Sleepless in Ibiza

Sleepless in Ibiza
High-octane moments from Ibiza's nightlife, Photo Credit: Dinodia

Make the pilgrimage to the mecca of global electronic tribe

Anees Saigal
March 26 , 2014
18 Min Read

I'll be the first to admit it: I’m not much of a clubber. The long entry lines, the head-pounding basslines, the press of revellers packed in like sweaty sardines, the body-crush of getting a drink, the dim fog of artificial smoke: it’s always been enough to propel me out of a club far quicker than I got in. Having said that, I’ve still managed to spend the quickly fading dregs of my twenties in more clubs than I’d seen in the previous 10 years of partying put together. I knew that dating a DJ would mean a few sleepless nights. But choosing to marry him—well, that was just asking for it.

When it came to picking a honeymoon destination, the options were limited. This is better people watching than the streets of New York. The views and sounds are quite literally wild. My draws: art, culture, sightseeing, food, beaches. His: music, clubbing, DJs, food, beaches. Our spheres of overlapping interest are that small. So the verdict was simple: Berlin, the home of techno, for him. Barcelona, the cool new avatar of old Europe, for me. And the surprising winner for both: Ibiza. He’d been waiting his whole life to get there. When I heard about the clear green waters, I was in.

Then, at 1am on a cool early August Monday night, I find myself in the tight centre of a long, snaking line sucking inexorably toward a quicksand of beats. At a quick glance, I’d say there are a hundred people in front, another hundred behind. This, I should qualify, is one of two VIP line. To my left is a line of downward-lookers doing the walk of shame in the other direction. Sorry; not on the list. A hundred metres to our left is the entry for the lay clubbers—several hundreds of them. We’re paying ¤20 to enter; they’re paying 80. And no, this does not include drinks. Sheer claustrophobia is kicking in. I have serious doubts about the wisdom of my acquiescence to be here.

I am in Ibiza, mecca of the global electronic tribe. The clubs here are the holy grail for any self-respecting house-music DJ or fan across the world. The temple of sound tonight lies in the heart of this paradise-island, a club called Amnesia. Monday nights here are run by Cocoon—a name that encompasses a Frankfurt club, an event company and a record label, and is owned by the legendary German DJ and producer Sven Väth. Affiliated with Cocoon is a close-knit group of leading house and techno DJs who play weekly sets at Amnesia. My husband—let’s call him DJ A—is excited, because two of his favourites, the German Loco Dice and Italian Marco Corola, are playing in the terrace room tonight. Sven Väth himself will be playing in the main room.

We are in a massive yet tightly organised parking lot. In front of us is a group of three girls. In the twilight zone we spend in line, two of the girls don’t utter a single word. The third, however, talks the entire time: a stream of Spanish so voluble and self-subsisting that it requires no response. In between stories, she does her makeup from the bottom up, in a maddeningly meticulous process that is at complete variance with her speech. I watch in morbid fascination as her lips turn a deeper and deeper shade of red with each laye. I will only remember this later, when we’re surrounded by 8,000 people: it now seems patently absurd to imagine anyone noticing her vainglorious attempts. Extravagant outfits, body paint, a silver bikini of artificial stones: now these might just get you noticed.

This is better people-watching than the streets of New York. The views and sounds are quite literally wild; I feel like a visitor at a zoo of exotics. Impossibly beautiful, lithe females. Aggressive, towering packs of males. All hues of feathered plumages. Chattering mini-skirted flocks. Like at a feast or a religious ceremony, preparations have been made well in advance and everyone is dressed in their finest and united in purpose. But this is still nothing compared to what’s inside.

The night before, I thought I had seen it all: we were at Space, one of the biggest clubs in the world. It has at least five mammoth ‘rooms’. The “I Love…” Sundays have acquired a cult status in the clubbing world: weekly 22-hour mini-festivals featuring only the best acts, from James Zabiela to Basement Jaxx to Groove Armada. Space is located close to Ibiza’s tiny airport, so it’s also known for its open-air terrace: during daytime parties, the crowds roar as the planes boom by overhead.

