Ibiza ’98 – Separating the Balearic from the bollocks… [August 1998]

Ibiza Uncovered, broadcast on Sky TV in the U.K. in 1997 (and still available in all its technicolor hedonism on YouTube) arguably marked the phasing out of one phase in the Balearic island’s clubbing heritage – that of Ku, open air dancing and a lingering hippy mindset – and introduced the era of the superclubs.

One year on from that, The Independent newspaper in London sent journalist Louise Gray along to get her thoughts on an Ibiza beginning to embrace wanton capitalism and extortionate entrance (and drink) prices. [Note: Not that this put this author off from visiting the island nine times in the following decade 🙂 ]

As Ministry of Sound promoter Danny Whittle puts it at one point: “This is our third summer in Ibiza and it’s gone insane. We’ve had to raise our prices tonight from pounds 28 to pounds 32 to cut demand. I know it sounds greedy, but we’re victims of our own success. We’re just controlling it.”

Try to get into a club in Ibiza these days for £32 (€36) and you would be doing very very well…

Some snippets from the article can be found below.

The island of a thousand dances A decade ago on Ibiza, a whole new sort of music was born. How strong is the Balearic beat today?
Louise Gray, The Independent; 23 Aug 1998

Since the advent of the package holiday, Ibiza has been marketed ferociously as a holiday resort and resorts are, by definition, places of discontinuous stays. And since 1988, clubbers have been coming to Ibiza in their droves for the summer season. Ten years ago, “on one!” “sorted!” “pukka stuff!” were the catchphrases. But anyone who’s anyone is “largein’ it” and “havin’ it” while “battered” – or even “twatted” on “elephants” today.

[…]

The extent to which the island has taken commercial initiative has surprised many old hands. New clubs are being built, while the existing ones renew their sound systems, restaurants, outdoor terraces, in bids to outdo their rivals. Roadworks improve and widen the existing communication lines.

Tracts of the island resemble building sites and, wherever you drive, you’ll see large real-estate signs sticking out of fields and hillsides. Even the sunset strip of San Antonio – a length of coastline where people gather to watch the rays of the setting sun – is not exempt.

Ten years ago, the strip was occupied solely by the Cafe del Mar, a small, laid- back bar whose DJ, Jose Padilla, was famous for serving tunes out of a relaxed ambience. Padilla’s bar has now been joined by Cafe Mambo, Savannah and El Divino’s Sunset Bar: the four jostle uncomfortably for room and airspace as rival DJs blast their tunes towards the western horizon, and drug-dealers are silhouetted in the fading light.

As a measure of how club culture has commodified, there’s no better example than the Ministry of Sound. Opened in September 1991 by James Palumbo, Old Etonian, City broker and son of Lord Palumbo, in a disused warehouse off one of London’s less-than-select spots at the Elephant and Castle, the Ministry was Britain’s first superclub. Modelled on New York’s legendary Paradise Garage, the Ministry – quickly renamed “the Misery” by wags – combined state-of-the art sound systems with huge spaces, top DJ line-ups and opening hours which stretch towards dawn.

[…]

The Ministry’s punters crowd into Pacha as if their lives depended on it, their ages ranging from extreme youth upwards. And the Ministry’s genial promoter, Danny Whittle, a former naval weapons technician from Stoke-on-Trent who served on HMS Hermes during the Falklands War, isn’t surprised.

“This is our third summer in Ibiza and it’s gone insane,” he says. “We’ve had to raise our prices tonight from pounds 28 to pounds 32 to cut demand. I know it sounds greedy, but we’re victims of our own success. We’re just controlling it.”

[…]

But if clubs are to work well even as promotional vehicles, they must be seen to succeed. Manumission is one club which literally rises to the occasion, by staging live sex shows at its climax.

Manumission originated as a series of gay one-off parties in Manchester, before its organisers – brothers Mike and Andy, and their respective partners, Claire and Dawn – fled the city’s gangland violence to reinvent themselves as an anything- goes club in Ibiza , with the emphasis on carnival excess. Manumission is held in the palatial space of Privilege; 10,000 punters weekly make it the biggest club on the island.

Taking Ibiza ‘s tendency towards ostentatious behaviour to new limits, parades of fire-eaters, strippers, drag queens, dwarves and fake Elvises make Manumission seem like a Fellini out-take. Mike and Claire, the live-sex perpetrators, are reportedly stung by press stories that their night is depraved. “Doing our sex thing in front of thousands empowers us,” Claire told one publication recently. The hordes of awkward young men clutching their groins as they gather around Manumission’s central stage presumably have few problems with Mike and Claire’s libertine pursuits, but it’s a long way from the spirit of ’88.

[Article snippets copyright The Independent; 23 Aug 1998]

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