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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Ibiza Voice: Green Velvet – Welcome to La La Land


Green Velvet @ Portland, OR

Green Velvet @ Portland, OR

If there ever was a time and place dedicated to stamping out the vestiges of party culture it is 21st century USA. In a nation where you can’t drink till you’re 21, where bottled water is considered drug paraphernalia and where electronic music promoters can be indicted under the same laws as people who run crack houses there isn’t a hell of a lot of leeway for having fun.

Sure, there is Pacha and Cielo in New York City, Chicago’s Crobar & Vision… a handful of big name clubs pulling glamorous crowds and A-list DJs. But what about everywhere else? Despite the obstacles, there are still brave promoters and music freaks who occasionally pull off a coup like luring techno legend Green Velvet to a small-time rave in an industrial corner of Portland, Oregon (pop: 500,000; biggest musical exports: the Dandy Warhols and Beth Ditto). This coffee-fuelled hippie haven happens to be my hometown, and I wasn’t about to miss a chance to see what happens when techno stars meet barebones raving.

One thing to know about partying American-style is that you’ll rarely find good music in a legitimate club. You don’t dress up to go out on a Saturday night so much as layer up, because chances are you’ll wind up wandering through freezing cold railway stockyards (or forests, or fields) trying to find the sound system.

After a false start that takes us across the path of a slow-rolling freight train loaded with desert camouflaged military jeeps we finally find a corrugated steel warehouse with a flickering sign outside reading On Air. A pair of guys in black parkas – one fat and bearded, the other rangy and pony-tailed – wave us in and another lanky kid standing behind a folding wooden table takes our 20 bucks entry fee. Even in the ostensibly free atmosphere of a semi-legal rave there are rules in abundance. Half the barn-like space is cordoned off to form a bar (more plywood tables and a cheap metal rack full of spirits) – you have to show ID to get in here, and once “inside” you can’t smoke. You also can’t carry any alcohol back onto the dancefloor, meaning those of us relying on vodka to keep warm have to make repeated trips between the two. Here, having a huge parka comes in handy: I manage to sneak a dance with my drink nestled inside my oversized cuffs.

However, it isn’t the funny little restrictions that are the most striking. It’s the spirit. Never mind the local DJ is busy mangling Heater (ironic tune choice, given the ambient temperature is about three degrees), or that the only toilets are a row of port-a-loos on a concrete slab out back; or even that half the crowd looks too young to drive and the other half looks old enough to know better… the atmosphere is crazy. On the dancefloor drug-skinny kids are breaking out elaborate “liquid” moves that went out of fashion in Europe a decade ago. Even if they knew, they wouldn’t care, because here there is still a sense that being a raver is something special, a mark of distinction. One boy in a trilby is soaking up attention, showing off moves he must have spent hours practicing. Around him, girls in tiny skirts and day-glo bangles are dancing with fierce concentration.

Half an hour earlier my friends and I looked around the warehouse and asked, “What the hell convinced Green Velvet to come out here ” Usually, he’s in a DJ booth dripping with the latest high-spec equipment, commanding the world’s best sound systems. Tonight, he’s on a make-shift stage DJing off two decks perched on one of those wire shelves they use as discount racks in supermarkets. But he’s a true professional and, more than that, a man on a mission. Soft-spoken Curtis Jones is a devout Christian who sees his DJing as an opportunity to spread love and positivity, and he’s throwing himself into this set with as much energy as if it were the main room of Space.

And the reaction? Well, it beats any crowd I’ve seen at Space…. There are only a couple of hundred kids here, but their energy is filling up the room. It doesn’t hurt that everyone seems seriously, loopily altered. Whatever they lack in legal access to alcohol they clearly make up for with fistfuls of narcotics – mushrooms, pills, speed, whatever. And it’s all treated in share-and-share alike fashion. Absolutely everyone will stop and say hello, offer you something if they have something (even if it’s just a smoke), or simply turn around and holler “you having fun?

Sometimes this goes better than others. One kid, dancing next to me, turns around with a shit-eating grin and gives me the thumbs up. “Have you ever seen Green Velvet play before?” I shout over the music. He looks at me, eyes like saucers. “Are you speaking German ” he shouts back. When I burst out laughing he grins back, anxious to please. “Whatever you just said, that was cool,” he assures me.

Green Velvet

Green Velvet

It’s enough to make the most sober head feel twisted, and there aren’t many here. Tall, thin and cool in black leather and Matrix-esque shades, Green Velvet finally drops the tune that he wrote for kids like this: La La Land. He originally meant it as an anti-drugs message, but that seems to go right over the heads of everyone who is shouting out the chorus in un-ironic appreciation. It is a world away from sophisticated, commodified European party culture but looking around the room, it kind of makes sense.

