DAVE SWINDELLS – Spirit of Ibiza ’89 book launch
‘Ecstasy Island’: Dave Swindells' photos show Ibiza at the time when its music and drug of choice inspired Britain’s biggest cultural phenomenon since punk.
DJs: Reverso 68 – Pete Herbert & Phil Mison
Paris' Acid Ball feat. Hannah Holland, Dan Beaumont & DJ Sqeaky
RED GALLERY, 1-3 Rivington St, London N16 7TN –
‘Spirit of Ibiza ’89’ documents Ibiza in the summer of 1989, when Ku and Amnesia were still open-air parties, when Pacha was less than half the size it is now, and when a new wave of British clubbers and club ‘workers’ joined the locals going to Café del Mar in San Antonio to watch the sun setting into the sea.
Spirit of Ibiza ’89 is a homage to this special time in the development of Ibiza, and to the impact and influence that Ibiza had in the UK, where the combination of ‘Balearic Beats’, acid house and ecstasy helped to inspire a huge cultural shift during the so-called ‘summers of love’ of 1988 and 1989.
It also shows that in 1989 Ibiza was still very different to London. The clubs were far bigger and more extravagant than London venues yet still retained a Spanish core, before the hordes of British, German and Italian clubbers invaded the island. It was also long before programmes like Ibiza Uncovered or Balearic Babes, long before Radio 1 began broadcasting from the Café del Mar, long before Ryanair and Easyjet made flying as cheap as chips and the internet made everything everywhere the same, accessible to everyone at the same moment..
"Ibizencans, the natives of Ibiza, arrive on the White Isle in the way that we all reach our birthplaces, thanks to our mothers. Everybody else must take a longer journey to get there.
That journey may be by boat, as Phoenician traders and Barbary Coast pirates had reached the island, and the mode of transport still favoured by Russian oligarchs and the super-rich whose huge yachts loom over the port of Ibiza Town each summer, like conceited contestants in a beauty parade. But usually the journey is by plane, roaring in over Playa d'en Bossa's sandy beaches and the superclub Space, before coming in to land after almost decapitating the dancers at the wonderfully-named nightclub, DC10.
It was in 2002 when Ibizan club-goers began to get over-excited at DC10. It boasted cutting-edge DJs and events like Circo Loco which really lived up to its crazy name, and it also had a terrace dance floor with no neighbours to worry about. It felt like it couldn't have been closer to the airport runway unless it was squashed beneath a plane tyre, and consequently there were no sound restrictions to worry about either.
For veterans of the island's nightlife, DC10's combination of rampant, cosmopolitan hedonism and the chance to dance under open skies brought to mind the less corporate, more carefree spirit of Ibiza in the late '80s, before the superclubs were obliged to build roofs over their dance floors – back in 1989, Amnesia had nothing more substantial than a parachute to shield revellers from midnight storms or the early-morning sunshine.
After the summer season ended in 1989 the island's biggest clubs, Ku (now Privilege) and Amnesia, had been ordered to build roofs over their dance floors so that their long-suffering neighbours could actually sleep in peace.
It was a dramatic shift, and there have since been many more, as after-hours events, hosting impromptu full-moon parties, the superclubs' infamously fabulous parades through Ibiza Town and handing out extravagant club flyers have each been successively banned. This reminds me of a statement I read by Ricardo Urgell, the man who started Pacha Ibiza back in 1973: 'Under Franco we had no freedom but we did everything. Now we have freedom but we can do nothing…'
Yet despite all of these changes, the nightlife of Ibiza has survived, adapted, and thrived. Ku was already the world's biggest club in 1989, when 7,000 people could squeeze on to its myriad dance floors. By comparison, most London events at the time were designed to appeal to a few hundred revellers. The Ministry of Sound and Fabric, which each hold about 1500 people, had barely been dreamed about, while the biggest venue in London (the Brixton Academy) could accommodate 4,500, but it operated as a party space no more than six times each year.
Since 1989 Ku has changed its name to Privilege and become even bigger, bolder and brasher (who didn't hear about Manumission?), while every other major venue has grown dramatically and many new clubs have opened in parts of the island previously only known for their tranquility. Even so, Ibiza has always had a special appeal over and above the lure of its nightlife and the pleasures common to Mediterranean resorts, but I was hardly aware of its particular magic.
