Steve KIW rounds up his personal take on the development of the balearic sound.
Part four: New waves, new wavs, new ways, new raves.
Despite house and hip-hop being relatively new at the beginning of the decade the mainstream in the 90s was a musically and culturally sterile place. Anything particularly musical was given an awful prefix, usually ‘intelligent’ or ‘progressive’, and the dance music press championed the banal. Although some of the big names of the early Balearic scene could still be heard playing in Ibiza, their music catered to a different audience. For some, the legacy of those early trips to Ibiza is the past 30 years of club culture across the world. So-called superclubs, EDM, David Guetta, trance, sync buttons – all the dirty words associated with dance music can be traced back to the earliest days of Balearic as easily as Mancuso’s Loft or Levan at the Paradise Garage.
Café Del Mar continued to churn out compilations that cashed in on its past, Amnesia had to put on a roof, Ku became Privilege and allowed the tv cameras in to film sex acts on stage, quiet beaches pounded to a four-to-the-floor kick drum for days. People looking for the magic that attracted the hippies to Ibiza in the 70s and the internationalist vibe that gave DJs the freedom to experiment in the 80s were simply too late. Ibiza club owners like the smell of money and within ten years the magic of 1987 had been packaged and sold, the original Balearic legacy soiled. But all was not lost.
Right back in the earliest days of acid house as the main space “got right on one matey” there were chill out rooms. Paul Oakenfold invited Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty to play the ambient room at his Land Of Oz nights and they, and others such as Mixmaster Morris, were blending ambient and early electronic music with sound effects and creating a truly alternative space for those that wanted to drop out.
Paterson and Cauty, through their early work as The Orb and Cauty’s work with Bill Drummond as The KLF took chill out across the world. Ambient, for a time, was ‘the next big thing’: Morris, The Aphex Twin, Global Communications and the many artists, such as The Black Dog, who featured on Warp’s series of Artificial Intelligence albums, brought experimental electronica to the attention of many, such as the New Musical Express, who’d otherwise have considered albums on new-age labels such as Wyndham Hill to be for hippies and, as such, to be avoided at all costs.
Across the country the free party scene responded to increasingly hostile policing of legal events and a government seemingly intent on shutting down parties for good by organising larger and larger events across the UK. Spiral Tribe held a rave on New Years Eve 1991 at the then-empty Roundhouse in London’s Camden Town – it lasted for a week. The free party sound characterised by Spiral Tribe, DIY and others got faster and more experimental. Around this time I used to go to Club Dog, held in London’s George Robey pub. Club Dog featured a mix of DJs and live acts, blending ambient, techno and, over time, increasingly faster beats. It was dirty, grimy, and a throwback to how I imagined the tail end of the 60s to be: oil projectors and rugs, hippies and plastic glasses. As a counter to the increasingly fluffy and faux-glam mainstream clubs of the time it was an eye-opening experience. As the beats got faster there was a subtle parting of the ways: The downtempo sounds hit the top of the pop charts when The Orb went straight in at number one with their album U.F.Orb and experimental breakbeat took on a life, and story, of its own which has been written a thousand times and can be experienced at The Design Museum’s awkwardly titled exhibition From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers.
At the same time as the teenage me was sweating it out at Club Dog a new event, The Big Chill, hosted by Pete Lawrence and Katrina Larkin, began with gatherings at the Union Chapel in Islington and a couple of miles across London, Chris Coco was hosting Balearica, with guest DJs curated from those who had played at Land Of Oz and who’d go on to play at The Big Chill as it grew.
From 1994 through to their sale in 2007, The Big Chill booked DJs for their festivals who defied traditional categorisation. Electronic pioneers, all-night ambient sets and inspired guest tent hosts, such as Bent, Tom Middleton and Lemon Jelly contributed to a fertile scene. It pulled together the acts who’d come up through the free parties and sound system culture and brought them together with pioneering electronic acts from earlier eras whilst shining a light on progressions in downtempo music. By the early 2000s The Big Chill was an essential festival for anyone with a passing interest in ambient, folk, electronic or jazz music and many of the second wave of Balearic DJs learned a lot of tricks and track titles in the Dorset and Eastnor fields that The Big Chill then called home.
