Where the World Goes to Party: Clubbing it on Ibiza
As my ship drifted into the port at Ibiza Town early Sunday morning after a starlit midnight voyage from Barcelona, I walked up to the sundeck to admire the view: heavy, light-tinted clouds seamlessly drifting in the soft-blue Mediterranean sky.
I wondered, as I gazed into the mountainous Balearic horizon, if everything I had seen and heard of Ibiza would become reality or if "Ecstasy Island," as it was dubbed by British hippies in the 60's, would unfold something entirely different to me.
After departing the ship, I met a guy from Montreal while I was reading a flyer for the club, Space, which was lying on the ground.
After brief introductions and the usual "How long have you been in Europe?" question, we decided to take a bus to San Antonio, a town on the western side of the island, to try to find a place to stay.
The town of San Antonio was sleeping when we arrived. It looked like New Orleans after Mardi Gras, narrow streets and walkways littered with cups and debris. The heavy smell of stale beer and Spanish silence hung in post-fiesta air.My new companion spoke Spanish, so it was his job to ask about housing.
After being shown some very dodgy and expensive rooms, we found a small studio apartment with two beds and a narrow balcony overlooking the heart of downtown San Antonio for 2,000 pesetas each (12 U.S. dollars) per night.
The room turned out to be hot and noisy, but its location was invaluable as an instrument of amusement late at night when the drunken antics of the thousands of Brits abroad were at their height.
Working the Clubs
The town of San Antonio houses almost exclusively young British tourists during the summer months, with a few Scottish, Irish and Welsh vacationers thrown in the mix.
The streets are filled with makeshift British pubs advertising cheap "English Breakfasts" (fried eggs, bacon, sausage, fried tomatoes and toast) and English "futbol" matches on TV (soccer for Americans).
At about two o'clock in the afternoon the public relations people for the various clubs (flyerers) begin their daily ritual of standing on crowded street corners or walking along beaches trying to persuade thousands of hung-over and sunburned tourists to patronize their club's night.
The flyerers are the hardest-worked and most underpaid people on the island. They are mostly clubbers from Great Britain who come over to Ibiza to party for a week or two and end-up wanting to stay the whole summer. However, because they have already spent their holiday money, these die-hards are now reduced to standing outside all day and night trying to get people to buy a ticket to the club they work for, which usually costs anywhere from 5,000-8000 pesetas (USD$30-50).
Each flyerer is given a number that they write on their flyers. If a patron buys a ticket to the club with one of their flyers, which usually gives the proposed patron a 1,000 peseta discount and announces which bar the pre-party is being held at, that flyerer gets a point. How many points the flyerer gets will determine how much money they get paid that week.
In most cases, even the really good ones, who get 30 or 40 people into the club, still only make their rent for the week. But as Julia, from Burnham by the Sea, England, a flyerer for God's Kitchen told me, "As long as I make my rent and have a little money leftover for food I'm alright, because I get on the guest list for the clubs."And that's what it's all about on Ibiza, going to the clubs. There are five main clubs on Ibiza: El Divino, Pacha, Eden, Amnesia and Privilege.
The clubs are open seven nights a week, and all seven nights feature different music, themes and promoters. There are DJ's and promoters representing a wealth of countries, including: England, Scotland, Germany, Holland, France, Italy, Greece and the United States.
So, after a brief nap and a pasta dinner I headed out at midnight on Sunday and didn't stop clubbing until the following Monday.
The Clubbing Life
My first night out on Ibiza I went to "Judgement Sunday" at Eden, where famed English DJ, Judge Jules, organizes and promotes his own night with special guests like Anne Savage, Ferry Corsten and Lisa Lashes joining him on the decks.
The first step inside the club was magical, a sea of gyrating, sweaty bodies rolled-out in front of my eyes. However, as the novelty of being inside an Ibiza club began to wear off after a couple of hours, I was able to see this night in a little bit more of a clear light. The music was commercial British House and Trance, and the dance floor packed with thousands of drunk San Antonio tourists looking for a shag. No love and hugs vibe here.
"Manumission Mondofuturo" at Privilege, the largest club-night in the world at the largest club in the world, where reports estimated close to 12,000 people at this extravagant night full of street performers, dancers in fetish costumes, Trance, Hardhouse, Tribal House, a rooftop open air planetarium, swimming pool, the sun streaming through the glass roof at dawn and enough flesh to keep your eyes tweaked for a week.
Manumission is a truly amazing experience, a "Disneyworld" of clubbing where you can either lose your mind or find an entirely new part of your soul, and if you're in the groove you probably won't make it home till around noon or perhaps party the rest of the day away in "Carry On" at Space.
I took the "Disco Bus," which is a mind-blowing experience in itself, out to "God's Kitchen" at Amnesia. It is the Birmingham (England) superclub's second year running a night on Ibiza, and this year's line-up of resident Hardhouse DJ's included: Toni Oneto, Tall Paul, Fergie and Lisa Lashes cavorting on the decks among a carnival type atmosphere of fire-breathers, stilt-walkers, jugglers and acrobats.
The energy in the main room at this event was amazing. However, the second room, which is supposed to be more of a funky, chilled-out house area, was lacking in everything from ambiance to good tunes.
After a great dinner with a couple of German girls from Frankfurt at a quaint cafe in bustling Ibiza Town, I boarded the El Divino boat and pulled-away from the port for a five minute cruise to a small dock located on the side of the fashionable Spanish club.
This particular night at El Divino was called "Esperanza" and was run by a German promoter in accordance with Hustler. The night featured Hustler models dressed in black leather stripping on stage, kissing and licking each other all over to the delight of the guys in the crowd who all moved up to the front of the stage, and the overall disinterest of the women who could be seen ordering drinks at the bar or lounging outside on the patio soaking up the intoxicating atmosphere of a dance club located on the Meditteranean.