What I knew about Ibiza as 1988 began would have barely filled a postcard, although my brother Steve had eulogised about the island, its gay scene and easygoing, post-hippie atmosphere after holidaying there in the early '80s. That began to change in the spring of that year when Paul Oakenfold phoned me at Time Out magazine, where I was the Nightlife Editor, to tell me that he'd seen the future of nightlife in Ibiza, and he wanted to bring it to London.
This was a revelation. Like most London DJs Paul had consistently looked across the Atlantic for inspiration, not across the channel (he had signed DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and Salt-N-Pepa while working as an A&R at Champion Records). At the time, the continent of Europe had nothing to teach us musically, because we learnt all our lessons and took our inspiration from cities like New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. Paul told me the story which has since become familiar, of how he and his friends had been encouraged to visit the White Isle not just for the Mediterranean holiday mischief, but because DJs like Alfredo at Amnesia and Piti at Pacha were playing diverse musical styles which didn't even get played in the same venues in London, let alone in the same set.
Their eclectic 'Balearic' approach to music, embracing African and Latin beats alongside indie and rock, mixing deep Chicago house alongside Belgian New Beats, go-go funk or soulful dub next to Europop, was radically brave, and Oakenfold was properly smitten: this was much more than a holiday romance. Ecstasy was instrumental in liberating people's minds and opening their hearts to new experiences, but what really excited Oakenfold and other English DJs was the musical selection he'd heard. It was soon to be dubbed Balearic Beats, and the DJs like Oakenfold and Trevor Fung were not alone, hundreds more other Brits he'd partied with had loved it too.
His proselytising passion convinced me to visit his new night, which he'd prophetically called Future. I was taken aback when I walked in to The Soundshaft, a dark and dingy two-floor dungeon of a club behind Charing Cross station (next to London's biggest gay venue, Heaven, where Oakenfold and Ian St Paul were soon to launch Spectrum on a Monday night). It wasn't so much the music that surprised me – why shouldn't DJs play alt.rock alongside house? – as the fact that the club was already packed and frantically busy by 10pm. Everyone was dressed 'down', wearing baggy, brightly-coloured clothes or even sporting dungarees (dungarees!). Stranger still, they were dancing with their arms, rather than their using their legs and feet! It felt like I'd walked into a convention of demented window cleaners and robotic shelf stackers – which probably wasn't so far from the truth.
Most of the crowd had also been in Ibiza the previous summer, and Oakenfold, like Danny and Jenny Rampling at Shoom, started their new nights because there was nowhere else which played the tunes these club kids wanted to hear. I wrote about The Future in Time Out and so was asked to photograph these club kids, and the way they dressed and danced, for the June 1988 issue of i-D magazine. The story was called The Amnesiacs, not because they took too many pills and forgot everything, but because we could not think of a better title. That name didn't stick, but the sound of Ibiza's Balearic beats, linked in a symbiotic embrace with ecstasy – and about to be subsumed and incorporated into the tidal wave of acid house and rave culture – was rapidly gaining new converts.
Soon afterwards I visited Danny Rampling's Shoom night and realised that this music was going to have a massive impact. It was held in a tiny Fitness Centre in the run-down area of Southwark, decorated in banners emblazoned with the word 'HAPPY' and pictures of pills, and the air was filled with the euphoria of an evangelist conversion combined with the intense abandon of an ecstasy-fuelled rave. Actually, the air was usually filled with dry ice and strobe lights so that it was hard to see anything at all, but when the haze cleared I could see plenty of familiar club 'faces' there, dripping with sweat like everybody else.
Most of the crowd didn't look or dress like regular clubbers, though, so it was apparent that this musical and pharmacological mix had the potential to appeal to a whole new audience. It was clear too, judging by the number of club promoters who were still there as the fluorescent lights were turned on around 6am, that there would soon be many new nights opening which were only indirectly inspired by Ibiza. The revolution had begun.
