I’m very proud to be contributing to Agendered, a new online-feminist magazine aimed at the Oxford Unversity student community.
Originally published in Ibiza Now
In the course of three days the only reaction I’ve received from Serbs when I told them where I’m from is sheer incredulity.
“You’re from Ibiza? What are you doing here?” one lad asks me, peering at me over his sunglasses as if I were a rare zoological specimen.
Errr, I’m here for the Exit Festival. It’s great, I mumble, a little taken aback.
I could easily reel off a list of reasons why clubbers swilling around the streets of Ibiza would consider Exit a far better thing. It’s blazing hot. Tins of beer sell for about a euro on the street and even at the “expensive” festival booze stands a beer is €2, a glass of wine €1.50. The dance arena is a huge, impressive open air space with plenty of room for 20,000 ravers to dance beneath the stars in the milk-warm night. As for licensing hours – the last DJ doesn’t begin his set till 6.30AM, half an hour after Ibiza clubs are legally required to shut off their sound systems. By the time the final DJ is wrapping up at eight or nine in the morning it’s getting too hot to dance anyway, making it the perfect time to hit the nearby beach to cool off with a few more tins of beer.
It sounds like paradise on earth, right? No wonder the clubbing cognascenti and A-list DJs won’t stop banging on about how much they love Eastern Europe. About the cheap booze, the total freedom, the hordes of beautiful women. Don’t you realise, I want to ask my inquisitors, you’re living the dream? Don’t you know Ibiza is over-priced, over-commercialised, over-regulated and, according to some hardened sceptics, just over?
Wandering between impromptu stands selling beers, kebabs, key-rings and pirate CDs it hits me. What makes Exit, or any party in Eastern Europe, so great for us spoiled Westerners is precisely what is bad for the locals. Though from what I see the British invasion is both well-behaved and well-received the fact remains that Exit works because of massive economic inequality. What is a cheap weekend away for Brits or Spaniards is a huge cash infusion into the strapped Serbian economy (a middle manager for a multi-national company I meet clears just 300€ a month, a university student considers fees of €1200 a year prohibitively expensive). The apparently superior “party spirit” of Eastern Europe is simply a willingness to tolerate more because they have less.
Ibiza was once the same. When the first waves of mass tourism hit they put up with a gross invasion because the marauders were paying cash. Gradually, as demand and supply evened out and Ibiza attained a higher general standard of living the island has became more powerful, more decisive about what they will and won’t accept. The new licensing laws and increased stringencies are not an indication the island has lost its sense of fun, but that it has reached a certain level of economic power. The clout is no longer entirely on the side of the beer-swilling Brit staggering through the West End, or the coked-up City boy lording it in the VIP. Ibiza has gained the stability and confidence to start making rules on its own terms again.
Whether or not you agree with the extent of some of Ibiza’s new regulations friends of the island should be proud and happy it has reached a point where it can once again set standards, that it is the captain of its fate. People who simply want to raise hell will always find a poorer nation prepared to look the other way as they behave disgracefully but we should be pleased Ibiza has outgrown that phase.
Judging by their reactions the locals can’t wait for the day that Serbia gains a measure of economic swagger. Not because they are looking forward to shutting down the great parties and putting a lid on Exit’s open-air rave (hopefully they won’t!) but because it will mean they are finally as free to party in London or Ibiza as we are to go dancing in Serbia. Even if it does meaning a little of the current liberal attitude, who are we to complain? It is mere selfishness to wish our pleasure to take precedence over someone else’s livelihood. In the long run, equality benefits everyone.
Originally published at Ibiza A-Z blog
I am the worst sort of explorer, in that I am always stubbornly and vocally un-interested in something unless it’s something I’ve discovered.
True to form I have always publically yawned over Atlantis – Ibiza’s “secret” beach. The locals assure me it is no more or less than a rather nice beach and that’s good enough for me.
However, one of my best mates was over from London for the weekend. He’d found Atlantis on his last visit and – like any good evangelist – wasn’t going to let me off the hook till I’d found it too. So off we go in the hire car with a bottle of water, a camera and some sensible shoes.
