It is the hottest month of the season.
Between emotional sunsets, a full moon and the green ray,
Ibiza resident Helen Donlon gets nocturnal with clubland icons
Rose Bee, Alter Ego, Rebeka Brown, Mo Moniz and Francois Kevorkian.
Despite much preferred clatter to the contrary, this tiny island of Ibiza in midseason is so tranquil it is almost transfixed by its own beauty and its position under the Mediterranean sun. It does look different when you step inside a Platja d’en Bossa bar at midnight on a Sunday night, or observe cars lining up to get into Privilege every Friday, and the traffic around Vila can more than quadruple in July and August. But kept in perspective these are hotspots, and stunningly easy to avoid, unless you choose to inhabit them, or can’t avoid them for work reasons. For locals meanwhile, the massive influx of new blood and the returning caravans of the good time girls and boys who check back in every summer generally come as a welcome distraction from the winter season’s elite village feel. And after all, you are never more than a ten minute drive from the perennial stillness of the countryside here.
Aiguas Blancas is one of our closest beaches, and is a beautiful crayon strand of unspoilt sand and frothing surf that makes for refreshing swimming. Looking out to sea from the restaurant (sadly, and like most beach joints, only open during the summer months) you could be in another time. There is so much pastel in the natural landscape, and the tempo in the air is so fresh and optimistic, it is rather like a 1950s pop song, or as my friend Nikki says, the opening scenes from ‘Grease’. In August the weather is perfect, and so is one of the great jewels in the crown – the home made fruity ice-cream served up in huge french cones to us by our friend Irvie at the beach restaurant. This is the best ice-cream on the island and as good as anything anywhere else.
I love the beach. I am an islander. But I move and meander and know when and where the vibe is right, and I have Irish skin which means shade, evenings, sunrises, sunsets and coves. And of course a lot of the time it is nicer to be around a poolside, alone with a special person or two than deep in the mêlée. So pool-hopping is a lot of fun here, when you get the chance to do it.
Rose Bee, Rose’s Joern, and Roman Flügel
Swapping ice-cream for a cold bottle of local cava (Catalan champagne, wonderful) I have headed deep into the San Rafel campo, and am at the pool in a private villa above clubland which is home to visiting Cocoon musicians and other Frankfurt luminaries every summer. I’m with my thrilling friend Rose who lives in Frankfurt and works as a yoga teacher, having been a world class contortionist for years. She was the first western contortionist in China, and has performed all over the world in shows, and circuses, and hotspot nightclubs. She is a Brit who lives in Germany, and she always seems so very at home here with her Ibiza family. She first came several years earlier as a performer, and has returned every year since. I am very much looking forward to her forthcoming memoirs, ‘Confessions of a Contortionist’, the manuscript of which she is just completing, she tells me with a tantalising grin.
We’re discussing whether or not we trust Christopher Ciccone, whose new “biography” of sister Madonna is on the poolside table when Rose’s guy Joern gets back with shopping and several friends. The conversation moves on to talk of the night before, from which everyone is still slowly recovering. Joern and his musical partner Roman have, as Alter Ego, played a live set in the early hours of the morning on Cocoon’s busiest night of the season at Amnesia.
Amnesia was recently voted the best club in the world, in Miami no less, and with its brand new terrace, a heady mixture of light and shadow play and all new sound system it is host to some very interesting nights this season (People from Ibiza, Cream, Manumission), including international techno crowd shoo-in, Cocoon.
Cocoon is a Frankfurt-based club, record label and party concept headed up by veteran techno meister Sven Väth and features seasoned regulars Ritchie Hawtin, Ricardo Villalobos, Luciano, Frank Lorber, Loco Dice and others on its 2008 summer programme. They have been here on the island every summer now for ten years. The mid-August Monday is the one at which Alter Ego are performing live, on the hottest night to the most brimming crowd of the summer here at Amnesia. The bevy is completely mixed of course, with techno fans and innovation seekers speaking in several different languages as the lights volley around both the terrace (featuring Luciano and Loco Dice tonight) and the main room, which features Frank Lorber, Sven and Alter Ego.
