All the major clubs had fuller and more rounded agendas, with Sankeys and Ushuaia opening up new spaces. And, yet again, the beach bar scene ballooned and put on parties ranging from weird, after-hours to eight hour Carl Cox funk, soul and disco sessions. There were raves in caves, on boats, in DC-10's car park and even—for a short period—a supermarket in San Antonio Bay that was looking to increase early morning business. You didn't need a crowd to have a party, but there usually was one.
This year, more than any other I can remember, the anthems were provided by—and generally remained in—the underground. The embarrassment of riches that DJs had at their disposal this year almost made it hard to fail. On that basis, it was more a case of who really excelled as opposed to who flopped. 2011 was also a reminder of just how much exposure and influence there is to be had from this 220 square mile lump of Mediterranean rock. But for all the analysis and music spiel, the bottom line is that the numbers don't lie: Ibiza in 2011 was more popular than ever before.
The most asked question at DC-10 on a Monday is: "Are you going to Cocoon?" and usually most people were. Their Cocoon Heroes concept kept the freight train rolling, but it was interesting to see just how the dynamic of the night developed this year. In contrast to previous summers, there was a more easily definable pattern of what rocked and what didn't. Loco Dice, Marco Carola and Richie Hawtin remain the real heavyweights and top crowd pullers, with the Desolat boss still arguably the biggest, though I personally found his sets to be a little too predictable at times and lacked something that Carola created through groove and Hawtin through raw power. The real No.1, Sven Vath, again played with real diversity, mixing epic techno next to "Hungry for the Power" or '90s Omen classics next to "Envision," but such is his presence and character that I think he actually made as big a contribution to the party this year as in any one previously. A new breed of artists at Cocoon such as Jamie Jones, Seth Troxler and Kyle Hall had their ups and downs, and it remains to be seen how their involvement progresses, especially considering commitments elsewhere. Ricardo Villalobos, the biggest divider of opinion, was definitely on form; the weirdness never seemed to be quite so weird and there was a lot more stripped back, up-front house music and 4/4 beats on display, except when Raresh was with him. That's when the freaks came out. Without question, it's still one of the biggest and best nights on the island, but there is definitely the feeling that Cocoon are in a period of transition, with much depending on the long-term future of Dice and, to a lesser extent, Carola.
Amnesia's new event, Tonight, paired Eric Prydz against an ensemble of Annie Mac and entourage with a strong cast of dubstep and drum & bass artists. Put bluntly, Eric Prydz didn't work. Anyone who has been to Amnesia to see Prydz at Cream in past years would have been thoroughly underwhelmed at the sparse numbers, which are highlighted more in a space like Amnesia, and overshadowed the excellent music provided by Prydz or guests like Maya Jane Coles. Rumours abound that Tiesto is lined up to return to Amnesia on Tuesdays after he replaced Prydz last minute at one gig when the Swede had travel issues. That said, the other side of things had varied success, most particularly from Chase & Status who followed the same approach as they did on the UK festival scene by playing practically every gig they could, while Annie Mac—and the artists she brought in such as Benga, Skream, Skrillex and Brodinski—enjoyed some positives but also highlighted the problems associated with targeting such a niche area for Ibiza, namely young UK-based clubbers that prefer dubstep and alternative sounds over house and 4/4.
A small aside here: In 2011 the afterparty was back in Ibiza. The 16:30 opening time was openly disrespected at beach bars like Le Plage (the old Ushuaia venue), where the Cocoon afterparty was held several times, including one absolutely legendary session in mid-September that saw half the Circoloco DJs (Dyed, Ghenacia, Shaun Reeves, Seth Troxler and Jamie Jones) play from dawn till dusk before Papa Sven delivered epic techno par excellence. It became apparent that you could get away with a lot more this season, and once those boundaries start getting pushed, well, the dance music community will just keep on pushing till somebody says "enough," as they did a few years ago in imposing the ban on morning clubbing. The closing weekend allowed for something like four days of uninterrupted partying for those with the stamina, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see some clubs taking things further next year.
