Our DJs use the word Balearic with abandon. So often in fact that it came as no surprise when a listener asked: Hola 1BTN, What, exactly, is ‘Balearic’?
Among our regular line up we have the Balearic Assassins Of Love collective and the Balearic Ultras; none are actually from the Balearic Islands. We’ve also got Andy Simms from Soft Rocks, Ty Through The Trees, the Civilization Of The Rough gang and Danny Webb’s World Wireless on the 1BTN roster. Each of these frequently play music that may, or may not be, Balearic. None of our wonderful DJs were born in Ibiza – and not on Mallorca, Minorca or Formentera either. Asking “Is It Balearic?” isn’t restricted to our listeners but also regularly discussed behind the scenes here. Is this Balearic? Is that? Who is? What is? ‘A wise man once mused “Defining Balearic is akin to pinning (lemon) jelly to a wall”’, wrote King Sunny Ade P in the sleeve notes to the Andres y Xavi album ‘Vibraciones y sentimientos’ last summer. Steve KIW, of Andres y Xavi and BAOL, will try to explain, albeit from a very personal perspective, the story of The Balearic Beat and maybe, just maybe, answer the question once and for all…
PART 1… C90S BY THE SEA …..
Back in 1994, in the last weeks of my teens, I went to Ibiza for the first time. I flew out with a bag, a boom box and a load of pre-recorded c90s: the first licensed Café Del Mar compilation, FFRR’s Balearic Beats Volume One, KLF’s Chill Out, Screamadelica, the wonderfully targeted cash-ins ‘Spiritually Ibiza’ and, yep, ‘Spiritually Ibiza 2’ plus a few Orb live bootlegs I’d picked up at Camden Market.I had an idea of what I was going to find but within a day or so it was obvious I knew very little. I didn’t realise but this trip proved to be the gateway to a lifetime love affair with Balearic Beats.
Café Del Mar’s resident DJ Jose Padilla included the Beatless mix of Sabres Of Paradise’s peerless Smokebelch and A Man Called Adam’s gorgeous Estelle on their record; FFRR’s had been put together by Pete Tong, Trevor Fung and Paul Oakenfold and was accompanied by sleeve notes from Boys Own fanzine’s Terry Farley. At the time, although I didn’t know it when the songs came on, Farley and Oakenfold were remixing countless indie dance acts and covering and – let’s be polite – taking influences, from songs they’d heard in Ibiza: Electra’s cover of Elkin and Nelson’s Jibaro, Bocca Juniors’ Raise, which relied heavily on the piano riff from Thrashing Doves’ Jesus On The Payroll, and the Andy Weatherall (RIP) remix of Saint Etienne’s cover of Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart all got plenty of plays in the summer of 94 despite already being a few years old by this point. These cassettes and a few others I’d made from my slowly expanding record collection were to soundtrack my fortnight. I spent nights at Amnesia, Pacha, Play2, Ku, Es Paradis and Kaaos but spent evenings going to an abandoned lighthouse and watching the sunset alone, with just my boom box and a couple of those cassettes for company.
On the last night of the trip I caught the ferry across San Antonio Bay and walked along the rocks to the Café Del Mar. Despite having played their compilation repeatedly it simply hadn’t occurred to me that there were DJs playing music – I had assumed the compilation was a collection of music played there by the bar staff during the day.
On each of those nights on the lighthouse I had been, in a very basic fashion, playing my tapes to accompany the sunset, just as Phil Mison and Padilla had been playing their records across the bay. That evening I bought what I could from them and returned home with a handful more cassettes full of music for me to track down for myself.
I’d spent a lot of nights in the year or two before going to (London alternative techno night) Club Dog and had been buying almost anything on Warp and Rising High Records and by The Orb and the family of acts associated with them and so had already begun to amass a collection of weird and wonderful music but these tapes opened another door. Names that were completely unfamiliar such as the Penguin Café Orchestra (despite their inclusion on the afore mentioned Café Del Mar compilation) and Dancing Fantasy were added to the wants list. It wasn’t all obscure, fortunately; I already had records by Deep Forest and Pink Floyd so I wasn’t starting from scratch!
Others may disagree but Balearic wasn’t a dirty word at this point; nor was it particularly overused, abused or a question for the confused. It was simply music associated with a particular place: partly rooted in physical geography but also very much a feeling. Little did I know that, despite Balearic Beats Volume One being six years old by this point and the clubs mentioned in Farley’s sleeve notes – Shoom and Future – being long gone, I had missed the first wave of Balearic Beats entirely: those who were there reckon the original Balearic scene had ended as early as spring 1991. Weatherall had been kicked off the decks at Es Paradis in 1990 for being ‘too heavy’ and A Short Film About Chilling, which originally aired on Channel Four, also in 1990, featuring a lot of the key players of the time, had already passed into cult history. The last edition of Boys Own, complete with ‘instructions’ on how to start your own Balearic Network was published as late as spring 1992.
But as for an ‘original Balearic scene’? Well, there is a history beneath the surface. Brits may have coined the term ‘Balearic Beats’ but the style goes back way before the second summer of love. In 1994 Amnesia still had an outdoors terrace but a few years before the whole club was in the open-air and the DJs were residents, not superstar guests. Throughout the 80s DJs Alfredo, Cesar and Leo Mas had cultivated a style that a bunch of holidaying Brits brought back to the UK, and so I want to tell the story of the Balearic Beat, at least as I see it, before it’s too late to write it down!
Part two… a classic, remixed.
