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A Big Night Out in... Magaluf!

Surveying the chaos in the "Brits abroad" Holy Land.

by Clive Martin, Photos: Nathalie Olah
13 June 2013, 12:35pm

There is one destination that looms larger than all others in the landscape of British package holidays. Lanzarote, Benidorm, Faliraki, Amsterdam – sure, they all have their own claims to being the lads on tour Holy Land, but one place towers above them all in our collective imagination. The one your parents don't want you to go to, yet bizarrely, your grandparents still go to every year.

After a week in Majorca, I arrived at Palma airport to discover that my flight had been cancelled. I was packed on to a coach with my family, my girlfriend and 300 other holidaymakers who had all struck up a mutual friendship through that typically British pastime of shouting at budget airline scapegoats. Screaming babies, sunburnt Sombrero-wearing students and loads of old people made strange seat-fellows as we navigated our way along the long and dark Balearic A-roads. I'd expected to be dropped off in some sleepy Hotel Ibis equivalent on the outskirts of Palma, but then, suddenly, we rounded a bend and this came roaring out of the humid Iberian night:

We were destined to spend one night in Magaluf: Primavera for people who prefer Swedish House Mafia to The Field and WKD to MDMA. It's not the sort of place I would have come to out of choice. Don't get me wrong, I don't tend to spend my one week off every summer exploring Ottoman ruins or getting springwater enemas in remote Tibetan villages, but my idea of fun isn't competing in projectile vomiting competitions from my hotel balcony, either. Weirdly, I tend to pitch up somewhere between those two extremes.

Still, even though we had to be on yet another coach at 4AM, it was an impossible opportunity to ignore. My girlfriend and I decided to borrow my mum's shit digital camera and attempt to document the first ever (and probably last ever) accidental Big Night Out.

First up was the hotel. Apparently it was a four-star establishment, but in reality it seemed more like a Latin American super-prison, a nightmarish panopticon full of baying lunatics being vodka-boarded and puking out of their anti-suicide windows.

Sleep isn't really a big thing at Magalufian hotels. I imagine the maids clean the rooms at 1AM when they know everyone will be out rather than during the day when they're fitfully dozing off last night's cranial fluid leak. Just walking past one you begin to feel like Jodie Foster in that bit in Silence Of The Lambs when she goes to meet Hannibal Lecter in jail for the first time – judged, abused and fearful that somebody's going to jizz on you.

The quieter part of the town near the hotel was a sleepy place, more akin to somewhere like Rhyl than San Antonio with its pubs surrounded by mini forts of plastic chairs and authentically bleak chippies. It seemed to be a place where permanent ex-pats numb their imaginations with domestic TV and clog their arteries with imported grease, an oubliette for people who started at the centre of the party and now loiter at its outskirts, destined to hopelessly orbit it forever like those hippies who insist on holding their "own Glastonbury" in a nearby field as Professor Green screeches on in the distance.

It seemed like the whole area was made up, not of bars and pubs with jovial atmospheres, but of people's depressing living rooms that had been haphazardly transported into an al fresco environment hundreds of miles away. This part of town seemed to exist purely so that people could watch Amanda Holden get smashed in the face with an egg while sitting outside. Which to be honest, is something you could achieve on a balmy night in Halifax with an extension chord. I didn't get it.

While this seemed to be at odds with the town's reputation for bed swapping, butt chugging and balcony surfing, it was getting impossible to ignore the synth stabs and unintelligible bellows of a thousand leathered teenagers raging in the near distance. It was time to leave this OAP DMZ and head for the strip.

And yeah, it truly is a sight to behold.

Imagine every town centre you've ever been to on a Saturday night, all swept out of the British Isles in some biblical tornado and dumped onto a stretch of Spanish coastline – kebab shops, hen nights, street fights, weather-resistant Geordie Girls, deep V'd sleazebags and all.

Now imagine that you can get two bottles of San Miguel for less than two quid. Then throw in a funfair and incredible weather. You can see why people come here. It's beautiful but mental, heavenly but seedy, and totally out of control.

Almost every man here belonged to one of two groups. Firstly, there were the standard issue Majorca-lads. They had come from mid-sized towns and they hated wearing socks. They smelled like Superdrug and looked like mahogany mannequins from a River Island closure sale.

