This week our Ibiza column takes a closer look at Underground, one of the island's more low-key clubbing alternatives.
Underground: "Not For Everybody"
Away from the pull of the bright lights and superstar DJs, Ibiza is home to several more low-key establishments. Started in 2000, Underground slowly became one of the island's best-kept secrets, known for its friendly, inexpensive atmosphere and its regular impromptu DJ sets from some of the scene's top jocks. Ibiza today, however, is a very different place. We checked in with Nicolás Santos, director of Underground, to discuss the club's fabled past and its plans for the future.
Tell me a bit about yourself. How long have you been involved with Underground?
I've been working as the director of Underground for seven years. I used to work opposite in L'Elephant, where I was in charge of the terrace. The opportunity arose to cross over and the truth is I've never looked back. We've grown together and now we're living the island's mutation together as well.
Tell us about the history of the place.
It opened in 2000, which was a pivotal time in Ibiza. DC-10 and Cocoon had just started, the music on the island was heading in a much housier direction. The club was set up by two brothers, Juanito and Jesus, and Nick, a British friend. The essence of the club is all Juanito, however, he's still one of the main resident DJs and takes care of the venue. It opened with few resources and was initially very liberal. People would come in with their bottles of hierbas, there were no bouncers and the idea was to build the spirit of the club bit by bit.
Photo credit: Tasya Menaker
What was the initial vision? I know Underground has never really promoted its events in the conventional way.
I've learnt a lot from Juanito. He never wanted the club to be like all the others, he sees that as selling-out. He's travelled all over the world, DJing and working, and he spent a lot of time in that commercial world and he didn't like it, it wasn't him. With Underground he wanted to create something unique and personal, something that captured his own outlook on the world. He wanted Underground to have an identity, which is one of the most difficult things to achieve and maintain on this island. Clubs go through amazing periods, but as soon as the sound changes and DJs change and money starts to flow, they lose what they had. Few manage to keep anything substantial going.
The difference is people have always come to Underground for the club, the space, and not for the DJ. Most of the time people don't know who's even playing. We've had Ricardo Villalobos wander in and start spinning and people think nothing of it. We're also a lot cheaper than the other venues, almost by half. The idea has always been to be independent, to cultivate a following that return for the right reasons. That's why we don't print posters or flyers, only small invitations for 200 or so people on the day of the event. Of course, it can also make running a club difficult at times.
In 2008 the authorities altered your licence, forcing you to close at 4 AM instead of 6. What impact did it have on the club?
That's a delicate topic. It happened a year after I joined. In the middle of summer they cut us down. There was a change in power on the island and the locals, understandably, were tired of all the partying and the noise. They complained and the law came down hard on us and other afterparty spots. Now, however, what you've got is thousands of partygoers forced to leave the clubs at 7 AM, driving around out of their minds. I'm not sure it was the right decision.
People also stopped coming to the island. Ibiza doesn't produce olive oil, or tomatoes, we live off tourism and the majority of that is generated by the clubs. They tried to build all these golf courses and create a different type of customer but it didn't work. For me it's like trying to get a clown to sing Opera—they could do it, but it wouldn't be very good. Ibiza is known for what its known and those in power should accept that and work with it.
In terms of Underground, we were placed on equal footing with the bars. But that was never Underground's position. We were more than a bar, but not quite a superclub and so enjoyed that middle ground, staying open until 5 or 6 in the morning. People would come by after the bars shut, before heading off to Amnesia and Privilege, and that made up a lot of our custom. It was what the club was known for; industry people would come by after work for a drink. We felt it was unfair that we should be considered in the same vein as a bar, when we were a totally different entity. These days you come to Underground, the music shuts at 4, and your only option to keep partying is to pay €60 at one of the top clubs. As a result, people have started just skipping out Underground altogether.
Photo credit: Tasya Menaker
Where is the club at now?
Ibiza is mutating at an unbelievable rate. The global financial crisis isn't helping. There is so much competition these days, with clubs pouring so much money into their campaigns, undercutting others, stealing their clientele. Everyone has Richie Hawtin, everyone has Luciano, who are all being paid hundreds of thousands of euros. It's a lot to go up against.
On the island, there used to be a known circuit: you'd move from a bar in Ibiza Town or San Antonio, and then to somewhere like Underground, and end up in a major club. It was an oval, but now we've got an octopus, with so many options spread out all over the island. And at the centre you've got the police, so once people plot down their areas they don't want to leave for fear of being stopped and harassed.