Outside this cold, ramshackle building the train loaded down with military hardware is still rolling inexorably past. Outside a stupid, venal government is too busy scheming to kill other people’s citizens to bother feeding, educating or providing health care for its own. Outside times are tough and probably not about to get better in a hurry. But inside… well, it’s la la land. A place where freedom exists, music matters and people treat each other as potential friends, not potential enemies. Right about now it feels like the best, warmest, safest place to be.

Mixmag: Farewell, Trash

Originally published in Mixmag
Erol Alkan
Everyone’s huddling against the walls to avoid the spitting rain. It’s not just any Monday night, it is Trash’s 10th birthday – and their farewell party. After a decade of trendsetting, musical innovation and eye-popping fashion Erol Alkan and friends are bowing out. These days Trash’s giddy mix of sex, dance and rock ‘n’ roll is standard practice, but it wasn’t always. “What everyone’s doing now, in terms of live music in clubs, Trash did years ago,” observes Liam O’Hare, The End’s general manager. From its earliest days at Plastic People, to its stint in Soho’s Annexe, to its triumphant years at The End, Trash has become a byword for what’s fresh and adventurous in clubland. So much so no one is surprised at the volume of bodies crowding the pavement. “It’s the Blitz spirit,” 28-year-old Sam observes, looking over his shoulder at the throng flowing seamlessly around the building till it comes face to face with itself. Everyone’s smiling, talking to strangers. Sam passes around a bottle of Strongbow. A blue-haired girl called Charleigh and her bandmates are discussing the video they’ve just shot. Like Bloc Party, Klaxons and New Young Pony Club before them the budding pop stars are regulars. “I can’t remember most of it,” she confesses.

Charleigh’s not the only regular with amnesia. Graham, a 24-year-old roadie who has been coming for five years says, “You don’t remember the really good nights.” He does remember, though, how Trash changed his life. “Where I grew up in Essex even wearing a white belt was asking for a fucking smack. Trash was the first place I fit in. I used to come on my own and just dance. Then I’d wait till 6am to get a train home. Without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” he says. Inches away a girl is swinging from the ceiling, knickers flashing. No one pays any attention. If you want a fashion eyeful just look around: there’s the bearded bloke in an apron, the pint-sized brunette wearing Superwoman-style pants and suspenders, the trio sporting multi-coloured rave gear.

Trash style

Trash style


“Trash is a one off. It’s the people that make it,” Rory Philips says. A resident DJ for nearly seven years, Rory’s seen a lot happen on the dancefloor. “One of my friends married a girl he met at Trash. No surprise really, it’s been ten years of drunken fumbling,” he chuckles. As if to make his point a couple reel past, joined at the lips. There’s an air of barely controlled chaos as The Lovely Jonjo whips up the crowd. “I was getting quite tearful,” he says later, but it doesn’t show. Jonjo is typical of the parade of clubbers who’ve reinvented themselves at Trash. He started out as a door picker but “hated it.” So when Erol invited him to DJ instead he jumped at the chance. “I get all soppy when I talk about him. He’s been a mentor to me.”

As the newest member of the Trash crew Jonjo reacted like many fans did to the news it was ending. “I was upset, devastated really.” For a lot of people it was a question of: why cut off a night in its prime? “There’s a lot I want to do I couldn’t do with Trash every week,” says Erol, who missed one night in a decade – for his honeymoon.

“A lot of people talk about going out on a high, but carry on. We didn’t want to outstay our welcome,” Rory adds.

Jonjo’s come around to the idea. “My first thought was, ‘this is over’. My second reaction was, ‘if I don’t grab it by the balls someone else will.’” By “it” he means Durrr, the new Erol-endorsed Monday night at The End where Jonjo and Rory will preside over a rotating cast of DJ talent and new bands. “We’re going to get a breath of fresh air. You need to embrace change.”

Justice @ Trash

Justice @ Trash


Change is on everyone’s mind tonight. Trash will be missed. Joost is over from Amsterdam, resplendent in a handlebar ‘tache and a tee-shirt reading Kids Want Techno. “There’s nothing like it in Europe,” he shouts over the music. There’s nothing like it in London either. George, another half-decade veteran, is sweating his glittery green eye shadow off as he waits in the crush by the bar. It took him two and a half hours to get in, and it’ll take him another forty minutes to get a drink, but he’s happy to be here. Where else can you get beaten up by Selfish Cunt? “He just grabbed me by the throat for no reason!” he shrugs, smiling brilliantly.