Lucky it’s one of those glorious Mediterranean autumn days where the sky is hazy blue and the sun is a silky gold as melting butter.
Originally published in Mixmag
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.
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.
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.
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.
Originally published in Mixmag
Brazil mixes ostentation and poverty like nowhere else, throwing dollops of sex, sun and sleaze into a bubbling cauldron of music and culture. For lazy, sun-drenched days and spontaneous partying head to Rio, where the whole city turns with the indolent revolutions of the sun. Beach parties replace after parties, and the best way to get hooked up is to strike up a conversation. Clubbers and promoters rely on networks of friends and instant messaging to spread the word about events, or fuel spontaneous after-parties. For something a little more familiar head to Sao Paulo, home to a thriving scene running the gamut from drum and bass and hip hop to ice cool minimal. With a population of over 10 million it’s like London on steroids, and has the clubs and thriving music scene to match. It’s full on, full time, but if it all gets too much there’s always Warung.
Warung Beach Club: Is Warung the ultimate beach club? Probably. It’s worth the trip to see Itajai beach anyway. Throw in acres of beautiful tanned flesh and A-list DJs and it’s downright unmissable.
D-Edge: The neon-laced D-Edge is Sao Paulo’s coolest underground venue and a magnet for world-class DJs. “It has a huge soundsystem, it’s beautiful and attracts really cool people,” explains Gui Boratto.
Love Club, Rio: Because you can’t be at the beach all the time… Love Club is Rio’s answer to D-Edge. It’s intimate but equipped with cutting edge music, pumping sound and gorgeous people.
According to locals national character is a matter of coastlines. Brazil and Argentina, sitting on the Atlantic coast, are brasher, livelier, more cosmopolitan. The Pacific countries like Chile are more conservative, less Euro-influenced. Which meant dance music took longer to find its way into Chile, but when it did it was bleeding edge European electronica and Detroit techno (Juan Atkins and Derrick May played the country’s first ever rave). “There were a lot of Chileans living outside the country in the 90s and when they came back they brought electronic music, with them,” Luciano says. You can still see the effects in the clubbing culture where huge events like Creamfields are balanced out by house parties or intimate after-hours bashes. Santiago, the capital, is the heart of the year-round club scene. In the summer hire a car and head 120km to the seaside clubs of Valparaíso.
La Feria, Santiago: With huge aquariums built into the walls, porthole windows and white leather everywhere it looks like a Bond villain’s lair – if only Dr No had been into techno.
Dominica 54: An after hours club-cum-sushi restaurant? It shouldn’t work, but it’s a favourite haunt of Chile’s expat DJ A-list (Villalobos, et al). Sushi till 1am, dancing till 10am.
Deck-00, Muelle Baron: Set on Muelle Baron, the main public access to Valparaiso’s seaport, Deck-00 hosts huge one-off events with the likes of Fatboy Slim in a glittering setting.
Buenos Aires boasts the same mix of sun, sex and tunes as Miami or Rio, but for about half the price. It’s also the most European of South American countries, which means plenty of English-speaking clubbers to befriend and a cosmopolitan flair to its nightlife. A tragic club fire two years ago led to a huge safety crackdown on club venues (Pacha Buenos Aires saw its capacity reduced from 4000 to 2200) but massive events like the 10,000 capacity Moonpark festival have filled the gap. With a mix of international tourists and out-going locals Argentina is an ideal start to a South American clubbing adventure. “The people make Argentina totally unique,” Hernan Cattaneo says. What he means is last time he played Southfest the crowd literally stretched as far as the eye could see – all going mental. “In other countries people go to the bar. Here, they dance like it’s the last time they’re ever going to dance.”
Crobar: Buenos Aires’ best Friday night, the newly established Crobar sticking with the formula that’s made its US clubs successful: big international talent (Armin, FC Kahuna, etc) and a sleek setting.
