The Secret Life of Language

Go, go, go to The Nervous Breakdown to read my profile of psychologist and author James Pennebaker, a lovely man bursting with clever ideas who was kind enough to share his time to talk about life, linguistics and his book The Secret Life of Pronouns.

Academics are easy to caricature. Sketch a figure in a rumpled suit jacket with messy hair and a pair of glasses clinging doggedly to the tip of his nose and you’ll win that round of Pictionary. Dr James Pennebaker, though, defies expectations. A renowned researcher, author, and chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin, he blends down-to-earth bonhomie with a taste for Lanesborough Hotel martinis, and hones his brilliant mind with long-distance running.

I contacted Dr Pennebaker after reading an excerpt from his latest book, The Secret Life of Pronouns. The product of fifteen years of research, The Secret Life of Pronouns argues that the way people use pronouns – the itty-bitty words like ‘you’, ‘I’ and ‘we’ that account for more than half of daily conversation – can predict things like emotional state (depressed people say “I” a lot), social status (powerful people use “I” less frequently), or truthfulness (liars tend to say “we”). No self-respecting word geek could fail to be intrigued.

Click here to continue reading.

Higher Education Academy Winning Essay

In the spring I won the Higher Education Academy Student Essay Competition, which paid for my Kindle. Hurrah! Anyway, below, my winning essay on “What do English or Creative Writing have to say to an age of austerity?”

When the recession first bared its teeth a literary friend of mine was blasé. Writers are used to being poor, she said, what’s new? She was right. The age of austerity is simply the rest of the world getting a glimpse of life as lived by “lifetime English majors” (as Buddy Glass called us) and creative writers since – oh – just about forever. Writers ranging from George Orwell to Hunter S Thompson, Oscar Wilde to Mavis Gallant, have lived in – and written some of their most exquisite, lacerating prose on the subject of – abject poverty.

You will have to have another job, Italian novelist and poet Natalia Ginzburg noted matter-of-factly in her essay, My Vocation, a love-letter to the art of creative writing. Few writers are fortunate enough to be able to prove her wrong. Even when times were good for the rest of the world: when hedge funds grew into dense money-thickets and credit was easy, when house prices rose and investment portfolios swelled with promise, writers shared little of the bounty. There were – and are – exceptions, of course. Some writers sell enough to buy a house in the country, a few nab movie deals, or churn out novels regularly enough to enjoy life in a certain style. Once in a while, a six-figure publishing deal makes headlines. For most, though, the act of writing, even for publication, is so remote from any prospect of financial reward as to render money virtually meaningless. The best advice I can give you, a literary agent told my course-mates and I, is to marry someone with money. She was only half joking.

Writers take for granted that talent, education and dedication do not necessarily lead to material success. This particular reality has come as an ice-water shock, however, to those who followed the beaten path from A-levels to university assuming it would lead them right into a secure job in their chosen field. During the boom years this progression seemed irrefutable; like two-plus-two equalling four. All you had to do, in order to have a comfortable life, was learn something useful like business, banking, marketing, or management, and then sashay into a comfortable office, regular paid holidays and the eventual promise of a respectable three-bedroom semi somewhere on the commuter belt. When there were plenty of well-paid jobs available choosing to pursue English or creative writing was seen as at best frivolous, and at worst a dangerous brand of stubborn, self-defeating stupidity. Writers, like other artists, were asked: “Why don’t you get a proper job?” Now, there is no such thing as a “proper job”. Graduate unemployment is at a record high and it isn’t just humanities students who can’t find jobs. According to the BBC more electrical engineers are unemployed than are modern languages graduates, and fine arts is no worse a course, in terms of employment potential, than economics or civil engineering. The promise of the proper job turns out to be hollow.

Because English students and writers have never really participated in the collective fantasy of eternal satisfaction through consumption we are uniquely placed to help our stunned compatriots make necessary adjustments. Creative writers and English students don’t make calculations based on salary packages; we choose differently. We don’t talk about how much money we will be earning in five years, but about the novel we’re writing, our next article, or the screen-play we are going to adapt. Since we have no corporate ladder to climb, no water-cooler politicking to do, we spend our time reading, writing blogs, publishing journals, running workshops or teaching. We define ourselves by what we create in a world where the phrase “creative type” is commonly used as a pejorative. Compelled to question the petty orthodoxies about what we should or shouldn’t do with our lives, creative writers develop the habit of asking questions, of deciding for ourselves – day by day – who we are and how we want to live. “Freedom is a choice,” Hunter Thompson said, “You decide who you are by what you do.” Because writers have typically fallen outside of society’s casual assumptions about money and success we have learned the art of self-definition.

Writers have valuable truths to share in an age of austerity. We can encourage people to stop chasing illusive financial gains and focus on building a life around work they love. We are here to testify that creative work is a vital and satisfying life choice, not a privilege of rich dilettantes. Most of all, writers are proof that poverty is not fatal. We know from experience that there are many ways to take the sting out of a scant bank balance. Our leisure time is different: most writers don’t spend Saturday afternoons shopping, or own the latest flat-screen TV. Instead of going to restaurants we have friends round for dinner. We cultivate gardens, learn to sew or cook, take the time to bake home-made Christmas treats or make our own marmalade. We are familiar with frugality, with library cards, discount vouchers, charity shops, battered trainers and hand-made gifts. Rather than feel deprived, writers and “lifetime English majors” embrace the challenge of freedom and creativity, and can help show society that there is more to life than scrambling up the property ladder, or wearing the latest fashion. As Henry David Thoreau, a writer who knew a great deal about austerity, so beautifully articulated: “It is life nearest the bone where it is sweetest…. Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.”

Penn – the Social Ivy

I am amused to find a 1999 newspaper column (see below) that I wrote for The Daily Pennsylvanian preserved on the Harvard Crimson site. Did I write it at their request? Syndicate it? Damned if I remember but at least I can claim to have published at Harvard.

Joan Didion wrote: “We are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the poeople we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” I don’t think I’d find my 19-year-old self attractive company. Her politics are non-existent and the jokes are toe-curling. (The Fresh Prince! Really?) But bless her, she had chutzpah.

In West Philadelphia, The Social Ivy

Welcome to the University of Pennsylvania.

If you want to find out about that state school with the good football team, you’re in the wrong place. But if you want a school that offers its undergraduates a vast array of academic opportunities; great sports teams (well, for the Ivy League); and a thriving metropolis (if you can call West Philly that), then read on.

Here’s an account of the good, the bad and the toast throwing to help you see if Ben Franklin’s university is the one for you.

Academic Life

Before you applied to Penn, you selected which of the four undergraduate schools you wanted to be a part of: Wharton School of Business, the College of Arts and Sciences, Engineering or Nursing. What you probably didn’t know is that when you chose a school you also chose your academic reputation for the next four years.

