Coming of age in Britain towards the end of Thatcher's long and tedious tenure was a particularly grim prospect for working class teenagers. In the wake of the miner's strikes and the Poll Tax riots there was little to aspire to, or to inspire. Excluded from the aspirational lifestyle afforded to a privileged few, many turned to music, most notably acid house, as a means of escaping their respective realities. The soundtrack of a generation was accompanied by the legends and mythologies created on a picturesque Mediterranean island out in the Balearics and portrayed with characteristic insouciance in the documentary A Short Film About Chilling, a film depicting the first wave of British DJs, promoters and bands in Ibiza, prior to the subsequent mass invasion of clubbing tourists.
In 1990, Kevin Sampson was running a small production company and like many other independents based around Soho and Clerkenwell, he was chasing commissions from Channel Four. A temporarily transplanted scouser, he had immersed himself in a vibrant London scene and was keen to capture it on film. "At that time I was living the whole thing full throttle - clubs every night, Michiko, Duffer, white Levi's, crew-cut from Cuts in Soho, vodka jellies, Guarana, cheeky halves." Concurrently he was managing a (then) little known Liverpudlian band called The Farm, getting them gigs at some of the cooler clubs in the capital, including Nicky Holloway's Milk Bar and Charlie Chester's Flying, cementing valuable connections along the way. The Flying Records impresario proved particularly pivotal to the eventual process of making the film. Already a regular visitor to Ibiza, Chester's promotions at that point were largely Londoncentric, but in 1990 he hatched an idea to bring three bands and more than twenty DJs to Ibiza. The DJs included Terry Farley and Harvey; the bands selected were 808 State, A Man Called Adam (who had to persuade their label to give them five hundred pounds to go on the trip) and The Farm. Ever the opportunist, Kevin began to propagate a plan. "I began thinking we can put all this together. I'd get Channel Four to commission it; The Farm could be in it. That's how it all started."
Angus Cameron, a young filmmaker who was cutting his creative teeth making music videos for the likes of Primal Scream, came on board as director, a union that came to fruition largely through geographic serendipity. Kevin was living in Vine Hill in Clerkenwell. His local, the Duke of York, was underneath his flat and frequented by an eclectic assortment of creatives. "Creation Records was opposite me. Jeff Barrett and Heavenly were just round the corner, all these dudes were drinking in the Duke of York, and Angus Cameron was in the thick of it", Kevin remembers. The connection proved both fortuitous and symbiotic. Amongst several shared interests, the pair bonded over a common love of Super 8, terming it their "rediscovered medium." Angus recalls getting the go ahead via the receipt of a pencil written note in the post. "A scrap of paper torn from a pad arrived with a message from Kevin saying that he had got the rights to cover Ibiza 1990 for television, adding: 'We'd better get our heads together to turn this splendid wheeze into a bit of TV magic.' At that stage we didn't have any money to make the film, but Kevin managed to persuade a friend to stump up the necessary cash."
Even with the financing in place, crafting a film of this nature was never going to be easy, especially with little in the way of a shooting script. "Often we wouldn't really have a plan," says Angus. "We'd just go with the flow or arrive somewhere having made a loose arrangement to meet someone. Of course, most of the time they wouldn't turn up". In retrospect, this unorthodox approach helped to lend the film a sense of ingenuousness, an organic innocence that could not have been crafted with slick planning and high production values. The seeds for the chaotic shoot were sown before the plane had even landed. "Everyone met at Gatwick, with most having been up all night at Charlie Chester's club, Flying, and there were some proper sights in the departure lounge. The flight itself was chaos," Angus remembers. The challenges were not restricted to the hedonistic bent of much of the cast and crew though and an array of other hitches had to be overcome.
Pacha and Amnesia were adamant that filming would not take place on their premises, Ku (now Privilege) and Es Paradis were more accommodating, even so, filming in clubs came with obvious problems, not least shooting with film at night. And of course with the night came the temptation to join the pleasure-seeking subjects that they were there to capture, though Angus maintains that the majority of the crew managed to uphold a professional approach. "In the clubs, it's hard to film when all around you people are off their heads, but we couldn't and didn't take drugs. I needed to be pretty bloody minded and at times it did get pretty tense." However, some were not quite so restrained. Kevin got stuck in on occasion and recollects the after effects of consuming a particularly potent tablet in the port one night. "After a drink in The Rock Bar, I necked a Dove and headed down to Es Paradis and then onto The Star, where my pill started coming on wildly, absolutely intense, overwhelming, with profound insights gushing through my tiny little head. I marched up to [Andrew] Weatherall and pronounced that he and I were geniuses—geniuses for fuck's sake—and we'd be celebrated as maestros of our scene in years to come," a chemical induced epiphany that he recognises as being at least half right.