Alter Ego’s recent album Why Not? (Klang Elektronik) was probably the most played CD in my car over last winter here in Ibiza.
Their brand new CD is a remix of the album, called What’s Next, and features collaborators like Carl Craig, Tiga and Modeselektor. Joern and Roman are consummate performers who have now toured the new work in well over a hundred venues. The two of them have a reputation for being all fingers and wrists, all techno riffs and surprises, and they are artists who pride themselves in enjoying content way above form, as witnessed by their perennial ability to work within any venue limitations, and often at fairly short notice. They are such crowd-pleasers and they have Amnesia in the palms of their hands even on the hottest night of the year.
At Amnesia and here in Ibiza they are so at home. Rose, who is in the DJ box taking photos of the performance is equally at home, having performed here herself several times in the last few years, filling the podium with her uniquely sexy shows.
On nights as hot as this it is such a pleasure to swim after clubbing and before bedtime, even when that means a sunrise swim. But it may just be the coolest part of the day…
There’s a different kind of heat later that week as I head over to San Antonio to have sunset drinks on the August full moon with DJ Mo Moniz of Sophisticated Funk. He is also recovering from a couple of late nights at Soul City where he’s been DJing to the loyal and free-spirited crowd who hang out there. A crowd that always includes a lot of very good dancers, and hiphop and soul gallants, who come back here night after night knowing they’ll get what they came for.
“I have so much respect for Soul City and what they’re doing for San Antonio.” he says, as we chance upon the best table on the terrace at Kanya, a tranquil sunset bar facing directly into the setting sun and the remains of the day. “No matter what any of the other bars and clubs here have done, Soul City have stuck with R n B, and at the moment they’re the busiest bar in the west end. It’s been open now about ten years and it’s still just a real buzz for me to be performing there. I got invited a few years ago by the guy who was the resident DJ before DJ Horse, DJ Killa Kutz, he’s a resident at Eden’s Twice As Nice these days. And I just loved it from the first moment.”
Moniz is one of my music touchstones, and is generally on the ball when it comes to what works where, though he has reservations about anything too parochial. Thus he has a slight distrust of UK garage, though he really respects the drum and bass movement. A propos Twice as Nice, they’ve been sneaking a bit of UK-spun garage into the mix lately, and Mo is not sure about this, as he is very committed to genres that work on a global level. “Garage is only liked by English fans. And on garage nights here they only name-check English towns,” he frowns. “‘Big up London! Leeds! Manchester!’ but there’s no mention of any Spanish or Italian town. My Spanish friends really hate this and we won’t go to these nights any more here. It really is such a UK-centric phenomenon. I’d much rather listen to house than garage any day – house is soulful, and I prefer the crowd.” He sips his beer, looks serious about all this, and continues. “I love Lil Wayne. Oh and crunk! South American and catchy crunk. It has a slower tempo, Lil Wayne, Three 6 Mafia…”
Getting my music recommendations from Moniz is something I take quite seriously. He gets his new music from the same mailing list as Funkmaster Flex and Tim Westwood. Absorbed in R n B and hiphop since the ‘old skool’ days, he has great taste. I ask him what his old faves are, who are the evergreen spins. “ I still love Nas, he is probably one of my favourite artists actually. He’s trying to say something, he’s very positive. Recently there’s been a revival of KRS one – he has a new album out now and it’s doing very well. It’s nice to have all those guys still around showing the younger guys how it’s done. They have a message to pass on. They don’t show off, they have something to say.”
