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Another early morning at Ku in the 70s: on the left is photographer Toni Riera



Susana y Elena: the original Pacha girls, at Espalmador in the 70s

So a bunch of ponytailed football casuals invented Ibiza in 1988, did they? Not quite. Stephen Armstrong – author of the definitive Eivissa history The White Island – delves into its murky pre-house history to discover an unknown world of hedonism filled with movie stars, hippies… and wanderers who became superstars


ibiza: the untold story

BIZA – THE CAPITAL of hedonism; the island that wrapped its disco tentacles around the world and calls its children home every summer for yet another season of love. The island that started it all. And the official version as to exactly how it started goes like this: in 1988, four British DJs – Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling, Johnnie Walker and Nicky Holloway – went on holiday to Ibiza, took ecstasy at Amnesia, stayed up all night then came back home and did it all over again in London. Before you could say ‘on one matey’, acid house was born and the world would never be the same. “English people put Ibiza on the map,” Paul Oakenfold claimed recently. “It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for us.” Well.... maybe. It’s a good story, and contains a germ of truth, but it’s about as far from the real version of events as your standard tabloid headline. Take Amnesia, for instance. In those days, Amnesia was little more than a large finca, a traditional Ibizan-style house converted by the hippies in the early 70s into a regular venue for open air parties. The real action was going on at Ku – a restaurant converted by three Basque businessmen into a giant club complete with lasers visible from the mainland and a swimming pool under the dancefloor. They’d built it to cash in on the stars that had been flooding to the island for years – and they’d succeeded. Between 1978 and 1985, Ku played host to Freddie Mercury’s debut performance of ‘Barcelona’ with Montserrat Caballe, Boy George’s birthday party, Grace Jones dancing naked in the rain, Mike Oldfield, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Robert Plant, Terence Stamp, Pink Floyd, James Brown, Spandau Ballet, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Tina Turner, Wham! (who filmed the video for 1983 hit ‘Club Tropicana’ in nearby Pike’s Hotel), Sting, Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin. They all either came to party or played live on stage to a moneyed crowd from across the continent who were happy to pay the then unheard of amount of £15 to get in. If Ibiza wasn’t on the map with all those names as regulars, what would it take to make a place famous? The truth is, Ibiza has always been a magnet for celebrities in search of hedonism – it’s just that over the years, the names have changed. Today you’re likely to find Jade Jagger and Elle MacPherson sipping cocktails with Kate Moss in the bar of the Hotel Atzaro; or George Michael looking in at Pike’s before heading to Amnesia; or Pete Tong grabbing a bite at the Blue Marlin before heading out to play his WWW.MIXMAG.NET

In the early 70s the island filled with American draft dodgers on the run And it only got better: Amnesia in the 80s

Alfredo on the decks in Amnesia

Friday night set. After the Second World War, however, it would be the likes of Lawrence Oliver, Diana Rigg, John Cleese and Terry-Thomas who you’d stumble over in restaurants in Dalt Villa. Britain’s acting aristocracy spent the 40s and 50s shuttling between London and the White Island searching, as everyone does, for booze, sunshine and some extremely tolerant locals. They all rented or bought places on Ibiza until there were so many Brits and Yanks in exile – including Errol Flynn and Ursula Andress – that an enterprising Canadian set up a English language school catering for the children of the famous. Terry-Thomas’s son Cushan still lives on the island and remembers its hippie ethos. “They tried their best to teach all the kids – but basically it was the parents doing the job,” he explains. “I first went to it when it was a big yellow circus tent. My father had a Mercedes convertible, the first on the island, and he got his front wheel stuck down one of the holes they tie the ropes up to. He had to wait three hours for a crane to lift him out. I’d cycle there and my rucksack would be more full of fruit than it was of books.” So what was going on that attracted, before 1987, Cleese, Olivier, Mercury, Marley and Boy George and yet still had enough of an underground culture that an unknown DJ could create acid house almost by accident? The simple answer: the people. The reason so many of these actors made the 18-hour journey by train and boat to an island that felt like a remote African outcrop was because Ibiza was one of the few places in the 20th Century where none of the locals could care less what anyone got up to. Gay, straight, black, white, famous, infamous, drugs, sex, outrageous clothes, all night open air parties – whatever you did on Ibiza, the Ibicencos didn’t bat an eyelid. “I’ve got a photo on my wall of the main square in Ibiza Town, the Vara del Ray, in 1972 where there’s a tall, blonde hippie girl walking across the square completely naked apart from a flowing black fur coat that’s wide open at the front,” recalls Sandy Pratt, a barman from Dublin who used to run Santa Eularia’s hippest boozer Sandy’s Bar. “Right next to her is an old Ibicenco peasant woman who’s just walking along with her bags of shopping and she hasn’t even noticed this naked Amazon right beside her. Or if she has, she clearly thinks it’s none of her business. That’s why we all came to Ibiza – because we could do whatever we wanted and nobody tried to stop us.” AUGUST 2006 083

