Resident writer Helen Donlon gets into the opening parties of the worlds biggest clubland as party-goer, party-maker, and not least as promoter. She gives us an inside view of the industry and talks directly to top DJs Pete Tong and Dan Tait.
Summer Season 2008
One of the amaranthine characteristics of the island of Ibiza is its unique ability to preserve the tacitly understood and unqualifiably profound strength of its own central complex social rules. The real islanders have always been capable of embracing, when necessary, any new form of progress, as long as that form delivers what it promises. Possibly the only thing every long term resident has in common is that they get this. Where they came from, and why and how and when are irrelevant. It’s like knowing how to play chess. Everything here is wholly dynamic.
Ibiza, or Eivissa as it is know in Catalunyan, the lingua franca here, was named Ebesus after Bes the god of dance. His spiritual offspring, Bez from the Happy Mondays was one of the renaissance leaders that marked the movement called acid house that came out of the Ibiza summer of love in 1988 when the Balearic Beat was brought home from the island to London by Pioneers Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker. The acid house invasion was just the latest in a very, very long history of invasions the island has seen, and survived. The locals never really got much involved or bothered. They came and danced, as they had always danced, and they made money on renting out their premises to promoters. Tolerance, happy days.
International Music Summit
Twenty years on, and we’re at the Fenicia Hotel, a titan in the once tranquil cliff town of Siesta where Roman Polanski lived for years. The new hotel has a pool terrace reminiscent of a Brian de Palma set, circa Scarface; and an interior full of mock Phoenician carvings and the odd, very odd air of an actual place of business. In Ibiza this is half-ridiculous and half-welcome, and at least offers some relief from the faithful absentee reception desks, stale booze and business-free environment Ibiza old style hotels are both revered and reviled for.
We have been here and at country hotel Atzaro on and off for the last few days, attending the groundbreaking International Music Summit (IMS), the first summit of its kind in Ibiza, ever. Given Ibiza’s position on the global dance innovation headquarters, this is surprising. Headed up by BBC Radio One’s top DJ, veteran Pete Tong, the IMS was quietly set up to coincide with the opening weekend of Ibiza summer season without too much ado and hype. Pitched by some as the Euro equivalent of the Miami Winter Music Conference (WMC), most of the participants concur that it seems considerably more serious and more intimate than the now VIP/party-centric Miami stepmom. Tong and his team – Ben Turner from Pacha Magazine, Danny Whittle, and organisers The Shop have created a small and perfectly formed first act. With a very select and self-selecting group of participants and audience members, it’s small enough to be cosy, and we all turn up at most of the panels, despite quite a lot of rain.
Possibly the most talked about panel at the IMS was the one involving Ibiza councillor Paco Medina and the managers of all the top club nights, a prickly and important pow-wow addressing new laws affecting clubs and performance schedules. In particular the awful news this year is that there are to be no more afterhour parties. Ibiza to a lot of seasoned clubbers is synonymous with the afterhour carry-ons so this is seen as a disaster, almost unilaterally amongst locals. Also, for the first year ever, all the clubs have to close at 6am. This is tragically early in Ibiza terms, as plenty of us don’t go clubbing before 4am. It’s too hot, many of the best sets start at 4am, you get to see the sunrise, all the less seasoned early evening drinkers have crashed out by then leaving a different vibe on the dancefloor, and so on . . . it just feels more natural later, and it characterises Ibiza, again.
So till now, for many clubbers wanting to carry on there was always Space on sundays, and DC10 on mondays both of whom opened their doors in the early mornings and stayed open till . . . This year the new laws at the beginning of season state not only that that everyone closes at 6am, period, but also there are to be no daytime openings before 4.30pm. This is allegedly to help cure noise and chemical abuse levels. The stupidity of that rationale obviously needs no explaining.
Despite the heat of the afterhours debate, speakers and panels were generally remarkably cool, well-prepared and chatty. The tagline for the summit was “back to business”. Billboard magazine flew in from the States to moderate the opening panels. Rob Da Bank is here, so is Neil Barnes from Leftfield, managers, agents and industry specialists from all over are here. Panelists sit in on each others sessions, live track remixing, recording and film synching goes on during breaks. Rights and licensing issues, the future of dance music, new markets, cross-industry initiatives – the panels are progressive, and almost back to back.
At the close of day three at the Fenicia, I manage to get time alone with Pete Tong, who is tired, but…
“I’ll probably miss it tomorrow actually. I feel very inspired, excited and enlightened.” I ask him what his conference highlights were. “I think from a historical point of view, it was getting together all the senior representatives from all the ‘families’ of all the clubs on that table. In the pre-panel before the talk we realised, especially with having Paco from the island council there, that it really was a groundbreaking moment to have this crowd all together. For some stupid reason it’s never happened before, or at least not in public, so you’ve got to be proud of that! Also, from a personal point of view having Francois Kevorkian there of course. I thought he spoke elegantly, brilliantly and he summed up what DJing is all about so well.”