The dawn of the internet enabled like-minded souls to come together: BAOL met on a music chat forum online and properly bonded over 5am hot brandies in The Big Chill café. Across the UK acid house veterans, disillusioned with mainstream club culture but still very much in love with music and seemingly addicted to records, found each other online in a raft of music-oriented chat forums. They shared mixes and track IDs and traded knowledge and opinions. DJ History, founded by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton was a wiki of Balearic (among many, many other things!) Many of the contributors had already made, or went on to make, a significant contribution to unearthing, identifying, editing, re-editing, issuing and re-issuing the records that get played now by DJs across the world. Mixes shared on the site became highly sought after – Balearic Mike has recently uploaded the Cosmic Alphonsus series to his Mixcloud page and, even now, they delight and surprise; with set lists too for anyone who wants to track down the records.
Back in the 90s DJs such as Leo Zero, Kelvin Andrews, James Holroyd and Jason Boardman and artists such as Crispin J Glover, Steve Cobby, the Idjut Boys, Laj and Quakerman, Ray Mang, Faze Action and A Man Called Adam were playing and making interesting and exciting house music on labels such as Other, Nuphonic and Paper Recordings. Subsequently, Soft Rocks (aka Andy Simms, Bobby Coulman, Christopher Galloway and Piers Harrison) put out their first edits back in 2003 on their own Soft Rocks Recordings; resident DJs at Nottingham’s seminal club Venus, Timm Sure and Ampo, began their is It Balearic? label in 2006 and London musician Paul ‘Mudd’ Murphy launched Claremont 56 in 2008. The emergence of artists such as Timm and Ampo’s Coyote, Quiet Village and A Mountain Of One and labels such as Eskimo Recordings (from Belgium), Tirk, Moxie and Moton Records Inc supported a renewed interest in new Balearic music.
In a parallel musical environment, the internet had enabled other wannabe editors to share their cut and paste jobs for free, kickstarting an edit scene that shone a light on disco, pop and boogie that coincided with the re-emergence of (the widely derided term) nu-disco and its Scandinavian brothers in the Norwegian disco scene. Most of these edits were poor quality and roughly put together but there were a handful that cut through the crap. I could (but won’t) write another essay on the edit scene. Greg Wilson: I lay the blame for this at your door! Balearic beats were seen as fair game to anyone with a digital scalpel and, for all the rough work, did shine a light on a number of otherwise forgotten records.
DJ History’s Lowlife parties were soundtracked by DJs whose attitudes and record collections were, at least in part, rooted in Balearic and Acid House; the Boys Own offshoot Faith did much the same, albeit with a heavier lean towards house music; elsewhere, The Unabombers and their Electric Chair parties raised the bar for bringing together music from across musical boundaries. Of course, great music is great music, no matter where it comes from and these collectives excelled at shining a light on the very best. Balearic parties sprung up across the UK and further afield: London’s We Are The Sunset and Eastern Front, Brighton’s Balearic Jukebox and Kinfolk, Leeds’ Balearic Social, Birmingham’s The Great Outdoors and Rotation, Seekmagic in Newcastle; our BAOL parties began in London and decamped to the Sussex Coast; Phil Mison, Nancy Noise and others can be found playing across the country; each summer dozens of UK DJs head over to Croatia for Love International and Italy for La Casella; in Japan Max Essa, Ken Hidaka, Samuel Bruce, Matt Best and Dr Rob can be found playing at the Tunnel, Lone Star or Contact; in New York, following the legendary Mangiami parties hosted by Jason Kincade, there have been long hot summers of Balearic vibes at Steve Shakewell’s Air A Danser (we’re back to the Penguin Café again!) and, of course, closer to home, there is Manchester… home to wonderfully diverse nights that may or may not be Balearic but certainly have the spirit: LuvDup, the Bugged Out parties, El Diablo’s Social Club, Devils Jukebox, Eighty Six and, of course, the daddy of them all: Aficionado.
