Originally published in Ibiza Now
In the course of three days the only reaction I’ve received from Serbs when I told them where I’m from is sheer incredulity.
“You’re from Ibiza? What are you doing here?” one lad asks me, peering at me over his sunglasses as if I were a rare zoological specimen.
Errr, I’m here for the Exit Festival. It’s great, I mumble, a little taken aback.
I could easily reel off a list of reasons why clubbers swilling around the streets of Ibiza would consider Exit a far better thing. It’s blazing hot. Tins of beer sell for about a euro on the street and even at the “expensive” festival booze stands a beer is €2, a glass of wine €1.50. The dance arena is a huge, impressive open air space with plenty of room for 20,000 ravers to dance beneath the stars in the milk-warm night. As for licensing hours – the last DJ doesn’t begin his set till 6.30AM, half an hour after Ibiza clubs are legally required to shut off their sound systems. By the time the final DJ is wrapping up at eight or nine in the morning it’s getting too hot to dance anyway, making it the perfect time to hit the nearby beach to cool off with a few more tins of beer.
It sounds like paradise on earth, right? No wonder the clubbing cognascenti and A-list DJs won’t stop banging on about how much they love Eastern Europe. About the cheap booze, the total freedom, the hordes of beautiful women. Don’t you realise, I want to ask my inquisitors, you’re living the dream? Don’t you know Ibiza is over-priced, over-commercialised, over-regulated and, according to some hardened sceptics, just over?
Wandering between impromptu stands selling beers, kebabs, key-rings and pirate CDs it hits me. What makes Exit, or any party in Eastern Europe, so great for us spoiled Westerners is precisely what is bad for the locals. Though from what I see the British invasion is both well-behaved and well-received the fact remains that Exit works because of massive economic inequality. What is a cheap weekend away for Brits or Spaniards is a huge cash infusion into the strapped Serbian economy (a middle manager for a multi-national company I meet clears just 300€ a month, a university student considers fees of €1200 a year prohibitively expensive). The apparently superior “party spirit” of Eastern Europe is simply a willingness to tolerate more because they have less.
Ibiza was once the same. When the first waves of mass tourism hit they put up with a gross invasion because the marauders were paying cash. Gradually, as demand and supply evened out and Ibiza attained a higher general standard of living the island has became more powerful, more decisive about what they will and won’t accept. The new licensing laws and increased stringencies are not an indication the island has lost its sense of fun, but that it has reached a certain level of economic power. The clout is no longer entirely on the side of the beer-swilling Brit staggering through the West End, or the coked-up City boy lording it in the VIP. Ibiza has gained the stability and confidence to start making rules on its own terms again.
Whether or not you agree with the extent of some of Ibiza’s new regulations friends of the island should be proud and happy it has reached a point where it can once again set standards, that it is the captain of its fate. People who simply want to raise hell will always find a poorer nation prepared to look the other way as they behave disgracefully but we should be pleased Ibiza has outgrown that phase.
Judging by their reactions the locals can’t wait for the day that Serbia gains a measure of economic swagger. Not because they are looking forward to shutting down the great parties and putting a lid on Exit’s open-air rave (hopefully they won’t!) but because it will mean they are finally as free to party in London or Ibiza as we are to go dancing in Serbia. Even if it does meaning a little of the current liberal attitude, who are we to complain? It is mere selfishness to wish our pleasure to take precedence over someone else’s livelihood. In the long run, equality benefits everyone.