Has the Sun Finally Set on Ibiza?

With last week’s closing of DC-10 and Sankey’s, Ibiza’s much loved clubbing season has finally come to an end. Thousands of people from all around the globe will be at their desks nostalgically yearning to be back at Café del Mar, losing themselves in the mesmerizing sight of the sun slowly sinking into the ocean as the perfect selection of Balearic, ambient sounds takes the beauty and emotion of the occasion to a higher level. Imagining a carefree version of yourself, cocktail in hand, gearing up for a night of excess with all your favourite DJs on some of the world’s most iconic dance floors and you might be ready to book your flight. The only decision now is where to stay, San An or Playa den Bossa? This is how everyone in Ibiza hopes you’re thinking, from the club owners and promoters to the ‘lucky lucky’ men selling sunglasses, watches and umbrella hats on the beaches of San Antonio, but is Ibiza really the only place to be? Or is the long-time king of club land’s crown starting to slip? Could the island of free love and life changing beats have sold is soul?

In August 1987, a London based DJ by the name of Paul Oakenfold decided to celebrate his 24th birthday by flying out to Ibiza to visit a couple of friends working on the isle. He was accompanied by Danny Rampling, Johnny Walker and Nicky Holloway, who were all involved in the club scene in London at the time. It was on the first night of the trip that they ran into another London DJ, Trevor Fung, who told them about a new drug called ecstasy and an amazing party at a venue in the middle of nowhere calling itself Amnesia, run by DJ Alfredo Fiorito. Alfredo was a music journalist from Argentina who left the country during the military dictatorship for Europe in search of better things, finally ending up in Ibiza via Paris and Madrid. It was in 1982, when Alfredo was earning his living selling candles and clothes, that a friend told him he was leaving the island for Thailand, gave him the keys to Amnesia and told him that he was now in charge. In those days Amnesia was little more than a farmhouse with a few tables and chairs and Alfredo was the only DJ, but despite this modest set up every morning the club would open at 3am and the party would rage until 12 noon. This was the place to go to after the clubs whether you were rich or poor, young or old, everyone was welcome and together created an atmosphere that would shape the future of electronic music across the globe. Things had progressed a little by the time Oakie and friends arrived as Ulises Braun describes ‘By 1987, Amnesia had six or seven bars and about half of them were rented out to people like me. Everything in Amnesia was spontaneous and different. It was a wild time. There were no laws: people were making love on the dance floor, drinking and dancing, taking litres of liquid ecstasy between them. It looked like a Federico Fellini movie; every personality was different.’ The decision to spend a large chunk of the little money they had on traveling miles to a club they’d never heard of would turn out to be the one of the best they ever made as Johnny Walker explains ‘We were under the stars, in the warm summer air, hearing this amazing mixture Alfredo was playing. In the middle of the open air dance floor was a mirrored pyramid, then around the edges were bars and chill out areas with cushions, and Mediterranean and tropical plants. It was high walled, like being in a tropical garden.’ But it wasn’t just the drugs, sex and spiritual vibe that affected the group, it was the music. As Oakenfold said ’In England at that time, clubs only played one type of music, and London was full of attitude. But at Amnesia you had 7,000 people dancing to Cyndi Lauper. Total freedom.’ It’s no surprise that within five months of being back in London, three ground-breaking new clubs opened, Oakenfolds ‘Spectrum, Ramplings ‘Shroom’ and Nicky Hollways ‘Trip’. The nights went from strength to strength but the group never forgot who was behind their success, Alfredo. Oakenfold flew him over to London on several occasions, Alfredo still being up for a party even after playing every night for seven months!

Fast forward to the summer of 2014 and my own trip to Amnesia, for one of the islands most successful ever club nights, Cream. Tickets were between €45 and €60 but the real horror is the drink pricing once inside the venue. Two rum and cokes will set you back a further €40 and a bottle of water so small you won’t find it in any shop is €10. Don’t think you can just go and get yourself a drink from the tap in the toilets as you will be treated to dehydrating, warm, salt water. No chance of finding a seat to cool down either as the only seating is for the disinterested VIPs looking down from the balconies above. Even the camel and bed that used to be at the back of the terrace has been removed to make way for another money making bar. The terrace is a historical name as the venue now has no open air spaces after a roof was added making it appear more like a warehouse than a Mediterranean paradise. The music was still amazing and the sound system incredible, but the atmosphere is nothing like it was even when I first went in 2001. As Paul Van Dyk left the decks at 4am, John O’Callaghen stepped up to take the music to another level but the dance floor didn’t reflect this as a few people started to drift away throughout his set. I’m not sure how this was even possible as we were glued to the dance floor for 2 hours of hypnotic trance and techno, delivered through the legendary chest vibrating Amnesia V-prof sound system and accompanied by constant freezing cold blasts from the ten ice canons so famous they have their own Facebook page! By the time Adam Ellis took control to finish off the night the dance floor was down to the die-hards, a far cry from the days of Alfredo as Ulises Braun reminisces ‘When Alfredo stopped the music, people started to scream: ‘Alfredo! Alfredo!’