As Gil Scott-Heron (RIP) had predicted though, this revolution was not to be televised, at least not while it was still happening in underground dives and illegal warehouses. Inviting TV camera crews in to witness the Fitness Centre would have been like writing a suicide note, as there were too many drugs being openly taken…
It wasn't until I got to Ibiza the following summer that I realised how peculiar it was that a scene that was inspired and conceived on open-air dance floors on balmy Mediterranean nights, with bougainvillea blooms growing around the cushioned chill-out areas, had mutated into dark, smoke-filled, strobe-lit, sweat-dripping caverns when it came to London, a very different kind of sensory immersion.
Nonetheless, Balearic Beats and more egalitarian Ibizan-inspired club wear at The Future, Shoom, Spectrum, the Trip, Hug Club and so many other parties) had transformed London club culture in 1988 – and made a big difference at clubs like The Haçienda in Manchester and The Garage in Nottingham too. The story was featured in magazines across Europe, In Spain Ajoblanco reported on the social changes that occurred as a result of so many new converts to dance culture. Their article was headlined: 'Los hooligans, domesticados por el acid house' (The hooligans are tamed by acid house)…
So in June 1989 the writer Alix Sharkey and I were sent by 20: 20 Magazine to Ibiza to investigate the source of this mayhem. Our mission, which we accepted gladly, was to visit the famous open-air venues, experience the sunset sessions outside the Café del Mar in San Antonio, find out whether MDMA powder really was stirred into superclub cocktails, explore the island, and report back.
Between us we knew the British DJs and club promoters as well as people like Boy George, who'd been invited to celebrate his birthday by hosting the opening party of the season at Amnesia. Having such connections made it a lot easier to be invited in to the clubs, and allowed to take pictures there.
From being a destination that had principally attracted hippies, gays, the Eurotrash demi-monde and occasional pop stars, Ibiza had developed into the most famous party island on the planet, and was starting to attract far more British club tourists.
But in 1989 Ibiza was still very different to London. This was long before programmes like Ibiza Uncovered or Balearic Babes, long before Radio 1 began broadcasting from the Café del Mar, long before Ryanair and Easyjet made flying as cheap as chips and the internet made everything everywhere the same, accessible to everyone at the same moment.
Look at the photos. Nobody is texting or tweeting, videoing their mates or claiming to be 'in a meeting'. Mobile phones were the still the size of bricks and were not seen around clubs until the rave scene developed later that summer. So there was really nothing else to do except live in the moment and enjoy the parties – or sit back and watch other people having fun.
What we saw when we watched was a cosmopolitan parade that was also distinctly Spanish; we were impressed that whole families partied together at Pacha, even the grandmothers were there!
In London there weren't any clubs as grandiose and airily spacious as Es Paradis; nothing as spectacular and enormous as Ku or as unashamedly hierarchical as the terraces of bookable tables at Pacha. The nightclubs we were familiar with couldn't possibly be both musically pioneering and yet encourage such privilege, with the wealthy buying the best tables overlooking the dance floor.
On Ibiza, the British often looked like poor relations in comparison to their sartorially-sophisticated cosmopolitan counterparts; badly-dressed and culturally gauche. But these Brits were so full of enthusiasm, energy, euphoria (and other words beginning with an E) that club promoters wanted them on the dance floor any way. The early adopters who first loved the combination of Balearic Beats, ecstasy and 'chilling out' as the sun set were also people who frequently had no money left to pay for it. Those dungarees and Converse baseball boots which they wore were less of a fashion choice than a necessity. They went to the island for a two-week holiday, missed the flight home and then stayed on for as long as they possibly could, stretching their pesetas because they weren't quite ready to go back to reality…
It wasn't money or the desire to dress up which motivated so many of these British clubbers. It was love of the music, the lifestyle, their new-found friends and the spirit of Ibiza, which was why the Second Summer of Love in London and Ibiza in 1989 will always live long in the memory.
Dave has photographed the nightlife scene in London and beyond since 1984, as well as writing about it extensively as Nightlife Editor at Time Out from 1986-2009. I have documented countless different scenes (well, OK, that's an exaggeration, but put it this way, I'm still counting) and his photographs have been featured ini-D, The Face, The Observer, Mixmag and many other publications worldwide as well as Time Out.