This week we catch up with a disco obsessive and one of the island's original ambient DJs.
Interview: Dimitri From Paris
Dimitri From Paris is one of the few remaining high-profile disco DJs. Cutting his teeth on local radio in the late '80s, his undying passion for the sound has seen him through the genre's highs and lows. Despite disco's enduring global appeal, there's one place it hasn't quiet conquered: Ibiza. We caught up with Dimitri over Skype to discuss just why that might be about to change.
You've established a strong relationship with Defected over the years. When and how did that start?
I met Simon Dunmore at one of the Miami Winter Music Conferences at the end of the '90s. At the time I had the Playboy Mansion album out, which was doing pretty well, and I liked what he was doing as an A&R at AM:PM. I remember our first conversation was about northern soul. I didn't know exactly what it meant, so he explained that he came from that era and I liked the fact that this label guy actually had some knowledge. He had depth. I think I offered to do a mix for his In The House series, which he was up for and we got talking. I like to be very hands-on with my releases, right down to the artwork, so gradually we developed a relationship where he'd let me be involved in every stage of the process and that carried on across several projects. I feel very free when I work with Defected. We trust each other.
And now you're the principal resident at Glitterbox at Booom! Were you part of the team that came up with the concept?
Last year I played for Defected at Booom! and spoke to Simon about an idea that was sort of similar, whereby I'd curate my own parties based around my disco persona. However, they were midway through the season and didn't want to take anything on, so he said they'd look into it and we left it there. Then in January 2014, I approached Simon with the idea for my new compilation, In The House of Disco, which came from seeing all these mass-market pop artists putting out disco-inspired tracks. I thought it'd be cool to showcase a lot of the new producers pursuing what I call this neo-vintage sound. He liked the pitch and then a few months later he called me back confirming the compilation and he also told me about Glitterbox. The party is a spin-off of that same idea, as well as being a reaction to Ibiza's quite linear scene. It's great that it's actually happening, because that kind of thing is extremely rare on the island.
So did you have any say in the kinds of artists they booked?
Yeah, he asked me and a couple of others to brainstorm the kind of acts we'd like to see included. Some are there, some aren't. Defected took care of the bulk of the party, though, I wasn't a part of the team in that sense.
You played weeks one and two. How did you find the experience?
I thought it was great. Booom! is a very nice venue. It has a fantastic sound system which was developed by legendary New York sound engineer Gary Stewart. Before he died, he sold all the schematics and blueprints for his sound systems to Pioneer, who have made their first custom-built rig. Personally I was blown away by the clarity of the sound, it has that New York crispness to it. It was that sound that made me love clubbing. I also like the layout of the club, with its large, long dance floor. It's a proper loft space, which there aren't many of in Ibiza. Music-wise I think the party was pretty well-received. I had a bit of bad luck with the World Cup fixtures so it wasn't that busy early on, but the rest of the night went well. It's very promising.
How far back does your relationship with Ibiza go?
Like 10 or 15 years. The first time I played there was for Mike and Claire at Manumission at Ku. I'll be honest, I didn't like it. To this day I don't think I've seen such a big club in my life. The music was very hard for me and the whole thing just felt a bit like a factory. Like a huge festival indoors. It didn't sit right with me. Then I started playing for Defected at Pacha, which was slightly more intimate. But the party that really made me see Ibiza in a different, more positive light was We Love... at Space. The crowd were really energetic and up for it. The way I see it, Ibiza has three crowds: the party crowd, the tourists and the rich. I think for a good party, it's essential to get a mix. All the best parties were founded on a range of people, from super-rich to poor.
That's what we're aiming for with Glitterbox. We're not trying to be underground, we just want to be a party for the people. We've also tried to tie it in with this whole Daft Punk disco thing. I don't know, maybe it's a bit of a gamble, maybe it's too early. But it's always good to try new avenues, otherwise things get stale. It's great that somewhere like Booom! is prepared to take the risk, too.
I went down a couple of Saturdays ago and it definitely felt like an alternative to the rest of Ibiza.
Yeah, it's feel-good music, rather than having to listen to whatever tech or progressive house track is hot this week. People don't have much to relate to in terms of clubbing sounds nowadays, the scene is moving so quickly.
First time I went to Booom! I saw Frankie Knuckles at Defected, who I know is someone that has played a very influential role in your life as a DJ. Can you explain how you developed this connection? What did he represent?
It must've been in the late '80s when I first encountered him. I'd been DJing for six or seven years, playing mostly on the radio and also in a club, which I hated. It was the very old days of being a resident DJ in Paris, you had no freedom. I literally wasn't allowed to bring my own records to work! But I loved dance music and especially that balearic, cross-genre sound. I was a big fan of the remixes of the time, where people would take an three-minute album track and turn it into an extended club track. I loved the musicality embedded in the new arrangements. However, as time wore on, these remixes became more and more stripped-back, until people were just adding a 4/4 beat to the original. That was a bit of letdown for me. But then I started hearing Frankie Knuckles' Def Mix remixes and I was amazed at how elaborate and musical they were. It had those beautiful pianos, those strings and it just sounded wonderful. It really touched me in a way few others could. It had that really romantic quality. I became a huge fan of his.
At the time I had the radio station and people would tell me, "oh we're bringing Frankie and David [Morales] over, do you want to interview him?" I spoke to him, he was nice, he had no idea who I was of course. When he'd come back to France, or the UK, I'd go and see him and eventually a French friend introduced me to them and to his manager. From 2000, he started producing much less, as that smooth, romantic sound went out of fashion. It was also a sound that didn't translate well unless you had a very good sound system. I saw him once at his club, The Sound Factory in New York, and that was when he really blew me away. He played for three or four hours and I've never heard music that sounded that good since. That night really left its mark on me. He was so good I almost wanted to cry and stop DJing forever. I felt there was no point. But I decided not to stop and that was an important lesson. I realised that I was never going to be better than him at his thing, but I could do my thing and see where I ended up. I had to separate from my spiritual father of music and go my own way. That's why I was tied to him, it wasn't a direct connection.
Did you ever play with him?
Once in Paris, in the early days. I was shaking a lot and we didn't get to interact much. He did actually reach out to me later on though, after I started do all those Philadelphia remixes in the '00s. Those tracks were the staples of his sets when he was starting out. We exchanged a few emails and he was incredibly complimentary, which meant so much to me. I remember we would joke about who would like the other most! We would bump into each other every now and then, in Chicago. He wasn't in the best shape but he'd make the effort to come and hang out. We were getting closer, but then of course he passed. I was taken aback by how much it affected me, it really hurt.
In terms of your output on the dance floor, you've always really mixed up old and new sounds. Do you still go back through the vaults and unearth hidden/forgotten disco gems, or are you all about the here and now?
Sometimes I will unearth some stuff, but more what I'm trying to do these days is repackage disco cuts in a way that will make sense for the new generation. Actually, I was reading interviews with Frankie after his passing and he was doing a similar thing many years ago. He was trying to make disco fresh after the whole Disco Sucks movement. There were no new disco records being made so he had to rehash the old favourites to be able to keep the sound alive. That's kind of my aim too. I want to take the songs that everybody knows and create new surprises in them. It's tough though, you have to track down the original masters and major labels aren't keen to give them away. They're too concerned with the pop sound of now. It's often a long process. When it comes off though, like with my remix of Diana Ross' "The Boss," it's all worth it.
Ibiza histories: José Padilla
José Padilla is one of the building blocks of Ibiza's ambient scene. As a resident at Café del Mar in the early '90s, his mixtapes brought the slow, sun-soaked sound of San Antonio to the global masses, shifting six million records worldwide. Today, as he celebrated 40 years behind the decks, we sat down with Padilla over coffee to delve deep into his past, while also touching upon his present.
Café del Mar are turning 25 this year. When did your relationship with them start?
I used to live next door, in a house right on the sea that's long since gone, so I knew the owners before Café del Mar even existed. At the time I was still DJing in the San Antonio clubs—Es Paradis, Playboy—and I was a little burned out from working six nights a week, so the guys suggested I give all that up and come and play the sunset set for them, from 8-12 every night. Also, I'd built up a relationship with them through selling mixtapes. I'd record tapes at home for them to play at dinner, or a little later in the evening. That was all happening in 1989 and '90. I was one of the first DJs they hired there.
What was it like back then?
Very different to today. It was quite chic, with its own private beach, hammocks, showers, a restaurant. The whole concept of beach bars hadn't hit Ibiza yet. Though as San Antonio lost its edge and became known for a certain type of tourist, Café del Mar had to adapt to the times. They got rid of most things. Saying that, during the '90s it continued to attract a good crowd; very open-minded, musical people.