For gay celebrities, this was the key. Freddie Mercury, Denholm Elliot and George Michael were still too scared to come out in the UK. In Ibiza, they could be as flamboyant and outrageous as they wanted. Ibiza Town’s legendary gay street, the Calle de Virgen, had open-air gay bars from 1970 at a time when gay clubs in cosmopolitan European cities operated in secret with blacked-out windows to prevent police raids or homophobic attacks. In fact, it was the gay actors and pop stars who led the flight to the White Island, while their straight friends followed. They were seeking shelter and the islanders were happy to provide. For these upmarket, moneyed types, however, all-night parties were select celebrity affairs. The roots of acid house begin with an altogether scruffier bunch of travellers – the hippies.

At first Alfredo just played tunes to pass the time. Within three days he was playing to a thousand people in the small hours

Pacha’s dancefloor in the 70s: you'll all be wearing it next year

084 AUGUST 2006



A typical day at Pacha, 1967


n the 1960s and early 70s Ibiza was the hippie capital of Europe. During the Vietnam War, Scandinavian charities had been helping American draft dodgers and damaged veterans flee to Europe. Once in Sweden, however, the dropouts from Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco found the freezing weather almost unbearable. A couple of GI deserters headed down to Ibiza on the word of an old Beatnik who’d run a jazz bar there in the 50s and they found a warm, friendly island where you could buy speed at the chemists and still drink the banned hallucinogenic spirit absinthe. Within months, the hippies were pouring in. Danny Spiegel, who runs the Eco Café in the old hippie centre of Sant Joan, drove down to Ibiza from Germany in 1969. The locals didn’t mind the hippies going naked, dope came over from Morocco and a summer job in Europe gave him enough money to spend eight months there – what’s not to like? He slept on Agua Blanca beach because there was fresh water in the rocks and a little supermarket nearby. Sharing the sand were hairies from all over the world – Americans, South Americans and Europeans all dossing down side by side. Spiegel had a VW camper van and he would open the doors and play his psychedelia for all-night beach parties. “If you wanted to go shopping, the guy who had a car was the king,” Speigel explains. “He took everybody down to Ibiza Town, but the shopping trip would sometimes take a day or two, because you would meet people and hear about a party, fall in love with a girl and come back two days later all packed up with vegetables, picking up hitchhikers along a dirt road and going very slowly.”

In the early 1970s the hippies colonised Amnesia, a deserted finca that would serve them as a club. Around the same time Pacha opened in a swamp opposite Ibiza Town. Noone thought the land was usable and the owners of Lola’s – Ibiza Town’s main nightclub – felt they had little to fear. Piti and Ricardo Urgell, two bohemian businessmen from artistic Barcelona families who had previous form running clubs across Spain, had moved there and aimed their club squarely at the hippies. There was no electricity and no telephone and the club’s office was where the toilets are now. “You’d go there and you wouldn’t have to pay to get in and you’d get free drinks,” Speigel remembers. “Pacha was the family place.” “The only job was to have a good time at night because in the daytime the nature provided a beautiful island, supported by a hippy philosophy of ‘live and let live’,” recalls Piti. “We were only a few, and we all knew each other. I said to myself: if we play good music, everybody will come. I would buy records in Paris, London and New York and then smuggle them through the borders. But that music opened the magic box of the Ibiza nights. The music that was played in 1973 was basically American black music. Music with feeling. Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, JJ Cale. Jazz-soul. The lower the tempo, the crazier the people became. Then the disco era started, and the messing about and tacky sophistication came. During the 80s we started with the new wave and a bit of reggae and a mix between disco and the beginning of house, what I call boom, boom, boom. There weren’t guest DJs. The DJ used to work for only one club. They didn’t sell themselves to the best bidder like the footballers do nowadays. The records we discovered, we would cover the name so the other clubs would not copy us.” At the same time the legendary Full Moon parties were starting. A Frenchman from Guadeloupe called Anant imported a tent from Morocco and a good PA, and had the first outdoor rave in a field near Sant Joan. Gradually Anant increased the commercial side until, by the 1980s, you’d get 5,000 people dancing on top of a mountain, with news of the event still spread by word of mouth. Benniras beach parties were legend – the girls all danced naked, with everyone caned on spliff and acid, pounding tribal drums along to the soundsystem. It was a model transposed almost exactly to the fringes of the M25 when acid house finally exploded in the UK at the end of the 1980s, but for now it was a ritual WWW.MIXMAG.NET