Celebrities, violent and otherwise, are part of the fabric of Trash life. Everyone has their favourite. Rory plumps for Suicide, Erol for Gonzales, Jonjo remembers Kelly Osbourne and Simon Amstell queuing (separately). “Grace Jones came once. She doesn’t queue!” he laughs. Liam O’Hare fondly remembers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. He saves his highest praise for Erol though. “I had faith in him and he’s never let me down. He’s always pioneered.”

It’s a compliment Erol would be pleased with. Stepping up to the decks, wearing his trademark specs and an inside out D.A.R.E. tee, he is an unlikely focal point for frenzied adulation, but there’s hysteria in the air. Outside riot police have arrived to calm a crush of disgruntled clubbers. “We can make this a funeral or a celebration,” he says. Then he drops LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Losing My Edge’ and the crowd erupts. They get the joke. Later, when the dust has settled, he says softly, but very emphatically, “The only thing I’m frightened of is resting on my laurels. I relish the future.” For now, Trash’s loyal following is relishing the present, and the string of favourites ricocheting around the room. ‘Take Me Out’, ‘Danger! High Voltage’, ‘Lust For Life’ and, finally, at 4AM, long after reality has melted away, ‘Dancing Queen.’ Manager Liam should be on holiday, but he’s here instead, beaming. “It’s like the last party on earth!” Surrounded by the blurred grins and flailing limbs one thing is certain: if this were the last party on earth no one here would mind.

Mixmag: The World’s Most Advanced Clubs

Originally published in Mixmag

Cocoon, Frankfurt
The nearest thing to a Being John Malkovich-style tour of the inside of Sven Vath’s head, Cocoon is a psychedelic playground from the 23rd century.

Cocoon

Cocoon

It took 3deluxe – one of Germany’s hottest design agencies – two years just to work out the concept, and the result is a staggering audio-visual-sensual orgy that is to ordinary clubs what acid tabs are to Haribo. Along with its stupefying 130K sound system the star of the freaky show is a 100m “membrane wall” where synchronised visuals (run from the DJ booth) envelope the dancefloor. It’s like being trapped in an IMAX film, but with a better soundtrack.

Cielo, New York City
Cielo is the ultimate swanky Stateside club – complete with hard-nosed door whores, expensive bottle service and a retro-chic interior and sunken dancefloor that punters report feels like “a cross between a ski chalet and a swimming pool”. The cherry on the cake, though, is Cielo’s soundsystem – the first ever exclusively Funktion One rig installed in an American club. As any frothing sound geek will tell you Funktion One is the atom bomb of club audio equipment. In Cielo’s miniscule space (250 capacity, no VIP room) the sound is an experience that will be stamped indelibly in your memory – and your eardrums.

I Love Neon, Canada

I Love Neon

I Love Neon

I Love Neon proves that sometimes the most cutting edge clubs aren’t clubs at all, but ideas brought to life. The brainchild of a bunch of music-loving graphic designers, Neon uses static lighting, projections, screens and mini-strobes to create a mind-melting audio visual experience. Based in an art gallery, Neon transforms the space for every party, moving the entrance, DJ booth and amenities so each event takes a completely new shape. Fans of this Through The Looking Glass experience include Boys Noize (whose album launch they just hosted), Hell and Tiga – who helped start the Neon collective.

Zouk, Singapore
Housed in a pair of 90-year-old warehouses, Zouk redefines “warehouse party” with four rooms of razor-edge technology set in baroque splendour. Thirty plasma screens dot the club, which boasts a 3-colour RBG exterior lighting system with fibre optic-laced tensile roofing and a million-dollar Gary Steward audio system in the Gaudi-inspired main room. The Phuture room mixes luridly organic furnishings and an MPIX LED wall. While in the Velvet Underground opulent Chinese-inspired designs swirl across the ceiling and the walls are studded with priceless Pop Art by the likes of Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. You don’t get that in Shoreditch…

Womb, Tokyo
Womb is pure science fiction: where space-age Japanese technology meets their national fascination with kitsch as the world-beating lighting system bounces off the 7-foot disco ball that revolves above the central dancefloor while the Phuzon-designed soundsystem (they created Twilo New York’s legendary PA) rattles the three storey- main room. Unsurprisingly, Womb is known to leave even the most jaded clubbers and seen-it-all jocks slack jawed with amazement. After a gig there Loco Dice was at a loss for words: “I can’t even explain it. It’s like science fiction, like being on a trip, you keep thinking ‘am I going to wake up?’”