Mo is so very much part of the life and soul of San Antonio and knows so many people despite being a Bristol-based globetrotter who comes here kind of in between things. We are greeted at cult clothing store Ibiza Pimp in Sa Penya as if Mo is a long lost friend. Walking from Kanya on the far west of the strip to, say, Es Paradis, past Mambo, Café del Mar, the west end, the port and into the centre of Sant Antonio is liable to take up the entire night for bumping into people so we stay put at Kanya, with Jo Mills playing a sunset pre-party warmup for Pete Tong’s Wonderland at Eden, and when the time comes to leave and head into clubland we will take a cab back to the car, which is next door to Eden, at Es Paradis (though we are off elsewhere tonight).
Wonderland incidentally has been one of the success stories of the season. Tong must be proud and delighted. The nights at Eden are fully animated by 1am every Friday. Here across town at Kanya, Mills and Tomas Hedberg are keeping the sunset very chilled and Balearic before the long hot august night gets going. As for us, we’ll be heading over to Privilege, for pure pleasure, and it’ll be Mo’s first time there this season as a non-player, having moved on for the moment from DJ duties in the Cocoloco Room to focus on his dedicated hiphop nights back in the UK. He has a couple of residencies in London for the rest of summer from which he has temporarily escaped back for Soul City and the full moon evenings. “I’m trying to close the record deal for Party and Mayhem, the new album, at the moment. We’ve had a lot of radio support and that always helps. Radio in the UK is a great promotion tool. People like BBC Radio One Xtra are really supportive.”
Hiphop is slowly catching on again here, but both of us are waiting for the moment when the explosion hits this somewhat recalcitrant island. “Hiphop is massive. People here in Ibiza are crazy not to have understood this yet.” Mo reanimates. “All you have to do is get on the internet and look at the US Billboard charts, look at how much revenue they’re bringing in and then look at the type of music they’re representing. Jay-Z is one of the biggest artists in the world right now. We need to bring guys like that here. There are so many American boys ready to come out, and the island is missing a trick, man.”
At this point he shows me something quite spectacular. His Serato quipment, basically a couple of 12” vinyls, programmed up with music to be operated in tandem with a laptop. “I first saw this being used by Jazzy Jay. It has changed my life! As you can imagine. You still have the same feel, and texture. And you can programme in as many tracks as you want. You can still scratch. I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it. As I said my life has changed, man. Usually you see me at airports trying to convince airlines to let me take an extra box. I used to be always dragging heavy boxes, airport to airport. I still carry one box of original vinyl, just in case! But now everyone uses these. Thousands and thousands of tracks can come with you, just like that. It involves programming yeah, but still…”
I am completely awestruck. How have I not known about this gear before? Meanwhile, Mo is off on the horizon. The sunset is hitting and if you’ve never seen a San Antonio sunset all I can say is it never fails to impress. “This is one of the wonders of the world.” Yes.
Kate Bush on the sound system, the sun starts to disappear. Locals stop, just like they do every night, along the promenade, and watch. It’s one of the main reasons Mo adores Ibiza. “We all make mistakes, humans, technology, but there’s no power failure when it comes to this. It happens every single day without error. And it’s been happening before anything we know. And it’s free…”
Applause. Bruce Springsteen sings Philadelphia. San Antonio prepares for the hottest night of the midseason. Geckos, mosquitos and a moon slowly starts to impose. After a late dinner at the best Thai kitchen on the island, a cheap and cheerful hidden secret on the Sant Josep road that we go back to time and again, and still glowing from the sunset we witness the huge full moon drifting over the old town and Dalt Vila as we drive in the ancient golf convertible that has been the summer 2008-mobile towards Privilege and the most risque Friday night of this season yet: TheSupermartxé Peep Show, which promises (and delivers) a wholly uncensored hardcore pansexathon bacchanal into the early hours of Saturday morning.
