RA's Will Lynch guests on the column this week, taking a closer look at San Antonio's underground music scene.
For everything you need to know about the island in 2014, take a look at our comprehensive Ibiza guide.
Feature: Workers' parties
For many people who visit Ibiza, the experience is short, luxurious and self-indulgent. But for one portion of the island's population, it's just the opposite. Every summer, hundreds of young people flock to Ibiza not for a week-long rager, but for five months of hard work and little money in return. The pay-off? Amazing parties, invaluable industry experience, and membership in a scrappy group of people who make a living selling tickets, DJing and working in bars—a group who refer to themselves simply as "workers."
"You just scrape by, really," said Josh Haiez, a 22-year-old DJ from England who's finishing his fourth summer in Ibiza. "You don't make tons of money but you have a good time. Everywhere you go you pretty much go for free, you get guestlist and stuff like that, you earn a little bit of money for each gig. You go out every night trying to spend as little money as you can because it ain't cheap."
"The only way I can describe it is like being at a festival for five months," said Mark Gill, a 20-year-old Dubliner who's been here nearly as many summers as Haiez. "There are places you go where you turn up and literally know 30 people. If I see someone on the street or at a party and I know he's a worker, I can just go up to him and we'll be talking shit for hours. When you come here for a holiday it might not be as good as it once was, but if you're here for the summer, you get in the loop, you find out what's going on."
It's a vastly different experience from the one tourists get. "I tell my friends at home to come over and they're like 'oh I can't, I'm skint, it's so expensive," said Gill. "I'm like: 'you realise I live on a tenner a day?'" I met these two for drinks at a bar in San Antonio, traditionally the UK-saturated part of the island, as opposed to the more European Playa d'en Bossa. Later that night, Haiez and Marco Loco, an older worker who makes his living DJing between Ibiza, Thailand and the UK, would play a gig at a local spot called Hush. For now, they were happy to gush about the workers' life in Ibiza, beginning with the workers' parties.
"The parties that don't get promoted, those are the ones we want to go to," said Haiez. "The vibe is always better," said Gill. "A good workers' party always has the best crowd, because it's all people you know, who know each other. You're not going to see a fight, you're not going to have to look over your shoulder. Good vibes, good people, I love it. And everybody gets on it because we are sound with it, no messing about, like."
Mark Gill, left, promotes parties, and Josh Haiez is his main DJ.
According to these two, workers' parties happen at various locations scattered across Ibiza—in villas, on boats, in the woods. Gill sold tickets to one early in his career on the island, and when he saw the party for itself it blew his mind. "Illegal as fuck," he said. "Just mental. Sweaty and mental." The parties are promoted entirely through word of mouth, but they're by no means exclusive. "Every once in a while you'll see a tourist that for whatever reason has ended up at the party," said Gill, "and you're like 'yes mate, yes mate, good lad!'"
But for some workers, there's something out there that's far more tempting than parties: the chance to get your feet wet on a professional level. Even at such a young age, Gill and Haiez both have a fair amount to show for themselves. Gill works one night a week as a PR for Carl Cox at Space and puts on a workers' party called Room 19 in the back of a plush club called Savannah. Haiez makes a living purely as a DJ, with residencies around the island and occasional gigs at spots like Sankeys. Neither had any connections before arriving on the island.
"Last summer I was doing a villa party every week," Haiez said. "I did loads of random parties all over the place, and all the promoters I play for, they're not like big promoter guys, they're friends, and you meet them mainly through after-parties. You know, when you're not in the club anymore and you can just chew each other's ear off. You can't do that back home in England."
Despite the scene's comparatively low-profile, the reputation you build in the workers' community earns you respect off-island. Thanks in part to his achievements in San Antonio, Gill has made a name for himself as a promoter in Dublin—in the winter he hosts his Room 19 parties at The Twisted Pepper, arguably the city's best club. Even more useful is the experience itself. At 22, Haiez has clocked more hours playing in clubs than most DJs ten years his senior. And while he and Gill may look like skinny, fresh-faced kids, they are both extraordinarily streetwise, something they owe entirely to their hardscrabble summers in Ibiza.
And make no mistake—the summers have been hard. In his first season, Haiez earned money hawking tickets for a boat party, making a tiny commission on each one. "I had no idea about this boat party," he said. "I had never been on it, I didn't know what kind of music was playing." Soon someone set him up with a job playing liquid drum & bass at a bar (Haiez was into drum & bass until Ibiza "converted" him to house and techno). "I was playing in there for basically nothing," he said. "Sometimes they would literally just feed me for the day. They'd give me like a pizza or a burger and chips and I'd sit there and drink all day." Even in the relative comfort of this summer, Gill and Haiez still live from hand to mouth, sometimes eating "bread and aioli for days."