We get there by 11pm and spend several hours roaming the electronic wilderness, mapless and directionless. DJ A knows the sound he’s looking for—DJs Joris Voorn, Steve Lawler, 2 Many DJs—but not where they are. We pass a legion of bars, VIP sections, shops, stern-faced security guards, far too many drunk Brits and bathrooms marked with large signs giving instructions on how to deal with drug overdoses and alcohol poisoning. Drink water. Get air. Get help. Finally, we bump into some DJ friends and are led to the right room, and we wonder how we missed it. The whole party seems to be here.

There’s a different kind of dimension in here, a sort of altered reality or understanding of space. It’s really not advisable to hold a drink on the floor unless you want it to get knocked all over you. But, somehow, everyone symbiotically finds room to dance freely. For a moment, just a moment, when I see how happy they are, I think I get it, I believe that’s the trick. The love of the music: this creates the shared, wordless understanding and energy. I feel it course through DJ A and I catch a bit of the residue, the flotsam as it floats by. So this is what ‘superclub’ really means.

One club, two colossal rooms. Given my curious relationship with house and techno—I have heard and know far more about it than I might like—I didn’t know quite what to expect. But whatever vague ideas I had are immediately shed. The main room of Amnesia is characterised tonight by the harder, more uptempo sounds of Sven: the clubbers seem combative; a fight breaks out in front of me; there isn’t space to breathe. In the staggering, heaving sweep of bodies, I can barely see the elevated DJ booth.

The ‘terrace’, where Marco Corola and Loco Dice are playing tonight, was once open air, back in the glory days of Ibiza, before the government clamped down on noise levels, a law that DJs today still bemoan. We cannot see to the end of it for its vastness and the inconceivable amount of people claiming every shuddering inch of it. Raised podiums jut up here and there, jammed with the most exhibitionist of the lot. Huge, strikingly beautiful fabric jellyfish swirl below the panes of glass that make up the sky, their white tentacles glowing pink, red, blue in the laser lights. A white, semi-transparent circular disc dominates the centre with spectacular digital projections. Come dawn and rays of sunlight will flood the room.

At an electronic music club, the DJ is God. Much like a temple, the worshippers all face the booth. Here, there’s no hope of seeing the two gods who are playing back-to-back. The techno is groovy, funky and addictive, and it keeps coming back to a defining chorus-kind of bassline that moves the crowd to erupt, repeatedly, over and over again, the repetitiveness being the impetus, the reminder, the call that heralds the wave. I feel like I’m unharnessed in a free-float, pinned down only by the small space I’m able to carve between the heft of bodies, and I feel almost weightless or like I could be, if only I could stop noticing the never-ending parade of vibrant madness. The club is a spectacle, the DJs the sight. But unlike a regular sightseeing experience, the crowd is an active participant.

Several hours later I’m still overwhelmed and we leave, DJ A with a big smile across his face. It’s 4.30am, so I assume the parking lot will now be empty. But time has a different quality here. Hours are measured according to what time a particular DJ starts his set. How many hours (six or 15?) he will play. Which sets at other clubs have to be caught and in which order. Nighttime for the rest of society is work-time, with its own order of priorities, in this jungle. The VIP lines are even longer from this head-on perspective. Celebrities, minor or major we’ll never know, spin out of shiny cars into a separate entrance. And the hundreds buying tickets are now thousands, wrapping in multiple lines all around the side of the building. Who are these people? Where do they come from? And why?

Like a good tourist, I carry my guidebooks wherever we travel. Before we checked out the museums in Berlin or the historic sights in Barcelona, I read about them in an attempt to contextualise their background. In Ibiza, I will later browse the Internet to try and understand what, exactly, can lend a modern building like a club such a sense of depth and history and motivate such idolisation and veneration in its visitors. I learned about its decades of history: the hippies who first located in Ibiza an idyll of peace, freedom and drugs. The rockers who followed and fired up the party scene. The disco era, which led to the establishment of superclubs like Pacha and Privilege (then Ku), morphed into electronic dance music and finally exploded into the particular Balearic sound that Ibiza became world-renowned for.