The ever luminous Francois Kevorkian, whose extraordinary contributions to dance music are legendary, had delivered a heartwarming and optimistic address as he looked back over dance music from his perspective as someone who came of age in NYC at the time ofSaturday Night Fever and was instantly carried along on the wave. “He’s a big hero of mine,” Tong said of Kevorkian when he introduced him to the assembly on day one of the IMS.
Tong is BBC Radio One’s number one DJ and his dance show is highly rated in the UK. He is one of the old guard, an Ibiza ambassador to two generations of UK clubbers and has, for the last few years, been almost synonymous here with his weekly summer residency atPacha’s Pure Pacha evening. Pacha is the most VIP-oriented of all the Ibiza Clubs, a trend that excites some and baffles others (residents mainly), and is an old and authentic restored finca in the port of Ibiza, close to both the medieval ramparts of the old town and Dalt Vila, and even closer to the eau de whorehouse catwalk for the yachting fraternity that is La Marina Botafoch. It is an exciting if sometimes money-grubbing community that now frequent Pacha and gone are the heady days of ‘Hey I live here, I get in free!’ that characterised this gorgeous hippy and eurofreak danceteria until, well, about 2005. Nonetheless, it is the seasoned tourist’s favourite spot. Away from the proudly proletarian boardwalk of San Antonio’s sunset strip, whose patrons traditionally tie one on early under an emotional sunset vibe, and save the cab fare and entrance fee for the more local clubs. So across in Ibiza Town there could be an air of faux-elitism at Pacha.
Now imagine the hot potato that was Lord Tong’s announcement of a move in residence for summer 2008 to join those pesky tourists! Yes, Tong made the grand decision to shift across to San Antonio this year and open his more intimate Friday night fiesta, Wonderland, atEden, a nightclub bang in the middle of town to boot. Fellow Brit promoters Manumission had already opened Ibiza Rocks across the road from Eden at their sunset spot Bar M, and provided a much-welcomed live rock night reminiscent of the very best of Camden High Street circa 1992. From that moment the San Antonio that had been so neglected for years, especially in terms of reputation amongst clubbers, started edging its way back onto the map. Now Tong is ready to give it a go. The locals are chuffed at the pick-up in San Antonio popularity, the more separatist-minded of the tourists less sure. Yet it makes so much sense. The Radio One pre-parties are all down there anyway at industry hangout Bar Mambo on Sunset Strip, so how much easier for the budget-driven tourist to just nip home and shower and then potter down to Eden to continue the party with the sunset crowd.
Exactly. We discuss what we call the ‘Hoxton effect’, familiar to Londoners who remember the rather strange mock-gentrification of what used to be a kind of City of London netherland whose one and only claim to fame back in the 80s was Flip, the first American vintage clothing shop in Curtain Road. Back then it was a check-in and hang-out for every teen hipster in London and was certainly the first place I ever heard Marianne Faithfull’sBroken English. Otherwise the place was a ghost town. Fast forward ten years and we had Hoxton Square, home of every nice middle class groover in town looking for an ‘edgy’ night out. Also home to a couple of knockout eateries and the genuinely original Acid Jazz Records for a while. Can San Antonio do a Hoxton though?
The way Tong sees it, “San An has such a strong history with the clubbing scene and it is this funnel that a lot of our elite clubbers came through at the beginning of their relationships with Ibiza. So, instead of putting the cream at the end of the journey let’s try and put some here at the front.”
And for now Ibiza continues to be the dance capital. “Everyone was talking for years about the scene moving to the Greek Islands or Ayia Napa, Italy, Croatia, but this is the European Cup of clubbing. It’s got such history and roots. It’s gonna be hard to get a better place than Ibiza because this island’s been doing it for so long.” Tong should know, he has been a vital part of it.
Meanwhile the summit is over, and the summer party season is just beginning. It is opening weekend in Ibiza. Clubbers of every stripe are here or arriving across the weekend.
The next day is Saturday and it is the day before the Space opening. I go along to collect my season press pass and wonder how it’s all going to happen within 24 hours. We are now at the end of our sixth week of turbulent weather. This is completely unprecedented.Space is very much about the sunshine, the daylight and the terraces, which are not rainproof.