"It's literally all about the hustle," said Gill. "I legal hustle the whole time. Not the workers, I never hustle the workers, but tourists—it's like, 'do you want this ticket? do you want the boat party ticket?' It's all about just making your money off people, it's what you have to do."
On the workers' budget, venturing into Ibiza's clubs can be a Dickensian experience. Drinks in ibiza are astonishingly expensive—a round will set you back about the cost of a cheap flight, and even a bottle of water can be as much as €10. Workers consider club drinks out of the question, and tap water in Ibiza is undrinkable, which leaves you with two options: haggle some drink tickets, or go thirsty.
"When you know you are getting a few drinks tokens that will make your night," said Gill. "There's also the ice cube trick: wait till the barman turns around, grab a piece of ice and that's your drink for the next half an hour." (Most bar staff will refuse to give out ice cubes.) You can also chew gum and suck on lollipops to quench your thirst with saliva. But sometimes none of that works. "I'll be standing in a club and I'm passionate about the artist and I genuinely have to leave because I'm that thirsty," Gill said. "It's a nightmare. But sometimes you have to grin and bear it."
Still, even these stories are delivered with smiles and the occasional shake of the head. For Gill and Haiez, it's all part of a surreal existence that they wouldn't trade for anything. "A lot of people are here for a summer of living rough but having a good experience," Gill said. "Me, Josh, Marco—we're gonna go through the hard stuff just to do what we do."
All of this is done in pursuit of a single glorious moment, though that moment is different for each of them. "When you pull off a party, there's no better feeling," said Gill, shaking his head at the thought of it. And for Haiez: "There's nothing better than bringin' in a tune you've been waiting to play," he said with a grin. "Lookin' up and seeing you got the reaction you wanted."
"I owe so much to Ibiza," said Gill.
"It ain't easy," Haiez added in a serious tone.
"But you get by. You get by for the love of it."
Interview: Ryan Elliott
Berghain resident Ryan Elliott is an Ibiza enthusiast. Since debuting on the island in 2006, the Berlin-based Detroiter has become a fixture at Circoloco, regularly treating the DC-10 faithful to his spirited blend of house and techno. Earlier this week, we caught up with Elliott over Skype to discuss his relationship with the Monday staple, from both a personal and professional standpoint.
I wanted to start by asking if Ibiza meant anything to you growing up as a dance music fan in America?
Yeah, for sure. I bought decks in the late '90s, started buying records and then a few years later started DJing. When I first bought decks, you know, you’re kind of obsessed with the whole culture. So I was the guy that every month would get the UK-based magazines like DJ Mag or Mixmag. And of course six months of the year those things were just peppered with Ibiza articles and Ibiza pictures, so it was always this kind of fantasy land that I wanted to go play in. Like a DJ summer camp. [Laughs].
That’s a good way of thinking about it.
Yeah, I always wanted to go play there. When I went the first time in 2006 I remember getting out of the airport and seeing all these huge billboards for DJs and clubnights that you don’t see anywhere else! And I just felt ;Wow, this place is out of this world.'
Did it live up to expectations?
Yeah, for sure and more. These huge discotheques are so professional, you know. The systems and the lighting and the amount of people they can hold. They've been doing this since, I don’t know, like the late '70s/'80s. They’ve been doing it for ever. It blew my mind. From the very first time I've really enjoyed playing there.
Your Ibiza adventure started over at The Zoo Project, right?
It didn't actually. I played at Circoloco in 2006 and then again in 2007. Way back in the day. And yeah, I remember it was so eye-opening. I remember playing first on the Terrace, which was still open-air then. Just everything I'd heard about the place was true. I was super excited to play there and it was a lot of fun.
And then you started playing The Zoo Project?
Yeah, so after those gigs at DC10 I didn’t play in Ibiza at all for a few years. And then in 2011, when I was living in Berlin, I started playing for Zoo. I was never a resident but I played for them a few times each year in 2011 and 2012.
What did you make of that party?
It was fun, it was different! I mean, I think at that time it was one of the only parties that was still outside, in the open-air. I mean, all the way outside, you know. And yeah, I had a great time with those guys and I'm still friends with them.
How did the switch to a more regular slot at DC10 come about?
Beginning of last summer, before the season started, the guys contacted me and said: 'Hey, do you wanna come back? You know, you played for us a long time ago in the past,' and I thought, 'Yeah, for sure,' because I always had a good time at DC10. I know their bookings were changing a little bit and I thought for me personally it'd be a good move. So I played once a month for them last summer and they were very good. We just built on it this year again.