Who are these people? Everyone. Clubbers who dig the music, posers who come for the scene, people like me who came to Ibiza for other reasons, and DJs like mine who want to hear and be inspired by the leaders of their pack. Where do they come from? Everywhere. (Though as far as I could see, DJ A and I were the real exotics on this isle—we didn’t sight even one other Indian.) And why? There is, quite simply, nothing to compare to it anywhere else in the world. This tiny, gorgeous and leanly inhabited speck of island has created its very own season: several superclubs making electronic waves for five months a year.

On the Amnesia website, I also came across a line that oddly encapsulated that sense I had: “Today, the discotheque has one of the most advanced sound systems, Expanded Amnesia Technology, due to the dynamic electronic process. Its function is to analyse and submit frequencies that provoke the human body to feel sensations that compare to having a sound massage.” That’s precisely it: the music is the very epicentre of the collective reverence. Everything else, flowing from there, is with the intent of constantly provoking this in-yet-out-of-body consciousness.

It will probably always be too loud for me. For me, the real discovery in Ibiza lay quite apart from its clubs. It lay in those fabled waters, warm, gentle and green; in the fresh and novel seafood; the olive and pine trees and low-lying whitewashed structures. Lush fields lap at your feet as you drive through the rural landscape of hills, bays and cliffs. There is history in Eivissa’s quaint Old Town and good shopping at the cheerful flea markets. And a sense of tranquillity that governs the rest of life in Ibiza, as if to naturally counterbalance its smouldering club culture. It’s for these reasons that DJ A and I plan to head back next summer for a longer stay—and to discover that other nirvana, the neighbouring island of Formentera. But there’s no doubt that we’ll also be back for the techno, the sound massage, the mass provocation, the lure of those riotous temples—call it what you will, there’s something special about it.

The information

Getting there
We flew from Barcelona on the local carrier, Veuling, for about ¤150 each, return. But there are two-stop flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Ibiza, many of them via Madrid, Barcelona, London and Paris (from Rs 43,000 return). You could end up spending about 20-odd hours on these flights, so you may want to consider breaking the journey.

Getting around
There is an excellent highway running between the five major districts, but expect to travel narrow country-roads in between. Taxis are easily available from hotels and in towns, but are expensive; it costs at least ¤30 to reach Eivissa, the Old Town, from other towns. If you don’t speak Spanish, it can also be difficult calling or finding taxis at smaller spots like flea markets. It makes better sense to rent a car or bike: there are rental companies at the airport and the island has good direction-boards throughout.

When to go
Ibiza’s clubbing season runs from early June to early October, when the weather is hot and dry, with temperatures hitting 35°C, and the island is packed with visitors. Although much of the island shuts down in winter (October-April), when it is cool and sometimes wet, some hotels are open year-round and it is a peaceful, quiet time to visit.

Where to stay
Ibiza has a pretty wide range of options: rented or serviced apartments, a handful of high-end five-stars, hostales and smaller budget hotels. Currently very popular is the ‘agroturismo’ trend: rustic converted fincas (farmsteads) that offer fresh produce and boutique-style accommodation set in the beautiful, secluded interiors. Highly recommended options include Can Curreu (from ¤220 in the low season and ¤275 in the high season; cancurreu.com), Atzaro (from ¤160 low season and ¤350 high season; atzaro.com) and Es Cucons (from ¤195 low season and ¤270 high season; escucons.com). If your budget’s more conservative, there are a number of cheaper hostels and apartments available too, but most of these tend to close for winter. Try Hostel Europa Púnico (from ¤45; hostaleuropapunico.com) and Hotel Tropical (from ¤40; hoteltropicalibiza.com). Ibiza is not cheap—during peak season, at least—so save up to sleep, eat and drink well.

What to see & do
There is so much more to Ibiza than its nightlife: sailing, diving, wandering the countryside, eating and shopping well, gloriously secluded beaches, the hippie sunset drumming at Benirras… Spend at least a week discovering the island and taking a trip to the pristine beaches of Formentera. Don’t miss the enormous Wednesday flea market at Es Canar and the more peaceful Saturday market at San Carlos, Las Dalias. Both have a psychedelic, hippie influence that evokes the flea markets of Goa and likewise offer good food, shopping and live performances—but they are also extremely clean and well organised.