There were also a few cultural hurdles to overcome. The local police seemed somewhat uneasy with the presence of a foreign film crew on the island. On more than one occasion, equipment was confiscated by the constabulary—once just hours before shooting a party up at Harvey Bassett's hilltop finca. The charismatic DJ appears in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment and apparently spent much of the shoot holed up in an old house in the hills with a posse of likeminded individuals, "There were rumours of all sorts of shenanigans going on up there," says Angus adding to the enigma. At one point The Farm had their van impounded, which Kevin saw as an opportunity to film in the police station when they went to collect it. This resulted in the camera being confiscated and one of the crew getting a slap from an overzealous officer. At that stage the project appeared to be on shaky ground, but despite the setbacks, or perhaps due to overcoming them, the crew felt that they were onto something special.
The initial reactions to a five-minute teaser submitted to Channel Four were very positive (though the channel inexplicably wanted to rename it 'The Rave') and five demanding weeks were spent cutting a full sixty-minute version, but when the finished product was presented the reaction was rather different. "When the commissioning editor came to view the finished cut it all started well," Angus explains. "But then he started to get noticeably agitated. There was a bit where Andy Weatherall does a public health warning – 'Hey kids, don't do drugs... unless they're these ones', at which point he holds up a suspicious looking tablet." Though the team thought the scene hilarious, it was not a view shared by Channel Four and they were begrudgingly forced to cut the best part of twenty minutes. Though the channel was much more open-minded than its rivals, the suggestion of drug taking did not sit well with the hierarchy back then, although possibly the producers were a little ahead of their time; twelve years later the channel would show the consumption of MDMA on air. Despite the edit, the air of legitimacy remained, lending credibility among its target demographic, perhaps especially so given the divisive political situation at the time, a view shared by Sally Rogers from A Man Called Adam. "It's authentic—just young people being honest, doing what they do—proto-reality TV. Thatcher's Britain was pretty horrible if you weren't wealthy, so maybe a few hundred people saying 'fuck that' made it appealing then, and maybe it still does?" She remembers the visit with nostalgic fondness and still possesses a genuine love for the island. "I remember Ku, the sort of Euro-trash glamour of it, lying on the cushions in Café del Mar listening to Penguin Cafe Orchestra, rum and chocolate milk and that amazing night we played in Pacha. I still see it in my mind like a scene in an art house film—walking in to this writhing wall of people, freaks, dancers, jet-set, ravers—like a bacchanal."
Channel 4 aired the film on August 31st 1990 and it was watched by nearly 2.5 million viewers, an unprecedented number for a programme of its type. It was shown late at night in the graveyard slot, a suggestion from Kevin Sampson that changed the face of youth programming forever. "It got staggering viewing figures and was far and away the channel's most watched youth programme," Kevin says. "Suddenly Channel Four weren't so sniffy about it." Despite this exceptional achievement, it was the feedback from the audience rather than the size of it that validated the producer's endeavours in a manner more profound than that of the television bean counters. "People felt very emotional about our little film, they felt that it was their little film, and that's the kind of magic you aspire to, but can never plan for. There's no way of doing it. It just turns out very, very special."
Music and Ibiza are intrinsically linked of course and the film was suitably soundtracked by a selection of evocative, Balearic flecked classics: The Grid's "Floatation", "Raise" by Bocca Juniors and Voice of Africa's "Hoomba Hoomba" among others. This minor coup materialised thanks largely to the ever-resourceful director. "I put together the soundtrack based on tunes that I heard over there, plus some suggested by Glenn Gunner at Zoom Records," says Angus, who had to barter for clearance with some labels due to the tight budget. The film memorably opens to the dub-inflected strains of Andrew Weatherall's remix of St Etienne's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart", with Primal Scream's end-of-the night/sunset/comedown anthem "Come Together" making for a fitting finale.
Much of the music has stood the test of time, as has the film itself. A quarter of a century later its legacy still resonates strongly with so many, both among those that were there and for many more who were too young to experience the era first hand. Angus concurs: "I think that the film has endured because it was a snapshot of such a pivotal moment in time. I think it just captured people's imaginations. Certainly many people have come up to me and told me that seeing it that night changed their lives." Ben Turner, director of Graphite Media and former editor of the influential magazine Muzik is one such example. "I watched the show maybe twenty times before I flew to the island. I went straight to Café del Mar and that was it," he says. Since then he has returned to the island every year without fail, during which he founded Pacha Magazine and instigated the IMS conference in partnership with Pete Tong, amid multiple other achievements. "It became a major focus for me, for musical inspiration and global friendships. I've seen every side of it and at times I long for the magic and innocence in this beautiful documentary. It's fair to say it altered my approach to life."
Or in the words of Terry Farley: "It's snapshot of a golden bygone era, when to most people it was new and fresh and its ideals of brotherhood, spirituality and peace and love were not seen as soppy, or old hat."Few films attempting to capture a subculture have succeeded so succinctly - a near perfect portrait of a poignant moment in Britain's youth culture was produced with little more than a touch of guile and vision combined with an innate understanding of its audience. As Kevin Sampson puts it: "It's one of those very rare, very pure, organic documents of a moment in time. Its innocence shines through, I think, and lives on."
Christopher English is a freelance writer.