My story begun in 1994, when I began looking for the real history of the Balearic Beat. It had begun several years before my first trip to the island; in fact, depending on where you want to start you could go back to the early 70s quite easily but, for now, here is a short version of a story that has been told time and time again by those who were there and by a whole load of others who pretend they were. Legend, egos, memories and revisionism have all played a part in countless retellings but the key facts are broadly agreed on: Four London DJs, namely Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling, Johnnie Walker and Nicky Holloway, visited Ibiza for a holiday in the summer of 1987. Whilst there they heard DJ Alfredo Fiorito playing at Amnesia (which, at the time, was open air) and partied with a cosmopolitan crowd – millionaires and bus drivers; young and old; the beautiful and the damned; they danced among the fashionistas and poseurs and rubbed shoulders with the Converse and dungaree wearing saucer-eyed dancers; as night gave way to morning gays, straights and boys and girls who identified at any and every point in-between who came to Ibiza from every corner of the globe shared the same magical musical experience and could not get enough of it.
The DJs at other clubs they visited,either earlier in the night like Pacha with DJ Cesar [de Melero], or those that opened once Amensia had closed for the night, such as Glorys with resident DJ Nelo Dominguez, and Manhattans, played similarly diverse sets. These clubs were smaller and, often as after-hours venues, the vibe was sometimes heavier, soundtracked by early house and new beat.
The stories of these DJs have been captured for posterity in the excellent ‘Ibiza DJs 1976-1988: A Series Of Interviews by Robert Harris’ Alfredo, Pippi, Cesar de Melero, Joan Ribas, Leo Mas and others describe Ibiza before the Brits arrived. Each of the interviews gives a unique take on how the Balearic ‘scene’ developed before there was any concept of such a thing. Ibiza’s bohemian and cosmopolitan past combined with the music played in the bars of the Old Town, with flamboyance, drugs, relaxed laws, the sunshine, the record shops, the internationalists… a wonderful alchemy.
When the four holidaying Brits returned to London, they attempted to recreate the sounds they’d heard at their own nights. The first of these, Oakenfold’s The Funhouse didn’t really take off but after a second visit to Ibiza he launched The Project Club, which attracted an open-minded crowd. London’s club scene at this point was heavily dominated by rare groove and hip-hop. The nascent Balearic Beat nights, frequented by Ecstacy fuelled, baggy clothed kids dancing away with abandon was the polar opposite of what else was going down; it was a breath of fresh air for many.
Oakenfold’s Spectrum, Rampling’s Shoom, and Nicky Holloway’s Trip (later to be called Sin) all soon followed. ‘First Lady of Balearic’ Nancy Noise was resident at Land Of Oz, at London’s Heaven, alongside Oakenfold, and also at The Future, where the residents included Farley and Colin Hudd.
Nancy’s story deserves to be told alongside that of the other four. In an interview with Ross Allen in 2018, Nancy described her first visit to Ibiza, in 1986, and it captures the true spirit of the island: “I went with some friends and we were staying in San Antonio; one night [at] Café Del Mar and there we met Trevor Fung’s brother [and] we went to Amnesia for the first time. There were a lot of colourful characters there; it was open air and there was a lovely vibe. At the end, the Pink Panther Theme came on and I was looking round at all the people dancing; it was just ‘wow’. After that I knew I’d be going back as much as I could.”
“We used to hitch [to Amnesia] or I’d get a lift on a bike so we’d get there early so we could get in free. Leo [Mas] used to play first, then Alfredo. There was a swing over the dance floor, a lovely little room with cushions; a bit of a playground really. There were other people who’d arrive early and we’d just watch it getting busier and busier and then the dancefloor was erupting. They’d play [Farley Jackmaster Funk’s] Love Can’t Turn Around, David Bowie’s Underground, Liaisons Dangereuses’ Los Niños Del Parque, [Art of Noise’s’] Paranomia, Jeffrey Osborne’s Soweto, [William Pitt’s] City Lights, Hongkong Syndikat [Too much], The Cure, It’s Immaterial, Dizzi Heights: a real mixture of pop stuff and records I’d never heard before. When I got back to England these were the records I started looking for and buying.”
As Nancy explained, the UK was ready for change: “Some of the clubs in the UK played similar stuff but the way they mixed the genres at Amnesia was different to anything I’d experienced before because, in London, the clubs were playing jazz funk and rare groove: Soul II Soul used to play [Fun Boy Three’s] Faith Hope and Charity at the Africa Centre, Dave Dorrell used to play Why by Carly Simon at Raw. Amnesia just played music we hadn’t heard before, stuff from different countries; Latin, chill out, flamenco…”
The link to what was going on in London at the time is integral to the story.The short lived phenomenon of go-go had recently given way to rare groove and hip hop and London’s clubs, airwaves and record shops were dominated by a mix of older funk and soul tracks and newer records that sampled them repeatedly. Raid, which was a rare groove and hip hop night changed with the times in 87 and other nights that became part of the Balearic and Acid House story had their roots on more soulful ground. Kenneth Bager, then the resident DJ at Denmark’s Coma Club and now owner of seminal Balearic label Music For Dreams, was quoted by Soul Underground magazine describing the changing sound of London at the time: “It’s really sad [that] for five years everyone in Europe has been trying to catch up with what’s been played in London… now with this Balearic Beat thing you’re two years behind us”. Whatever point Kenneth was trying to make about London in the summer of 1988 seems inconsequential now.Things were about to get a lot bigger…
In the next instalment of Steve KIW’s story of the Balearic Beat the establishment takes fright, a lot of blissed out ravers jump in coaches and record collections begin to look a lot more cosmopolitan…
Balearic Beats Volume One, compiled by Pete ‘Razor’ Tong, Paul Oakenfold and Trevor Fung; released 1988 on FFRR Records
Café Del Mar Volume One, compiled by Jose Padilla; released 1994 on React Records.
Main pic: Ku, Ibiza