Pacha Buenos Aires: Though its capacity was scaled down after the Buenos Aires club fire tragedy Pacha BA is still one of the biggest draws in town. A host of A-list international guests keeps crowds flocking in on Saturday nights.
Club 69 @ Nicetoclub: Like many South American clubs Nicetoclub hosts everything from rock ‘n’ roll to hip hop, go on Thursday for dance music accompanied by fancy dress, cabaret performances and general madness.
You could fit the entire population of Uruguay into London comfortably. Twice. But there’s nothing you can tell the three million strong population about partying. Every year in January the young, rich and beautiful flood to the seaside paradise of Punta Del Este to romp on the beaches and soak up the bar life. “Everyone’s there – Brazilian, Argentine, Peruvian… It’s a millionaire’s playground. I went to a private party there with 2000 people, a huge swimming pool and an open bar pouring with champagne and vodka. It went on for days,” says DJ Greg Vickers. The season is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short but look out for big outdoor events like East Festival, which hosts the likes of Sasha and Erick Morillo. For year-round clubbing head to the capital Montevideo. “Check out Milenio, it’s underground but everyone goes there,” Tania Vulcano advises. And after you get your club on go replenish your tan on one of the white sand beaches that surround the city.
Milenio: A big-yet-cosy three-storey affair, Milenio has a reputation for top notch music and a liberal attitude, which has made it a magnet for hedonistic tourists, the gay crowd and hip locals.
W Lounge: You’re never far from the beach in Montevideo, especially not in W Lounge which capitalises on the Ibiza-of-the-southern-hemisphere vibe with two dancefloors and a gorgeous seaside terrace.
Punta del Este: Not a club, but a destination. Throw caution and credit rating to the wind and head there in January to party at the many beach bars and mini-festivals that spring up during its brief season.
The club scene in Peru is small but cutting edge – the rule is minimal music, maximal partying. “You’ve got people in their 20s and people old enough to be their grandparents, all getting involved. It is purely hedonistic. By the end of a night here I can never remember the name of my hotel,” says Greg Vickers. A typical night finishes at 8 or 9 in the morning then everyone staggers to Larcomar, a huge shopping mall-cum-hangout overlooking the Pacific, to catch the sun.
Gotika: Handily located on the fifth floor of Larcomar you won’t want to leave before sunrise. Better write the name of your hotel on your hand before you go out.
Aura: A slick, trendy, industrial space in a Soho chic style, Aura hosts a mix of local and international talent. You’ll want to put on a fresh tee-shirt before you go.
Home: A distant memory in the UK, Home is alive and well in Peru, where it’s just celebrated its first birthday. Think high stakes glamour and non-stop house music.
For serious eye candy try Circus in Medellín. Ministry events manager Nick Leonard has fond memories: “Every woman in the room had her nose and boobs done. God I wished I could speak Spanish!” Apart from a few big clubs nightlife revolves around warehouse parties thrown by promoters like Techsound and Ultrabass. Despite the headlines you’re more likely to be hanging out with working class kids than narco villains. “People are very outgoing and friendly, even if they have no money they manage to party,” says Techsound boss Luis.
La Sala, Bogota: One of Bogota’s hottest clubs, the slickly styled La Sala plays host to the likes of Poker Flat, Subliminal and Ministry tours, as well as top local talent.
Circus Club, Medellín: An hour’s flight from Bogota this Pacha style club holds 3000 glammed up clubbers. And with an average ratio of two gorgeous women for every guy it’s worth the trip.
Warehouse parties: You’ll have to do a little legwork (try the phrase “donde está una fiesta de techno?”) but for authentic Columbian clubbing head to one of the regular bashes thrown by local promoters.
Originally published in Mixmag
One image summed up Ibiza 2007: Luciano standing in the DJ booth at DC10, music off, flanked by stony-faced Spanish cops as a chorus of protest rose from the dancefloor. Slowly, the boos turned into a chant, “Lu-ci-an-o, Lu-ci-an-o.” It was a classic confrontation between young and old; freedom and restraint; hedonism and joyless authority and the 29-year-old Chilean represents everything the Ibicenco police were trying to stamp out. That moment turned him from a star into an icon.