From Disco to Techno at DC-10
Ibiza Rocks at Ibiza Rocks Hotel
Carnival at Sankeys
At Carnival, Butch was secured as resident and their roster of artists included Heidi, Shlomi Aber and Audiofly, as well as rising names on the UK scene such as Subb-an, Laura Jones, Robert James, Jordan Peak and Russ Yallop. The club has made a big effort to create a proper environment for the non-big room club experience in Ibiza. There's been a lot of refurbishment done to the existing venue, and there's a decent sound system in place, although the issues of how hot it gets still haven't been addressed. The "but" here is that it's difficult to make parties that attract only a few hundred people sustainable in Ibiza. Interestingly enough, Sankeys are the only project in recent memory that appear to be up to the challenge, and there is definitely the feeling that they are in it for the long haul. Their other nights involving Ferry Corsten, Kinky Malinki and others were fraught with issues over programming changes or usually just a sheer lack of bodies. The winter break should provide time for them to come back with a more solid plan of action, as well as solutions on how to deal with parking and promotion.
A quick nod to Ibiza Rocks who, like most of the popular clubs and parties on the island, saw their figures swell. That said, there was a definite "pop" rather than "rocks" feel to 2011; Tinie Tempah, Example, Magnetic Man, Chase & Status, Professor Green, Mark Ronson and Fatboy Slim naturally made for great general appeal, but swamped the traditionally progressive booking of indie bands, with this year's selections The Vaccines, The Wombats and Biffy Clyro seeming like the exception rather than the norm. Ibiza Rocks is a real success story and massive brand now, but it would be great to see them continue to push towards new and alternative music rather than to see that music pushed out by what is essentially commercial pop.
Kehakuma at Space
Monza at Sankeys Ibiza
Various events at Ushuaia Ibiza Beach Hotel
Cream at Amnesia
F*** Me I'm Famous at Pacha
Kehakuma's on the cusp of having established itself, which, for a party of less than a few years, is really saying something. The roster of artists is too long to mention, but Nick Curly is clearly the lead figure and there's been a strong Crosstown influence, with Jamie Jones and Seth Troxler among them. More often than not, the DJ booth, backstage and side-stage were full of scenesters and industry types; a true sign that you're beginning to make waves in Ibiza. Cleverly, help was provided by Wet Yourself! and Whomho, who respectively programmed the Discoteca with some tough big room techno or the Red Box with more downtempo, deep and disco names. The party still lacks a true crew in the way that so many other competitors do, but this makes their relative success all the more impressive.
Sasha's Ushuaia beach parties in 2010 quickly gained almost mythical status for their intimacy and unique atmosphere. Taking six dates at the new 5,000 capacity Ushuaia venue—shared on alternate weeks with Luciano and Cadenza—and the goalposts shifted enormously in 2011. Suddenly, we were back in large-scale clubbing land that required guests like Booka Shade, Damian Lazarus, Jamie Jones and Gui Boratto to come and deliver top-notch sunset sessions as a warm-up for Sasha, whose own music typically worked best when partnered back-to-back with Jamie Jones or DJ Three but most notably Cassy. The Panorama Bar resident seemed to bring something extra out of the iconic DJ. On a personal level, I have to applaud Steve Bug's set at the opening party, which again confirmed to me his expertise in working the crowd. Luciano's own parties were, naturally, a lot more Cadenza-orientated with the boss himself delivering a 3 hour closing finale each gig. That said, his continued pull on the island meant they were the slightly busier Thursdays despite curveballs like Jamie Woon performing.
At Sankeys, Monza can only be praised for its unquenchable commitment to solid underground bookings—with acts like Barem, Federico Molinari, Vera and Masomenos having multiple dates—and its now annual Ricardo appearance at the closing. Easily the best night at Sankeys this year, predominately thanks to its popularity on the island and its Cocoon/DC10-esque anything goes party vibe, Monza is—given what it's gone through in its short life—an absolutely proven rocksteady party.
All Gone Pete Tong at Pacha
Come Together at Space
I Want My MTV at Amnesia
Pandemonium at DC-10
Similarly broad in scope, I Want My MTV juggled Plastikman, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg and Primal Scream. These live concerts took place on the Amnesia terrace while a redesigned main room saw mild success with Layo & Bushwachka as residents and Marco Carola and Magda the most interesting of the guests. They'll be back next year with a clearer picture of what it is they want to deliver, but 2011 will be remembered as the year hip-hop and R&B invaded Ibiza. It could hardly have upset the (clubbing) natives more. The non-acceptance of Snoop or 50 Cent into clubbing temples like Amnesia or Usher and Ludacris into Pacha was actually rather short-sighted given the non-genre specific origins of both clubs, and it wasn't in keeping with Ibiza's tolerant and open spirit.
