This article is about tonight's double episode of "Big Night Out," screening from 10:15 PM on SBS VICELAND.
Ibiza is a place that looms large in our collective imagination. It's the island that is smaller than even Majorca but has become not just a holiday destination for Brits in search of the usual sun, sea and STDs, but a sort of tech-house Shangri-La. A place whose no-holds-barred, no-fucks-given majesty makes it worth toiling through 50 or so weeks of spreadsheets and supermarket pizza. It's a place that people don't just work to visit, but that people will work in while they visit, purely to keep the party going.
The stereotype goes that it's a paradise of pillheads and Portobello hippies, the gurning masses huddling together in the death throes of a 15-hour Roger Sanchez set on one side of the island, while personal friends of Jade Jagger and James Blunt sit on the other side smoking expensive hash in their turquoise cowboy boots and Stevie Nicks buckle hats.
In recent years, the sheer weight of the island's reputation has meant it's become the place to go for everyone from sleeve-tatted Yorkshire boys to junior oligarchs; from Resident Advisor heads to crusties, shoulder-bag shufflers and of course, celebrities, like Orlando Bloom, who famously tried to batter a child there this summer. British perception of it might be defined by the adolescent sex comedy Kevin and Perry Go Large, but in 2014, Ibiza's more all-encompassing than it's ever been, a cross-section of every part of the modern British youth experience dumped on an island and given shitloads of drugs.
Having never been there myself, I'd always been fascinated by it, endlessly replaying the video to David Morales's "Needin' U" on foggy February mornings, listening to Dario G's "Sunchyme" on the bus home, dreaming of better days. So this summer, we went out there to make a film about it, Big Night Out: Ibiza, which is coming very soon to VICE.
Ibiza's always been a decadent place. Its name even derives from that of Bes, the Egyptian god of music and dance. But the idea of the island as a clubber's paradise can probably be traced back to one man: Alfredo Fiorito. The native Argentinian fled his home country's murderous military junta in 1976, and after a spell on the Spanish mainland joined friends of his who'd already settled in the Balearics. Spain itself was just throwing off the shackles of Franco's fascist regime, enjoying the freedom that came with democracy. And what better place to celebrate the death of a bastard dictator than Ibiza?
Graduating from his jobs as a candle shop owner and barman, Alfredo started DJing and was snapped up by the newly opened club Amnesia, where he developed a cult following thanks to his legendary 12-hour sets. Mixing everything from early Belgian new beat to the Woodentops to Joe Smooth, hip-hop, and even U2, Alfredo played rave before rave was even a thing; the anthemic pop tunes mixing with the more percussive stuff to establish what quickly became known as the "Balearic Beat."
Soon after this, Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling exported the Alfredo experience back to Bermondsey, London. Their clubnight, Shoom, fused with the ecstasy boom and a worldwide obsession was born: rave culture. House music may have started in Chicago, but the ideal of taking pills, waiting for the piano breaks, and reaching for the skies comes from Alfredo and Ibiza.
Photos by Rhys James and Grant Armour
But Ibiza is not a museum. Since those days, the place has become big business. Really, really big business. The sweet stench of cold hard cash pervades the entire island, a new opportunity to blow it at every turn. The clubs operate more like Vegas casinos or theme parks than places you might rock up to on a whim to get drunk and have a little dance. With entry fees regularly exceeding €50 ($64), drinks rarely going for less than €15 ($19) and cab meters ticking away like Ritchie Hawtin bangers, Ibiza is all frills.
That said, there aren't many places you can go to see the world's biggest DJs in environs that are as wonderfully maximalist as the Ibizan superclubs. Space is to Carl Cox what the Bernabeu is to Cristiano Ronaldo, or what the Louvre is to the Mona Lisa; these are arenas designed to be as outrageously unreplicable as possible. Try all you want, but you'll never recreate the feeling of partying on the beach beneath palm trees and the undercarriages of 747s in a warehouse just outside Leeds, or at some newly-opened club somewhere near the Millennium Dome.
The clubs themselves are intense experiences; they'll push you to the very limit, but then give you an experience that's so good it'll make you want to exist forever beyond those limits. They're hard work partly because the prices are high, partly because they bring in more people than most lower-division soccer matches, and partly because people have built their entire years around these nights. Nobody goes to Space for "a chilled one."
The Ibiza lifestyle is brutal—by the time I got back, I felt like I was in recovery from major surgery—but it's one that's so far removed from normal life that you can't help but go flying hell for leather into it. You wake up at 5 PM, you start drinking at 5.30 PM, you eat some shit pizza, you go to the beach, you drink some more, you get to the club at about 2AM, leave at 7AM, stay at the villa party till midday, and do it all again the day after. Sinking a few beers at Liquid and getting an Uber home it is not.
At Amnesia, one of Ibiza's oldest and most famous clubs, we met Luciano, a legend in Ibiza whose Origins show is still one of the biggest attractions on the island. Bringing in a few thousand punters every night, we'd heard he makes a serious, serious amount of dollar from it.
Flagrantly disregarding EU regulations with his booth cigarette, his astonishing set of tribal house, minimal techno, and all sorts of bits and bobs from his Swiss-Chilean heritage was a highlight of our time there, and showed us what a true Ibiza DJ should be all about. Reacting to the space, judging the crowd, keeping people on their toes, bringing in those little bits of magic from nowhere and blasting people with CO2 gas whenever possible.
But away from the very European world of the super-clubs there is of course a more downmarket part of the island. A place lined with pubs named after the locals in British sitcoms from the 1970s, fish and chip shops, and whey powder wankers in neon headbands, blind-drunk on Sea Breezes, puking in storm drains, poking their balls out the side of their mankinis, and generally performing a kind of cultural Dresden of piss and tack.