D-Edge, Brazil

D-Edge, Brazil

D-Edge, Brazil

Set in the heart of ultra-modernist Sao Paulo, D-Edge is South America’s most futuristic club. A magnet for the techno A-list (Richie Hawtin loves it so much he once cajoled the owner to boot the night’s headliner off the decks so he could play instead) it’s also an epileptic’s worst nightmare. Every available interior inch of the tiny, 350 capacity club is ablaze with light. The sloping disco-dancefloor is lit from beneath, while acres of LEDs turn the walls into giant EQs, and pulsing veins of light flash across the ceiling – giving the terrifyingly cool sensation of being suspended inside a beating human heart.

Ambasada Gavioli, Izola, Slovenia
A two-thousand-year-old fishing village is an unlikely destination for cutting edge nightlife. Nevertheless, Izola (pop. 15,000; chief attractions: walking tours and olive oil) is home to one of clubbing’s best kept secrets: Ambasada Gavioli. The unashamedly over-the-top 2,500 capacity club is a highly stylised architectural jumble of Baroque and Art Nouveau, married to blinding laser system. Sheets of glass connect the two rooms allowing continuous sound-and-light programming, while the walls splashed with psychedelic paintings inspired by Baudelaire’s sex-and-death obsessed poems The Flowers of Evil turn the club into a post-modern Brothers Grimm fairy tale cave. Unsurprisingly it’s one of Sven Vath’s favourite destinations.

Cavo Paradiso, Mykanos
Cavo Paradiso is famous for its open-all-hours swimming pool, but this is no sandy, sweaty terrace club. There is a seriously high-tech pulse beating beneath the sunny, seaside façade. Set in the face of a 50 metre cliff above the Mediterranean the club is literally built out of the rock that surrounds it – 80% of it is native stone. The rest? A booth that’s a DJ’s wet dream (five mixers, eight decks, bespoke monitors…) and a brand new custom sound system, six months in the making, that has caused nearby hotels to demand they soundproof the club before next season.

T-O 12, Stuttgart

T-O 12

T-O 12

Flying pigs? Mirrored ceilings? Feel like you’ve double dropped and you’ve only had a beer? It must be T-O 12. Set in a former office block, this multiple award-winning monochrome design melting pot evokes Barbarella, DC Comics, Hitchcock, Apocalypse Now and Stuttgart street life. Huge black-and-white silhouetted illustrations splash across the walls: upstairs a fleet of helicopters cruise over the bar, downstairs Venus Fly Traps hover by the urinals. In the chill out space the scattering of mirrors and strobes make the lounge look endless. Owner Niko Tonidis says he “wants people to remember it in 20 years,” we reckon they will.

Watergate, Berlin
Designed by top Berlin architects Bolwin & Wulf, Watergate boasts eye-popping vistas – inside and out. From the second floor huge plate glass windows look across the River Spree to the old East Berlin, taking in a glittering picture postcard view of the city skyline, making the club a favourite location for TV crews. Inside, the angular space is dotted with minimal Stylomat-built furnishings which crouch beneath the main room’s Vegas-style ceiling. Color Kenetics programmable LED lights run the length and breadth form a pulsing arc that has been known to cause regrettable whiplash injuries from too much time spent gawping upwards.

Ibiza Now: Exit Festival vs Ibiza – a lesson in club economics

Originally published in Ibiza Now

Partying at Petrovaradin

Partying at Petrovaradin


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.

Hands up for Exit

Hands up for Exit


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.

Festival brews

Festival brews


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.

I-DJ: Ministry of Sound’s 15th Birthday

Originally published in I-DJ

The worlds most famous club logo

The world's most famous club logo


Ministry of Sound celebrates its fifteenth birthday this year. Not as a survivor, but as a global icon; an instantly recognisable symbol of a revolutionary youth movement. The UK club is still attracting crowds of visitors every week, from around the world. While across the world, from Egypt to Australia, to China, to Finland, its DJs, club franchises and never-ending stream of compilations and hit singles surely make it one of the UK’s biggest cultural exports. Clubbers are divided as to whether or not the relentlessly expanding international brand still represents the values of the illicit club culture from which it was born. But the very fact it still inspires love, hate and debate is a testimony to its unique status in clubland.

To understand the enduring Ministry mystique you have to go back to the beginning, to the meeting of hard-nosed businessmen and hard cash with youthful hedonism and hippie idealism. To a disused bus shelter in a virtual slum which became a Mecca.

In 1991, when Ministry of Sound first opened on Gaunt Street, London, SE1 the superclub concept had yet to be invented. There was no Cream, no Gatecrasher, no Godskitchen. Anyway, it was madness to think people would pay good money to spend their nights in the ugly heart of perpetually depressed Elephant & Castle. Or was it? Ministry managing director Lohan Presencer blithely insists geography was part of a grand plan. “The location was part of it. It was something you had to discover.”