club tropicana The famous Wham! video was shot at Pike’s hotel

that belonged to Ibiza. Meanwhile, in the hippie enclave of Sant Joan, a weirdo cult leader was cooking up something slightly special without any idea of the global effects of his experiments...

3 George. Real alcohol was not used

Andrew Ridgley claims his lounger

Pepsi & Shirley: what did they do?

Blowing their own trumpets

Andrew makes an ass of himself

It was all a dream…

,4-methylenedioxymethamphet amine, or MDMA, was invented by accident in 1912 by German drug company Merck while trying to synthesise another drug called hydrastinin. The CIA briefly experimented with it as a truth drug, which is how the chemist Dr. Alexander Shulgin discovered it and introduced it to psychotherapist Leo Zeff in the 1970s. West Coast psychoanalysts started conducting therapy sessions on it – with some claiming a session on MDMA was as good as five months of therapy. In Oregon, the leader of the Bagwan Rajneesh cult – an Indian mystic called Bagwan Rajneesh – got hold of the drug and started feeding it to his followers in brainwashing encounter sessions. Sessions would begin with periods of hyperventilation or forced rage and end with dancing, laughter, weeping, fights, kisses and cuddles. Inevitably, the cult did well in the hippie movement. Ibiza was Europe’s hippie capital and so the cult set up its global headquarters outside Santa Eulalia. Cult leaders who feed psychedelic amphetamines to their followers soon attract the attention of the authorities, of course. In 1985, Bhagwan was arrested in America following allegations of mass poisonings, tax evasion and attempted murder. The communes were disbanded and the disciples fled. This left hundreds of bewildered cultists wandering around Ibiza in 1985 with their pockets full of E, just as an Argentinean journalist started his career as a DJ. Alfredo – real name Jaime Fiorito – was born in Argentina in 1953. After leaving college, he got a job on La Capital, a Buenos Aires newspaper, as film and music critic. He spent much of his spare time promoting rock concerts. “They weren’t political concerts,” he says. “They were just rock concerts, bands playing live, that sort of thing.” But after Argentina’s right wing military coup in 1976, this sort of behaviour was enough to have him jailed. He served his time and resolved, once he’d got out, to search out a country where having fun wasn’t illegal. So he chose Ibiza. The scene in Ibiza Town was mainly a glammed-up yachting crowd from Spain and Italy. Over in San Antonio, the English made up a tiny enclave clustered round two clubs – Playboy and Nitos. “The English wouldn’t go

celebrity love island Ibiza was a celebrity magnet and a destination for the decadent long before Oakie had a mullet and was popping Es

wife lanski and Roman Po e ll Emmanue

Frank Z a and a b ppa read ro ll

Grace Jones (left)


