2020 will mark a significant turning point for Ibiza. The pandemic has shown us how fragile the tourist economy is. The current administration have talked a lot about encouraging more sustainable industries outside of tourism. Before tourism in Ibiza there was farming, fishing and salt production, there are no other industries. The people who are calling for these radical reforms are generally people with state salaries and not those who earn a living from the islands tourist economy. As far as tourism goes the party line is that Ibiza needs to move away from leisure tourism (this is code for clubbing or bar culture), I’d like to take this opportunity to make a clear distinction between leisure and culture as many of our politicians and local newspapers seem to be struggling with this.
This year we lost two very significant balearic cultural icons, Jose Padilla and Brasilio de Olivera. Jose Padilla as many of you will know is attributed with creating the chill out genre, as resident dj at Cafe Del Mar and curator of their musical compilations of the same name he created one of the biggest selling music compilations of all time, his music and his expression of the Ibiza sunset travelled to the furthest reaches of the globe, putting Ibiza on the map for millions of people. Jose along with Alfredo can arguably be attributed to being the godfathers of the Balearic sound, a globally recognised musical genre that was entirely made in Ibiza, culturally it could be said, it is Ibiza’s biggest cultural export.
Brasilio de Olivera’s influence on Ibiza clubbing as it has become known worldwide can’t be overstated. As artistic director at KU he programmed the club, commissioned the artwork and styled the venue (he created the Coco Loco bar). Andy McKay , director of Ibiza Rocks and former director of Manumission wrote “Brasilio was the man that took me and my brother in and gave us the opportunity to launch Manumission. We had no money so he paid for the flights for all to fly out to ibiza and he truly was our partner in everything. We even offered him a share of the brand but he refused it telling us to save our money and buy homes on the island whilst it remained affordable. To me he represents the best of ibiza and personally I owe him a larger debt of gratitude than anyone else in my professional career. He was ibiza before the big DJs and it is to him that we must look to see our best future too”. His ‘La Vaca Asesina’ party, which became ‘La Troya’ also started at KU and would later go to Amnesia, Space and finally Heart. It was a trailblazer in polysexual clubbing, a blueprint for the kind of flamboyant, progressive and inclusive clubbing Ibiza became renowned for. His dancers, acrobats and performers of all kind brought the carnival energy to the club and the streets in a flurry of colour, energy and sexuality, he introduced the famous parades to the Port of Ibiza where he had his bar. As artistic director at KU and Amnesia, then later as promoter at Space and Heart his influence was that of flamboyance and creativity, it would set the tone for things to come.
It’s fair to say the cultural anomaly of what we know as Ibiza today happened by chance and not design, there are contributing factors, Ibiza has always been a cultural and political refuge from the peninsula, Franco’s ban of foreign imports of music meant that Spanish visiting Ibiza might hear a Rolling Stones record for the first time, this I think is the birth of Ibiza as a musical island. The hippies brought their counter culture and their records with them and the warm natured Ibicencos welcomed them with great acceptance to the island, the seeds of culture were being sewn. Stories of the Mediterranean bohemian utopia spread and more followed. Something else very significant was happening around this time, Franco was promoting tourism, he abolished entry visas for tourists and devalued the peseta making Spain even cheaper as a destination for visitors with hard currency. Ironically Franco’s promotion of tourism, like the remittances from Spanish emigrants, provided much-needed hard currency and also played an important role in the country’s democratic development because it brought Spaniards into contact with different peoples and ideas, particularly from European democracies. That aside, this is really where we start to see the duality of Ibiza, both a bohemian utopia and a mass market tourist destination. The fact that Ibiza was both these things meant that millions of people who arrived on package holidays went to places like Cafe Del Mar, KU and Amnesia and had cultural awakenings of their own. Famously Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling and Nicky Holloway had that very experience listening to Alfredo at Amnesia and that faithful holiday was attributed with starting the acid house movement in the UK.
Sadly most politicians will not understand the significance of these events, perhaps the magnitude of these cultural shifts are too recent or too counter culture for them to be recognised as some of most important cultural gifts Ibiza has bestowed on the world in the last century. Just as mass tourism meshed with bohemian hippie culture in the sixties, commercial leisure influences meshed with the organic club culture that started here in the seventies. The pandemic has given governments unprecedented powers of control, this in conjunction with an existing mandate to reshape the island in their new touristic model has taken a strong stance against music and dancing, when politics takes a direct stance on culture it’s generally a red flag. In so far as mass tourism no longer being a good option for the island I have no argument but in so far as denying Ibiza’s cultural history and shutting the door on its further development, I think there needs to be some serious dialogue. Restrictions without alternatives is subtractive and solves nothing, it simply makes us lesser. What is the alternative? What role does music still play in this new tourist model? The discussion on outdoor daytime music venues shouldn’t be centred on an argument between two feuding men in their eighties, it should be about looking at it as the only realistic alternative to clubs for the immediate future. The limitations imposed on outdoor live music venues last year should be completely reviewed now that indoor spaces are no longer viable. Bloop Festival, Ibiza Light Festival, Ibiza Jazz Festival are all great examples of how ibiza can move forward but we need to do more. We need to protect venues of important cultural significance. