This week RA takes a look at the island's hidden party scene.
Under the radar
Although Ibiza's mainstream clubbing circuit grows increasingly more commercial, there still exist those keen to preserve the island's foundational free-spirited party ethos. From beach parties and cave raves to villa sessions and all-dayers aboard former Royal Navy minesweepers, every summer offers up an intermittent selection of bespoke affairs, often manned by some of the best underground DJs in the scene. It's a tradition that has always existed on the island, made famous by Ibiza's longstanding hippie community and later adopted by the hoards of dance music fans arriving throughout the '90s and '00s.
Irishman Ryan O'Gorman was one such aficionado, arriving on the island in 1999. His first experiences of the alternative scene were at trance-fuelled afterparties. Though not a huge fan of the music, he found the events themselves breathtaking: “It was the first time I'd seen people do these striking, open-air parties, surrounded by stunning natural beauty. That feeling of being a part of something that was pure, that had been created solely for the experience and not to sell anything, struck a chord. Compared to the clubs, where you were contained and monitored the whole time, these parties felt liberating and really changed people's way of thinking. It was an organic way of enjoying yourself; when people are left to their own devices, a natural social understanding is formed.”
In 2004, O'Gorman threw his first under the radar event, inviting Terry Francis to spin at a cave in Cala Conta, just round the bay from San Antonio. Not long after he pooled resources with Joe Upton, co-owner of Nasty Dirty Sex Music, who had been busy throwing his own DIY raves in villas and chiringuitos. The pair set about carving out a niche as the island's premier innovators. Today, however, O'Gorman mostly operates alone. His latest Vitalik event, named after the record label he runs, took place this week, returning to his favoured Cala Conta beach. Originally billed as a cave rave with Carl Craig, the rumour quickly spread that Shonky, Mr C and Bushwacka! would also appear. Sadly, just as the Apollonia man was getting going behind the decks, the police arrived, shutting the party down.
From the outside, it felt as if this might be fairly common practice. "You'd be surprised actually. We often have the police turn up to our events and have a word, but this is the first time in a while that we've been properly shut down," O'Gorman says. Has it become more difficult to throw parties as time's gone on? "Ibiza used to be a lot more lax. It didn't really get tricky for all that stuff until Zapatero and the socialists got re-elected in 2008. Before that there wasn't any legislation against parties, but as soon as they got into power they embarked on this mandate to clean up Ibiza. They got rid of all of the afterhours and then they passed a law that meant you needed a licence to have a party in any private residence with anything over 20 people, or something ridiculous. At the same time they increased the maximum fine for parties, which gave them the power and leverage to basically put a stop to the scene."
Safe to say, things aren't quite so extreme now. "You just have to be really cautious with how you work. The aim of the game is to not get caught, and implicit in that is a duty to be respectful to the locals. You have to not bother people, it's pretty simple. You make sure you clean up afterwards and leave no trace of the party and if you do that, and you don't piss people off, then you'll be fine. People don't care, the police don't care–so long as you don't bother them."
With Soul Clap and Seth Troxler set to appear for Vitalik before the summer's out, O'Gorman still appears as motivated, almost ten years on, to represent for Ibiza's wilder denizens: "There's the same motivation there, you still crave being at the forefront of the alternative scene. Ibiza is so commercial these days, people are coming here in droves to see Avicii and the Swedes. That's all people hear about. It's a vicious circle, the island is just being dumbed down. There's a lot of negative aspects to how the island's changing, so as these keep swelling, I think it's very important to keep the alternative scene alive. That has to exist as a reminder to the past, otherwise it'll get lost forever."
Interview: Steve Lawler
When it comes to Ibiza, Steve Lawler needs no introduction. One of the original icons of the Space Terrace, the UK DJ's relationship with the island dates back 20 years. In 2012, Lawler took the next step, launching his VIVa Warriors residency at Sankeys. 12 months on, the party is stronger than ever. We checked in with Steve to gauge the reasons behind the party's popularity and to discuss his newfound role as mentor to the next generation of house music talent.
We're officially halfway through the season and VIVa has proven one of the most popular parties on the island. What's been the secret to your success this year?
I'm not sure, it's a hard thing to pin down. Last year the crowds that we had were incredible and the atmosphere inside was electric. Musically I was very happy, not only with my own sets, but those of all my residents and some of the guests we had play. The thing is we don't have the budget that the other clubs have, we don't have the big billboards or poster allocations in the same way. We've never relied on promotion so much. It was mainly the strength of the party itself that saw us through and the fact that we always made sure to enjoy the party as much as anyone else. All of that effort in 2012 stood us in very good stead this year.
We also toured Warriors last winter, all over the UK and across Europe which meant I came into 2013 with a genuine sense that this summer would work for us. And it has: we're doing double the numbers on last year. I couldn't be happier with the way it's going. And not only the party, but how its success has really pushed the careers of our residents, such as Darius Syrossian and Detlef. The party is based around them and I think it shows how we've really stuck to our guns musically.
You've brought in the likes of Anek and Detlef this year, who as far as I'm aware were both entirely new to the Ibiza scene. How have they both acclimatised to the party?
Incredibly well. The Anek girls have been DJing for years, but under a different name. They found themselves in a position where they were being booked into these big commercial clubs for being women rather than for their music and put them in a really uncomfortable position. People were leaving the dance floor because of the records they were playing and they weren't happy. I think it happens with a lot of good DJs, that they start to question themselves as an artist when really they're just in the wrong environment. This year we took them on as Anek and they do what they do and they're having a great time. From a personal perspective, it's really rewarding to see the likes of Darius and Detlef and Anek all really flourishing. Before they came onboard with VIVa some of the guys really didn't have much of a career, so it makes me feel great as a human being. Between us all we're really carving out our own sound and style. I'm supporting them, they're supporting me. It's a joint effort.
You were a mentor in this year's Burn residency program, what was your role?
I was doing the masterclasses. Showing people the technical side to what I do as a DJ and what led me to move from vinyl, which I played for a long time, then to CDs and then very quickly to Traktor. That sort of raised a few questions as to "why Traktor?", which I answered by showing the candidates directly, conveying how much more I can do creatively–from looping to editing and rearranging a track on the fly. I also spoke about the label and what it's like to represent a family of artists.
How did they respond?
Really positively. Over the past 15 years I've done a couple of things like this before and the difference this time around, I felt, was just how serious the project was. It felt so proper. The organisers put a lot of time, money and effort into the whole competition procedure. And even the ones that don't win really do learn a lot, having to go through all these different processes and workshops. They never had stuff like that when I started playing in acid house warehouse parties. Times have changed and DJing is huge business. Programmes like Burn are great when they're done properly, and I really felt that this one was. It was a pleasure to be a part of it and see the way the participants were listening and genuinely taking something from it.
One of the contestants, Miss Soulfly, who I was really impressed by, came to me after and said she wanted to play for [VIVa] Warriors, that it was her favourite night. So I gave her a residency. Being able to do things like that is great.
Out of the 18 finalists, was there anyone that really stuck out from the rest?
The Hungarian contestant, Collective Machine gave me some music I liked. Around half of them presented me with tracks, though I must say I was surprised not all of them did. Those I did receive I took them straight back to my apartment and listened to them all. This one guy from Hungrary had some interesting stuff, which wasn't right for my label, but I passed it on to OFF Recordings and they signed them. I just felt that if everyone else had gone to such an effort, it was my duty to do the same.
In your view, has it become easier or more difficult for young DJs to break through these days?
There are two sides to the story. I think it's easier in terms of the accessibility to music, in terms of the technology available. That said, being a good DJ is not about mixing or specifically your style but about programming and the way you select records to suit and tailor moods. That's the art of DJing. No matter how advanced the technology is, you can't fake that. Certainly making music is a lot more simple now than it used to be. I have to spend £10,000 just to buy the equipment. Now I don't think they spend anything. They just log-on onto a few torrent sites and they've got everything they need. Which is a shame, as far as I'm concerned. These days it's all about getting yourself in with a label and becoming part of the family. The likes of Cocoon, Hot Creations and Cadenza allow artists a strong platform to launch their style. Get involved early enough and it can really propel you forward in a short space of time.
Going back to VIVa Warriors, you said yourself it's growing at pretty steady rate. What do you envision for the future?
Well, we are looking into doing a couple of outdoor parties in Ibiza this season. I went to view the locations last week and no one has done parties in these places before. I cannot wait. I've been coming to Ibiza for 20 years and have never been to a party in a place like this–really rough, really warm–and we're going to get a couple of graffiti artists down there to deck it out in the Warrior colours. Those will be special events with 2-3000 people. In terms of our future as a club night, we won't be moving from our home at Sankeys. We are expanding the winter tour though, heading to South America in October and North America in November.
Finally, you've been a fixture on the Ibiza landscape for well over a decade. What do you make of it all now?
Certainly Ibiza has changed from the first time I went, but then life has changed, the world has changed. I've always said this throughout my whole career: one of the main reasons I've maintained a young audience all these years is because I embrace change, it excites me. So yes, Ibiza has been through a lot changes, but rather than look at it in a negative way, I try and make it work for me. And that's what Warriors is. It was two years ago now that I decided that I wanted to leave Space and last year I made it happen.
I knew Ibiza was going the way of Miami, with more table-orientated clubs, and I know how that ends up. On the other hand, the scene cannot survive one without the other. I think it's healthy we have a VIP scene; I mean just because someone has money it doesn't mean they can't enjoy themselves. Then there's the underground scene, which is equally vital. You can't have a landscape made up of just superclubs, you need the basements, you need the warehouses, otherwise the industry would die very quickly. I personally feel far more comfortable when I'm playing in a room like Sankeys in front of 2,500 people. It's not small numbers but it doesn't come near to some of the bigger clubs. Importantly, it's rammed and it's intimate. I'm happy to play those bigger gigs every now and then, but for a residency? No way.
You can download Steve Lawler & Detlef's rework of the 1988 LNR classic "Work It To The Bone" for free here.
This week on the island
Next up was Cassy. Cutting the picture of concentration behind the decks, the UK-born DJ kicked-off with deeper selections to suit the early, preparatory mood. Once the venue was nicely filled, she took it to the revellers, lending her selections a high-tempo, party swing. The increasingly ubiquitous "Get Ready" by Jay Lumen, for example, worked wonders. Seeing out her extended set in a flurry of jazzy, soulful house, the party carried a really inclusive, laid-back vibe, with Cassy happy to stay behind after her set to pose for photos with fans.
Closing out the central stage was Andrea Oliva, who used the last hour of his set to move through a selection of popular tracks. For the nth time this season, Ten Walls' "Gotham" reared its head, while Ibiza's other hit, Paul Woolford's "Untitled," came by minutes later, almost as if on cue. Come 10 PM, the action shifted to the main stage, with UNER taking to the decks amidst a blur of Hollywood-style fireworks, trapeze artists and visuals. His set proved as high-octane and crowd pleasing as one would expect, with the fresh sounds of Cajmere's "Bigger Than Prince" rubbing shoulders with classics like Laurent Garnier's "Man With The Red Face." When you stand back and try and take it all in, the scale of the ANTS machine really is something to behold.
On warm-up duty, Philip Bader span considered tech house to ease us in, handing over to Darius Syrossian within the hour. Syrossian, whose tight mixing skills and low-slung style have made him a firm favourite with the young Warriors crowd, went straight in at the deep end, opening with his own "Who's The Douche?" on Hot Creations. Donning a full Native-American headdress (as is custom, I was told), the UK DJ worked the crowd with funky, vocal-laden selections. Lawler followed with a slightly techier, more incisive edge, sending the Basement into a frenzy with his and Detlef's 2013 rework of LNR classic "Work It To The Bone." Despite being one of their quieter parties numbers-wise, from the energizing vibe inside the place, you would never have guessed it.
ANTS - Roberto Castaño
Used + Abused - Roberto Castaño
Igor Rubnik - ENTER.
All others - Tasya Menaker