But it proved to be the perfect storm. The day of the Space opening party the sun shone on everyone. Bes was ready. The island smelled glorious and looked like a troilistic marriage of Rousseau foliage, Cezanne colour and the lushness of Renoir. The recurrent electrical storms that had gone on for weeks, flooding parts of the island for the first time in 80 years had disappeared and all that was above the terrace at Space was an Yves Klein blue. The line-up was a wonderful mix of old and new. Fatboy Slim, Steve Lawler, Jonathan Ulysses, Pete Tong, Groove Armada, Wally Lopez, DJ Oliver, Yousef and a couple of dozen others mixed and matched.
Anyway, here we are two days after Space opening, the island still subdued from that explosion, as well as from the fabulous and more honky-tonk DC10 Circo Loco opening party which follows Space opening. I’m back by the pool at the Fenicia, discussing the opening with Dan Tait who is staying at the hotel, in as much as Dan Tait “stays” anywhere. Now we are talking futurism, technology, innovation and house music all at once. Dan is a DVJ. He uses high quality visuals with his Pioneer-sponsored DJ sets; a newer new age traveller in the era of sharing beats in house music clubs all over the world. With Pioneer behind him (he works in development for various subsidiaries worldwide) he gets to understand foreign cultures via dancefloors and sunrise festival sets; via visuals projected onto high pressure waterfalls and the enthusiasm of his audiences worldwide.
Tait is such a part of Ibiza’s present, especially given that his lifestyle and touring schedules are so futuristic. He is here today (Ibiza), gone tomorrow (India) and back here again in three days. He was in Leeds on Saturday and the day before that he was here. Next week he’s in Singapore. That’s not an untypical week from what I hear. He played a beautiful set at yesterday’s Space opening, broadcast on Ibiza Global Radio, our local FM station.
“It was such a momentous gig that when I heard there was rain I just put it right out of my mind because I can’t even begin to think what would happen and how disappointed I would be,” he said. “I almost felt like my wedding day was coming up this weekend and we were having a beautiful outside ceremony and people were saying it’s gonna be rain rain rain. The night before when I was making my tracks until 5am the rain was just lashing down.”
I ask him how daunting, or perhaps flattering it was to have been playing for so many locals and dance music industry players, especially as he was doing the afternoon Flight Deck afternoon set, which almost represents playing the opening gig to the whole season, or certainly a key one.
“Doing the warmup is one of my favourite things to do because it’s an important job as you’re setting the tone for the entire evening. Space is always a marathon and you can’t burn people out, so you could just build that tension and anticipation. I started really slowly, like 121/122bpm as I started at 1pm in the afternoon and it was going to be a long and important night. Anyway it is nice to build in waves like that although I know some people can get frustrated because I’m known to give a bit then take it back down again. . . like a constant teasing, seducing. So when Yousef came on after me, he could just do whatever he wanted, and carry on what I started. I do feel privileged to do that slot and my way to shine is to show I’m not just going to play loads of big tracks and just come in on a few big spots. I’m playing Space, so I underpromise and overdeliver.”
Space is home to many local DJs as well as international megastars, and, unlike probably anywhere else in the world, here they play on the same terraces, on the same days. All locals and seasoned clubbers have their favourite locals who they support in the same measure as they might support their favourite megastars. One of the things that is great about Space opening and represents one of the greatest characteristics of the island is that people will respond to what is good, not what they are told is good. Being “in” is not really going to work here for longer than a season unless your talent matches your ambition. After all it is an island where individual style (the more daring the better) is vastly more respected than glossy magazine panic lists better suited to perhaps a less defiant island.
DJ Oliver is indeed a local luminary. He is resident DJ and producer at La Troya, the Space-based cosmo and drag night invented by Brasilio de Oliveira, friend to Grace Jones, Freddie Mercury and other Ibiza legends. De Oliveira has been at this for 28 years. Longterm club night La Troya, now in its 15th year, is one of the more authentic Ibiza clubbing experiences.
“So DJ Oliver was great. Then Fatboy Slim started his set hilariously with the Willy Wonka samples.” Fatboy Slim AKA Norman Cook played the same Flight Deck terrace that started with a set from Tait and ended with Steve Lawler the following morning. “At Space the music can’t be too serious. Everything’s about context. When the sun’s going down that’s nature happening right there.” Right now, we are looking at trees and flowers in full bloom in the first week of June. Thanks to the six week inclemency our gardens are watered and welcoming. The island is going to look beautiful, I think, in the first few weeks of this summer season.
We’re drinking tea by a gigantic pool that seems surreal suddenly. Maybe it’s the fallout energy from opening weekend, but I suddenly feel, again, like we’re in a De Palma film, circa the late seventies.