Mark Rodol – an entrepreneur who, along with Old Etonian bond trader James Palumbo, founded the club – has a more pragmatic explanation: Elephant & Castle had the only council in London desperate enough to allow them a 24-hour music license.

Whatever the reason, they took the freedom granted by the shady location and ran with it – creating, on the way, the defining feature of both the club and, by extension, their clubbing empire: the sound. They say attraction is about great chemistry. But when it comes to the love-in between clubbers, DJs and Ministry it’s a matter of physics. In 1992 they hired world-renowned sound designer Gary Stewart (he’s done the Roxy, Discotheque, Sound Factory and Love Club in New York, among many others) to create a truly staggering custom sound system, taking into account the unique shape and acoustics of every corner of the club. Rodol estimates they spent around $500,000 (£280,000 at 1992 exchange rates) on the resulting bespoke system.

Ministry main room - photo James McNeil

Ministry main room - photo James McNeil


It is still arguably the finest club system in the world. The main room speakers are reportedly capable of 160 decibels (a jet taking off only musters 140), and are rumoured to only ever operate around 20% of their capacity. When asked what the best thing is about Ministry, Club Class promoter and resident Nic Fanciulli doesn’t miss a fraction of a beat: “the sound system.” Resident Marc Hughes doesn’t hesitate much longer when asked what the best perk of his residency is: “Getting to play on that sound system!” The refrain from clubbers, DJs and promoters singing its praises would be tedious if it weren’t true, but as anyone who’s ever lost themselves in the booming, crystal clear sound can tell you, it rocks.

Where ever Ministry goes, they take their passion for sound with them. Their clubs in Singapore and Teipei both boast incredible custom systems. As does their latest venture, the Minibar, in Harrowgate. The first of a chain of planned Minibars, the Harrowgate club is at once everything and nothing like the original Ministry concept. Instead of being underground and cutting edge it is plush, dressy, upmarket, and avowedly high street oriented. Yet taking the Ministry brand and hand-built, ear-bleed sound system to a small Northern commuter town is, in its own way, as risky as opening a club in Elephant & Castle. It’s the sort of contradiction that Ministry seems to thrive on.

On the one hand, Ministry promote and produce some of the finest dance music in the world. After a rigorous examination of the company high-power business research and analysis firm AMR (who surveyed MoS on behalf of potential investor 3i) came to a conclusion any dance music fan could have told you in an instant: “MoS [is] simply better at releasing successful dance singles and compilations than any of the major labels or other independents.” (The venture capital firm then bought a 15% stake for £24M.)

On the other, some would argue that the constant brand expansions (tee-shirts, workout gear, car stereos, and mobile content, for starters) and brand partnerships with a host of corporate giants including Pepsi, MTV, Marlboro, Sony and HarperCollins are cynical exploitation of the club’s history and heritage.

Despite being a regular speaker at conferences on branding and marketing, Presencer is reluctant to talk business with iDJ. He first cancels an interview because he fears it will be too “corporate”, before eventually agreeing to discuss other aspects of the business. “[Ministry] wasn’t planned like [a business], the original idea was to recreate the Paradise Garage. The club experience blew everyone away, and then it was word of mouth,” he says. Surely the advertising and strategic marketing campaigns have helped? “It’s about a certain standard of excellence. If you buy a record or go to a night you know it’s been put together with passion and knowledge. We have the best DJs, the best sound system, and the best design and marketing.”

Even their rivals would agree. London promoter and club owner Will Paterson is happy to concede they set the standard. “It’s the most famous club in the world, the shining light of dance music. They went from being a cool, underground club in the 90s to being the biggest brand in the world.”

Does being the biggest dance brand in the world get in the way of credibility? Marc Hughes doesn’t think so. “What Mark (Knight) and Steve (Angello) and I represent is Saturday Sessions, which has an amazing history. Past residents are CJ Mackintosh, Harvey… you’re talking about the biggest and best names in house music. We represent great music. They’ve never asked us to do anything we didn’t want to do.”

Fellow resident Mark Knight, who also runs Toolroom records, agrees. Rather than seeing Mark’s independent label as competition the club has helped them produce two EPs. “It works for both of us. They get the association with a cool underground label, and it’s good for us because we make a lot more money,” he says with a chuckle. “To be honest I’m not mad about their work out videos. But I recognise sometimes you need to do things to pay the bills. I’d rather they did that and subsidise the cooler stuff.”