Wharton is the best undergraduate business school in the nation, and the Wharton students will never let anyone else forget it. From their building in the center of campus to their computer labs from which everyone else is banned, Whartonites spend four years looking down on everyone else on campus.

The college, often referred to as the College of Arts and Crafts, is the largest of the schools with departments in the liberal arts as well as the natural and life sciences. The college also offers very popular interdisciplinary majors, such as biological basis of behavior and politics, philosophy and economics. Some college students have an inferiority complex, because they do not have a clear professional path to follow after graduation. But most enjoy the flexibility the college offers.

Students in the school of engineering and applied sciences (SEAS) are not known to be the most fun-loving people on campus. If you see someone in the library on a weekend night, they are probably in SEAS.

Nursing is by the far the smallest of the four schools with only 80 students in each year. But nursing students have the highest average starting salary of the four schools.

No matter what school you are in, you will find that your classes are almost always taught by professors. The only classes that teaching assistant lead are some of the introductory foreign language courses and many of the writing courses.

Penn has its share of the huge lecture classes, too. If you take introduction to economics, psychology, biology or chemistry, expect to be in a class with hundreds of other. All of these big classes break into recitations once a week to discuss the material in a smaller setting.

You will also have the opportunity to take small classes of under 18 students, especially if you are in the college. It is not unusual to have dinner at the professor’s house once during the semester. Many students have found themselves at past Penn President Sheldon Hackney’s house after taking his seminar on America in the ’60s.

The one thing that students in all four school agree on is the problems with the advising system–or lack thereof. Although all students get an adviser in their school and then one in their major, many students feel that advisers exist largely to sign innumerable forms and to give unsolicited advice based on precisely no prior knowledge of one’s skills or goals.

Out of the Classroom

The place where you will learn the most is probably going to be your extracurricular activity.

You can join the oldest all-male college comedy troupe in the country, Mask and Wig, or one of our many a cappella groups. You can write for a daily newspaper or go skydiving with our outdoor clubs. Whatever you choose, you will find yourself and other students completely in charge of running organizations that are among the best in their respective field in the nation. And who cares if that means no sleep?

Many students complain that Penn is a completely apathetic campus. This school is not the type where you will find students having many protests. Penn students this year were the only ones in the Ivy League not to hold a rally about sweatshop labor.

But Penn students do get excited about some things, namely our football and basketball teams. After the third quarter of every football game, students sing a song which ends with the line, “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn.” Back in the day, Penn students used to drink alcohol after singing that line, but many years ago the administration clamped down on the practice. As a protest, Penn students threw actual toast on the field, and the tradition continues to this day. Many Penn students also spend a whole weekend in October camping out at the Palestra, our fabled sports arena, in order to get season basketball tickets.

After the football team clinched the Ivy League title this year, Penn students stormed the football field, tore down one of the goalposts, marched to the Schuykill River and threw it in. And students loyally followed the basketball team to Princeton to see them capture the Ivy title and then tore down the Tigers’ own nets. Some students even flew to Seattle to see the team play in the NCAA tournament.

Housing

Last year, Penn decided to create a “college house” system, so its dorms would feel more like communities. Dorms, or college houses, now have senior faculty living in them and many programs based in the residence. Many students say they don’t notice the difference with the new system, but it is too early to tell how these will pan out.

As a first-year, you likely want to be in one of the four college houses in the Quadrangle. About half of the students decide to move off-campus. But most of the off-campus housing is directly adjacent to campus, so even if you live there, you are still close to everything. Many upperclassmen who decide to stay on campus move to one of the three high rises, apartment-style college houses.

Social Life

They don’t call Penn the “social Ivy” for nothing. Come Friday and Saturday nights (and often Thursday nights, too), you will find Penn students leaving their work behind to find a good time.

Much of your social life during the beginning of your first year will center around fraternity parties with cheap beer and bad ’80s music. However, only a third of people at Penn are involved in the Greek system. Rush occurs in the spring, so you will already have a group of friends and a better idea of how you fit into the school before you have to decide about joining.

Penn students do not confine themselves to campus, but rather take advantage of all that Philadelphia has to offer: from attending concerts at the Electric Factory to dancing at the many downtown clubs to dining out at Restaurant Row. You can easily reach downtown using the subway system, SEPTA, or taxis. But we warned, SEPTA, is dirty, slow and not so safe to ride alone at night.

Penn is also home to Spring Fling, the biggest party on the East Coast (or so they say). This year, however, the University implemented a new alcohol policy that slowed down, but certainly did not stop, people form drinking. A committee is still reviewing the alcohol policy, so it is unclear how is will affect future years.

The ‘Hood

Perhaps Penn’s most famous feature is its location: West Philadelphia. Everyone has heard the stories about the threat the neighborhood and the neighbors pose to the safety of Penn students.

However, while West Philly certainly isn’t Hanover, N.H. or Ithaca, N.Y., it is not half as bad as it is made out to be. In the past few years, violent crime has dropped dramatically. There have been a few major incidents, including an assault in the fall, and there are always the nuisance crimes, such as panhandling and bike theft. But overall, students, including the large number that come from “sheltered suburbs across the country, feel safe.

By now, you have learned almost all there is know about Penn. (You’ll have to wait until you get here to find out about Naked Dash through the Quad.) If you are looking for a school situated among rolling green hills with students who spend their free time discussing Anna Karenina, Penn is not the place for you. But if you are looking for an urban environment with students who study hard and party hard, then head on over to West Philly. The Fresh Prince is waiting.

Creative Writing Courses – What Are They Good For?

Discouraged by an aimless and effortful morning’s writing, I go browsing for inspiration. Perhaps the University of Iowa Writing Center will have some wisdom. Sure enough, the first words I encounter are so to-the-point that I check to make sure the author isn’t peering over my shoulder:

I’ve noticed three frequently recurring traps that beginning writers tend to fall into when developing characters:
[First] The narrator or protagonist of the story will often be a barely veiled version of the writer himself (in this situation, secondary characters will often also bear a close resemblance to real-life people from the writer’s life). The first problem with this is that the story tends to become autobiography dressed up as fiction.

I feel exposed, caught red-handed making up a story about someone who talks, moves, reads, dreams, and fails like I do; someone who has friends, a sister, parents, and a house like mine. Disgruntled, I go to the beach, take refuge in the lee of an abandoned boat and pull my sunhat over my face. Footsteps pad along the wooden promenade; a bike creaks past. The protagonist is a thinly disguised version of the writer. Unbidden, my brain chirps: so what? Like the final click of a combination lock, this thought is succeeded by a heavy door swinging silently open. A stream of ideas tumbles out, insistent. I sit up, fish around for a pen and notebook, and start channelling:

Is that a bad thing? First novels have to begin somewhere – why is the writer’s life a less-legitimate subject?