And how long were you a resident there?
For five or six years, playing six times a week. Around my fourth year there a promoter friend of mine invited me to play Moondance, which isn't a party many people remember. They were the first to bring Sasha, John Digweed, Tony Humphries to the island. It would run at Pacha and then continue on at Space. DJ Harvey played there, Billy Nasty, Darren Emerson...
And at Café del Mar, what were you playing?
It was very eclectic. I basically played whatever I ever I liked. I'd use my slot to try new records out, experiment with other sounds. Everything worked there, from classical to new jazz to the first dance records.
Would people be dancing?
Maybe a little bit on the beach, but on the whole, that was never the vibe. We'd play house music, but it was more of a listening environment, while you ate or hung out with friends.
Over the years the bar became internationally known for its chill-out, ambient sound. What are the origins of that sound in Ibiza?
First of all, I think it's important to note the difference between the two. Chill-out is a term made up by journalists and record labels, that refers more to beatless music. I was more into ambient, which was the name we used from the start. In the '80s, there were lots of people making ambient music, like Vangelis. Into those kind of slow tempos I'd mix everything from the Spanish guitar of Paco de Lucía to the jazz-fusion of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. It became known as a branch of the balearic sound, which was traditionally more danceable.
It was born from the need to soundtrack the sunset. The light, the heat, the beach. You couldn't play anything too heavy, so I slowly started inserting more classical, more banda sonora into my sets. I'd start half an hour before and finish half an hour after, really making the most of it. And people loved it. Nowadays, that license to take your time, to take things slowly, doesn't exist. There's always another DJ waiting to get on the decks.
So what for you are the foundational elements of ambient?
I was always really into melodies and harmonies, sounds that would evoke emotion. It was really important for it not to be boring—it doesn't get much worse than boring ambient. The music needs to be well programmed, with plenty of shifts and changes. If you're going to use vocals, they need to be done well. It's easy for them to sound cheesy.
Do you think there's still a place for ambient music in today's Ibiza?
Not really. I don't know of there being anywhere that's still dedicated to the sound. Or if there is, I haven't heard about it. The ambient of today is 120 BPM deep house. But then that's reflective of Ibiza today. People want to come here, get their party fix and leave after a week. There's no patience anymore, and that's one of the fundamental differences between now and then. Back then there was a patience in everything we did, not just for music. For drugs, people were even patient about sex. Now they want everything now, today, tomorrow, yesterday! They want it all yesterday! The whole attitude has changed. Let me give you an example. These days you go to Pacha to see David Guetta—snap, you take your photo and send it to Miami: "I'm here in Ibiza, it's amazing!" Before, you had to take the photo, take the film to the shop, have it developed, go to Miami and then sit down with your friend and tell them about your trip. It was another vibe. I'm not say its better or worse. Ibiza has changed, but so has everything else around it.
Jumping forward a bit. You're working on a new album on International Feel, right?
Yes. I've written a single called "Solito," which comes with two remixes. Mark Barrott, who runs the label, liked the way I worked and decided to sign an album, which we will work on together starting at the end of summer. Let's see what happens. I've also done something on Secret Life Music that's coming out soon.
How did you relationship with International Feel start?
Mark used to send me records back when he was running the label out of Uruguay. From there slowly I started to take notice and then when Pete Gooding, my manager, came on board we opened up a dialogue and discussed the possibility of doing an LP. We got together to do the single, it went well, and now we're sitting down to do a full-length.
And how does the collaboration between the two of you work in the studio?
The single was made at home using a Mac, a MIDI and two monitors. A very basic set-up. For the album, I've said to Mark that I want at least 30-40 percent of sounds to be organically produced. Otherwise I find the music loses warmth and each track starts sounding the same. I've got a lot of old keyboards and guitars, and we're going to use vocals as well. The idea is to make the kind of music that I would play in one of my sets. Of course, the LP will have to reflect the diversity of my sets, so it should incorporate a lot of different styles and tempos. When I work I look a lot to music that has already been made. This is where I get my ideas from, I believe we've reached near-saturation point when it comes to making new music. It's all been done.
So what does a typical José Padilla set contain?
All sorts. Though, the thing is, the way I used to play at Café del Mar was very unique to that place and time. To the kind of people that used to visit. I've tried to recreate the same vibe elsewhere and it's always tricky. In the Mediterranean it tends to work; places like Naples, Greece. But if I get booked for a club set in, say Budapest, I'll play house. Mostly newer, deeper stuff. And I love a lot of the US guys: Chez Damier, Joe Clausell, Moodymann. My sets are never linear though. It's just the way I learnt to mix.
And so you're going to be in Ibiza all summer?
Yeah, I've always lived here. The only thing is I used to leave for a couple of months in peak season because it got too much. So many people arriving to the island. I had to escape. But now I'm back for the summer. I'm looking to do a weekly residency at Café del Mar until the end of September, which we're still ironing out but it's basically there. We've brought in a sponsor from the UK to back it. Believe it or not, the difficulty in Ibiza these days is getting paid—none of the clubs have a budget for the smaller DJs. I mean if they don't, who does?
This week on the island
tINI and the gang at Sands
There was some confusion surrounding tINI's return to Ibiza in 2014. For one, Sirocco Beach, the venue that was her home all last year, is now called Sands (the Carl Cox-owned bar moved several hundred metres up Playa d'en Bossa.) Secondly, and perhaps as a direct consequence, confirmation of tINI and the gang's fourth season was only revealed a week prior to the scheduled opening. It's news that was met with near-unanimous feelings of relief from Ibiza's more music-focused crowd. It's no secret that tINI's party is a favourite of many.
Despite the name change, Sands looks and feels exactly the same. The only difference is the DJ booth, which is significantly less poky and faces, as it should, out to sea. Music-wise, the sounds were kept dubby throughout, with newcomer Daniela De La Luz's live set of vigorous techno the pick of the warm-ups. tINI sounded on form, closing out with 90 minutes of typically bouncy, and never boring, selections. On the official circuit, tINI and the gang is now the only party channeling any of Ibiza's so-called free-spirited ethos. It's a point that was hammered home last summer, but in 2014 it remains truer than ever.
Paradise opening at DC-10
Week six brings with it the start of two of Ibiza's powerhouse parties: Paradise and ENTER. The former, now in its third year at DC-10, has expanded for 2014, revealing plans to host five full-club takeovers across the season. As popular as the party has proven, it's nevertheless a significant leap. Keen to test the waters early, Paradise opened with both rooms in full swing, playing host to a mix of Ibiza staples (Steve Lawler, Derrick Carter) and infrequent guests (Move D, Michael Mayer). It'll surprise few to learn that numbers-wise, the opening set the bar high.
A switch in the Main Room schedule saw residents Richy Ahmed and Robert James step in for Michael Mayer, who served the crowd cut after cut of boisterous house. In the Terrace, Derrick Carter was playing even faster, working the room with a blend of choppy R&B samples and jazzy interludes. By the time the Chicago veteran left the booth, the room was a dusky shade of rainbow and packed to capacity. What little space did remain was to be found in the nether regions of the Main Room, where Michael Mayer's synth-heavy fare preceded a typically thumping workout from Guti. If the summer continues at this pace, Jamie Jones and co. will smash all targets without even breaking a sweat.
ENTER. opening at Space
On an island rife with half-cocked party concepts, you have to give it to ENTER. for boldness of vision. For week one of season three, Space was decked head-to-toe in Japanese lanterns, black drapes and eight-foot photos of the human eye. The cherry-red haze of ENTER.Mind felt even more cave-like than last year, soundtracked by the crumbly soundscapes of Petar Dundov. In the Terrazza, it was the return of two of 2013's defining acts. Tale Of Us, however, fell short of their reputation, failing to stir the floor with their colourless grooves.
The opposite was true of Maceo Plex. As loud as his style is, it's hard to argue with the energy he transmits. On this occasion, a mixture of air-percussion and top-heavy techno sent the crowd into the kind of collective delirium you rarely see on the Terrazza. Richie Hawtin, meanwhile, left the dramatics to others, slamming down an endless barrage of well-whetted, big-room techno. The show went on around him, though, as toned dancers manoeuvred within oversized hoops, silhouetted against cloud after cloud of CO2 gas. Save perhaps Elrow, no promoter in Ibiza puts as much into crafting a truly immersive club experience.
Symmetry- Michael Martin
Music On - David Pareja
Glitterbox - Phrank.net
Elrow + Kehakuma - Ana Ruiz De Villota, Nel G Photography
All others - Tasya Menaker
For more information on what's happening on the island in 2014, check out our comprehensive Ibiza guide below.