Manchester’s Aficionado club night, inspired by a Jason Boardman visit to Ibiza, begun in 1998. Jason had been resident DJ at Manchester’s legendary Hacienda and Leeds’ Hard Times and Yellow where he moved away from four-to-the-floor and adopted the freestyle approach he’d been exposed to on the white isle. ‘Nado celebrated its 20th birthday in the summer of 2018: the crowd that danced through to the following morning came together from the UK and beyond, cheering tunes from Talking Drums, The Chaplin Band, Karen Young, Talk Talk, America, Dennis Parker and, of course, Wham! The records in the main room that night were played by ‘Nado residents Boardman (who also recorded for Paper Recordings in the 90s) and Moonboots, James Holroyd (aka Begin) and, doyen of the Norwegian disco scene, Todd Terje. The dots joined. The anything goes policy, the ‘last tune of the night, all night’ vibe. Vibes and feelings… a perfect reflection on what Balearic truly means.
Nowadays, the Balearic Beat can be found anywhere: there are labels, parties, musicians and localised scenes across the world. There are brilliant blogs, sites full of mixes new and old and, of course, opinions everywhere. DJs, each with their unique interpretation of the Balearic Beat, can now be found in pretty much every major city in the world, yet many have never set foot anywhere near Ibiza where, it’s fair to say, things have changed.
The Sunset Strip lost its magic years ago and although the original Café Del Mar retains its aesthetic charm (inside at least) the atmosphere there has been severely diluted; hundreds of kids swamp the strip every night to take selfies and drop bottles on the rocks and the Café, having failed in its attempts to keep the sunset moment special, is now drowned out by lowest common denominator beats from both sides and their view is dominated by hired boats pumping out a similar soundtrack in front. Faced with this three-way assault it’s little wonder that the Café seemingly gave up trying. The terrace at Amnesia has been covered for some 20 years and the DJs and any hint of a musical policy is long lost; across the road, Ku became Privilege in 1995 and 10,000 punters a night unwittingly became part of the Ibiza Uncovered generation. It’s a depressing list and far longer than I want to write. Graffiti overlooking Ibiza Town harbour used to demand “Go home Ibiza Disco Mafia” but, even with the many changes, the lure of the island remains as strong as ever. Despite the widespread commercialisation and dumbing down, the Balearic Beat can still be found. You just need to look for it; or know who to ask!
Pikes, famous for its starring role in Wham!’s Club Tropicana video, hosts a wonderful line up of Balearic DJs every Sunday and, for the past couple of years, the Monday night resident has been DJ Harvey, who really ought to have more prominence in this story than I’ve given him: from the days of The Gardening Club in London’s Covent Garden, his residency at the Ministry of Sound, his self-exile to the US, championing of edits on his Black Cock label and his Mercury Rising nights Harvey has always been the embodiment of the Balearic spirit. Hostel La Torre, under the guidance of Pete Gooding, is a wonderful place to watch the sunset and regular guests include Phat Phil Cooper and International Feel’s Mark Barrott; Salinas Beach, with Jon Sa Trinxa at the helm since 1994 is still perfect for people watching and tune spotting; Jockey Club, often with Kenneth Bager, can be interesting and not far from there you can often find Bobby Beige; back up on the southern edge of San Antonio the Ibiza Sonica crew bring in guests to play in the beautiful surroundings of Kumharas. The sounds you’ll hear at these venues today may not always be as eclectic as the “contents of Alfredo’s bag in 1986-1988” but they perfectly encapsulate the sound of the Balearic Beat in 2020.
DJ Harvey playing his Mercury Rising party in Freddie’s Room, Pikes.
The tune is a seminal Balearic record – City Lights by William Pitt
Looking back over this series of short essays, I think that it’s precisely because of this laissez-faire approach to what Balearic is that people look down their noses at it. Balearic backlashes are nothing new, as early as the summer of 1988 there was the first sign that all wasn’t love, peace and having fun: right in the heart of The Second Summer Of Love, Soul Underground magazine ran a sarcastic feature on ‘Balearic Beat, The New Underground’ and in the autumn Boys Own followed up, complaining about “white middle class DJs… who simply don’t understand what Balearic Beats are”. Maybe they were responding to a chart published earlier in the year when Soul Underground had listed their ‘Balearic Beats’ top ten, with hideous records such as Sinitta’s G.T.O., the X.T.C. mix of Rick Astley’s Together Forever and (for anyone temped to list it, non-existent) Acid Mix of Atmosphere by comedian Russ Abbot. If so, the Boys Own gang probably had a fair point.