This year we're running Wednesday to Saturday. Traditionally, the club has always been open from Monday (never Sunday) but it's not really worth it at the moment. We might do the odd special party on Tuesday nights, but they will be infrequent. In terms of our programme, I can't say too much yet, but we're talking to some interesting artists. We want to do a party with a bit of nostalgic flavour, a look back at the origins of the island and some of those involved in the '90s. Plus we'll have Rhadoo & Friends back with us on Thursdays, that's confirmed. On Friday, Don Juanito and Kevin Cook will continue their in-house Underground night as resident DJs, and Wednesday and Saturday will be for guests.
Underground has always had a culture of unannounced sets from big DJs. Will that continue?
Sadly not. Times have changed. There was a period when Luciano would always be milling around, sat in the kitchen on top of the fridge, sharing a drink with staff, playing a few records every now and then. But to use him as an example, just look at his career today: he's a global superstar. It's hard for them to find the time. Nevertheless, Underground remains a club that a lot of DJs hold very close to their heart. People have a lot of love for us, so you never know who might turn up.
Finally, I'm curious as to why you're sat here with me today, given the club's aversion to promotion.
We want to inform people of what we're doing. Word-of-mouth isn't enough any more, we're having to adapt to the changes. Nevertheless, we will never sell ourselves to the Ibiza PR game—trust me, Juanito would rather shut the doors for good. The idea is to work closer with digital outlets, social media and to speak to select publications that champion quality journalism. People need to know, Underground has a lot to offer.
Used + Abused opening at Ushuaïa Beach Club
Renowned for his abilities within the context of intimate nightclubs, the open-air swank of Ushuaia was perhaps an unexpected choice for Loco Dice's new Used + Abused venture. That said, a loosening of the restrictions surrounding venue opening times has meant daytime partying is firmly back this summer, with Ushuaia the chief exponent. And as the sun beamed down on the busy early evening crowd, swaying in time to tINI's groovy warm-up, one could see why.
Desolat's first lady, as she's affectionately known, is slowly making her name for herself as one of the top tier DJs in the scene. Perfectly judging the early slot, she spun dynamic yet tempered beats to lubricate the crowd. Guti immediately took things up a notch, launching into a volley of heavy-set basslines and kicks, emanating from the system in crystal clarity. "Funkapella" from his new EP on Defected-offshoot DFTD lent his live set a housier swing, which worked well in the warm outdoors. As dusk descended, Dice took to the stage displaying his usual enthusiasm and energy. While one too many tracks lacked the personality of his predecessor's, he nevertheless brought a formidable opening party to a fist-pumping finale.
Amnesia opening at Amnesia
Photo credit: David Pareja - Amnesia Photo Team
Waking up, getting dressed and heading straight to a club takes some adjusting to. Thankfully, entering Amnesia to a tough-talking refix of Inner City's "Good Life," courtesy of Pan-Pot in the Main Room, the acclimatization process was painless. Moving between various shades of techno, from the accessible to the fiercely militant, the Berlin duo had the crowd reacting accordingly.
Over on the Terrace, Davide Squillace was readying himself the most important set of the night, leading the room's famed transition from dark to light. Sticking by his trademark punchy, swinging style, the Circo Loco man cultivated an electric energy on the floor, with both the space and aggressive system well suited to his feisty fare. Ending on a no-holds-barred piano number, it remained to be seen in which direction headliner Maceo Plex would head. In fact, Eric Estornel was more Maetrik (his other alias) than Maceo, opting for a linear, tech-heavy approach. At first, it proved too sharp a contrast to Squillace's groove, but as time wore on, he succeeded in finding his own course. Adopting an uncomplicated mixing style, Estornel set stripped-back rhythm tracks against frantic snares and driving basslines, before moving into more melodic waters to complement the sun's rise.
We Love... opening at Space
Sunday night marked the return of Space staple We Love... for its landmark 15th year. As ever, revellers were spoilt for choice across the club's labyrinthine complex, with the UK scene particularly well represented. Warming up in the Terrazza, Hot Since 82 lived up to the burgeoning hype around his name, using the timeless class of Visionquest's remix of Kiki's "Good Voodoo" to set the tone for the room. Meanwhile in the Discoteca, Paul Woolford and Midland were spinning back-to-back, laying down meaty slabs of techno, garnished with their shared funky aesthetic.
Joy Orbison and Ben UFO followed, opening with "Let Me Show You Love," a homage to the late Romanthony. The UK pair pushed proceedings in a housier direction, with Orbison especially keen to convey his love for the classic US sound. As the set progressed, however, UFO steadily steered it towards grittier, more contemporary UK fare, with Orbison responding with a rendition of crowd favourite "Swims." Before calling it a night, there was just time for the elegant sounds of Henrik Schwarz. Starting with his celebrated remix of Ane Brun's "Headphone Silence," the Innervisions man moved energetically through his pulsating back catalogue, much to the dance floor's delight.
