Originally published in DJ Mag
Like a tear-away teenager who has finally gotten a haircut, settled down and found a steady job, Ibiza seems to have succumbed to well-managed corporate clubbing. The behemouth clubs – Space, Privilege, Pacha, Amnesia – are branded, air-conditioned, enclosed, and open and close on the dot of the legal hour. But that doesn’t mean it’s all over for the island’s free spirits. Step outside the rigorously soundproofed walls of the mainstream giants and you’ll hear the distant but distinct beat of a different drummer.
Listen closely. There are basslines rippling in the bellies of disused quarries. Synth stabs snaking across the waves. A jungle beat drum stirring the beasts in an abandoned zoo. This is alternative Ibiza clubbing. Raw. Unreconstructed. Adventurous. A return to the original spirit of the island where a party started whenever a few people got together, opened a bottle and started bashing some drums.
Contrary to rumour the new, stricter licensing laws in 2008 haven’t stamped out the crazy, alternative side of Ibiza clubbing – they’ve just made it get more creative. The result? Fantastically exciting, unforgettable parties which if you just know where to look.
It’s all about who you know when it comes to private parties. “The best thing to do is make friends with the workers, if anything’s going on they’ll know about it,” advises Grego O’Halloran, a veteran of several seasons on the island. That doesn’t just mean hanging out with San An flyer girls though. If you’re after a more sophisticated bash head into old Ibiza Town and down a few drinks around Sa Penya (behind bustling gay strip Calle de Virgin). This is the favourite hang-out of trendy Euros, local bohemian types and a stylish gay crowd that never seems to sleep. Make friends here and you’ll have more invites than you know what to do with.
Depending on your blagging skills you might even be lucky enough to be included in a promoter’s private bash. “You don’t think we go to bed at 8AM do you?” Cocoon manager Johannes Goller says with a laugh. “Last week we had an after-party that went till midnight on Tuesday. But unfortunately it’s just for our inner circle. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to do bigger parties again.”
However, don’t expect all promoter bashes to be in luxuriant white-walled palaces in the remote hills. Last summer Matinee’s after-after parties were at sprawling old house just off the Sant Jose carretera with bottles on the floor, decks on the kitchen table and columns of ants marching up and down the walls. Crazy, messy, unhygienic, but a hell of a lot of fun.
This DIY trend is on the upswing this season – for punters, promoters and A-list stars alike, according to Brian, director of specialist sound equipment hire service BeeZwax.co.uk. “Everyone knows about the clamp-down on unlicensed villa parties, and the massive fines so people are more cautious. You won’t get any of the old ‘pay on the door’ parties, but apart from that very little has changed. Our regular customers are still hiring equipment and people are still having parties, they’re just smaller. The trend this year is for more intimate gatherings, not big parties.
“Everyone thinks everything is completely different but really it’s only harder to get yourself invited.”
Sometimes the old favourites are the best, and there is no more classic an alternative party in Ibiza than Bora Bora, the quintessential daytime party where you can dance with sand between your toes, dash to the sea for a dip and never be out of earshot of the music.
This year, the beats don’t kick in till 4.30PM, but who gets out of bed before 3.30 anyway? Which leaves plenty of time to get down to the beach and have a drink in your hand when the sound system fires up. If anything, the restriction has enhanced the party atmosphere. Now, instead of being one option among many a trip to Bora Bora is an essential show of loyalty – a way of saying, we’re still here and we’re going to party! Plus, the late opening means less chance of getting a third-degree sunburn while having a boogie.
Forget Meganite – the coolest parties in Ibiza are small but perfectly formed. And they have in common the desire to see the island thrive despite the wave of bad publicity about the perceived shut-down. “Sure, things are a little different this year. A little more challenging, but if you love a place you work around it,” says Ryan O’Gorman, who has his hands full running not one but three alternative promotions.
A regular on the island thanks to his Vitalik parties and Electricsex, which shares Saturday nights at Eden with MondoLoco, this year O’Gorman has branched out to start Sounds Like Us – aimed at fill the Monday afternoon hole left by DC10’s closing. Running from 5PM to midnight at Boulevard in San An, it kicked off with a set from DC10 resident Clive Henry, a sort of “thanks, we’re still here” note to fans. “We’re only running Sounds Like Us on Mondays till DC10 reopens, then we’re moving to Wednesday,” O’Gorman says. “It’s a deep house party with different guests every week. Boulevard looks like an old man’s pub from outside, but it’s got a great terrace and holds over 500 people, which is perfect.”