I’m propped awkwardly on one elbow, holding the sunhat in place with my left hand. F Scott Fitzgerald – This Side of Paradise, Mavis Gallant – When We Were Nearly Young, Martha Gellhorn – The Fall and Rise of Mrs Hapgood, Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited, J.D. Salinger – For Esme – With Love and Squalor. I could go on, and on, and on, listing magnificent fiction starring protagonists who are quite patently “barely veiled version[s] of the writer” and are, unapologetically, “autobiography dressed up as fiction.” Plainly the implicit criticism of autobiographical fiction is nonsense. Why would a writing teacher suggest otherwise?

I continue:

The problem with [creative writing] MFAs is they make you self-conscious before you should be. By telling you the stages of a writer’s development they make you want to skip through [them] but knowing and experiencing something are two different things. The self-consciousness doesn’t automatically make you better it just makes you self-conscious – this is only intermittently useful. Making dire blanket statements is lazy, and promotes the idea there is a formula to good writing – [an] ideology designed to keep people fearfully shelling out for MFAs. If I had it to do again I’d have paid off my credit card instead, or bought a round-the-world ticket and a Kindle and had something to write about.

The more I think about it, the more creative writing MAs seem like an audacious con. Writing is like having love affairs. You go through good, bad, ugly, heart-breaking, stupid, euphoric, and catastrophic iterations. You learn by doing, by making bad choices, by making good choices by accident and only recognising them as such in retrospect. There is a certain, limited amount you can absorb through studying the experience of others but, ultimately, when it’s you and the page, nothing anyone tells you is going to make your writing right. At best, you might start off being a little less wrong, but I imagine a good writer only gains a few metres competitive advantage by taking an MFA, and a bad writer will still be a bad writer – only armed with jargon.

If you wish to have a faculty for reading, read; if for writing, write…
if you wish to acquire a habit for anything, do the thing. – Epictetus

If there is a justification for teaching writing it is that most writers need deprogramming from the rest of their education. After a lifetime of rote learning, exam scores, grades, etc they need to rediscover the ability to not-much-give-a-fuck what anyone else thinks. They need to unlearn the habit of respect for authority. They need to trust their instinct and learn from the language itself. In The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas (a work of fiction U Iowa would presumably disparage) Gertrude Stein writes: “The English language was [my] medium and with the English language the task was to be achieved, the problem solved.”

A useful, necessary writing course is one that begins from the premise that great writing cannot be taught. Its function should be to protect writers – especially from excessive self-consciousness and self-criticism; to guide them around obvious pitfalls; and encourage them to write joyously, with increasing control and confidence. Good writers are invariably readers. They will absorb all the linguistic nutrients they need if they just stay rooted long enough. Writing courses should exist to give succor and space to think. Advice and writing exercises are only aids, toys for children to splash around with while they gain the strength to tackle deeper water.


NB: All of this is written with respect and appreciation for the wisdom and support of my creative writing tutors. Among other things they prompted me to read a number of excellent books based entirely on the authors’ lives and experiences.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
The Things We Used to Say – Natalia Ginzburg
Another Country – James Baldwin
To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
Goodbye to Berlin – Christopher Isherwood
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas – Gertrude Stein

F-Word Britney Spears Daddy’s Little Girl

Britney Spears & dad Jamie

Britney Spears & dad Jamie

Posted by Cila Warncke

I wrote this feature on Britney’s conservatorship titled Britney Spears, Daddy’s Little Girl? for UK feminist blog The F-Word.

When Britney’s life went into a flat spin two years ago, the tabloid knives came out, not just for her, but also for ‘stage mom’ Lynne.

Anytime anything goes wrong with a child (even a grown-up child) bad mothering is an instant blame button and Britney’s hard-drinking, head-shaving, fanny-flashing antics were taken as classic delayed teenage rebellion.

The tabloid press had a field day when Britney served her mother with a restraining order in 2007. Obviously it was Lynne’s ‘pushiness’ that finally sent Britney to the brink. After Britney was twice-sectioned in early 2008, the courts made dad Jamie her conservator and Lynne, once a constant presence at Britney’s side, pretty much vanished from the scene.

Jamie’s absolute control over Britney’s finances, property, business ventures and person (she reportedly isn’t even allowed phone calls without his permission) has been widely lauded as a very good thing. “Too bad he didn’t step in years ago when Lynne was in charge. Britney might not have been this much of a mess!” is a typical fan-site comment.

Luckily dear old dad, a big, silent, crumple-faced man whose only previous public role was standing at the back of the occasional family photo-op looking awkward, has done what any good paterfamilias would and stepped in to set things straight
The minor matter of Britney’s human rights, or rather her total lack thereof, is accepted on the basis that the conservatorship is ‘working’ and that she is ‘stable’. The courts said as much when they made the situation permanent in late 2008, meaning unless Britney – who isn’t allowed to hire her own lawyer – is able to challenge it, Jamie will be her legal guardian until he dies.

This ties up the loose ends in a neat, patriarchy-approved package. According to the script, Britney is a flighty, irresponsible female who cracked under the strain of overzealous mothering. Luckily dear old dad, a big, silent, crumple-faced man whose only previous public role was standing at the back of the occasional family photo-op looking awkward, has done what any good paterfamilias would and stepped in to set things straight….

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Exclusive Sasha Interview

Originally published in OWTL issue 39. Posted by Cila Warncke

Meeting Sasha is roughly the dance music equivalent of an audience with the Pope. Even people who don’t know (or care) anything about dance music know who he is. On the other hand, rabid fans don’t seem to know much more – only that he’s a genius mixer, DJ, and producer; that his music can change your life. No one’s quite sure, though, how a shy lad from North Wales became possibly the most recognised, and revered, DJ on the planet. Least of all him. “I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t fallen into this, ‘cause I was a lazy twat,” Sasha says, fidgeting with a Marlboro Light.

Sasha

Sasha

Part of his mystique is down to his wariness of the media merry-go-round. Before he arrived his PR runs through a list of the don’ts: Sasha doesn’t do photo shoots; Sasha doesn’t do lists. When he arrives he’s utterly amiable though, only saying he wishes he’d “handled things differently,” in the press, when he was younger. Now, he is professionally friendly, engaging; he makes eye contact, smiles a lot, when there’s a question he doesn’t much like he leans back, chuckles, and subtly shifts the topic.

Luckily, this doesn’t happen often. When we meet, Sasha is about to play his first London gig in over a year (at The Key), and is anticipating his first large-scale set at TDK Cross Central. He seems genuinely happy to be back. “I really do miss London,” he says, settling into a corner table in the Electric, on Portabello Road. For the three-odd months a year he lives in town, he’s based in West London. A handful of his mates are scattered noisily around the next table, downing mid-afternoon beers, waiting for him to finish. His PR team hovers nearby. Clearly he’s taking no chances on anymore slip ups with the press.