ercury (l Freddie M

AUGUST 2006 85

out from San Antonio,” recalls Piti. “Although it is true that you could pull much more easily than in Ibiza Town!” Future house DJ Trevor Fung went out in 1978 to work for Club 18-30 and remembers the town being stuffed with Scandinavians, Americans, Germans and Dutch kids. Es Paradis was the only bar on the seafront. “The scene was completely different,” he explains. “There was a lot of white-boy funk. A lot of the kids from [London’s New Romantic] Blitz club, Steve Strange, Rusty Egan, they’d all be out there. Boy George would play and have parties out there. The big club was Ku, but each of the clubs would have a night when they’d be the place to go, and on that night all the others would be empty. The only exception was Glories, which was a bit like Space is now. It was the best club, the original after-party – open every night from 5am in a parade of shops between Amnesia and Ibiza Town. You’d all end up there after whatever night you’d done and you just got to know everyone.” Fung was invited to Freddie Mercury’s birthday party up on the hills outside San An in 1983 where dwarves walked around with bowls of coke and things went on that he’d still rather not talk about today. Tony Pike, the owner of rock star hangout Pike’s Hotel – and the place the ‘Club Tropicana’ video was filmed – remembers organising the party. “When I asked Freddie what the budget was he said ‘budget? Oh do fuck off, Pike. I want the works and I want it to be remembered for years to come.” Which was fine by me. At the hotel we had two rules – no children, and you could do anything you wanted so long as you didn’t interfere with someone else and they didn’t complain. If you wanted to take coke or root around the pool, you could do it so long as no one complained.’ Poor old Alfredo didn’t have those connections. He had to make cash any way he could – waiting tables and working behind a bar until a friend from Argentina left and gave his small bar to Alfredo. The bar came equipped with a set of decks and a mixer and Alfredo couldn’t bear to see them lying fallow, so he decided to become a DJ. It was an unlikely decision. For one thing, Alfredo didn’t have many records and his favourite music always had a reggae tinge. The bars and clubs of the island didn’t exactly fall over themselves to employ him, but the man who owned Amnesia gave him a shot in 1983. He lasted one night and was sacked for playing too many Culture Club records. The following summer, he was back. The fact that he was given a second chance reflected the dire straits that 086 AUGUST 2006

This shop on the backstreets of Ibiza Town is still there

“Freddie Mercury said ‘Budget? Oh do fuck off. I want the works.’” The front entrance to Pacha in 1973. The palms on the left are now 10 metres high

The hippy market in 1977

Amnesia was in. Alfredo found he was playing six hour sets to almost deserted dancefloors. One night he had a total of twenty people shuffling around, while the queues outside Ku tailed back to the road. Most of the staff would leave long before he finished his set, so he had to shut up the club by himself then wait outside for the manager to wake up and drive out there with his £20 wage. At the end of August, his girlfriend suggested he spark up the decks and play a few tunes to pass the time. By a stroke of luck, Glories had just been forced to close down due to excessive open-air popularity in a built-up area. People on their way home from other clubs found Glories bolted shut, but they heard Alfredo’s tunes and popped their heads round the door. They stayed. They danced. They told their friends. Within three days, he was playing to a thousand people. Amnesia’s owner was no idiot. He switched the club’s hours, opening at 5am and staying open for as long as the law would allow. When E hit in 1985, Amnesia exploded. Alfredo had wintered in New York and picked up some underground disco as well as a few early house tunes. He started playing them in his sets, mixing them with Tears For Fears, Bob Marley, Donna Summer, British indie, Prince, synth pop, Italian disco – anything he could lay his hands on. These eclectic sets mixed with MDMA and the dawn sun on Amnesia’s dancefloor attracted clubbers from all over Europe, fed up with snooty door policies. By the time Danny Rampling landed in 1987, hearing Alfredo play at Amnesia – and dropping an E to go with it – it had achieved the status of a pilgrimage for anyone interested in dance music. Alfredo’s sets earned a nickname – the Balearic Beat Rampling recalls the music Alfredo played on the first night he heard him – a set with house, hip hop, Cyndi Lauper, indie band The Woodentops, Thrashing Doves, Prince, George Michael. He remembers the huge, international crowd of gay, straight, black and white from across the continent. He took his first E, danced all night and spent the next day floating in the pool at his villa, playing a tape of Alfredo’s set. With Holloway, Oakenfold and Walker he headed back to London where, yes, they set up Shoom and Fun House; yes, the acid house scene exploded and yes, Ibiza did very well. But to say the English put Ibiza on the map.... Well, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. Read more in Stephen Armstrong’s The White Island: The Extraordinary History Of The Mediterranean’s Capital Of Hedonism




Classic Mixmag Feature – Ibiza: The Untold Story – August 2006  

So a bunch of ponytailed football casuals invented Ibiza in 1988, did they? Not quite. Stephen Armstrong – author of the definitive Eivissa...

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