In their wake came the costumed stags, marauding along the white paved streets dolled up to the nines in their banter costumes; Baywatch lifeguards, Santas in Hawaiian shirts, your standard-issue nickname T-shirt crowd. And these guys, who seemed to have come dressed as the security staff from a 1960s dancehall.

But winning top prize for effort was a deserted legion of shitfaced, chip-munching centurions. The whole town seemed to be swarming with them. All stumbling along, downing cheap grog and eyeing up the local maidens like the real centurions would have done after capturing the island hundreds of years before. 

When you think about it, one of the weirdest things about Magaluf is how banal the music is. People go there to smash their bodies, souls and psyches into a horrible, twisted mess, and yet acts like Rizzle Kicks seem to be very much in demand. I mean, fair enough, I can't see Anaal Nathrakh being invited to play the Mallorca Rocks Hotel any time soon, but Rizzle Kicks? Fucking Blue Peter pop-rap? I guess when your best mate's just bitten your eyebrows off in a Tiki Hut, the tedious sound of your office stereo is pretty comforting.

Of course, it wasn't just stags – there were hens, too. My favourites were these girls, who you could imagine being respectable, responsible women back in the motherland. But that was another life, and for one night only they weren't nurses or primary school teachers, they were "Claire the Cock Crusader" and "Gabby the Knob Gobbler", a crew of dick-crazy Boudiccas ready to take on the centurions in a battle for the streets of Shagaluf.

What you don't quite get the measure of on the countless Freeview "Pissed Brits" docs is just how drunk these people really are. Obviously it's no secret that British people like to get pissed when they're on holiday, but your average Magalufer goes beyond the idea of getting a bit fucked up. They spent their nights hammering grapes, grain and granules, not so much drinking, but unloading drinks into their own digestive systems as if they were dumping toxic waste into the North Sea. I imagine that by the end of the evening their stomachs looked like one of those floating islands of plastic shit you get, and that their piss smelt like Shane MacGowan's mouth.

The worrying part is that the relative lack of bouncers, police or any kind of sober person to enforce logic upon this responsibility vacuum meant that nobody was stopping it spilling over into mob violence.

Thankfully, these unlikely preservers of law and order were there to quell the brewing shit-storm.

In what must have been a council-led initiative to channel all the pent-up testosterone and transported small-town grudges into something less breakable than the noses of innocent bystanders, almost every club had at least one novelty punchbag machine outside. The infrequent sonic boom let out by an amateur MMA fighter from Derby belting one of these only added to the surreal and uneasy atmosphere. It was as if we were in some kind of backstreet car workshop, dull thuds echoing through the night like parts being slammed together in some drunken and ill-advised cut 'n' shut.

If you're going to talk about heavy drinking and casual violence in Brit-friendly Med resorts, you can't not mention Lineker's, a chain of bars not owned by the squeaky clean, marathon running, never-been-booked Gary, but by his brother Wayne. In between popping bottles of Moet in TOWIE and fighting legal battles with tabloid newspapers, Wayne seems to have erected himself as a kind of Club 18-30 Peter Gatien, exporting the lowest common denominator of British nightlife to people who can't bear to leave it behind for a week.

One place trying to rise above the mire was the "ORIGINAL ALEX INDIE" bar. I'm not sure who Alex (Turner? James? Kapranos?) is, but he's a man brave enough to take on the Guetta monopoly (seriously, Guetta is to Euro holiday resorts what Lex Luger is to Atlanta trap houses) with some good ol' fashioned British guitar music.

I mean, I doubt the "indie" remit extends to anything by The Wedding Present, but it was good to see someone trying something different. Even if I'm pretty sure I still heard them playing that "I called my friend Johnny / and he said what the fuck" song like everywhere else was.

The glut of strip clubs suggested that Magaluf understands its reputation as a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. Instead of merely letting itself exist as a meat market for independent traders to buy and sell at, it actually puts some of the meat on display itself.

The idea of a lapdancing club in Magaluf confused me. I mean, fair enough, if you live in Dundee, then I can't imagine you get to see much human flesh. In a place like Dundee, strip clubs are probably more like museums, offering exotic glimpses of the wider world. But this is Magaluf, where everyone's just a few inches away from a nipple slip. I mean, it's like going to a Pizza Express in Rome, isn't it?