Some people will always see the workout videos, et al. as selling out. But those closest to Ministry see things from a different perspective. “[MoS] is always true to their identity, to what got them there in the first place. Their bread and butter is dance music. The club is not the biggest money maker, but it’s an integral part because it was what the original name was built from and it’s taken very seriously,” says a former Ministry employee.

Or, as Mark Knight puts it, “Everything grew from the club. If you lost the club you’d lose the soul, it would be a totally commercial brand that would sell music like you do washing machines. I think the management realise that without the club the other things don’t work.”

Ultimately, some will always quibble with aspects of the Ministry empire, just because its there. But its 1.5 million-plus visitors, the 30-odd million fans who’ve bought their CDs probably won’t care. For Marc Hughes, who’s been globe-trotting on behalf of MoS for seven years the satisfaction is in making clubbers happy. “When you go abroad you see Ministry means so much to people, they get so excited. Everyone from Iceland to South Africa, and everywhere in between. People have heard so much about it, and when we arrive it means so much. It’s something tangible they can come and see and hold on. I’ve had people go crazy. They stand in the club till 7 or 8 in the morning, or get you to sign any limb going, they will queue up for ages. They want to ask you about the club, what it’s like… what it’s about.”

So, for the audience, how would the club’s nearest and dearest sum it up its unprecedented appeal. “Ministry in five words? Ummm, aaaah. Credible. Wicked. Amazing. Hot. Sexual,” says Marc Hughes.

Lohan Presencer thinks for a while, and finally calls on his office mates for help. “Exciting. Sexy. Hedonistic. Ubiquitous. And ‘fun’!”

Top ten:

1. The Ministry of Sound Annual is the world’s biggest selling dance compilation. It sells an average of 450,000 per year.
2. Ministry is opening two new clubs in Dheli, India and Moscow, Russia.
3. Approximately 40% of Ministry compilations reach Number 1.
4. In 2006 Ministry of Sound won the “best independent albums company” award from Music Week.
5. Approximately 300,000 people have visited the London club each year since it opened.
6. The club’s annual turnover is between £3-4M. The brand’s annual turnover is in over £100M.
7. Ministry of Sound in Singapore is the country’s biggest night club.
8. Jazzy M, who mixes one of the three CDs on the 15th anniversary compilation, played at the club’s opening night in 1991.
9. Club co-founder Mark Rodol was expelled from school at 15, then made his fortune in property before helping found Ministry.
10. Ministry of Sound posters have been spotted on walls in Albert Square, in EastEnders.

Mixmag: Ibiza 2008

Originally published in Mixmag

Ibiza club art

Ibiza club art

Ibiza’s love affair with house music has made it the dance capital of the world – and turned a sleepy Mediterranean island into one of the hottest tourist spots on the planet. This year, though, things are different. The Spanish government has passed strict new laws banning after-hours parties; the police are on high alert to clamp down on private villa parties; Ibiza’s most revered underground club, DC10, has been shut by authorities for reasons which are frustratingly opaque and the tourist board seems bent on discouraging clubbing. Is this the beginning of the end for the Mecca of electronic music?

It is 5AM. The terrace at Amnesia – once an open-air haven for barefoot hippies – is packed tighter than the Northern Line at rush hour. Luciano and Ricardo Villalobos are whooping it up in the booth as lasers strafe the room. At the bar a raver, pouring sweat, orders a round: six drinks, €90. He hands over his credit card without even blinking. Even in San An, the traditional haven of cut-price package holiday makers, kids get sticker shock as they pay €12 for a Jack and Coke. In the El Divino VIP mini-bottles of cava are a cool €25. At Pacha, Privilege and Amnesia tickets are up to €60 on the door. Ibiza, at peak season, is a study in raw capitalism.

The island hasn’t always been so money-driven. For centuries it was a haven for those who live slightly outside the law, a place where wits mattered more than wallets. Pirates came in search of plunder, as the watchtowers dotting the coastline attest. Smugglers stashed their wares in the caves at Sant Miquel. Jews built secret synagogues here and Nazis skulked in after the war. Ibiza’s benign indifference absorbed them all. Throughout the 20th century a Moulin Rouge cast of Bohemians, painters, poets, musicians and chancers drifted to Ibiza, lulled by the whisper of the turquoise Mediterranean and embraced by the red earth of its hills.

Over the centuries Ibiza was an imperial outpost for the Moors, Romans, Carthegenians and Catalans but none left as indelible a mark as the foot soldiers of rave culture. Hippies were the first to drum and dance beneath the stars but it was the arrival of house music, in the 1980s, that forever changed Ibiza. As the cocktail of ecstasy and electronica melded in the Spanish sun legions of kids fled the cold grey of Thacherite England to look for a new life on a magic island. From that moment, the fate of Ibiza has been intertwined with the rave culture. Clubs fuel Ibiza’s economy, spread its fame and draw millions of visitors who might never otherwise visit.

