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Ibiza Looked Just As Fun Before the Rave Generation Arrived

During the mid-70s and late 80s, instead of being overrun by tourists getting dressed up in their best pair of shorts to hurl $15 at a luminous bottle of drink in Pacha, Ibiza Town was full of beautiful European people wearing weird clothes and dancing...

All photos by Derek Ridgers

Before the crap ecstasy and Paul Oakenfold, Ibiza was something else entirely: a sleepy Balearic island known for being the favored vacation destination of famous, wealthy hippies hoping to escape the exhausting stresses of making music for a living. There was, however, a short period of change between the boho years and the Ibiza Uncovered era—a span of time that last roughly from the mid-1970s until the late-80s.


During that time, instead of being overrun by tourists getting dressed up in their best pair of shorts to hurl $15 at a luminous bottle of drink in Pacha, Ibiza Town was full of beautiful European people wearing weird clothes and dancing around in open-air nightclubs. It was a bit like Berlin was in the 2000s but with glorious, blazing sunlight and sandy beaches rather than Arctic winds and stern Soviet architecture.

Photographer Derek Ridgers happened to be on a family holiday in Ibiza in 1983 when he came across all these European club kids, and fresh from photographing London's skinheads, he trained his camera upon them. For whatever reason, no publications would buy his photos at the time, so they'd been sitting around unseen for decades until he dug them out and put them on display this month as part of the ICA's "Ibiza: Moments in Love" exhibition.

I gave Derek a call to chat about his pictures.

VICE: Hi Derek. So, were you part of Ibiza's early clubbing scene or just an observer?
Derek Ridgers: I was on a family vacation when I was 33 and I was always an observer. I’d been taking a lot of photos in London nightclubs—like Camden Palace and the Batcave—at the time, and when I went out to Ibiza in 1983 I saw that there was a similar thing happening on the streets of Ibiza Town.

What was it that you thought needed to be captured?
It was quite exceptional. It was like being in a nightclub in London, but on the streets of Ibiza. In the day it was no different to any vacation town in the Mediterranean, but at night there were a few streets that were just like open-air clubs. It wasn’t that I thought it needed capturing, it was just that I couldn’t stop myself from taking photos. It was a compulsion.


Did all the party artwork and flyers not affect the look of the place during the day? Or was it still all very hippie when you were there?
There were still a few old hippies hanging out in bars around Ibiza Town, but not as many as in other parts of the Mediterranean. The shops were selling real hippie-type clothing—you know, cheesecloth clothes, skirts, and tassels and things. The posters and artwork wasn’t something I noticed at the time; it’s only in retrospect that this kind of thing comes into sharp focus.

Do you think the culture got diluted by the British invasion in the late 80s and early 90s?
By 84 it had already started to get a little bit diluted, but I don’t necessarily think it was the English. In the early 80s, the European beautiful people would go to Ibiza in the early part of the summer and they’d be gone by the time the English were there on vacation. But it was the Europeans who were driving the scene that I photographed; there were more Spanish and Germans there than English.

Was ecstasy widespread when you were first taking photos there?
I don’t think so. This was a couple of years before it really hit the clubs. The first I ever heard of ecstasy was when Grace Jones told me about it when I photographed her in 84 or 85.

You'd photographed other youth movements before, like the skinheads in the late 70s and early 80s, for example. Did what was happening in Ibiza have the same kind of feel to it?
I don’t really know. It wasn’t really focused. It was focused in the sense that it was only around a few streets in the town, but it wasn’t really focused like the skinheads because it was all different types of looks. It wasn’t one specific look; there were, among others, some goths there and some [club kids] who looked like they’d just walked straight out of Camden Palace.


Was the club scene something you followed and photographed back in Britain?
Not really. I stopped following it when the whole rave scene started. Everything changed. I was looking for the "look-at-me" type of people who were happy to stand there posing and would go out to dress up. The change in the British rave scene wasn’t really something that I noticed immediately. The whole thing was very dark; it was in fields and warehouses and places like that, which would have been hard to photograph anyway. Some of these parties were in muddy fields, and people didn’t really dress up to go out any more.

That's a shame. Lastly, why has it taken you so long to exhibit these photos?
Before this exhibition, the photos had never even been seen. I tried to get them into The Face magazine at the time, but they said that English readers wouldn’t be interested in what’s happening in Ibiza. After that I just forgot about them and moved on to the next thing.

Derek's photography is part of the "Ibiza: Moments in Love" exhibition at the ICA, which is a look at the island in the 1980s through a collection of club posters, books, and photographs. The show is running from now until the January 26, 2014.

Click through to see more of Derek's Ibiza photographs