Over at Pacha, the smile on Pete Tong's face tells you everything you need to know about him being back at the club. All Gone Pete Tong pulled off the improbable by making a success of having Laidback Luke one week, Laurent Garnier the next and Matthias Tanzmann somewhere in there too. Backed by David Levy and the William Morris agency, Tong has at his disposal an absolute wealth of talent that would pretty much guarantee a successful night anywhere else. In Ibiza it's not so simple, but the Pacha factor and Tong's omnipresent radio carrot and stick, mean this is the most stable of all three of these competing Friday night parties.
In contrast to the above, Pandemonium at DC-10, Tania Vulcano's party, provided more of the same from Wednesday: DJs, often a Circoloco regular, were allowed to take centre stage rather than share the billing with a dozen others as is the case on Monday. Both Dyed Soundorom and Dan Ghenacia's performances typified the rich vein of inspiration and form both have been in all summer, but it was Tania's own Isgud Records posse that left the greatest impact. The label, run by Tania and Tato, has a signature sound of punchy, groovy, percussive house music, with key producers like Willie Graff and Tuccillo creating a proper crew of Ibiza-based resident DJs. When it came to the party, having four friends and all the peripheral support that comes from the island, the energy and vibe was extra special throughout the season.
TwiceasNice at Eden
Hed Kandi at Es Paradis
Various parties at Privilege
Privilege, on the other hand, goes for it with bigger names. Tiesto on a Monday drew several thousand, but it looks like he's on the move; a combination of Gatecrasher and Godskitchen presided over Wednesdays, but Paul Oakenfold is at least ten years out of date, even in Ibiza; and Supermartxe on the Friday still draws between five and ten thousand each week, albeit with an almost exclusively commercial Spanish crowd. Privilege Live!—their biggest bet—has to go down as average at best or a flop at worst, however. As the name suggests, concerts from Snoop, Underworld, Jamiroquai and Infected Mushroom appeared interesting on paper, and performed well enough. But live shows like this aren't covered by a 5k DJ fee. I find it almost inconceivable that the Portuguese promoter, Positiva Agency, didn't lose a boat load of cash on this one. Don't be surprised if they go in a different direction in 2012.
Another big topic of conversation this year has been Ushuaia, and sadly often for the wrong reasons. Its obvious pandering to a nouveau riche VIP clientele had many thinking that it represented a tacky assault on Ibiza's wholesomeness, the antithesis of how it feels when you're on the dance floor. Then, as it has been widely reported elsewhere, a major incident occurred that led to the death of a staff member. Predictably, sentiment swayed further against Ushuaia and by the end of the season, it still hung like a dark cloud over the place. Clouds eventually disperse, but not before unleashing their worst, which I believe is still yet to come. From the party point of view, however, the impact of Ushuaia has been fantastic. A big outdoor stage, good visuals and production, afternoon into evening raving and some real heavyweight acts make for yet another string to Ibiza's clubbing bow.
We Love... may be the most difficult party to write about, but this year it was also—as you might expect—one of the best. Without wanting to overcomplicate things, I personally found the reason for that was less to do with the overall experience but more to do with specific ones. All biases aside, the best music I heard at We Love... this summer was for the RA takeover featuring the Innervisions crew, who come alive in a unique way when playing altogether. Of the multitude of other special moments, the vinyl-only opening with Derrick May and Carl Craig had a real crackle to it, Caribou's live show was overwhelming to hear and see, the repeat combination of Carl Craig and Francesco Tristano was again a joy, and it was a fairly common consensus that Joris Voorn totally smashed it this year.
Adhering to the "festival" tag it quite rightly gives itself, We Love...'s supporting rooms (Premier Etage, El Salon, Red Box and Sunset Terrace) provide a program that is alternative and eclectic by nature. A criticism I've heard, and agree with in part, is that We Love... lacks a hero, a focal point of the event. It's a fair point, but you just don't stumble across the next Carl Cox or Loco Dice in the street and the magic of We Love... through the years has been its all-encompassing approach. Putting a single figurehead on the top would be slightly hypocritical and self-defeating. It's a party not defined by the fame and fortune of a single superstar DJ and their taste, allowing it to stay as relevant (and often more so) than any other night on the island.