Londoners could be forgiven for thinking he’s gone off-radar lately. “I’ve been in America, doing residencies like Crobar and Avalon, and doing regular shows. Recently, I’ve been in New York setting up my studio,” he explains. New York is where he spends about five months of the year (the remaining four are in “airports and hotels”). The NYC connection started back when he and John Digweed were residents at Twilo, playing regular 12 hour sets of banging, dark progressive tunes. Now resident in the trendy (but not cheap) East Village he enthuses about the café culture and the way “on any given night, anything can happen.” Including moving into Garth Brook’s old studio. “It’s a really nice sounding room,” he says, of his new space, “but the last album recorded there was Kenny G’s Christmas album. We hope he hasn’t left any weird vibes,” he says, chuckling.

Sasha imparts this casually, sipping his beer, as if jet-setting between two of the world’s hippest (and most expensive) neighbourhoods were totally normal behaviour for a Bognor lad. Yet he admits when he first moved to Manchester, to try his hand at DJing he didn’t expect it to last. “A lot of my friends were DJs [too].Every winter when January came and the clubs emptied out we thought it was pretty much the end of the world. The end of the scene. All my mates thought it was a two year flash in the pan. My parents were disappointed [in me], very disappointed.”

By a stroke of good luck, as their playground, the Haçiencda (“the Haç” as he still affectionately calls it), sank into a morass of gang violence Shelly’s opened down the road in Stoke, and he landed his first residency. “People were pissed off at going to clubs and getting beaten up. There was nasty shit going on. [Shelly’s] was an hour down the road and it exploded. Even then, though, I didn’t really [think it would last].”

Sasha behind the decks

Sasha behind the decks

Sasha’s career took off and, as the international bookings started rolling in around ’93 and ’94 he thought, for the first time, maybe it would last. The next ten years are well-documented. In 1994 he and John Digweed mixed the now-legendary Renaissance compilation. It’s an album – and a friendship – that has stood the test of time. (In the course of the interview John gets 13 mentions, Sasha’s wife, two.) “John and I have a really unique relationship. It’s great working with John. He’s so professional. The exact opposite of me,” Sasha laughs. They work so closely, he says, that he can’t remember whose idea it originally was to open the Renaissance album with a daring three remixes of Leftfield’s ‘Song Of Life.’ “It worked beautifully together, but I don’t know who it was. When I work with John it’s very difficult to pinpoint after the fact. We lock ourselves in a room and listen to records for a couple of weeks, then we go and mix it down together. It’s very much a collaboration.”

And he doesn’t just mean in musical terms. Though Sasha and Digweed are only playing 10 dates together this year (“and that’s more than we’ve done in the last five years,” he says) he clearly treasures their camaraderie. “He’s a dark horse, I tell you,” he says, more than once, chuckling at some remembered mischief. His stories often loop back to reference his pal. “I’m not very good at travelling. John [Digweed] gets everything into one rucksack – CDs, change of clothes… I end up with two suitcases, two huge pieces of hand luggage. John’s always laughing at me [because] I’m always getting charged for excess baggage. If I’ve been in a hotel room ten minutes it looks like I’ve exploded… clothes everywhere! But it kind of makes me feel at home, a little bit. It helps me keep my sanity.”

The other constant in Sasha’s itinerant lifestyle is, obviously, music. It always has been, really, but technology has made it instantly accessible, all the time. “I used to check my record boxes, and – especially in the middle of the summer – they’d invariably go missing for a week at a time, somewhere,” he recalls. This sneaky respite turned into a nightmare on the eve the ‘Airdrawndagger’ launch, though. “I was flying back from Ibiza to play [the launch] at Bedrock, and my records went missing. I got back at five in the evening and basically had to go to a record shop and cobble together a DJ set from promos and stuff. It was such an important night for me, and to have that go wrong… I decided to switch to CDs, and from CDs to computer was quick.”

Armed with a Mac laptop and a London-based server Sasha will never have to do a last minute record dash again. “I update my record box every week,” he says, meaning his digital music collection. “I’m constantly downloading music, people send me stuff over Instant Messanger… Before you’d be desperately trying to get decks in your hotel room, now all my music’s on my iPod.”

The trade-off is everyone else has music at their fingertips, too. “Before, you know, I could get hold of a track and I’d have it for a year before anyone else. That just doesn’t exist anymore,” he says, a little nostalgically.

It’s an almost throw-away comment, a statement of well-known fact. But what he’s saying, in extreme shorthand, is the whole system of privilege which helped propel him, and his contemporaries like Judge Jules, Danny Rampling, Digweed, and Pete Tong, to the peak of their fame and earning power, broke down. It can’t have been an easy adjustment for one of the original superstar DJs to suddenly find that being a superstar was no longer enough to keep him ahead of the pack. To discover exclusives he once commanded because he was Sasha, were there online for any two-bit bedroom jock to play with.

The rub being, people didn’t – and don’t – expect any less. Ask if he ever gets tired of being “on duty” all the time, of working flat out to keep up with the onslaught of new music and technology, and he smiles a little. “Yeah, I guess so. But that’s my job. I mean, people expect some kind of legendary set, every time they see me. It’s important that I’m on top of things, and that I don’t disappoint people. You know, it’s hard to please everyone.”

He leans back against the leather banquette, his bright blue eyes narrowing, as he ponders this responsibility. There are several of these little pauses in the course of the interview, moments where Sasha, the musician and music fan, seems wordlessly puzzled, or even a little frustrated, by phenomenon of Sasha the DJ. Unprompted, he says DJing “never felt like a job, it always just felt like a night out, I used to blow off gigs and not really think about it.” As if the pressure of expectations could be dispersed by simply ducking it. But he corrects himself. “Maybe [I did], a long time ago, but the last six or seven years I’ll miss maybe one weekend a year, ‘cause I’m ill or something. I play virtually every weekend of the year, and when you get ill, you get ill,” he says rather vehemently. Then he leans forward, all wide-eyed sincerity. “I mean, if you have your wisdom teeth out and your face swells up twice its size you can’t really go out and DJ, can you?” he appeals.

It’s hard to tell if he’s being disingenuous, or if he honestly feels hard-done-by in public perception. More likely, his is the reaction of a fundamentally shy bloke often caught in a pressure cooker of anticipation. For example, he finds festival sets “nerve wracking.” When pressed for an explanation he shrugs. “I don’t think I play that kind of stadium filling music. I definitely struggle with what to play at festivals. And, um, so many things can go wrong, so many cock-ups can happen.”

Sasha, off-duty

Sasha, off-duty

Thousands of fans who have lost themselves in blissful oblivion at his festival sets might beg to differ, but Sasha likes the paradoxical freedom of “dark and dirty” venues. “You have a play a certain set at a festival, the biggest sound you can muster. When you play for 500 people in an intimate space you can try things out. The crowd will follow you, they’ll go with you.”