So now that you're more integrated, I'm interested to hear what you make of the island and what it does. I mean, you grew up in Detroit, you live in Berlin, both cities you've described as having “rough edges, honest hearts.” Some would argue that Ibiza is the direct opposite of that in many ways. At least, it's a very different place, but what attracts you?
For sure it's different. What attracts me is that when I DJ I try to take the energy from the crowd and channel into myself and give it back through my music. And the energy in Ibiza is just undeniable, you know. You get people on holiday that come for a week and they just go crazy. When they get tired and they've spent all their money, new groups of people arrive and they've got all the energy. Every time it's kind of electric for me. It never gets old. I'm like a kid every time I go there and play.
So how do you approach playing a gig in Ibiza compared to one of your deeper shows, say at Panorama Bar or in London?
It's different. A lot of the sets in Ibiza are shorter than you would play elsewhere, especially Panorama Bar, so I kind of treat them a little bit more like a festival set. I've noticed in Ibiza you have to hook people, you have to get their interest quickly and you've gotta keep it. And also, another thing kind of similar to a festival is that you get a lot of people that maybe aren't so exposed to underground music. Not in a bad way, but they're not on the Hard Wax website every day like I am buying the new releases. [Laughs]
When I DJ I always try to consider—I mean it’s kind of a cliché—but it's about educating people and entertaining them. So I always try to make sure that I have packed some stuff that I think people may know and enjoy but then also something that they won't know and might challenge them. And if you can hook people with some stuff they do know at first, that kind of opens them up and they'll maybe keep dancing for you if you play some Jamal Moss record or a more obscure record. In Ibiza, you can’t just come in there and play an hour-and-a-half or two hours of really heady music because you'll lose a lot of the people. So it's that balance. I want people to have a good time but I also want to expose them to new music.
Is playing Ibiza more of less challenging to play than other places?
It's maybe even more of a challenge because when I play in Ibiza I have high expectations for myself. I really want to make an impact and I want people to enjoy it, but I don't wanna just play two hours of crowd pleasers.
As an artist, from a professional standpoint, do you feel it’s important for you to be playing Ibiza?
I really do. I've always noticed the importance of the exposure that you get from it. I take a lot of care in building a record collection that I love and I think is good. And I want as many people to hear that as possible. And if that's your goal then Ibiza is an important place because you're open to a lot of more people, people that maybe don't normally go clubbing, but they go to Ibiza on holidays. Promoters from abroad that come out to the parties. If you're looking to expose your sound to a wider audience, then Ibiza is vital.
As someone who plays the deeper shades of house and techno, do you think it's important for the island to keep plugging away with the more underground bookings?
Yeah. I think the thing about Ibiza is that it's already there. There's lots of every kind of sound on the island. If you look there's lots of quality bookings in Ibiza. Even a lot of the bigger nights do it. It's just that there's so much commercial music there too, that it kind of gets, not swept under the rug, but it doesn't get as much attention. But I guess, you know the definition of underground music is the fact that it doesn’t always get so much attention. So I think it's there. I would love if it would catch on a little more, but then I think I play pretty underground as far as Ibiza standards.
I think it's all about the way you frame it. If you look at somewhere like The Zoo Project, for example, it's not the most headsy crowd, but you get a lot of people dancing and having fun to a lot of very good acts. Acts that don't come here other than to play Zoo.
Yeah, like we talked about earlier, sometimes that's very fun and challenging as a DJ because they don’t know who Ryan Elliott is, but I still have to go in there and perform. You know, I have to try my best to excite them and maybe make them feel, 'Yo, who is this guy?' I kind of like that. It's always nice when people know who you are, but sometimes it can challenge you and push you if people don't know, but you still get a good reaction out of them.
Going back to DC-10, there’s a certain DIY ethos to it. The lower fees, the cluster of residents. It's a different kind of attitude. Obviously it's a world apart from Berghain, but in terms of the approach and the family feel, is that what appeals to you? Does it feel homely?
Yeah, very much. I've known the guys now for almost ten years and I'm super-proud what they've grown DC-10 into and still kept that kind of underground feeling and DIY feeling. You don't see much advertisement for them on the island, things like that. It's one of the places in Ibiza where I still do feel an underground vibe, it's always kind of raw. You feel like maybe anything could happen. Some of the parties seem a little predetermined, you kind of know what’s gonna happen next, but with DC-10 there's always that little bit of excitement in the air, like you don't know exactly how it's going to go.
I was there when P Diddy came into the booth during your set in the Main Room. You looked pretty taken aback.