“It was maybe a bit TOO much! Even for us, don’t you think?” Rebeka Brown, who paraded magnificently onto the stage amid the show and gave one of the perfect pitch deliveries we’ve come to expect from this season’s queen of Ibiza clubland was astral, as ever. Three days later as we sit in her garden on the following Monday evening, she says that she found it a bit of a challenge. The Peep Show used real working porn actors of every stripe, and the various “acts” grabbed the attention of absolutely everyone in the world’s biggest club at one stage or another. DJ Mo and I consider ourselves hard to impress and highly seasoned in most respects but even we were, well . . . Rebeka runs her fingers through her hair, loose and fresh and natural, and enjoying her stride. I fully expect her to be wasted for at least four days after every Friday night performance, given the heart and soul she ploughs into each show, but she is in wonderful shape, and she has a lovely calm way about her. And a sanctuary of a house in the campo and, oh joy, a beautiful great lumbering husky whom she adores. So a woman after my heart, and a true local these days, having lived here now for three years. As the centrepiece of every Friday night show at Privilege, she has come to the attention of any islanders who might not have been previously aware of her in her capacity as house singer at Matinée, the Saturday daytime party at Space (when Space was daytime, before the afterhours legal revisions of 2008).
“I was four years in Space with Matinée before the change to Privilege this year. But for me Space was about the daytime.
That’s what made Matinée special. Now it’s not daylight any more it’s like another party, and so when Supermartxé explained to me what they wanted to do I said that’s what I want to do! I want to be able to do things like sing Shirley Bassey’s ‘Big Spender’. I love to do all these things. I’m such a theatre girl having been in musicals and so on. I like to show! Being part of the big show IS exciting. And I think they are doing a really great job.”
Barcelona-raised, she has a voice that is sometimes on a par with Tina Turner, and she pulled off Bassey’s ‘Big Spender’ wonderfully at Privilege. One of the major talents on an island bizarrely full of “singers”, the first time I saw her live she reminded me of Prince, which speaks volumes if you’ve seen Prince live. Imagine doing that every week at the biggest club in the world. “Well, in November I am going to Thailand to rest.
Then back to touring in December which starts with South America – Argentina, Santa Domingo and Brazil then New Year’s Eve is going to be Egypt.” Rebeka has built herself a solid reputation as a house singer, although there are many moments where you can hear the traces of some much older much wiser female trying to cut through. “I’ve been doing house music for ten years now. I was touring with a funky band for three years, and it was such fun! Like disco, with these outfits with the afros and the platforms….I like dance music but I want to go farther. Like Roisin Murphy, who I love. I loved Moloko and I like everything she has done. She is a very creative and also very re-mixable female voice. . . But yes, I do love many voices. I think in some other life I was a black mamma in the Mississippi singing gospel. I cry all the time with gospel. I have a real connection with it.”
I ask her why she chose Ibiza and when. “I came here when I was six, with my parents, and I loved it then. But I moved here in the end because of love. I came here with my partner, but then we split up. I was so ready to leave, but people were telling me ‘No! This is the place for you. You should be here.’ So I gave it a chance and I sang in Cala Jondal, and Cap des Falco and I was like ‘I have to do this!’ The first time I really sang was at Pacha. Francisco gave me an opportunity and it was . . .wow. Pacha is like family to me.”
Pacha is just a couple of kilometres down the hillside from the villa, which feels lost in the heart of the island now, as another sunset approaches. There’s just the three of us, the dog seeming very much the third member of this relaxed party. “The lifestyle here drew me here too, of course. I like the countryside and the payes, typical Ibicencan style, with my garden and my chickens…”
She doesn’t need to explain. I get it. Completely. It’s how I live too, though not with chickens in my own garden thank goodness, given the voracity of my terrier. I ask about Sideral, her hulking Alaskan canine. “Oh they’re safe!” Her doggy it turns out was about to be abandoned when she decided to take him over from an ex-housemate in Barcelona. Her confidence is interrupted by a persistent telephone ring which turns out to be someone looking for the local church, which is greatly amusing to us both.