Cocoon opening at Amnesia
Photo credit: David Pareja - Amnesia Photo Team
Summer 2013 could prove an interesting season for Cocoon. With Loco Dice following Hawtin and Carola in setting up his own party elsewhere, the likes of Adam Beyer, Chris Liebing and Luciano have been assigned significant roles in an attempt to restructure and maintain Cocoon's immense popularity. Ultimately, however, the burden lies more with Sven Väth and Ricardo Villalobos and whether they can retain the form that has been central to the enterprise for so long. Both headlined the jungle-themed opening on Monday night.
With a policy of two DJs and one live act per room, newcomer Julien Bracht was ripping through his fiery live set in the Terrace, accompanying bursts of low-slung, Prodigy-style breaks with live drums. After a tepid opening from Dorian Paic, it was what was needed. Villalobos, cutting his usual skeletal figure behind the decks, similarly came out all guns blazing, leading with a flurry of striking '90s house. C-Rock's "Funky Dope Trakk" and the imposing sounds of Johnny Vicious's "Believe in This" cultivated a charged atmosphere, only for Villalobos to veer off in slightly more minimal, and less well-received, directions. Patchy, however, is all part of the Villalobos charm, and while Väth weaved effortlessly between rolling techno and full-on rave, there looked to be more than enough life in the veterans yet.
Behind the scenes
Carried over from last year, this section will continue to look at some of the integral cogs in the White Isle machine.
For those that make the pilgrimage to DC-10 every summer, you might not know it, but Andy Kayll is the man partway responsible for all of those magical moments. As its sound technician, Kayll oversees all things audio-related at the iconic club. We caught up with Kayall in his flat on the DC-10 site to chart his journey from local live music in Liverpool to the height of clubbing in Ibiza.
Photo credit: Tasya Menaker
Tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been in the industry?
Er, wow. I've been in the industry a long time. 30-odd years. I'm a sound engineer, I don't play any instruments, I put sound systems together. I actually started out as an electrician but sound has always been my passion. I started working with rock and live music in Liverpool and somehow found my way to house and techno in Ibiza.
I heard a rumour that you toured with Bruce Springsteen.
Springsteen? That's a new one. Last I heard it was Pink Floyd. Sadly neither are true. The closest I've come is the Steel Wheels tour in 1996 with The Rolling Stones. That was a lot of fun.
What first brought you to Ibiza and DC-10?
That was also in 1996. I first came to the island with Cream, who I used to work for in Liverpool as tech manager. They sent me over to install what they called "moving lights" in Amnesia, which were a completely brand new piece of kit at the time. It was only when the guys from We Love..., or Home as it was then, brought me down to DC-10 around 2000 that I discovered the club. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen in my life. And I've been here ever since.
Tell us about the soundsystems in the Terrace and Main Room. Do you make a lot of changes year-on-year?
Year-on-year? More like week-on-week. We're always working on how to improve it. The Main Room has always been that dark space, while The Terrace, even though it's not open-air anymore, retains that lighter feel. The music played there is lighter, although the soundsystem is just as weighty. It's actually the newest sound system we've got, made by an Italian company called Loud Professional. To make room for that we moved the Void system out into the Garden this year, which works well because of its funkier aesthetic.
What exactly does your job entail?
On Mondays (and Wednesdays when Paradise is on) I head into the club around 3 PM and take the covers off, clean the speakers and test them out to make sure everything is working properly. From then on it's just making sure the DJs have got what they need.
What are the biggest challenges on duty?
Sometimes we get a new DJ come and play and they don't understand how the system works. We don't use compressors so it's just a case of them understanding that in order to get the best out of the room they don't have to turn everything up to the max. 3/4 is the absolute limit!
Are you a fan of the music?
I am, you couldn't do this job if you weren't.
Who are some of your favourite acts?
I really like what Art Department are doing at the moment. The Martinez Brothers are fantastic, they bring such an energy to the crowd, and best of all they just really enjoy what they do. And I love Kerri Chandler. Kerri came to us right out of the blue. The first time he played for us a couple of years back he was really nervous about it. And now you can't get him off the decks!
Most memorable moments?
Damian Lazarus and Ellen Allien have provided me with a lot of great times. The dance floor always seems to respond in a very particular way when they perform. Oh, and last year when Carl Cox played unannounced in the Terrace. Him and Andrea are great friends and he just came down one afternoon and said he wanted to play. You should've seen the reaction. My word.
Photo credit: Tasya Menaker