“Ibiza was incredibly important to acid house. It wasn’t a huge number of people who went there but those who did – like Oakenfold and Danny Rampling – had a huge influence. The knock-on effect was phenomenal. Now, Ibiza season is like the World Cup Finals, every summer. Whether you’re a DJ, promoter or run a record label it dominates your year, it provides an infrastructure to the whole scene,” says Pete Tong.

However, twenty years on from the original Summer of Love music is playing second fiddle as the island lies in the grip of a summer of suspicion. “The government is trying to get rid of the clubbers,” DC10 resident Clive Henry says emphatically. “The mood isn’t good. People are feeling down.”

It isn’t just twitchy, post-rave paranoia either. Ibiza’s tourist council publicly takes a dim view of ravers. “There are different kinds of clubbers. Some have good jobs back home and appreciate the beauty of the island. But others come and want to party for a week. That isn’t an image we want,” says Ramon Balanzat, a spokesman for the tourism board. It’s the “some have good jobs” attitude that particularly rankles.

“I lived hand to mouth my first seasons here, surviving on nothing. I was on the verge of having to go home when I finally got a break,” recalls Bora Bora resident Oliver Lang, who has spent 10 summers in Ibiza. Like many DJs and island faces his first visit wasn’t to a swanky villa, but to a grotty San An hotel with a bunch of mates. “I was the kind of person they want to get rid of,” he says.

DC10 resident Clive Henry echoes Lang’s words. “I was an ‘undesirable’… running around with no money, trying to get in everywhere for free,” he chuckles. Henry, too, has spent a decade on the island, pouring his heart and soul into the scene. He understands how essential it is to the pulse of the island to make a space for those who don’t come with a platinum card in the pocket of their designer jeans. “DC10 is for the workers. A lot of them can’t afford to do anything else. Rich people might come for the casino but they aren’t interested in the majority of the island. Our whole economy and livelihood is based around the clubbing fraternity.”

It isn’t just adventurous music buffs who come to Ibiza to scrape a living from the club scene. Some of the island’s most famous high rollers started off with nothing. Anthony Pike – whose eponymous hotel is a watchword for jet-set glamour – says he arrived “basically broke,” while Es Vive and Rock Bar owner Jason Bull worked as a bartender and PR before becoming one of the island’s legendary success stories.

DC10 Ibiza 2008

DC10 Ibiza 2008


It has never been exactly easy to survive in Ibiza but plenty of people found the lifestyle compensated for little money and less sleep. “I came here and found a freedom I didn’t have in Britain,” says Nick Fry, owner of Underground, one of the last free entry clubs on the island. “I always intended Underground to be a place for workers and locals, people who couldn’t afford to go to the big clubs. Now we’re being squeezed,” he says, as new licensing laws mean the club shuts at the same time as the bars in town.

This – along with DC10’s closure – means workers are running out of ways to enjoy the island. “I thought it was going to be 24/7 parties, but there’s nothing. By the time I finish work I have a choice of paying €50 to go to a club for an hour, or going to sleep,” says Adam Steedman, a waiter who lives outside Ibiza Town. Across the island in San An money – and fun – are in equally short supply. Tracy Jones runs Shipwrecked, a Wednesday morning boat party which is the last legal after-hours option on the island. Their 230-capacity vessel is always sold out and disconsolate late-comers shuffle home from the pier as it sets sail. “A lot of them work six or seven days a week, this is their one chance to party,” she says.

It is a safe bet Shipwrecked’s high-seas antics would curl the hair of any passing member of the Ibiza tourist board, but the stubborn fact remains these pie-eyed kids with their Ray-Bans and bottle-blond hair are essential to the island economy. Danny Whittle knows better than most how a trip to Ibiza can change a life. He was a fire-fighter in Stoke-on-Trent when he discovered raving and it was a cheap holiday to the island that set him on the path to becoming manager of Pacha, Ibiza’s most glamorous club. “Pricing young people off the island is the worst thing that could happen. Sure, they stay in San An and don’t spend any money the first couple years, but they fall in love with the place. They get better jobs, get a credit card, then return to stay in good hotels and go nice bars and restaurants. They come back, year after year,” he says.