Ibiza (or Eivissa, as it is called in native Catalan) is the third-largest of the Spanish Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Eivissa is the island’s prettiest town, with cafés and bars, cobbled streets, ports filled with private yachts and the medieval town of Dalt Villa atop the hill. There is also good shopping: everything from souvenirs to small flea markets, upscale boutiques to club-gear.

Further south is Platja d’en Bossa, which offers a long strip of beach and good nightlife. The salt lakes, Ses Salinas, are a peaceful haven that form a natural reserve where many migrating birds make their nests. Come here for views, undulating hills and tiny villages. Experience the rural side of Ibiza by heading north from Eivissa into Santa Eularia, where you’ll find tranquil roads, pines and rows of almond and olive trees planted in red earth. The small towns here are quiet and friendly, with less of a tourist onslaught than Eivissa or Sant Antoni, a big port town on the West coast overrun by British tourists and establishments. Most of the north is dominated by hills that offer lovely views, small bays and hiking areas. There are 56 small, beautiful beaches and coves across the island.

Where to eat
From renowned restaurants to simple but delicious beach cafés, Ibiza is known for the quality of its food, particularly its fresh seafood. Tourist hotspots like Eivissa, San Antoni and Es Canar have innumerable cookie-cutter cafés and British burger joints, but it’s very easy to find a more creative meal. The agroturismo hotels, for example, take pride in their outstanding produce, wine lists and chefs, so even if you’re staying elsewhere, you should visit for a meal. Atzaro has lovely breakfast buffet spreads and light, wholesome lunches in the rustic daytime restaurant; at night, there’s high-end gourmet Mediterranean in a beautiful outdoor restaurant or high-quality sushi at the very fashionable Art & Music Lounge.

Popular cafés include Café Benirràs (Benirràs beach, near Port de San Miquel; +34-971-310161), where you can catch the hippie sunset-drumming, Macao Café (macaocafe.com) for Italian and Las Dalias (lasdalias.squarespace.com), which the Saturday market is centred around.

For Spanish cuisine, head to the lovely courtyard garden of El Brasa (Carre Pere Sala 3; 198335), the elegant Ama Lur (restauranteamalur.com) or the authentically Ibizan Bon Lloc (Nuestra Señora de Jesus).

Join the jet-set at Las Dos Lunas (Carretera Eivissa-Sant Antoni; 314707) for stylish Italian, or drive your yacht over to the beautiful beach by the Jockey Club (Playa Salinas; 301202). If nude-dining is your thing, get a lounger at Playa des Cavallet (a nudist beach) and order snacks from El Chiringuito (chiringuitoibiza.com) without having to move an inch.

If you’re organised enough to book in advance, Es Torrent (estorrent.net) offers excellent seafood—reserve a week before and call a day ahead to pick your fish. Similarly, at El Bigote (Cala Mastella; 802160), a beach-shack restaurant near a sparkling bay where you’ll catch the fish you eat.

For a romantic evening, try the Pan-Asian cuisine at pretty Bambuddha Grove (bambuddha.com) or drinks and good views at the chic French Restaurante l’Elephant (Plaza de la Iglesia;198056).

Nightlife
Most of the island’s nightlife is centred around Eivissa and Sant Antoni. During the season, the most internationally renowned DJs and producers play at clubs here; some host their own weekly nights. Ibiza has popularly been known as a forerunner of new trends within the electronic music scene, with DJs using the island’s parties as an outlet for presenting new tracks.

The biggest parties take place during the opening and closing weeks of the season.Ibiza’spremier superclubs are Space (spaceibiza.com), Pacha (pacha.com), Privilege (privilegeibiza.com) and Amnesia (amnesia.es).

DC-10 is a more underground option. Café Del Mar (cafedelmarmusic.com), Bora Bora (boraboraibiza.com) and UShuaia (ushuaiaibiza.com) are premier sunset beach-cafés that are also super pre-party venues, with sets by acclaimed DJs. All the clubs have DJ nights and the genre of dance music changes. Bear in mind that clubs are very expensive, both to enter and for drinks.

Top tip
Check out ibiza-spotlight.com for an up-to-date calendar of events and gig listings, hotel reviews and reservations, restaurant recommendations, information about the island—and pretty much anything else you’d want to know about Ibiza.


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