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A Bullshitter's Guide to Balearic

From island hopping to name dropping: the past and present of Balearic.

Thirty years ago, two guys, Alfredo Fiorito and Jose Padilla, changed the world: they gave us Balearic. This was before Ibiza became more about Pacha and puke, Manumission and MDMA; before the hippy island was overrun by bladdered-up Brits looking for sangria, sex, and sunrise sets with Carl Cox. This was an island rooted in the past, a place where the pace of life was pitched down, a zone of relaxation, a pleasure palace awaiting erection. Fiorito and Padilla were DJs unafraid of experimentation, spinners happy to drop reggae next to rockabilly.


In 1987, Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling and Trevor Fung went on a lads trip to the pre-Beefa Ibiza: they came back Balearic converts and they changed London clubbing forever. Balearic begat acid house, acid house brought about a summer of love. It gave us ecstasy culture, a peek into a world in which clubbing had the power to change communities, to radically alter our interpersonal relationships and shape societies. Sadly, all that Oakenfold's crew of mollied-up misfits really ushered in was a time of chill out rooms, bad hair and even worse – ambient house records.

But they inspired countless DJs to pick up dog-eared basement bin finds and coax endless sunshine out of scratched and smushed black wax. Balearic ran on, and on, endless waves of young men from eternal Sunday night suburbs latched onto the promise of a life of palm trees and cheap cold pints drunk at sunset at Café Del Mar.


Writing about, or even just thinking about Balearic, means attempting to define something that's defiantly – or at least was originally – inclusive. Listen to Ricardo's sets from Ku, or those early Fiorito tapes from Café Del Mar, and you'll hear: Talk Talk, pitched-down boogie records, jazz, muzak, wistful West Coast folk, gossamer thin psyche, Hawaiian disco and early Chicago house. This is the joy of Balearic: everything is Balearic. You wanna play the dub of "Lady in Red"? Sure. "You Don't Fool Me" by Queen? Fucking massive. How about Rah Band's "Perfumed Garden"? Get it on. In theory, the Balearic DJ has free reign to play whatever, whenever, as long as that open minded vibe remains intact.


Sadly, we're simple creatures of thought and that original questing spirit of Balearic, that sense of freedom that must stem from being a series of small white islands surrounded by vast cobalt seas separated from mainland politics; language and attitudes, has been replaced by something a bit easier to digest and replicate. Somewhere along the way, Balearic came to mean cringe-worthy flamenco guitars, horrible slow-rolling drum tracks, dub-tinged cheesefest basslines and wailing sax solos. Sure, you can get the odd half-decent 12" that uses those signifiers but this isn't what it's meant to be like.


Don't worry about beatmatching. Just slide those faders. Look relaxed at all times even if you're trainwrecking from 100-200 BPM. You meant it to happen. It is happening. They want it to happen.

So you've read this, decided that you want to become one of those Balearo-bores who bang on incessantly about unfairly underrated fusion records that "just work" at 5am at Formentera.

Now all you need are these ten records to queue up on YouTube and dazzle the unconverted with:

Mandy Smith - I Just Can't Wait (Cool, Jazzy, Breezy Mix)

Your dad will probably remember Mandy Smith as the impossibly young girl that prodigiously-beaked Rolling Stones man Bill Wyman married. But you, as a veteran of Balearic life, should know her as the women who produced one of the most quintessentially Balearic sounding records out there – a glossy, Vaseline-smudged, soft focus love letter to love itself. This is sultry stuff. One for late nights and early mornings.


The Countach - Aqua Marina (Paradise Mix)

This one's deeper than Mahon harbour: it takes confidence to get away with kicking off a club track with a fucking wave sample but this guitar heavy jammer is a head's favourite. Panpipes ease us into a gloriously rolling warm-up gem. The cheap and tacky sounding piano rolls that stutter into infinity are as joyous as it gets. Bells chime. We sip cocktails. Linen suits. Shades on. Boys of summer.

Bob James - Women of Ireland

I'm sure Ireland's a lovely place – think of all those rolling green hills, the butter, the friendly accents – but it's hardly the Balearics: it rains all the time, everyone looks gaunt and miserable or fat and miserable. Father Ted taught us that there are some lovely women there and our boy Bob, through a hilariously gorgeous eight minute jazz-lounge workout, wants to praise them.

Sketches from an Island - Baby Come Home

Mark Barrott runs International Feel records, one of the bastions of top notch Balearic music in its many incarnations. "Sketches from an Island" is his aural interpretation of everything post-Iberian. "Baby Come Home" is a track so stunningly good that this writer wept genuine tears the first time he heard it. Effervescent and transcendental, this is chunky, chewy and delicious and stuffed to the brim with panpipes .

Robert Palmer - Every Kinda People (Extended)

Robert Palmer is an unlikely Balearic icon but then Balearic is unpredictable by its very nature. Possessing the kind of blue-eyed soul voice that suits everything from budget cruises to working men's clubs and high end yacht parties where the guests inhale mounds of cocaine from oyster shells, Palmer's loucheness gives him that all important laid-back sensibility. This track is about as Balearic as it comes: synthetic Spanish guitar, mobile phone advert chill-out chirrups, a lazy pedalo ride of a bassline, and a shivering of calypso marimba.


Chris Rea - Josephine

I'm assuming that every other Chris Rea track is garbage (based on the truly execrable advertiser's fav "Drivin' Home for Christmas"), a series of turgid bluesy numbers, but every dog has his day, and this is Rea's – one of the most genuinely sumptuous examinations of longing and yearning put to record. Warning: this one is a bit of a cliché so if you do play it, make sure the room knows you're doing it ironically.

I Level - the River

Delving into darker territory now, the sun has set on another day in a perfect world and we're all out, stinking of aftershave, queuing for clubs that exude the heady scent of endless promise. We descend into the depths down clanking steel steps. This is playing. You've entered heaven. This is it. Ask the DJ to play it twenty times in a row.

Tatsuro Yamashita - Love Talkin'

Get out of the club and get that linen suit back on, lad. Get the bubbly out the fridge. Get the keys to that speedboat. This is the sound of true love.

Jose Padilla - Solito (Wolf Muller Water Dance)

The master's back.

Status Quo - In the Army Now

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise: Status Quo are fucking sick. If you know someone who doesn't dig Parfitt and Rossi's singular brand of two-chord stonewash jean chug it's time to cut them out of your life. Here's our boys getting down and dusty with a seriously sweaty, sultry track that's undeniably Balearic. This is one for long drives to the beach after longer nights in the club. Drop the dub and watch everyone hail you as a new god.

So there you have it: grow that hair out, get a beard going, pack in that admin job, move to Mallorca, hibernate in Menorca and start afresh in Ibiza . Balearic's a feeling.