This idea of communion is, perhaps, what went missing when MP3s took over the world. Before, people who wanted to hear a certain kind of music had to go to a club, or a festival. Now, they just have to switch on their computer. It is a sea-change, Sasha readily confesses, that left him stranded for a bit. When it comes to production and DJing he does either one or the other. “I try to do studio work on the road, but… well, you’re knackered all the time. I take my laptop and don’t use it.” So, after a self-imposed touring exile of a year, to finish ‘Airdrawndagger’ (“the record label was fine, the pressure eventually came from myself”) he felt disconnected from the DJ scene. “I was kind of lost after that. [In] 2002, 2003 I was treading water. I was a bit unsure of what I was doing and where I was going.”

But luckily technology giveth, as well as taketh away, and the advent of Ableton gave Sasha a fresh perspective. “When I grabbed hold of Ableton I was so hungry to go and DJ again, I was hungry to be out there, playing.” So he did, taking to the road in the States, all over Europe and South America (where, he says, they have the best parties in the world) and dates in the UK including his Fabric residency, which came to an abrupt end last summer. Ableton, it seems, finally allowed the crowd-pleasing DJ and the perfectionist producer to work in some kind of alliance. Instead of locking himself in the studio for months Sasha can edit on the fly, showcasing his mind boggling musicality in a more direct way, satisfying his own creative urges and the audience’s insatiable appetite at the same time. “If I do a boat party in Miami, or a festival in Budapest, or a club in London, I can deliver something special. Five or six years ago I’d have a particular set I’d play, and it would evolve and change, but it would be slow, using a computer allows me to create a unique set every time I play.”

It’s a benefit that cuts both ways, as his newfound technological freedom allowed Sasha to record and release a brand new mix album in one night – thanks to Instant Live. This pioneering setup records, masters, and mixes live shows as they happen, meaning fans can walk out of a venue with a legit, properly packaged live CD at the end of a gig. Sasha’s management company set it up, and – remarkably – pre-licensed 60-odd tracks so he could pick and choose what to play on the night. Though he enjoyed it, the recording (at his Fundacion closing party at Avalon in LA) wasn’t exactly plain sailing. “At the beginning of the second CD my computer spazzed out on me. I guess ‘cause I was under pressure I wasn’t thinking straight. Normally I’d mix in a CD and reboot my computer but I thought I could fix it by fiddling with it”, he grins, miming slapping a keyboard. Hiccoughs aside, he is happy with the finished mix, and looking forward to getting to work on a studio album, proper. “I spent six weeks moving stuff and finding my way around [my new studio]. I’ll be going back in January to work on the follow up to ‘Involver’. It’ll be half DJ mix, half remixes, with some of my own productions.”

First, though, there’s the rest of the year to get through, and a string of gigs including TDK Cross Central, and Space, Ibiza, where he’s playing for We Love… since the demise of the Viva parties he co-headlined with Steve Lawler last year. Sasha is still clearly unhappy the night failed to take off. “It was launched badly. I think [the promoters] just assumed with me and Steve it would be a hands-down success,” he says, which seems like a fair analysis. Unfortunately the Sasha and Steve magic wasn’t enough to keep the night afloat. (By the end of August the headliners, including Sasha, had stopped turning up and there were only a few hundred confused looking clubbers wandering around the cargo hold of Space.) He’s philosophical, but disappointed about it. “It was humbling. It taught everyone involved a lesson. I would have liked for it to work out ‘cause you see Erick [Morillo] and Carl [Cox], they’ve both got established nights now, they’re just brilliant. Maybe next year we’ll think about doing something,” he concludes, brightening.

For every Viva, though, there’s a Southfest. Where, last December, he and John played to a screaming horde of 23,000 clubbers in Buenos Aires. “It started raining and nobody left. It was the most amazing atmosphere.” An online video clip is more illustrative: sheets of rain pour past the camera lens, Sasha – sporting film star sized aviators and a huge grin – pogos behind the decks, caught in the flashes of a blinding light show, the crowd stretching, literally, as far as the eye can see. “I felt like a rock star that night, it would be nice to relive that a few times,” he says, laughing.

TDK Cross Central won’t deliver 23,000 delirious fans, but Sasha is back in full, optimistic flow, happy to be home, excited to play for the “educated pests” (as he calls them) of London clubland. “I like festivals where you have a lot of bands and live things, it’s a bit more eclectic. It brings a healthier mix of people together. You can’t just turn up in London and play any old set. They won’t accept that. It’s challenging. But, you know, I love a challenge.”


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Mr & Mrs Smith: Ibiza Alfresco Winter Dining

Posted by Cila Warncke

Ibicenco treats

Ibicenco treats


I’ve just started doing monthly Ibiza dispatches for the excellent Mr & Mrs Smith blog. My first is on alfresco winter dining

The holidays are bearing down with freight-train inevitability so naturally, I’ve been thinking about food. My national origins call for turkey-gobbling in November, but here in Ibiza the sun is still shining and the emphasis is on fresh, organic food. Our neighbours have orange trees sporting fruit the size of softballs, a few late figs are ripening and my daily run takes me past fields of flowering potato plants and rows of ruby red peppers.

Among the best places to taste the island’s delicious home-grown vegetables are traditional Ibicenco restaurants like Cami de Balafia…

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Mixmag Special: Ibiza’s Best Restaurants

Posted by Cila Warncke

If eating out in Ibiza calls to mind McDonalds, pizza or chicken-and-chips it’s time to spread your culinary wings and discover the island’s eateries. From cosy country restaurants to luxurious seaside fish shacks Ibiza has memorable dining for every taste. From the hills of Sant Rafael to the white beaches of Formentera, we’ve unearthed Ibiza’s finest restaurants. Buen approveche…


Es Xarcu
, Cala Es Xarcu, Porroig, 971 187 867
A case of “more than meets the eye” Es Xarcu is a seriously luxurious (and pricy) restaurant masquerading as a casual beach shack. The clue is in the fact it is more easily accessible by yacht than by car – and in the opulant villas on the cliffs above. Try the meltingly fresh fish, the gallo de San Pedro cooked in white wine sauce is a favourite.
Best bit: Leaning back and sparking one of their expensive cigars while you ogle the floating palaces of the rich and famous.

La Paloma

La Paloma

La Paloma, Sant Llorenc 971 325 543
There are pizza places by the dozen but La Paloma, in the quant village of Sant Llorenc, is where locals go for genuine Italian cooking. Bright, airy and rich in charming details (the heart-shaped backs of the white wooden chairs, the candle-lit garden) it is an ideal peak-season alternative to buzzing seaside dining.
Best bit: If you or your guest is vegetarian La Paloma’s organic vegetable garden and amiable attitude make this an unusually welcoming experience.