In the past twelve months Luciano has gone from underground hero to bona fide A-lister purely by refusing to compromise. Unhappy with his old management, he left and – with new label partner An Reich – created Cadenza booking agency. Like everything else in Luciano’s life, Cadenza (the label he started four years ago) has a newfound sense of purpose. They’ve released their first two LPs and expanded their roster. As well as running the agency Luciano and An have taken Cadenza’s successful residency at Berlin’s Panoramabar global, establishing nights in Paris, Madrid, Italy, Bucharest, Barcelona and Moscow.
In the midst of all this, while the rest of the world was moving to Berlin Luciano packed his bags to take his young family to Geneva. “It was hard for my career, it would have been easier to stay. But you have prove you have the strength to fight, to re-build your life,” he says.
Lest anyone mistake this move for a retreat, he’s thrown himself into DJing. As Cocoon and DC10 resident he was the biggest star of the Ibiza season – tirelessly igniting the terraces every Monday. Plus he racked up the air miles playing in different country, or two, every weekend. “It’s scary. Sometimes I wake up and have to turn on the TV to find out what country I’m in,” Luciano says.
Describing 2007 as “exhausting and beautiful,” he is eager to keep pushing in 2008. “We’re touring Japan, Malaysia, India… I don’t know if they like techno in India, we’ll find out,” he laughs. It’s a safe bet that if they don’t yet, they will by the time the Luciano is through with them.
An Reich says simply, “He seduces people with music,” and this was the year the world fell under his spell.
Originally published in Mixmag
Most DJs just walk into a booth. Not David Guetta. He strides through Pacha flanked by two burly friends, his gold and black satin Adidas jacket glinting in the lights. Head down but ears tuned to the rising hum of the crowd, he looks like a bantam weight fighter marching into the ring. Outside, the words Fuck Me I’m Famous flash Vegas red in the warm night air, a gaudy invitation. Stepping into the booth Guetta shakes himself, loosening up. The minders hang back, looking down watchfully as David steps up to the decks. Shrugging off the satin jacket he raises his fists in a boxer’s salute and the crowd – recognising their contender – sends up a throaty roar.
This is pure Fuck Me I’m Famous. High-octane showmanship, glamour, the elusive splash of sex, style and stardom that has turned Guetta into a worldwide celebrity. Watching him work the crowd it’s easy to fall under his spell. He has the savvy and highly polished charisma you’d expect from the man who scored a top three hit with a canny (but nerve-grating) re-edit of someone else’s remix (David Guetta Vs The Egg, Walking Away), and who – in the manner of A-list athletes, rather than DJs – starred in a global campaign for cosmetic giant L’Oreal.
What you don’t expect is him to pile down a dusty Ibicenco side road in a red Peugeot van emblazoned with the logo of a Spanish cleaning service. Nor do you expect his driver to be a middle-aged housekeeper in checked trousers and a black apron. In shapeless camo shorts and metallic sneakers he looks like an overgrown skater boy (albeit one sporting a heavy, expensive black Rolex diving watch) and he apologises for his tardiness as profusely as a waiter standing over a plate of undercooked chicken.
This is the other side of David Guetta, the one that doesn’t make the billboards, the adverts, the society pages of France’s gossip magazines. Two years ago Mixmag sipped champagne with him in Pink Paradise, the high-end strip club he owned with his PR/designer/entrepreneur wife, Cathy. Now, he offers us pasta which we eat off our knees while the cleaner Hoovers the next room and his three-year-old son Elvis giggles with the nanny. It’s a deliberately domestic, unprepossessing setting in which to discuss his new album, Pop Life. But reinvention is very much on the Guetta agenda.