There is little indication the tourist board understands this dynamic of rave culture, or appreciates clubber’s fierce loyalty to the island. The recently launched official tourist web site Ibiza Travel doesn’t mention clubbing at all on the home page. Keep trawling and you’ll find “nightlife” buried beneath items about sport, beaches and conference facilities on the “what to do” page. Notably, there is no mention of DC10 in their list of clubs – further fuel for conspiracy theorists. This reluctance to even acknowledge Ibiza’s biggest tourist draw smacks of stubbornness. It is like Paris refusing to talk about the Eiffel Tower or London banning any mention of Beefeaters. Even Balanzat thinks the tourist board is in danger of alienating its friends. “Officially, our stance is nightlife has enough publicity so we don’t talk about it. Personally, I feel if you want to communicate about Ibiza your first target should be the group that’s coming now, and that’s clubbers,” he says.

Pete Tong has had a front row seat to Ibiza’s evolution and he suggests the government’s approach is less to do with malice and more to do with misunderstanding. “I don’t think they realise how important daytime clubbing is to people’s perception of Ibiza, around the world. Or take Café del Mar – the most iconic image of the island. Why invest millions of euros in reinventing San An then not allow them to play music for sunset? That’s mad,” he says.

Cocoloco @ Privilege, Ibiza

Cocoloco @ Privilege, Ibiza

Not all the blame should be laid on the government’s doorstep though. While they are openly favouring other types of tourism and making life difficult for some clubs they certainly aren’t the ones setting outrageous ticket prices or charging €10 for a small bottle of water. If clubbers are being priced off the island it is at least partially the fault of the money-grubbing tactics of its most powerful venues. But who sets the prices? Who decides whether a bottle of beer is €7 or €12? DJs, according to Danny Whittle: “you have to cover the cost of your talent.” It is a rather glib argument though. DJs in Ibiza demand huge fixed fees in part because they don’t get a cut of the bar proceeds. The more money a club makes on the bar the more DJs can ask for, creating a price spiral where the only losers are ordinary clubbers.

In the past, when the pound was strong, British ravers were happy to pay the price. Everyone moaned, but most thought it worthwhile for a once or twice a year blow-out. Some still do, like the lad queuing for Tiesto who lost his original ticket and bought another. “I’ve paid €100 to get in tonight but fuck it, I’m on holiday,” he grins. That attitude is becoming rarer as the credit crunch bites harder, though, and clubs are nervous. Tourist numbers for June are down 8% on last year, according to official figures, and promoters are fighting tooth and nail over every last punter. The promoter of SuperMartXe, which has taken Manumission’s old Friday night slot at Privilege, went into restaurant kitchens the day before their opening party, giving out wristbands to dishwashers and waiters. While even nights headlined by big name stars like Danny Tenaglia are offering generous free entry.

Ravers who take advantage of the freebies will save a bit, but “in before midnight” usually means an few extra drinks at the bar, which easily makes up the cost of a ticket. As in gambling, the house always wins. “People built the clubs over the last 20 years and made the rules as they went along. It’s a bit backstabbing. They all try to bend the rules in different ways,” says Tong. The major clubs are locked in bitter turf wars and just how far they go to undercut their rivals is a matter for endless speculation. Some are perceived to be more favourably enmeshed in Spanish politics than others and it is clear outsiders like DC10 and Underground are leaned on by everyone. “I feel demonised. Circoloco is treated like a monster,” says Circoloco promoter Andrea Pelino.

Ibiza Town

Ibiza Town

One thing is very clear: the egalitarian, tolerant spirit which made Ibiza famous – which drew dreamers, crooks, idealists, refuges, hippies and finally ravers – is in danger of disappearing into a maelstrom of opportunism. The clubs, in their panic to protect profit margins, and the government, in its understandable desire to give the world a broader picture of the island, are in danger of colluding to drive out the people who love Ibiza best, those who are here for the long run. High-rolling VIPs may come and drop €100,000 in a few days, but the next week they’ll have vanished back to Knightsbridge, Monaco or St Tropez. Workers sharing roach-riddled apartments and sitting on the beach swigging San Miguel don’t offer an immediate cash boost, but they are the ones who will return. Some to visit, year after year; others to make a life in Ibiza.

They are people like Oscar Casu, who started off flyering and now owns ultra-hip bar Noctambula. Or Emilie Antigny, who came to work a season and fell so in love she opened Ibiza Town’s favourite coffee spot, Chill Café. There are countless like them, scattered across the island, running bars, restaurants, hotels and record shops. They don’t have mountains of cash to flash, like some do. (“In a recession the wealthiest are the least affected. They might only have €9 million instead of €10 million – but they still have millions,” points out Whittle.) However, unlike easily bored celebrities or the idle rich, ravers who have come to Ibiza to dance and found a way of life that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, won’t flit away when the weather turns, their future is the island’s future. Drive them away and some of Ibiza’s magic will be gone forever.