Café Macao, Santa Gertrudis 971 197 835
There are two Café Macao’s in Ibiza and most websites still point you to the location at the end of the harbour in Ibiza Town. However, the original owners have taken their expertise and loyal following to the countrified comfort of the it-crowd’s new favourite village, Santa Gertrudis, whose homey comfort is the perfect setting for their refined Italian cuisine.
Best bit: The cosy décor has been lovingly sourced by the owners over the years – every piece has a story.

Sa Punta, Talamanca beach 971 193 424
There is no shortage of beachside nibbles at Talamanca but for the best nosh head past the first parade of snack shacks to Sa Punta, a favourite destination for the beach’s regular visitors. Not to be confused with the Sa Punta in San An bay, this relaxed eatery is situated at the far end of the beach past the salt flats of Ses Feixes it cultivates an atmosphere of intimacy against the sweep of the sea. Painstakingly fresh seafood is a speciality, naturally.
Best bit: Near enough Ibiza Town to have a civilised evening meal before strolling to Pacha.

KM5 Caraterra Sant Josep, km5 971 396 349
The spot for luxurious lounging, KM5 is a magnet for everyone from DJs to disco dollies to minted Continentals. Owner Patrick Soks and his partner Philip have created a 1001-nights meets Eurotrash vibe that ticks all the right boxes. Come for cocktails, stay for elegently presented modern European cuisine.
Best bit: Wallow in the ample cushions of the lounge area while ogling the barely dressed molls wandering past.

El Olivo, Plaza de la Vila 8-9, Ibiza 971 300 680

Catch of the day

Catch of the day

There are a multitude of good restaurants lining the Plaza de la Vila, but Ibiza veteran’s unanimous first choice is El Olivo. Owners Pierrick and Frederic have carved a niche with simple but fresh, lively modern French cooking. If you’re looking for a break from seafood try their lamb with raspberry vinagrette or sample foie gras.
Best bit: Book a table outside to enjoy the fantastic free show of Dalt Vila’s bustling nighttime streets.

Juan y Andrea, Carretera La Savina-es Pujols, Formentera 971 187 130
If you only go to one restaurant on Formentera make sure it’s Juan Y Andrea’s. King Juan Carlos I and Bill Clinton have both visited, but you don’t have to be an upper-crust politician to enjoy the elegant ambiance. If you happen to arrive by yacht they’ll ferry lunch to you, otherwise sit beneath the palm trees with sand beneath your toes as you tuck into specialities like labuna a la sal (sea bass baked in salt crust).
Best bit: Picking a live lobster from the tank and having it end up a perfectly cooked delicacy on your plate.

L’Elephant, Plaza Iglesia, San Rafael 971 198 056,
The sort of place that lures in reviewers from both the Sunday Times and the New York Times, L’Elephant earns its “destination” status with a delicious menus and fabulously stylish surroundings. They serve up incredible food, including some of the island’s best sushi. And if the cocktails don’t make your head spin the stunning vistas from the roof terrace will.
Best bit: Jaw-dropping views from the sexy minimal-chic rooftop.

El Ayoun, San Rafael Calle Isidor Macabich 6, San Rafael 971 198 335
Possibly the hardest-partying Moroccan restaurant on the planet, El Ayoun lost its music license last summer after one too many amazing parties. They’ve spent the winter working on improvements which won’t irk the noise police. As well as renovating the decadent interior they’ve added Vietnamese cuisine and sushi to their much loved repetoire of French and Moroccan classics.
Best bit: Their new Club Sushi menu makes them one of a handful of restaurants where Itsu junkies can get their fish fix.

Casa Colonia, Santa Eulalia Road 07840 Santa Eulària 971 338 001
There are gardens and there are gardens; Casa Colonial boasts the latter. Tuck into exquisite French or Thai food as you sit amidst flowering bougainvillea on the grounds of this converted country-house. Book on a Monday and you may find yourself rubbing shoulders with the Cocoon crew – it’s Sven Vath’s favourite lunch spot.
Best bit: Quite simply, the setting. Be sure to book ahead for a sun-dappled spot beneath the palm trees.

La Brasa, Carrer Pere Sala 3, Ibiza 971 301 202
Fairy lights woven amidst banana fronds turn La Brasa’s courtyard into an enchanted oasis just beyond the bustle of Plaza del Parque. Try the Ibiza sea crab salad, salmon in a delicate langoustine cream sauce or tuck into rustic rabbit – roasted whole in front of you on their outdoor grill.
Best bit: Homemade ice cream washed down with an espresso.

Cami de Balafia, Sant Llorenç, Carretera San Juan, KM15.4 971 325 019
Cami de Balafia is possibly the best argument on the island for simple food done to perfection. All they do is grill meat over a variety of woods including olive, almond and carob, but the results are mouth-watering. Expertly cooked cuts are served up with incredibly fresh salads and plenty of wine. Come in the early evening to grab a seat near the succulent scent of the grill and watch twilight turn to starlight over the campo.
Best bit: According to Erick Morillo, the salad – “I’ll bet anyone a 100 bucks they won’t ever taste nicer tomatoes.”

Es Camp Vell, Sant Mateu 971 805 036
You can’t miss Es Camp Vell because there is very little in San Mateu apart from it and the church, which stands watchfully next to this classic Ibicenco restaurant. You’re far more likely to be rubbing shoulders with local families here than with designer-clad tourists, which is remarkably refreshing. The food is reliable and unpretentious: grilled meats, paellas and fresh produce from nearby orchards make satisfying repasts.
Best bit: Walk off lunch with a stroll past fruit laden vineyards and emerald green fields.

Cala Jondal

Cala Jondal

Blue Marlin, Cala Jondal 971 410 117
Possibly the most iconic beach bar in Ibiza, Blue Marlin is a favourite sunset destination and – once or twice a year – home to the most exclusive parties on the island. Last year Kate Moss and her posse rocked up for Ibiza Voice’s Blue Velvet closing party. But even sans supermodels it’s worth a vist for thoroughly chic seaside dining.
Best bit: Lying on a huge, 360 sunlounger drinking one of their exquisite mojitos as the sun sinks into the sea.

Yemanja, Cala Jondal 971 187481
Rubbing shoulders with Blue Marlin, Yemanja offers a slightly more laid-back, familiar atmosphere than its glamour puss neighbour. Lively groups and extended families decamp around long wooden tables laden with paellas, salads and fresh seafood. With attentive staff ferrying out endless bottles of wine lunch can easily turn into dinner, so book ahead if you want to guarantee a seat.
Best bit: Swinging your feet in the sand as you knock back a glass or three of their speciality cava sangria.

Jockey Club, Salinas 971 315 788
A relaxed yet decidedly chic hangout, the fifteen-year-old Jockey Club is one of Ibiza’s most iconic beach bars. Rows of gleaming white sunloungers stake out the restaurant’s turf, creating a champage-bucket and oyster-platter littered oasis of fine dining amidst the Salinas crowds. Snap your fingers for another drink then lie back and gaze out towards Formentera as the world goes by.
Best bit: A spot on one of the Jockey Club loungers is a front-row seat to the action at Ibiza’s most glamorous beach.