As another August day is coming to a close, we can hear the chickens now, the dog is looking at mummy, and the Ibiza cockerels, hippie timekeepers that they are, have just woken up, en masse. “So I decided to move, thinking it would be great to live with all these people, they are free, they go for sunset in winter… Then of course I realised there are all these musicians who live on the island, because it is such a great place to be a creative person. Would it be so big a deal to change my life and come here?” She is remembering her epiphany, we’ve all had one, “But why not! I said, and then I started to visualise it and after talking to people it didn’t sound so crazy. With my job I don’t mind being here or wherever. I just need an airport close by. I was five months on the island and I was spending all my money on renting cars and bothering my friends for a bed, so in the end it was the practically sensible decision.”
“My job can be so stressing. I don’t do drugs, I did whatever when I was younger, but now, no, so it’s a way of decompressing after the hard work, being here in the campo. People think it must be so boring in winter, but as you know it’s the opposite. Lots of interesting people come back. My friends from the island, I don’t see them at all in the summer. You just don’t hassle each other.” I agree and offer a typical excuse “Oh, we’ll just see you at the Space closing and after that we’ll see you every day for the next six months.” She laughs. That’s a scene we both know so well…
The colour of evening here is dusky blue with pink stripes. It makes you so very emotional if you are on the sunset west coast, where last week we witnessed the Green Ray, a typical Mediterranean phenomenon often appearing just after sundown over San Antonio. The colour scheme is fresher and less portentous here on the east coast, where it signals the eventide in a less bombastic and lonelier, vaster way. It’s difficult to get vastness on an island the size of central London, but the effect of this east coast colour cloak is as near as it gets. We are in the hills above the port and Talamanca, and above the twin beacons of night situated here: Pacha and El Divino. Rebeka is popular down in La Marina, ever since her first appearance at Pacha a few years back. It’s Monday, so we talk about what’s on tonight in clubland. Down in Pacha it’s one of her favourite grooves, the Roger Sanchez Release Yourself party, but downwind towards Salines it’s the long-awaited reopening of DC10.
An Ibiza institution for the last ten years, DC1o has, for reasons best left unsolved and argued-over just at this moment, been quite savagely beaten up and bruised by the authorities on curiously specious counts of noise and drugs abuse. Not content with the two month closure and heavy fine imposed back in mid-June, the authorities have now imposed a year’s ban on this fantastically popular party. It has, on paper, caused mayhem. Sadly, the protest demo, some disappointingly few dozen deep (and god bless La Troya who mobilised half the demonstrators), only served to dish up DC10 to its captors. Snatched from the jaws of victory, the “protest” was a total embarrassment to anyone coming from London or Barcelona or somewhere like Paris where demos mean real numbers. Walking away from the demo I knew the authorities would now be hob-nailed. And less than one week later, they issued the DC10 burial papers, in the form of a year’s closure demand and a fine of more than a quarter of a million euros. The appeal has yet to be ruled upon. This whole endless affair (DC10 was closed last summer for similar reasons) has been a grimy cloud over clubland for months now.
My time with Rebeka is not hurried, and she seems happy to open up unprompted, helping me understand some of the passion in her performances.
“I was two months in a dark hole after my relationship brok up.” This is the real edge of Rebeka’s opening performance of the season, the one where I saw her deliver her Prince-like emotional debut at Privilege. Apparently she had just broken up with her husband. “I was fucked up because it all happened at the same time. My marriage and Matinée. Both broke. Breaking my relationship with Matinée was really hard. Because it wasn’t only work it was family, and it was a little bit forced. I was completely destroyed. I had to cancel gigs for a month. And there were a lot of opinions being given without me asking for them, which was so weird . . . But you know, being in the public eye gives you a lot… the people, the energy, but also its hard. I am so lucky that I am surrounded in such great people though, my friends are so full of love, and so real!” She is a real survivor, cliché though it sounds, and it is genuinely rare that you get to meet someone with such inner strength, that’s becoming ever clearer to me this summer.
“You know what gives me so much strength though? My passion for my music, my job, which anyway is not a job for me, it’s a lifestyle. It’s all about music for me. I can’t live without it but oddly also I like silence a lot. I like to meditate. I really like to hear you know…maybe I catch a sound very far away… and one thing I love to do is to record sounds and sing over a sound or sounds. Listen, everybody can make music, and everybody can sing! So when my friends come to my studio I always plug then in and let them sing.”