Having worked his way onto the celebrity radar, and into the consciousness of pop culture, Guetta seems to want to tear it all down. Or does he? “I am not trying to be a pop star. I’m a DJ. I have a pop lifestyle, but I am not a pop person,” he says, firmly, if not entirely believably. To the contrary, he’s the only DJ at the moment making serious waves in both clubland and planet pop. Like other big shot DJs, he runs a very successful night in Ibiza and has an exhausting gig schedule (“I get planes like I used to get the Metro” he says). Unlike other DJs, he’s opened for George Michael at the 80,000 capacity Stade de France and Madonna on her Confessions tour. The Queen Of Pop has even plugged Pop Life on her blog (“I couldn’t believe it, so crazy!” David chirps, though he did send her the album, so he can’t have been too surprised). And Pop Life’s title? Borrowed from a Prince song. A tribute, not a declaration of intent, he says.
The initial transformation from “just a DJ” to his current society status started in 1989 when he spotted a pretty girl one night, when he was spinning. Digging into his bag of tricks he started chopping up tunes, scratching, spinning back records, anything to get her attention. “And it worked,” he grins. She was the bartender, Cathy, and it was the beginning of a romance and partnership that would transform both their lives.
When they arrive at KM5 – a plush outpost of Eurotrash girls and leathery men with mullets – for a quick meal, pre-Pacha, Cathy sweeps, St. Tropez tanned, and dripping gold, David all but invisible behind her. Seven months pregnant and imposingly stylish in black, her force-field personality is only amplified by her regal bump. She kisses everyone, dispensing greetings in three languages. Next to her David looks like a pale, tow-headed kid, the same shy boy who impressed her with his vinyl juggling.
The way he tells it, he always wanted to be a DJ – no more, no less. Cathy, on the other hand, made quick work of moving from bartending to PR, to running celebrity-packed nightclub Les Bains Douche with David, to launching her own-brand perfume (with David DJing at the parties, naturally), to running their joint venture restaurant and lap dancing club. She’s smart, ambitious and charismatic. David is happy to pass her off as the mastermind of his celebrity image. More than once he refers to “Cathy’s world” (meaning Cristal-popping VIP events) and “my world” (meaning clubs).
He doesn’t want people to think, despite those bare-chest- and-heaving-bosom, Fuck Me I’m Famous promo shots, that it’s all about the image, or that he’s interested in being A-list. “I came up with the name Fuck Me I’m Famous to take the piss out of the whole celebrity thing,” he insists. If the name – as strung across the entrance to Pacha in bright red lights, and splashed across his chest in gold lettering – is a dig at Brand Guetta it’s so subtle as to be imperceptible. Certainly none of the rich Americans and C-list celebs (former Kiera Knightly paramour and Bodyrocker Kas James has a noisy group of friends in the corner) watching him from the VIP area seem to be in on the joke.
David, though, is visibly happiest and most relaxed behind the decks, shuffling through CDs or turning around to pull silly superstar DJ poses for the in-house photographer. He says there’s nothing he loves more than dropping some surprise tunes, though none are in evidence tonight. He plays the first Pop Life single, Love Is Gone (“it’s about a crisis I had with my wife,” he says, though as relationship meltdown songs goes it’s no Love Will Tear Us Apart), bopping along as the kids below the DJ booth wave their hands in the air. Miss Kittin’s Silverscreen Shower Scene, and Shakedown’s At Night and even Snap’s The Power are aired between mixes of his own tunes. So far, he hasn’t played anything that would sound out of place at a bar mitzvah, but the crowd is swept up in the moment. As much as anything, it’s his genuine enthusiasm; his unselfconscious glee at dropping records your mum might consider old hat but which create chaos in the maelstrom of bodies beneath him.
Yet he insists this isn’t the real David Guetta. Fuck Me I’m Famous, he says, isn’t me. I’m different. To prove the point he and Cathy sold up the restaurant and strip club in Paris. While his wife has publicly stated she was sad to see her “babies” go, for Guetta this was the beginning of a new life. “When you own something, you’re also owned. Success doesn’t necessarily make you happy – success at what you love makes you happy,” he says, explaining his decision to sell off his money-spinning businesses.