Es Cavallet

Es Cavallet

Chiringuito, Playa d’es Cavallet, Sant Josep 971 395 355/971 395 485
The laidback jewel of the southern beaches, Chiringuito Es Cavallet has been a magnet for fans of beach cuisine for more than twenty years. Founders Cristina and Jose Luis started with a kiosk in the 80s which has grown into a beloved restaurant. Hire an umbrella, stake your place in the sand and enjoy specialities like tuna carpacchio, smoked cod salad or grilled meat.
Best bit: Taking in the parade of fit, bronzed, barely covered flesh parading past while sipping on something from their excellent wine list.

Es Torrent, Playa d’es Torrent 971 802160
Reputedly the best fish restaurant in Ibiza, Es Torrent is a gourmand experience. Owner Xicu Sala built it up from a humble chiringuito more than a decade ago and it’s now a favourite hangout for chic foodies who like having their meals caught-to-order (they’ll take your fish requests when you call for reservations). Eating here may be the closest you ever get to royalty, quite literally, so make an occasion of it.
Best bit: The uniquely Ibicenco vibe of pure indulgence in a completely relaxed, unhurried atmosphere.

Tropicana, Cala Jondal 971 802 640 http://www.tropicanaibiza.com
Completing the Cala Jondal trio is Tropicana, a favourite destination for the yacht-club set thanks to their cheerful boat-catering service. If you arrive on dry land you make the most of their services including speedy delivery of fabulous caipirinhas or, if it’s been a long night/day before, freshly squeezed juices and an ample Mediterranean menu.
Best bit: Their massage service – the perfect way to rejuvenate and prepare for your next assault on the clubs.

Ama Lur, Ctra. Sant Miguel, Km 2.3 971 314 554
Taking its name from the mother-goddess of Basque mythology, Ama Lur is the crème de la crème of Ibicenco eating. Blending Basque-country cooking with Mediterranean touches, it offers hearty cuts of meat, fresh cheeses and splendid homemade puddings. And it’s been voted best restaurant on the island for three successive years, by its competition.
Best bit: Enjoy its intimate, country-house setting in the garden overlooking nearby orchards.


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DJ: Alternative Ibiza parties

Originally published in DJ Mag

Ibiza lights up

Ibiza lights up


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.

Private parties:
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.”

Bora Bora
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.

Mini-nights
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.

Outdoor raves
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.”

Wild life

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.

Underground
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.

Real Travel: The Other Ibiza…

Originally published in Real Travel

As far as England is concerned there seem to be two Ibizas – both equally unfit for ordinary, human habitation. The first is Ibiza Uncovered territory: a Gomorrah of boorish binge-drinkers, off their heads on E or X or K or Y, stumbling from one swiftly-forgotten grope or vomitous party to the next. The other is an achingly pristine, white-walled, hippie-lux haven replete with infinity pools, yoga retreats and yachts dripping with rich, honey-coloured celeb aristocracy.

A summer visitor to Ibiza for several years now, I’ve always felt there is more to the island than meets the eye – or makes the pages of British broadsheets. With work in crisis mode and my ex-boyfriend swanning around town with his new love I need an excuse to get away. This, I promise myself, will be a reconnaissance mission. No clubbing, crazy nights or other clichés, but a chance to discover an authentic Ibiza.

First, though, I have to find my hotel. Which is somewhere in the centre of the concentric swirl of cobbled streets that make up Dalt Vila, the medieval fortress at the heart of the Ibiza Town. With only faint starlight overhead and a few skulking cats for company I feel eerily removed from the 21st century as I trudge past whitewashed walls picked out with brightly painted wooden doorways and wrought-iron balconies. By the time I hone in on my destination, the El Corsario, I am grateful for sensible shoes and a regular fitness regime. The reception area was clearly once an open courtyard – the floor is alluringly patterned stone and arched stairways beckon upwards. Three flights later I am welcomed by Nadiha, who shows me to my room and kindly insists on leaving her mobile number “in case you need anything.” Perched on a four-poster bed in the simple, homey room, with the lights of the town and marina twinkling beneath me it is hard to imagine I could need anything else.

My friend Dan is staying on the opposite side of town at the swish Art Deco Ocean Drive hotel (which would be easily visible from my aerie, if I had a pair of binoculars) so we meet halfway to get dinner. Contrary to rumour there are plenty of bars and restaurants open, “off season” or not, and we end up in El Zaguan, a reassuringly busy, smoky, neighbourhood hang out in the centre of town. Forget menus: this is an authentic tapas joint – glass cases on the bar are filled with everything from seafood-stuffed pimentos, to anchovies, to thick slices of Iberian sausage, to delicious local cheeses, all neatly skewered with toothpicks. We grab plates and stock up before realising there is also a stream of hot goodies (battered prawns, croquettes, spicy chicken wings, empanadas) being circulated by the wait staff. A bottle of red wine, a delectable salad and 24 tapas later (they tot up the toothpick count on your bill, so you can judge just how greedy you’ve been) we roll out the door in search of a nightcap.

One of our waiters suggests Teatro Pereyra, a five minute walk away. Sliding through the red velvet curtains we can’t help but grin. The place drips high-camp class. “Shall we get a bottle of wine?” Dan suggests, innocently. Time turns as warm and squishy as the velvet furniture as we plow through a good rioja. Another bottle arrives at our table, unbidden, and we crack into it while a band (Pereyra has hosted live music ever night for 20 years), led by a vocalist who looks like a hardboiled Teutonic version of Sting, belts out Prince covers. By the end of the evening not even the bill and the realisation the wine we’ve been cavalierly guzzling is €50 a pop can shake us out of our cosy, boozy fuzz.

The following midday we reconvene at Croissant Show, a Francophile café at the foot of Dalt Vila, wearing our hangovers with pride. I’ve blown my budget and Dan’s wondering aloud if he can finagle his share of the vino on expenses, but we can’t help giggling about it. A recovery brunch of huevos hervidos (boiled eggs with toast soldiers) is a snip at €2.65 and Andrea, the voluble proprietor (and owner of the finest handlebar ‘tache I’ve ever seen) suggests we try Vichy Catalan. Not, as I first guessed, an obscure form of government, but mineral-laden fizzy spring water that’s been drunk as a tonic in the region for 800-odd years. It soothes our headaches and inadvertently puts us on the path to unravelling one of the intricacies of travel in Ibiza: a little matter of language.

