"I passed by Salinas [beach] this morning at 9 AM and to my surprise there were already 100 or 200 people there, because everyone was waiting for this moment," Johannes Goller, head of Cocoon Ibiza, told me over the phone. "I said to [my wife] Sarah, 'Come on, let's do a nice picnic on the beach and enjoy the fact that we're on an island.'"
Compared to the rest of Spain, which currently has the fifth-highest death toll globally, the Balearic Islands have escaped the worst. As of Monday, May 25th, there have been 169 recorded cases and 12 deaths in Ibiza and Formentera, with the last death recorded on April 23rd. Since May 1st, the number of cases has increased by just 11. Because the situation is relatively under control, the Balearics, like many regions in Spain, moved into phase two of the government's four-phase de-escalation plan on May 25th. Residents could finally return to the sea.
Despite this progress, Ibiza is facing a summer unlike any other in its 60-year history as a holiday destination. Restrictions on social gatherings and international travel mean that tourism, the lifeblood of the island, will take a massive hit. Its world-renowned nightlife industry, which accounts for €770 million and 35 percent of jobs, will run at a fraction of its usual size, with some clubs possibly unable to open all summer. One group of business owners is campaigning to extend the summer season until November.
At the earliest, venues can open on June 10th, when the island enters phase three, but only at a third of their capacity. It's still not clear if any of them will. Sister venues Hï and Ushuaïa have cancelled all their events in May and June. Of the other venues I contacted, only two—Pacha and Amnesia—responded, neither with any concrete information. Everyone is waiting for further direction from the government regarding capacity and social distancing when Ibiza enters its final phase, "the new normal," on June 22nd.
"Who knows?" Martin F. Vega, artistic director at Amnesia, said via email. "We will try our best to make at least a few parties." (Since our correspondence, the club has launched a social media campaign called #KEEPTHEPARTYALIVE, which offers customers discounted tickets for TBC events in 2020 or 2021.)
July onwards remains the great unknown. Last Saturday, Spain's prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, assuaged nerves nationwide by announcing that foreigners will be allowed to visit, with no quarantine period, from July. Ryanair and Lufthansa have confirmed flights from the UK and Germany. This is good news for Ibiza, which receives millions of tourists every summer. But will people come? And what kind of party scene will they find?
"The open-air venues on the island will be more likely to be able to host parties," Goller said. Like everyone else, he's been putting out feelers to several venues as he awaits more information.
"I think what will happen now, to quite a big degree, is that we'll all come together, you'll have more unity," said Clara Da Costa, who came to Ibiza in 1992 to live and work as a DJ.
All this uncertainty has created an opening for the many DJs and promoters, like Da Costa, who are already on the island. The pandemic has presented them with a unique and unexpected opportunity: to throw parties without having to compete with the biggest names in dance music. Usually, this luxury is only afforded to them in the off-season.
Ryan O'Gorman has been running events on the island since 2000. Jamie Jones, then flyering for Space, was a resident at his first party. Before the virus hit, O'Gorman split his time between DJing, promoting, event consultancy and managing a creative agency. A lot of that work is now cancelled or on hold, so he's redirecting his energy into Social.Local, a new initiative aiming to responsibly reboot the event economy using local talent. He hopes to announce the first events in the next few weeks. "It's run by a group of local promoters—Spanish, English, French and Irish," he said. "It's a social club, so we know who's coming to the events and it's not people who have been travelling and are in danger of spreading any kind of illness. We work together and share a database. There's no point competing against each other."
This last line jumps off the page because Ibiza is normally the most competitive club scene in the world. From May through October, around a dozen venues host parties seven nights a week, scrapping over the biggest acts to pull the biggest crowds. Everything—tickets, drinks, merch, accommodation—is astronomically expensive. The winners are inevitably the ones with the deepest pockets.
"Over the last few years in Ibiza, things have gotten extremely commercial," O'Gorman said. "The whole scene is entirely reliant on international players—acts and promoters. The small local scene that has always existed here to some extent has basically been eradicated. It still exists in winter, but as soon as summer happens those guys disappear. The impact is that you don't really have a Balearic culture anymore. There isn't anything that's unique to Ibiza in that sense."
"It's almost like there's two cultures that are so different," Da Costa said. "A lot of us who have lived here for years have seen this commercial monster come in and it's horrible. It did feel like an invasion. So when we do have these events and all come together, it gives you hope and it motivates you. And it's a strong community."
Hector Avila and Carlos Vila, who DJ together as 2vilas, are lynchpins in this community. As well as DJing, they run parties and own a record shop in Ibiza Town called MTM, specialising in the deeper strains of house, techno and electro. With all their upcoming gigs cancelled, they're living off online sales from the shop and using their spare time to organise small events with their friends, many of whom are DJs and producers from Ibiza.
"We'd like to do some events in the open air this summer," Vila said. "Because it's open air, in a week or two we should be able to have 50 or 60 people at two events in a row. Split people up a little bit. If they won't let us throw big events at the moment, we've got to start with a barbecue and then let the party evolve from there."
The duo have also been speaking with some of the main venues. If these parties happen, they will be small with cheap entry and lower drink prices. Amnesia has already made moves in this direction, selling €45 tickets that include five drinks. The last time I was there, in 2017, a bottle of water cost €10.
"I think it'd be good for the clubs to get back a bit of their former essence, their sound and identity," said Avila, who was born in Ibiza. The first time he went to DC-10, aged 13, he broke in through a window in the toilets. "These past few years, you more or less hear the same thing everywhere. Let's see if by working with local artists who are less known internationally, this essence can return to the clubs, which is the vibe we have in winter."
Not everyone is as excited about the summer. A heavily shrunken party scene will affect a huge feeder network of jobs and businesses reliant on the churn of nightlife. In April, the head of the Ibiza leisure association, José Luis Benítez, told Diario De Ibiza that cancelling the season could cost up to 4,000 nightclub jobs alone.
Charles Vexenat opened Bar 1805 in Ibiza Town, not far from Pacha, in 2012. This year, he planned to open on April 1st but won't now open until June. He estimates he'll lose 50 percent of his revenue this summer—and he's one of the lucky ones.
"I usually work with one guy but this year I'm just going to do it on my own," he said. "Maybe my girlfriend will give me a hand from time to time. Because I know the flux of people isn't going to be there. I should come out of it OK but this winter is going to be tough."
Leah Timmins, who runs Decadance Agency, which supplies dancers to many of the island's main clubs and parties, told me the Ibiza season counts for roughly 70 percent of her business. With everyone looking to cut costs this summer, dancers will be the first to go.
"We do 157 shows within four-to-five months," she said. "Some days we'll do three gigs in one shift: a sunset show, an evening show at a private villa and then you're onto the clubs. That concentration of events doesn't really happen anywhere else in the world."
She added: "That's the hardest thing. From choreography to costumes, everything is ready to go for the summer. But all that work is not going to be platformed because there's nowhere to platform it."
To make matters worse, because Bar 1805 and Decadance Agency operate seasonally, neither was eligible for financial assistance when the pandemic struck.
"I've got zero from the Spanish government," Vexenat said. "My case, like a lot of cases in Spain, is that because I wasn't operating and open during the lockdown, I wasn't entitled to anything. For the people who were going to open in April this is a bit of shame, because it's most of the island, you know?"