Instead of being an industry heavy, he wanted to be a jobbing disc jockey again. “I was very successful with the clubs, and when you make a lot of money it’s hard to stop. You never know if music is going to make money,” he says. But it was a risk he was prepared to take.
David characterises his work of the last two years as “door to door sales” – going around the world with his record box knocking on the gates of clubland. This is his preferred pose, the David Guetta he wants the world to see through the gleam of his public persona. While he has certainly worked the clubs – playing nearly 250 gigs during that time –it is impossible to imagine he’d have anything near his current international profile without the ritzy Fuck Me I’m Famous parties and his tenure as the worldwide face of L’Oreal Studio Line hair gel. (Not that there’s anything wrong with using your looks to get ahead, but – as any woman could tell you – it does make it harder to be taken seriously.)
The larger obstacle to the DJ credibility David craves is, well, the music. Playing party music is one thing. Dropping House Of Pain’s Jump Around in the main room at Pacha is another. “I’d be bored to death if I had to play minimal techno,” he says. Yet he doesn’t exactly take full advantage of the vast range of music that falls between ‘minimal’ and ‘cheese’.
Unusually, for a DJ, record shopping isn’t much a part of his life. There’s the odd excursion to Beatport but he complains “It’s hard to find music other people don’t have.” Instead of hitting the shops he relies heavily on an informal record swapping club involving Pete Tong, Erick Morillo, Steve Angelo and a handful of others, trading new tunes and edits. (This, he says, is how The Egg remix worked its way into the light of day. “I just gave a copy to Pete, as a friend.” A friend, of course, whose Radio 1 show is the most influential force in mainstream UK dance music.) If he finds the variety available on Beatport stale, sourcing records from just half-a-dozen or so close friends is a paradoxical solution. It’s like borrowing your mates’ clothes for fear of showing up in the same outfit as someone else at a party – you might not look like anyone else, but you’ll sure as hell end up looking like your mate.
Apart from his DJ pals, the person David counts on most is, of course, himself. At KM5 he’s twinkling with excitement over a new edit of Love Is Gone, impatient to test the club’s reaction. He is full of confidence as a producer, saying Pop Life is his best album yet; that he thinks it has songs that will go the distance, not just club tunes. It’s a line straight out off page one of DJ/producer promotional catechism, and Pop Life is equally riddled with clichés. Musically, it’s more Time & Envy than Ministry Of Sound, with the likes of Tomorrow Can Wait and Everytime We Touch a blurred onslaught of by-numbers funky house. And the lyrics, like so many in commercial dance, don’t bear close inspection. Safe to say, nothing here is going to trouble the underground clubs Guetta professes to respect so highly.
Pop Life is another baffling piece of the Guetta puzzle. Who is he, really? And what does he want? He talks enthusiastically about playing afterhours clubs with Tiefschwarz, but at his own parties he plays wedding disco music. As a producer he sticks to formulaic commercial house, but pays homage to the innovations of Daft Punk and Depeche Mode. He says he doesn’t want to be a celebrity DJ, but he happily poses with his socialite wife to promote Fuck Me I’m Famous.
Ultimately, it’s hard to tell how conscious he is of these contradictions. Playing at Pacha David looks like a kid in a candy shop. There is no doubt he sincerely loves what he does. Perhaps he really sees himself as part of the electronic pantheon he continually name drops, like DJ Hell and Depeche Mode. On the other hand, he’s an incredibly astute operator. While he’s not running Pink Paradise anymore the sharp business brain that made it such a success isn’t resting. Underground is cool, yes; but being the highly marketable, commercial face of dance music (and being endorsed by Madonna) makes a lot more sense in terms of career progression.
Maybe the key to the riddle lies in David’s recollection of his early years as a DJ. “We were treated like shit. I was the number one DJ in Paris at the end of the 80s and I remember playing in the basement, in a little hole. Sometimes I feel like this is all a big joke and I’ll wake up and be back in the basement,” he says. Perhaps he’s just trying to stay out of that basement, by any means necessary.