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.”


Share It

Share this post using del.icio.us del.icio.us  Share this post using Digg Digg  Share this post using Facebook Facebook  Share this post using Google Google 
Share this post using Live Spaces Live Spaces  Share this post using MySpace MySpace  Share this post using Newsvine Newsvine  Share this post using Reddit Reddit 
Share this post using StumbleUpon StumbleUpon  Share this post using Technorati Technorati  Share this post using Twitter Twitter  Share this post using Yahoo! My Web Yahoo! My Web 

Advertisements

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…

Click here to continue reading


Share It

Share this post using del.icio.us del.icio.us  Share this post using Digg Digg  Share this post using Facebook Facebook  Share this post using Google Google 
Share this post using Live Spaces Live Spaces  Share this post using MySpace MySpace  Share this post using Newsvine Newsvine  Share this post using Reddit Reddit 
Share this post using StumbleUpon StumbleUpon  Share this post using Technorati Technorati  Share this post using Twitter Twitter  Share this post using Yahoo! My Web Yahoo! My Web 

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.


Share It

Share this post using del.icio.us del.icio.us  Share this post using Digg Digg  Share this post using Facebook Facebook  Share this post using Google Google 
Share this post using Live Spaces Live Spaces  Share this post using MySpace MySpace  Share this post using Newsvine Newsvine  Share this post using Reddit Reddit 
Share this post using StumbleUpon StumbleUpon  Share this post using Technorati Technorati  Share this post using Twitter Twitter  Share this post using Yahoo! My Web Yahoo! My Web 

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.

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.

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.