Nowadays, there are DJs (including on 1BTN!) who’d rather hang up their headphones than be considered Balearic – the snobs! – but, of course, that’s their choice. The fact that Balearic has proved so difficult to describe for so long and is open to personal interpretation is, for many, part of the charm: How else would Chris Rea have had his music played in UK clubs? Why else would someone drop a needle on the groove of Cliff Richard’s Green Light album and discover Ease Along? When else would you find Chris Isaak, Paco de Lucia and Mandy Smith in a genre specific playlist? Listen to a Balearic DJ who knows their way around and it’s the unashamed joy they bring through playing the obvious and their underappreciated genius in unearthing the obscure, making them both sound like they’ve always belonged together, that informs.
So, have I answered the opening question? Four essays, 6,000 words, three mixes and a month later am I any closer to defining what it is that qualifies a record, a DJ, a night or a feeling to be Balearic? One of my favourite dance music writers, Frank Tope once said “it’s pop music that sounds good on pills” but I’ve never taken pills and a lot of pop music still sounds good to me; Bill Brewster opined: “(it’s) anything at all that sounds good on a dance floor” but, without being able to explain why, that doesn’t sound right to me, because I think it’s more than that; the Boys Own article I’ve just referenced went further: “Balearic isn’t a style of music but an attitude” and those borrowed words are as simple as I can make it. The Balearic Beat is an anything goes policy, that last tune of the night feeling; it’s vibes n’ feelings; it’s perfect with a sunset or your mates; it’s whatever you (or we) say it is; it’s whatever you want it to be.
This is the story told as I see it.
Without doubt many others will have had totally different experiences, hold different opinions and believe different truths: Vive le difference! There’s no one way to tell this and given that the volume of personal recollections far outweighs any other medium that would aide research, it’s probably impossible to tell this story in such a fashion that will please everyone. This isn’t a disclaimer as such but I’ve visited enough online forums and social media platforms to know what happens next!
Thank you to Andy Simms, Chris Galloway, King Sunny Ade P, Luke Peters, Mark Day, Mike Bradbury, Nancy Noise, Phil Mison, Richard Bithell and Timm Sure for their time and invaluable contributions.
Should anyone want to borrow any of this piece for anything a credit (and maybe an email) would be appreciated.
Stephen Ellis aka Steve KIW, August 2020.
Balearic Beats Volume One, compiled by Pete ‘Razor’ Tong, Paul Oakenfold and Trevor Fung; released 1988 on FFRR Records
Summer Of Love, compiled by Paul Oakenfold, Colin Hudd, Nancy Noise; released 2018 on New State Music/Cream
Café Del Mar Volume One, compiled by Jose Padilla; released 1994 on React Records.
Phil Mison live at the Café Del Mar: http://testpressing.org/2017/10/mix-phil-mison-live-at-the-cafe-del-mar-1994/
Nelo Dominguez at Glorys, Ibiza:
Alfredo live at Amensia, Ibiza:
Out Of The Blue, compiled by Phil Mison; released on Leng Records, 2017
Moments In Time, compiled by Moonboots; released on Music For Dreams, 2018
Is It Balearic? Recordings: The first 5 years; release on Is It Balearic? in 2014 and Is It Balearic? Recordings: 10 Year Anniversary, released on Is It Balearic? in 2016
La Torre Volumen Uno y Volumen Dos, compiled by Mark Barrott and Pete Gooding; released on Hostel La Torre, 2017
The Salinas Sessions, compiled by Jon Sa Trinxa; released 2001 on Incredible Records
Down To The Sea and Back, volumes one and two, compiled by Balearic Mike and Kelvin Andrews; released on Wonk, 2010 and 2014