Yeah, I'm a huge hip-hop fan. I'm not gonna say that I wasn't happy about meeting him, that was fun! I don't know, somehow at DC-10, it seems like even though you'll get him or Madonna or Kate Moss passing through it's not at all based around them. I think they just want to come because they know it's a good party. And people see that Diddy and all those guys come but they're still paying attention to the music.
This week on the island
Movement presents Hi-Tek Soul at DC-10
Since the concept was born in 2012, DC-10's run of Saturday night parties in August have proven more difficult to get right than their failsafe Monday and Wednesday counterparts. This season though, with the help of powerhouse promoter Movement Torino, has been the club's best yet, with both staples (Better Lost Than Stupid, Apollonia) and newcomers (Innervisions, No.19) pulling in the crowds. Rounding out the series would be a Hi-Tek Soul event with Derrick May, which, with island numbers dwindling as September loomed, was forecast to be the slowest of the bunch. When I arrived around 2 AM, it certainly looked that way.
Numbers aren't everything, though. Playing to a half-full Main Room, guest Joe Claussell treated his set like any other, furiously working the mixer with his choppy blends of pumping Afro-soul. Engaged in something of a tug-of-war with DC-10's sound guy, the volume would frequently dip, leaving audible a thunderous volley of approval from the audience. Closing with Moodymann's "Shades Of Jae," Claussell's performance was up there with the most heartfelt, and best received, I've witnessed this summer. Derrick May, arriving only a minute or two before his headline slot, mixed straight into a slew of boisterous house cuts, among them George Fitzgerald's "Like A Child" and Âme's "Rej." Every bit as animated as his predecessor, it was hard to gauge who was enjoying themselves more: the crowd or the DJ.
Circoloco at DC-10
Every now and then, as if to take a breather, Circoloco unveils a more alternative lineup. Last Monday saw only one (The Martinez Brothers) of the party's dozen or so headliners perform, leaving space for the likes of San Proper, Delano Smith and Margaret Dygas. This also meant less people showed up, leaving the club still packed, but manageably so. The night started in the Main Room, as a sparse floor danced along to the plump disco-house of Kim Ann Foxman. Stepping outside for some air, the piercing click-clack of Barnt's remix of C.P.I's "Proceso" soon lured me into the Terrace, where Timo Maas was casually throwing down big-room techno (DVS1's new single, "Black Russian," came next).
Back in the Main Room, recent addition to the stable Petar Dundov made a smooth transition from Foxman's house into his brand of shimmering techno. Each track he played raised the intensity a notch, tempered only occasionally by a foray into more melodic territory (Axel Boman's "Klinsmann.") As he wound down, there was just enough time to hot-foot it next door to catch the start of Margaret Dygas. In the handful of times I've seen her, the pint-sized Pole has never played a bad track, and this was the case here, though her purring workouts felt largely lost on the peak-time crowd. One track that did cause an uproar, though, was Solid Groove's remix of Roy Davis Jr's "About Love." Back to the Main Room for one last dance, Delano Smith pounded out a flawless set of crisp Detroit house, before Chez Damier wrapped things up in a heady haze of jazzy euphoria.
Ibiza Rocks House at Pacha
Ibiza Rocks House has been Pacha's slowest party of 2014. That's hardly surprising, though, considering both its in-house competition (David Guetta, Pure Pacha, Solomun) and the fact that Monday nights have long been dominated by Circoloco and Cocoon. It also doesn't mean the party itself is slow: Pacha was comfortably busy as I ventured inside earlier this week. On a small stage above the DJ booth, Bristol pair The ShowHawk Duo were coming to the end of their mid-party set, treating the crowd to acoustic guitar renditions of Faithless' "Insomnia" and Darude's "Sandstorm." A little cheesy, perhaps, but then ever since it began as an after-party at Pikes Hotel, Ibiza Rocks House has never taken itself too seriously.
Looking around the smoke-filled main room, there was plenty more evidence to support the fact. Overhead, plastic pigs, deers and giant paperclips swung precariously from the roof, while black chiffon mermaids and ballerinas with lampshades for hats cut shapes on the sidelines. Behind the decks, Felix Da Housecat was playing without an air of pretence, starting with a thumping edit of Marshall Jefferson's "Move Your Body," before dropping big-room numbers from the likes of Larry Heard and Maceo Plex. If there's one genre that's always really complimented the club's glitzy facade, it's feel-good house. Ibiza Rocks House might be Pacha's lowest earner, but for what it lacks in financial reward it more than makes up for in verve and atmosphere.
Elrow+Kehakuma - Ana Ruiz
We Love... - Nel G Photography
Cocoon - Phrank.net
All others - Tasya Menaker
For more information on what's happening on the island in 2014, check out our comprehensive Ibiza guide below.
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