Rebeka Brown and stage cabaret at Supermartxé. Photos: Helen Donlon
She sings every week at Privilege backed by talented producer/DJ Juanjo Martin, and the two have recorded several tracks together. Like Rebeka, Juanjo is another of the biggest talents of the 2008 season, and he has also been on the circuit for a few years now, and has been nominated for more than half a dozen awards in the last year alone.
It is still several weeks to go before season closing for her at Privilege and of course she does plenty of other gigs elsewhere during and around these dates, sometimes with Juanjo, sometimes with others. But after all the winter dates she is really looking forward to just being. In Ibiza.
“I love to go out to eat, Sa Punta in Talamanca, La Paloma in San Lorenzo – these are my favourite restaurants. I love cooking, really really love it! I have so many people in the house from Barcelona, friends from here too, and I am nearly always in great company right now. But I am looking forward to the quiet times, and being with my island friends, food, walks, good conversation and the beaches in winter. I love the cinema and I haven’t been for ages! And it’ll be so nice to get started on my vegetable garden which is a bit neglected at the moment.”
She’s been in this new house for just a few months and has a great, sprawling garden which will need a lot of hours over winter, the nicest season to work outdoors. “And I’ll be in the studio, as usual. I’m working on a few things right now and I’m going to be doing some serious recording this year!”
“I sing every day. To me the greatest singers are the opera divas like Maria Callas, she’s just amazing!! Then the wonderful black ladies like Dinah Washington, Billie Holliday and all these great singers, flamenco singers too . . .the night of the Flamenco show at Privilege I was so incredibly proud to be Spanish! These are the greatest performers. For me perhaps the most inspiring musicians of all, the ones from my own homeland . . .”
Sideral interrupts us, and recognising it to be the witching hour or in dog terms “walkies” time, I head off from this engaging recess, into the blood of the sunset motorway sky, oddly moved by her abundant warmth. Warmth and talent have always gone hand in hand for me, and that’s generally how I recognise talent anyway. Here more so than anywhere, because the island has a way of exposing and magnifying the temperature of a person’s soul.
Playing the 3am-6am pre-sunrise set his audience is a loving mix of European techo bods, local eccentrics, dance fanatics and Space loyalists, most of whom stay all night. Carl Cox is a veteran, but Kevorkian is a super-veteran. Born in 1954, the Armenian French-bred New York-based DJ and producer was unspeakably well poised to launch his amazing career in house and electro production given he arrived in 1975 in a Saturday Night Fever and Studio 54 era Manhattan. A happy accident perhaps, but the rest is history.
In the mid 90s he set up his own label, Wave Music, and revered New York weekly party Body and Soul. He formed one half of the Cosmic Twins (with Detroit’s Derrick May) and has become more involved with techno and dub in the last few years, which led to his eclectic Deep Space NYC parties. His remixes are hugely popular in clubs all over the world, and he is a DJ’s DJ, the type of guy that other world-class DJs turn very serious about when you mention his name.
Space is packed. We are surrounded by French guys one minute, and Americans the next. A lot of familiar clubland faces are here, even at 5am. Francois K looks Lost in Space. Does he even know we are here? Oh there is so much to say about the set, about the crowd, about Francois K and about this moment, but it’s midseason, when music speaks louder than anything else here, so here’s a few of my favourite all-time Francois K music moments, for now, into another twittering sunrise . . .
Road of Life, Francois K
Personal Jesus, Depeche Mode
The Key, Wuf Ticket
Here Comes The Sun, Nina Simone
Snake Charmer, Jah Wobble, Holger Czukay
Time and Space, Francois K
Midnight Man, Flash and the Pan
Sangue de Beirona, Cesaria Evora
The Telephone Call, Kraftwerk
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