What's odd about the food in Magaluf is that so much of it is clearly designed to provide maximum warmth and stodge on wet Wednesday evenings in the Midlands, and thus is entirely unsuitable for the Majorcan climate. What kind of a person thinks a Yorkshire pudding is just the ticket on a 30-degree evening in southern Europe? I appreciate there's gonna be some degree of drinking on a night out in Magaluf, and some stomach lining will be required. But for fuck's sake, have a paella.

And if that's not enough to sober you up, perhaps getting a permanent reminder of a traumatic night out branded onto your skin will. I always thought it was illegal to let pissed people get tattoos, but whether it's because such laws don't extend to mainland Europe, or just because Magaluf is a bit laissez-faire about that sort of thing, the town is full of them. Nestled in-between bars, kebab houses and shops selling Bob Marley lighters, these emporiums of regret seemed to be doing a roaring trade all night long. 

I bet you're wondering what kind of tattoos people get in places like this, right? 

Well wonder no more.

The other great Maga' hustle is the one played by the "shit only drunk people would buy" peddlers who roam the streets with their boxes of knock-off wayfarers and friendship bracelets. You'll find guys like this in just about every European city these days. Mostly they're ignored by the savvy, middle-class globetrotters who've already found the best places to shop for vintage shades and authentic beads in Prague or Barcelona. In Magaluf, however, they seem to make a killing. Sloshed British tourists are magpies for cheap, colourful crap and the street-sellers know that.

Obviously, the fact that most of these guys are African immigrants who may or may not be at the mercy of some kind of despicable, Costa del Crime Mr Big figure adds a sad, exploitative feel to such happenings. But when they're paying 20 euros for a pair of neon yellow shutter shades that won't last the night, who's really being exploited?

You might be forgiven for thinking that Magaluf is a young person's paradise, a student union in the sun. And in many ways, it is. But all around the main precinct were small clusters of old folk quietly sipping their tepid pints of Tetley's and tutting at the youngsters as they put on their pantomime of chaos and id. These ageing linesmen and women of the party game seemed to wear their years with pride, and the youths seemed to respect them too, keeping their distance. Which, to be honest, must fucking suck for whoever owns that bar.

Surely the kids came to get away from people like this? But here they were, in full force, the judging frowns of the grey pound brigade. Their presence only served to bolster the sense that Magaluf is a British town with debilitating sunstroke.

As the time to catch the coach out of this mess drew closer, it seemed to me that the darkness on the edges of town, where I had seen crews of lads openly racking up lines on the sea defences, had begun to descend upon the carnival in the middle. People were starting to fight. I saw a man too drunk to care about his gushing head wound being held back by paramedics, not because he wanted to fight, but because he wanted to drink more. Even the hardy centurions were beginning to fall.

I wondered if anybody here was actually having a good time. Yes, they were on holiday, and yes, they were very drunk, which are undoubtedly two very great things. But should holidays be about slumping yourself on a steel chair outside a chip shop while your recently acquired boyfriend pukes into a comedy hat?

For every stag gang having the time of their lives, there were another four people who were clearly having a shocker. I saw girls crying on benches, begging for sympathetic restaurant owners to call them taxis, and young men bloodied and bruised not by other young men, but by their own reckless stupidity. It seemed every night in Magaluf ended at crisis point, only to open again in the morning for the same routine. Cyclical chaos under the beating sun.

Soberly trudging back to the hotel, I realised that everyone hates on Magaluf because in essence, it's an awful place. A town which seems to be built on exploiting drunk people in the same way that Sheffield was built on steel, or Detroit was built on cars. Everything here looks and tastes terrible, and even though it's cheap as fuck, you still know you're being very slowly and steadily ripped off.

But that doesn't mean we should abandon it to the realm of ITV2 povsploitation shows. It's a fascinating town which I think functions as the last outpost of the British Empire. It's somewhere where the Union Jack is still flown and tea is still drunk outside. It's Blake's "Jerusalem" remixed by Avicii.

Magaluf started out as a dream of what Britain could never have been under its own oppressive meteorological and political climates. A dream that became a nightmare as soon we realised we could outsource our collective booze problems as drinks prices rose and pub landlords learned how to ID teenagers in the homeland. Magaluf isn't just a cheap resort in Majorca; it's Britain as a franchise – the bulldog spirit sold back to Britain's thirsty, over-heating bulldogs in a luminous fishbowl.

Follow Clive (@thugclive) and Nathalie (@NROlah) on Twitter.

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