After listening to beautiful Spanish guitar music on a relaxing taxi ride from San Antonio, my two flyerer friends from Burnham-By-The Sea (England) and I arrived at KM5, a beautiful space nestled in the hills about five kilometers outside of Ibiza Town on the road to San Jose.
The club was an enchanting oasis and a totally Balearic experience with little huts, cozy tables covered by exotic flora awnings, tapestry tents with low wooden tables, candles and colorful pillows sprawled about for the guests lounging pleasure. The bizarre Killer Whale-shaped tiki bar topped it all off. KM5 was the perfect escape from the craziness of Ibiza's pounding club-culture. A place where we connected with the more downtempo local vibe. The drink prices were a bit high, but the little bit of relaxation and sanity that we gained was worth every peseta.
I didn't make it out on Friday night because I wanted to save some energy for my birthday weekend. I just hung-out on my balcony drinking San Miguel (the local beer) with some friends, soaking up the overall lunacy of San Antonio.
Saturday: It was the day before my birthday and I wanted to do something special, so I went with my friend Julia (God's Kitchen flyerer) to Kumharas, which is around the bay from San Antonio. However, because of its extremely chill atmosphere and music policy,
Kumharas felt like it was located on an entirely different planet. The bar is built on a small cove. It is decorated with Buddhist symbols and colorful tapestries and has some of the most comfortable wicker chairs on the island.
After swimming at a nearby hotel's pool for a few hours with a bunch of German tourists, Julia and I retired to a couple of lounge chairs on the beach and allowed the resident sunset DJ at Kumharas to spin us ever-so-gently into orange-purple darkness with a beautiful set of Ibiza Ambient.
(My 26th Birthday) I walked down to the famous Cafe Del Mar and listened to Fatboy Slim spin that sentimental Balearic Chill-Out-Ambient-Trance that Cafe Del Mar has become famous for. It was an amazing experience watching the sunset with such a massive crowd of people from all over the world, who gathered on the back porch of the cafe and the beach in front.
The atmosphere was one of intense peace and mutual admiration for nature and music. The time took on a divine quality when the pink, purple, and orange hues of the setting sun mixed with the azure blue water of the Mediterranean, white camera flashes, fire-jugglers, sailboats crossing the horizon and soothing, uplifting music tantalizing the soul.
After the sunset I took a taxi to Space with my British mates to see Carl Cox, but when we arrived the line was well over an hour long. After brief deliberation, one of the girls, Helen, said she had heard of a small club located way out on Cala Jondal. We asked around and found out that the place was called, "The Jockey Club." It was very hard to find but an absolute experience awaited us if we could discover it.We consulted a few taxi drivers, until we finally found a guy who knew where it was.
The drive was thrilling, my stomach in knots the whole time. It was one of those nights where you knew something was going to happen. When we arrived, all we could see were dimly lit figures sitting around small fires on the beach. We walked around to the entrance of the club and went inside a nature-inspired, semi-open-air interior with a cozy dance floor tucked away in the back.
The vibe was intense and the sky totally clear. It seemed every star in the universe was out. We walked around soaking it all in, eventually moving outside to chill by one of the fires. The night seemed to last forever, until the sun finally spread its radiance into the sky and we all went inside for one final dance to the sounds of Trance and live tribal drumming. Then, we began the long walk back.
The Real Ibiza
After recuperating all day Monday, Julia and I decided to rent a scooter for a few days to go explore the more remote and less-touristed Northern part of the island. It was during this time that I came to realize the deeper symbolism Ibiza can offer the enchanted traveler.
Ibiza has a magical landscape: hidden sea coves, parched red earth, olive groves, watermelon patches and dense, sheer valleys rising up to awe-inspiring mountains.
One night, Julia and I watched a heat-lightning storm flash in a far-off valley for several hours from our balcony at Hostal Cala Boix. We also slept on a mosquito infested beach in the town of Portinatx, where we awoke to the lapping of small azure waves.
During these few days, we saw the island in a whole different light. It became a natural dreamscape with an innumerable amount of "special places" to spend time reflecting or just staring off into the never-ending horizon.
An obvious observation one may make about Ibiza is that in the more touristed parts of the island, especially San Antonio, there is a total disregard for local culture and the beautiful natural environment.
There are hardly any traditional Spanish restaurants in San Antonio, and I was horrified to find that the sand and shallow water of the beaches along San Antonio Bay and the area near Cafe Del Mar are littered with cigarette butts and beer bottles.
Also, the island of Ibiza is a global clubbing destination, so drugs are extremely abundant on the island. If you are going to take something, remember this, these are not your average dance clubs. These spaces are packed with thousands, sometimes more than ten thousand, hot and sweaty bodies, which raises the temperature inside the club significantly.
Most deaths caused by MDMA (Ecstasy), the drug of choice on Ibiza, are caused by heatstroke due to dehydration. In a sea of throbbing bodies, it can be hard to notice someone who is in trouble or find somebody to help you in time.
To avoid dehydration or heatstroke while clubbing: drink plenty of water, don't dance for excessive periods of time without taking a break, and take advantage of the cool Mediterranean breeze in the outside lounge areas most clubs on Ibiza offer.
Remembering the Dream
When I finally boarded my ship back to Barcelona and could see the port of Ibiza Town fading in the distance, I placed the new Cafe Del Mar CD into my Discman and thought back to some of the people I met and the experiences we shared. The times that I remember now from my time on Ibiza are always the more laid-back nights at the hidden clubs or watching sunsets on the beach with friends.
I think that the island of Ibiza can become whatever you want it to be. For me it was at its best when it soothed me with its dreamy vibe, which when I allowed it, transported me somewhere I only thought I could be...in a dream.