Also on the small-venue tip is London electro-tech fave DDD, who’ve swapped their old home in King’s Cross for the soothing surroundings of Aura, near Sant Llorenc. Once upon a time their DDD handle stood for ‘deep down and dirty’ but in keeping with the refined setting they’ve dubbed their Ibiza nights ‘dinner, drink and dance’ – with the hope of starting in a civilised fashion with tapas and cocktails before letting loose on the dancefloor in the small hours.
Lost at sea
“Shipwrecked is completely legal, but anyway, we’re on a boat, so there’s not much they can do about it,” says organiser Tracy Jones with a laugh. She and a small team from White Island Sounds have been crewing the raucous Shipwrecked boat parties (in cooperation with The Ship – San An’s famous pub-come-jobcentre) for three years but the party has come into its own this summer dry-land after-party alternatives have disappeared.
Every Wednesday morning (and Saturdays, during peak season) at 7AM a 250 capacity boat sets sail from San An with a riotous crew of workers and friends running amok. Pirate costumes, face paint, up-all-night eyes and cheap-and-cheerful bar prices all ensure the vibe is intimate and unpretentious. As well as being hugely popular with West End crowd who are just finishing their shifts as the boat prepares to sail the party is a favourite with clubbers looking for after-party options. “This summer has been absolutely fabulous. We’re definitely filling a bit of a gap now the after-hours are gone, which means anyone who doesn’t arrive early gets left behind,” Tracy says.
Other high-seas adventures include the Noah’s Ark boat party, which kicks off at 2PM every Saturday as a pre-party for the Zoo Project in Benimussa Hills, as well as Pukka Up’s hugely popular sunset cruise pre-party every Monday from 7-10PM.
The breakfast club
Spiritual home of white Speedos and outrageous benders, the infamous Pikes hotel, near San An, has revived a much loved daytime institution: the Pikes breakfast club. Back in the 80s when Freddie Mercury, George Michael and Julio Iglesis were regular visitors they would roll in with their entourages at odd hours of the morning and plunk down by the pool for breakfast and cocktails. With the official after-hours kaput Pikes decided this was the perfect time to offer their own alternative again, every Sunday morning – complete with frozen Bloody Marys and chilled-out music from resident Jon Sa Trinxa and a variety of guests including Dave Philips of We Love and Pacha’s Andy Wilson.
“It’s been a great start. We had Danny Rampling and David Morales come straight from Pacha the other week,” says Pikes’ publicist Octavia Coates.
The ultimate challenge for promoters – and the ultimate thrill for partiers – remains the mythic open air rave. Stuart Geddes, one-half of the Mulletover team, points out: “The problem is a lot of areas [in Ibiza] have been used before and the accessible places are pretty well known to the police.”
This hasn’t stopped the intrepid Vitalik crew who, after losing their home at Cova Santa, decided to get creative – and discovered a hugely useful piece of local knowledge. “We decided to base them around local fiestas – it’s easier to get licenses and you can carry on after midnight,” explains Ryan O’Gorman. The first is slated for a secret location on Saint Bartholomew’s day (24th August in San An). Other possible locations include Cala Tarida later in the year.
“It’s about finding the right place for our music, to create an experience, something out of the ordinary. We’ll hopefully have DJs from Freak n’ Chic and Tenax down.”
Swimming pools, dancing bunnies and headless chickens are all in a night’s work for the Zoo Project, a head-twisting techno party held weekly in an abandoned zoo in the Benimussa Hills outside San Antonio. Born as a one-off party two years ago, the Zoo Project has rapidly become a cult favourite, attracting a melange of dressed-up party freaks with its policy of strictly grade-A underground tunes (Clive Henry, Mr C, Jose de Divina and Jamie Jones are guests, alongside residents including co-founder Defex and Michael James) plus performances, massage and plenty of freewheeling lunacy.
Now, as the pretty much the last legal, open-air party available the Zoo Project’s animal spirit is contagious. “I think we fill a little bit of the gap of DC10 being gone. Word is spreading. We’re seeing an increasingly international crowd who want to experience something that can only happen in Ibiza. The Zoo Project has an incredible energy – when you’re there you know you’re really on the island,” says promoter Katie.
While the island’s biggest clubs have capitulated to corporate logos, heavily sponsored nights and incessant promotion Undergound – perched just opposite Privilege on the road to Sant Rafael – has stubbornly maintained its back-to-basics ethos. Owner Nick Fry spent the 80s in the London club scene and is keen to maintain a little corner of Ibiza for the spirit of acid house. “We don’t have big promoters or charge on the door. Underground is about music and that’s always our focus,” he says.
Parties vary accordingly, with Nick hosting Fridays, Leftfield’s Paul Daly doing fortnightly Saturday parties and stellar guests ranging from Trentemoller to Anthony Collins to Mathew Johnson turning up on a regular basis. Underground is also one of the few clubs open throughout the winter, making it an off-season haven for workers and locals.