That place is San Antonio, the setting for many a BBC3 slot-filler and the home of all that is shit in Ibiza. The guy in the photo above, who kept pointing at the dick tattooed on his bulging calf muscle and telling us he had "cock on t'leg," is indicative of the kind of person who spends their whole time in San An', eating roast potatoes on the beach and singing sectarian songs, as the natives begin to wish they'd planned that Armada thing a little bit better.
But luckily, San Antonio doesn't come anywhere close to defining Ibiza.
A club that offers something fairly different is Zoo Project, which—while primarily catering for a crowd of young drunk Brits—actually manages to book some pretty decent DJs, and hold it all within an abandoned zoo up in the hills surrounding San Antonio.
Maybe it's because of the setting, maybe it's just that it's so camp it's basically Febreze for testosterone, but the same people I'd met being assholes in San An's West End were actually great fun at Zoo Project, painting themselves up like the cast of Cats and generally living the nu-Ibizan dream. Ariel (in the above photo) was just one of the many British dancers who'd come to work at the place, leaving the Midlands and the world of office admin behind to live and work on the island hwere she'd partied so many times before.
She had become a kind of professional club mermaid, a job that could only really exist in Ibiza. I've not looked into it properly but I doubt there are many professional club mermaids in Dudley.
Dancers are more than just decoration in Ibiza—they're an integral part of the island's club culture and economy. Not only do they lead the dance by example—with their hyper-sexualized moves and outrageous costumes—they also hit the streets in the late afternoons to lure the punters in from their daytime beach slumbers, turning up en masse, dressed to party, full of beans and generally representing the kind of ideals that the club wants to promote (i.e. being awake and hot and fun rather than slumped, blistered, and angry).
This crew—a multinational collective of Eurobabes and bongo-playing David Luiz lookalikes—dance at places like Luciano's Amnesia night and are among the most respected teams on the island. They took us out with them onto the beaches to see just how they get scarlet-backed revellers in the mood for an expensive dance.
Corinne, originally from Rome, is typical of the Ibiza dancers. Trained in ballet, she came to Ibiza after a few holidays here, knowing it was one of the best places in the world to make it doing what she does and falling in love with the place in the process. As well as being a dancer, she also works for a yacht company and has managed to calm down the party somewhat in recent years, finding a strange kind of maturity and peace in this island so famous for its chaotic lifestyle.
Ibiza, I realized, is not just a place to blow money but a place of opportunity on a continent in decline. A place where young people with a lot of get up and go can make a fuckload of money. Grapes Of Wrath with bikinis, if you will.
But perhaps the man making the most unusual life for himself on the island is Jamie Brennan, a.k.a. Kryoman, an ex-Domino's delivery boy turned EDM club robot superstar.
In recent years, the Kryoman franchise has become massive business, and Jamie travels the clubs of Ibiza and far beyond doing his pyrotechnic-laden dance show, surely making more than a few clubbers wonder if it's just those dodgy pills they bought outside or if they really are seeing a ten-foot tall cyborg dancing around to David Guetta.
We met him in the garage of his house on a quiet part of the island as he prepared for an appearance at Music Is Revolution at Space.
But the most successful Brit working the Ibiza season is surely the man above, Carl Cox, the boy from Carshalton who came to Ibiza nearly 30 years ago and has been leaving his mark ever since. Cox is more than a DJ. He's as much of a draw for Ibiza as Disneyworld is for Florida, and despite this has kept his "nicest man in techno" reputation fully intact, kindly tolerating some evasive action I had to take while chatting to him after a heavy night, not enough water, one disgusting panini, and a lot of direct sunlight.
Alfredo Fiorito, the man who invented Ibiza
But if Carl Cox is the king of Ibiza, then Alfredo is God. Towards the end of our stay, we finally got to meet the man. I'm not ashamed to say that he's a complete personal hero of mine; his bootleg mixes have got me through many a tedious day. His take on the island was a uniquely interesting one.
Alfredo still DJs at Ibiza's biggest clubs, and he's seen just about every change the island has been through, not just as a DJ but as a resident, as somebody who just loves Ibiza and still finds the same awe in the place 35 years after he first arrived. Hearing his take on the changes, the past, the future, the nature of electronic music, and the similarities between today's youth and his youth was both sobering and inspiring, and generally about as far away from deep house DJs complaining about airport food on Twitter as you could possibly imagine.
But what really ties all these disparate threads together is the place itself. Club culture, the music, the drugs, and the money will keep changing for years to come, but Ibiza remains not just one of the most beautiful places in Europe, but the entire planet. And it's these vast and warm night skies, 10 PM sunsets, rocky beaches, and still, blue waters that seem to fall off the edge of the world like giant infinity pools that hold it all together.
As we head toward October, the Ibiza season is coming to an end, the closing parties are drawing closer and the likes of Ariel, Corinne, Jamie, and the thousands of other part-time residents will fly back to their lives in the real world. But this summer, like all the other summers they've spent in Ibiza, will coalesce in their minds into another strange chapter in their lives, just as the week I spent there did in mine.
I'm quite sure my body is yet to fully recover, and as my winter social life withers into a series of shivering smoking area chats and lost cloakroom tickets, I don't think my expectations of clubbing will ever be the same again. You just don't get planes and palm trees in Elephant & Castle. Ibiza is as much about endurance, as much about environment as it is about enjoyment, and because of that it'll linger longer in my memory than any other Big Night Out I've done.
Ibiza, you nearly killed me, but I'm sure I'll be back one day.
Watch tonight's double episode of "Big Night Out" from 10:15 PM on SBS VICELAND.