What truly concerns me however is the atmosphere at Amnesia was actually a lot better than it had been the previous night at Pacha for ‘Aoki’s Playhouse’. When I arrived Tommy Trash was banging out his usual adrenaline fuelled big room house sound to a disinterested crowd of wannabe super models and Italian footballers. It was, much to my dismay, actually uncomfortable to be on the dance floor for Trashes set, being in the midst of a sea of bored or at best blank faces. I was approaching the decision to leave but I’m glad I didn’t as everything changed when Steve Aoki finally hit the decks. The club suddenly transformed from resembling a station packed full of commuters awaiting their delayed train to a super club with a richly deserved global reputation for putting on nights you will never forget, if indeed you remembered them in the first place! Still, I couldn’t help but think to myself that this is not what Ibiza is about; it’s never been about going to a famous club to see a famous DJ, posting a selfie on Facebook, and then going home at the end of the set. Thankfully Steve Aoki himself still encompasses the old Ibiza spirit as he joined me on the dance floor at the end of his set and danced amongst the crowd until 7am appeared without warning, the music stopped and it was time to step out under the painfully bright morning sky and begin to try and work out how we would ever get back to San An.

Two days after I got back to England I read that Orlando Bloom had been involved in a fist fight with Justin Bieber in a restaurant on the Island, the article mentioned the likes of Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton being there at the time and I wondered how the four of them would have coped at Amnesia in 1987. Overall my sixteenth trip to the White Isle had been great, it definitely hadn’t been cheap and hadn’t been as good as in the past, but I still wouldn’t swap it for a week of cheap shots and dubious girls in Magaluf or stag infested pub crawls in Benidorm so maybe there really is no viable alternative to Ibiza? Maybe the clubs can try and price out the average clubber in favour of celebs but we’ll just have to save a bit harder, work a few more shifts and have a few more cheap nights in and head back again next summer regardless. But not everyone is thinking this way. New club scenes are emerging around the world… If you want big, glamorous, multi-million dollar venues and daily pool parties with regular A-list DJ’s, Las Vegas might be the place for you. If it’s the open air, hippy beach vibe you’re chasing then Thailand or Goa might be worth looking into. For the original free love Ibiza experience, the Burning Man festival in the Nevada Desert is the ultimate rebellion against overpriced, celebrity commercialism. The bad news is they are all so far away and the flights are so expensive. The good news? There may yet be another alternative.

Mark Broadbent was the former programmer at seminal Ibiza event “We Love”, but as he explains “I left what for some would have been the dream job of programming one of the best parties in the world due to a lack of enthusiasm in the way things are heading in Ibiza. A very different kind of clubber now comes here than 10 years ago, but Ibiza needs this kind of tourist to sustain the growth made during these past 10 years. The face of Ibiza has now changed … and there are now other places to visit if you want to recapture that hippie/free spirit we once loved here so much many moons ago.” So where is Mark now? He’s resurfaced in Croatia as chief promoter for The Garden Festival’s off-site, open-air venue, Barbarella’s, and he’s not the only one making the switch from Ibiza to Croatia. Croatia now hosts over 20 summer festivals, including Hideout, which has exploded onto the European festival scene. One of Hideouts founders, Dan Blackledge, a former promoter in Ibiza himself, does not think comparisons between the two are fair “I think people are saying that because it’s another destination that’s getting increasingly popular and has electronic music but, in my opinion, it is completely different to Ibiza. It’s new, it’s fresh, and you can dance outside, all day until 6 in the morning under the stars, next to the sea, next to the mountains and forests. I don’t know anywhere in Ibiza that you can do that anymore.” Even Ibiza legend Richie Hawtin is beginning to think there might be something special developing in Croatia “There’s a lot of talk about whether Croatia is the next ‪#‎TechnoTourist‬ destination, specially with Ibiza starting its slow course to re-invent itself more as a VIP than a tourist destination,” the ENTER head honcho ponders in a new Facebook post. ‬‬”If Friday night was any test of that then perhaps these rumours of Croatia are true. The Sonus Festival, it’s incredibly curated line-up of top electronic talent & world class production …was a lightning rod of the energy and happiness that can be created when you combine great open-air venues, cool people and amazing music.”

All this talk of Croatia prompted Ibiza-Spotlight.com to send reporter Francesca Evans over to examine the truth behind the hype. She concluded ‘A festival capital by all means and if anything, Croatia is a nod to the old White Isle. But think of Croatia as the sparkling rocket, whizzing ahead in to everyone’s conscience, while Ibiza is the slow burning Catherine Wheel, still as bright and as beautiful as always. There’s enough room for the two fireworks in dance music’s display’ Maybe so, but if Ibiza doesn’t re-evaluate its current path soon, it may finally burn out forever.

Jamie Rylett

For more Ibiza discussion, make sure you check out the Ibiza special episode of my podcast Eat Sleep Grow Repeat with special guest Chicane at: http://eatsleepgrowrepeat.com/chicane-ibiza-special-edition/

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