Today, Julia Barea is back on the local music scene, her image revamped, her name shortened to the initials JB, her style rebranded as electropop, and her songs a feel-good mix of lively easy-listening with a sprinkle of food for thought, her message a positive zest for life.
With her track ‘Out of my Head’ – the Michael Crome remix, Julia points out – featuring regularly in the Radio Gibraltar playlist, JB is portraying her fresh-faced, bubbly, summery, relaxed approach to music, and the reason she composes it: “I want my music to be upbeat, make you feel happy and want to dance. As soon as my song comes up, I’d like you to leave your seats and start hopping, bopping, and shaking it. I want to transmit joy and energy to my audience,” Julia says.
She is a fan of Sigala and Jax Jones’ style of deejaying and singing, describing it as ‘mainstream house’, happy-go-lucky floor fillers layered with meaning and technique, if you analyse lyrics and arrangements with in-the-know ear.
“I’d like you to start hopping, bopping, and shaking it.”
“Sigala is a classical pianist by training and he went into deejaying with that background. I admire his work and went to watch him live three times, one here in Gibraltar at a past music festival.” Julia appreciates and relates to the star’s expertise in creating contemporary music on the basis of his classical foundations and sampling other artists to make them truly his.
“I like Jax Jones’ success story, since his parents opposed his aspirations to pursue a music career. I follow him on social media, and I am honoured he reposted one of my stories on Instagram,” Julia adds.
As JB, she enjoys a steady presence on music sharing sites like Spotify, where you can download her tracks: “I am planning to release new tracks on a regular basis, in the build-up to the ‘drop’ of my full album for Christmas. By then, my fans will be already acquainted with a half of the tracks lifted from it.”
She explains how releasing a song is a lengthy process: “After I have recorded it, I need to listen to it over and over again, because every time I do, I notice something different and something that can be improved.” Until she is able to approach it as if she was hearing it for the first time and finding it perfect, the song can still be polished. Only after that, the song is ready to be let loose on the airwaves.
As a music teacher at St. Anne’s, Julia was regularly on duty during lockdown, but having put her intense social life on hold, she had plenty time to work her magic on her summer releases: ‘I Know’, a song about one’s personal experiences that others cannot fully learn and understand from the outside; ‘Tell Her’, unlike the previous one, which features guitar, exclusively digitally produced music to accompany Julia’s voice; ‘All the Things You Told Me’, described as a ‘typical break-up song’, scheduled for release at the end of summer.
“Often it is all down to luck, being at the right place at the right time.”
Her playground remains deejaying and producing electronic music, which is down to experimentation and exploring the potential of computer programs: akin to photoshopping, it is about trial and error, recording a sound, adding an effect, like echo, testing it, listening to how it fits with the melody and repeating the process until it works and meshes together.
Inspiration comes when less expected: “Once I was driving near the ocean, listening to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’, and a song about the ocean took shape in my mind; another time, I was chilling on a boat with friends and strumming my guitar. A chord progression came along, and I started humming. I recorded the chords on my phone and later developed it into ‘Tell Her’, a song that means a lot to me personally.”
JB praises the advantages of independent music as the platform to true and free creativity, without the constraints imposed by signing for any label in terms of quality and quantity of production. However, independent artists must work harder on marketing. In this social media era, online followers can make or break an artist, and labels often scrutinise the online fan base, image and exposure of promising artists before signing them.
Another way to be talent-scouted is gigging around a lot, but this option is alas limited in Gibraltar. “Often it is all down to luck, being at the right place at the right time,” Julia sighs.
During her university years in London, she gigged and participated in open mic nights with fellow singer Corinne Cooper, who is dabbling as graphic designer, and so is currently devising the smashing look of JB’s album cover and deejaying logo.
Despite most of her music being played and recorded in her home studio with synthesisers, Julia still enjoys live acoustic gigs, and she hopes to resume them with the gradual return to social normality. “I enjoying singing with my guitar, but I reckon that the electronic versions of my songs just have a different ‘kick’ to them.”