, I really like these dudes. It’s fun, you like it. You wouldn’t be doing it if you didn’t like it.” 

You can listen to bbb hairdryer on Bandcamp or Spotify, and buy Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix: pretty generic radio pop with a few fucks and edgelord lyrics here. Catch the band live at MIL Lisboa on September 28, or at Galeria Zé do Bois on October 14. Follow them on Instagram at @bbbhairdryer for updates on new music and show dates.

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