I can’t work out how the nearby Calle de Virgen (in summer, the fabulously hectic heart of Ibiza’s gay scene) has become Carrer de Mare de Deu. Catalan, it turns out, is the key to more than hangover cures. Ibiza, like the other Balearic Islands, is historically Catalan (as are the neighbouring mainland provinces of Valencia and Catalonia). Suppressed during Franco’s rule in favour of Castilian (Spanish), Catalan has been restored to official language status (though Castilian and English are universally spoken). Schools now teach in Catalan and in the course of the last couple of years all road signs, street names and the like have been changed, which explains the baffling changeover. Apparently, if you ask to go to Sant Josep and your taxi driver offers to take you to San Jose you shouldn’t panic, it’s the same place.

Curiosity piqued I head into Dalt Vila in search of more culture. Simply walking around the fortress is an education. Plaques dotted around the walls explain key historical features in Spanish, English and Catalan, like the 24-pound cannon (named for the weight of their ammunition) which gaze blankly towards evergreen hills. Opposite, the sea sweeps towards the horizon, broken by the low, dim line of neighbouring Formentera (collectively, the two islands are called the Pitiüses – a reference to their ubiquitous pine trees). Half-hypnotised by the spring sun and the murmur of waves below it is hard to imagine anything bad ever happening here. However, the impressive fortifications at my feet and a round tower lying on a tip of land in the distance tell another tale.

Despite being tiny (barely 40km from top to bottom) Ibiza has been a magnet for empires, pirates and a vast array of exiles for centuries. Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Catalans and Spaniards have all variously claimed the island made highly desirable by Ses Salinas, the natural salt pans that lie at its southern tip. Now a World Heritage nature reserve and home to over 200 species of birds, as well as rare mammals, Salinas attracts the beautiful people to its beach in summer. This time of year, though, you can hop on a bus in town and half an hour later be wandering through rolling meadows and along the jagged shoreline in peace and perfect isolation.

Rejuvenated, I rejoin Dan in town. A DJ, he can’t bring himself to visit Ibiza without dipping into its infamous nightlife. Though most of the large clubs are shut until May a small party scene is still thriving, if the posters dotted around are any indication. There is a techno night on at DC10, a club near the airport, and as he says, “it’d be wrong not to go.” First we stop by Lo Cura, a local dive in the best sense of the word. Everyone in this tiny boozer seems to know each other and in no time we’ve been sucked into a maelstrom of conversation. We finally arrive at DC10 at the very Spanish hour of 3AM. The heavy, white walls of the club seal in the sound of thumping kick drums and rumbling basslines; it’s like walking into a washing machine on spin cycle. Sweaty dancers gyrate around us, intent on the music. Two handsome men ooze over and strike up a conversation. “Don’t worry, we’re gay,” they assure us, leaving Dan and I wondering who’s being chatted up by whom. The no-frills atmosphere couldn’t be any more different from Teatro Pereyra, but the combination of music, vodka and high-spirited company has a similar, dizzying effect.

“Why does this always happen in Ibiza?” Dan asks wanly the next day. He’s on his way to the airport. I’m trying to get to grips with the idea of a cycle trip I’ve arranged with Ruth and Kev – a British couple based in tranquil Santa Eularia (the island’s third-largest town) who run fitness holidays and have offered to expose me to a healthier side of island life with a bike tour. Happily, they agree to reschedule for tomorrow and I stagger zombie-like through town in search of refuge. My email addiction is rearing its head, along with a double-strength hangover, so I’m insanely grateful when I happen on Chill Café. As befits an island of immigrants Ibiza is riddled with cheap, functional locutorios (internet cafés) but this one eschews plastic furniture and vending machines in favour of homemade baked goods and comfy benches where you can recover and reconnect. A cup of green tea, a huge chocolate chip cookie and a quick browse on Facebook later I feel almost human again.

Convinced a walk will finish the transformation I set off around the marina and stroll past luxurious yachts and chic bars to the Botafoch lighthouse at the end. From here, there are magnificent vistas of Dalt Vila and I perch on the rocks to watch the waves break beneath me. Watching the water turn from deep turquoise to fizzing pale green to pure, creamy spume and back is deeply cleansing. Wandering back to the centre of town I spend an enjoyable hour poking around the Fira D’Artesania, an annual arts and crafts fair. Carmen, a gregarious jeweller shows me how she makes dainty glass necklaces, then sends me to her mother’s stall opposite to pick up a lovely pottery vase. Mother and daughter hail from Buenos Aires originally but, as I’m starting to realise, everyone in Ibiza comes from somewhere else.

Over dinner at the Marino hotel and bar I ask Miguel, the proprietor and one of the few native Ibicencos I’ve met, why this is. “Because you can do whatever you want here. As long as you respect Ibiza, you can do anything,” he says with a smile. He is a paragon of hospitality and keeps my glass topped up with vino payes (the local red wine) as he tells me about the changes he’s seen since his father built the hotel in the 60s. Mostly, he says (British tabloid nonsense notwithstanding) they have been for the better, the tourism boom giving the islanders a completely new way of life. Jose, perched next to me at the bar, tells me his father grew up labouring on a small farm. A generation later and their family own one of the oldest hotels in this quarter, the Gran Sol.

The next morning I pick up a mountain bike and a few words of advice from Miguel at Mr Bike, (“Spanish drivers son locos,” he tells me, encouragingly) and meet Ruth and Kev to go in search of an even more distant past. Our destination is Es Broll, a natural spring between Sant Antoni and Sant Rafael that for centuries provided nearby villagers with water. Its antiquity is attested to by a well-preserved series of stone irrigation trenches that date from Moorish times. After roaming through the emerald oasis of Es Broll (and cursing myself for having forgotten my camera) we double back and head to Sant Rafael. This tiny village has a beautiful church whose courtyard offers magnificent views towards Ibiza Town and the sea. It is also home to two of the island’s swankiest eateries – El Ayoun and L’Elephant – but we eschew glamour in favour of shandies at a roadside café, before heading back to town. Kev and Ruth, gracious to a fault, insist on my accompanying them back to Santa Eularia, where they take me for a stroll around the beautiful church before welcoming me in for a home-cooked meal.

Sipping a glass of rose with my two new friends I can’t bear to think of leaving. In just a few days I’ve been indulged with music, history, art, nature, sunshine, sea views and boundless hospitality. Small wonder travellers from every corner of the world come to Ibiza and never return home. Perhaps I’ll join them.

Info:
Flights: Cila flew from London with British Airways connecting through Barcelona. Direct flights begin in May and from June BA is offering a new direct route from Gatwick to Ibiza.

Accommodation: Hotel Corsario, Calle Poniente 5, +34 971 30 12 48

Visa: None required for US or EU visitors.

Vaccinations: None.

Fitness holidays: Kev Grant and Ruth Osborn

Bike hire: Mr Bike, Av. Isidor Macabich 63-A, +34 971 392 300, mrbikeibiza@hotmail.com

About the writer: A freelance writer, expat and keen explorer Cila moved to London from the US six years ago and has travelled extensively in Europe. Currently she’s studying Spanish in anticipation of travelling in South America.