The island is still, the only beats crickets on the late morning grass. Tait has a plane to catch later, one of several this week. “I’m also playing at Glastonbury on my 30th birthday. I’m playing Ministry in Singapore on the Friday night, then flying into Glasto on Saturday afternoon and it’s my birthday Sunday and I play both days. I’ve got my residency in Singapore at Ministry every other month. They are really behind the DVJ idea. They project visuals onto a high pressure waterfall in the club. Then I’m off to Asia, back to Australia again, bits and pieces in Canada, loads of stuff in Russia.”
He tells me about the Globass Festival in Siberia, about playing the sunrise set to 5000 people and the amazing response. Globass is a festival that goes on for an unbelievable 27 days with only Mondays off. Tait is apparently indefatigable and genuinely cool and zenlike about everything. I look at the terrace. Because of the rain the temperature in this empty colossal film set pool is certain not to be too user-friendly. I want to push him in the pool to see what happens, but quickly recover.
“Iceland have some sort of dance music festival now, don’t they? Have you been there?” I venture, continuing my vicarious lifestyle. He says, “It’s brilliant in those places when you get those weird anomalies with nature like the northern lights or the fact the sun never sets and I think that is one of the things I particularly love about Ibiza . . . It’s a cliché but the sunsets with the kind of sun you get here are just so incredible. Singapore might have a tropical climate where it never drops below 25 degrees but you have 95 per cent humidity. I just love looking at peoples’ pictures from Ibiza when they haven’t taken a picture of the sunset, they’ve actually taken a picture of their friends but that person is bathed in this amazing glow.”
“Anyway, India tomorrow, yeah. I’m doing Q and A sessions and workshops in Mumbai. I’m also playing a couple of clubs while I’m there. The scene is either incredibly good or very Bollywood, which doesn’t sit awfully well with house music much of the time.”
It’s not the first time Bollywood has come up this week. Of the many interesting talks during the IMS the one on dance music in India and the ubiquity and monopoly of Bollywood hits was telling. This megalithic industry (they complete nearly a film a day every year) has a stranglehold on its recording and charts communities.
“That’s right”, says Tait “and every single film has to have a hit track. Those get played in the clubs. It’s incredibly interesting where that’s gonna go. You go to Russia or China and they might play imported electro because everyone just buys it online but in India the ethic is indeed very staunch about promoting the local culture.”
This is great. Where can this lead to indeed . . . During the IMS talk it was mentioned that the only serious contender at the moment infiltrating the Bollywood club market was urban hiphop, a phenomenon that is definitely making a comeback right here in Ibiza, albeit on a very small and as yet risibly misunderstood level, but it is here nonetheless. Perhaps it follows naturally on from the welcome return of live music to the island after a natural hiatus. Hiphop after all lies at that beautiful interface between the sexy pulse, the vibe of live music and the lyric at its narrative best.
The perfect storm
At 7pm on opening day, a few acrobats from Catalan physical theatre group La Fura dels Baus are choreographing a happening above the swimming pool that is in the centre of the club, a DJ and sound box perched gloriously on top of it. Our Croatian sound engineer has just been introduced to us, a dozen set designers are setting up a working carousel, a gigantic E goes up, then down, then up again, and I’ve lost the guestlist of over 150 invitees for tonight’s premiere. The whole thing looks beyond chaos, and we bail and head to San Antonio for our extremely chilled out pre-party and early set before heading off to locals’ favourite spot Underground to get frocked and made up, and at 1.30 off we head over to Privilege. Remarkably, not only do we sort out our minor hitches (the guest list gets rescued from my country house by my partner), but Supermartxe have parlously crushed the sceptical naysay prattle that followed us around for the fortnight before opening. The towering atmosphere inside the club combined with stunning lights and a magnificent new sound system add to the already oddly fantastic feeling of seeing the club completely full when a half-empty club was predicted (Privilege holds 10,000). Roaring!
Personally I think having a nightclub with a pool and ridiculously hot DJs from Madrid, The Bronx, Argentina, Barcelona, Bristol and Ibiza, plus Rebeka Brown to open for you in full emotional Diva splendour, not to mention very well choreographed dancers who genuinely looked like they felt it, and a crowd of cosmo locals and guests from everywhere . . . well, it’s not only my idea of a winning formula, but it is what parties used to be like in Ibiza anyway until very, very recently. The proof of appreciation and acknowledgement was in the queues of cars halfway down the carretera at 4am, the hordes of people still trying to get in at 5.30am and the curfew 6am sunrise burst of applause the still packed club offloaded up past the parachute-draped ceilings of the superclub, an applause that carried out and into the morning, celestial, real . . . Ibiza.
Photographs by Helen Donlon ©
London Grip’s Film & Sound Contributing Editor Helen Donlon is the founder of Storm Agency and is the author of According to … David Lynch (a selection of his finest quotes)
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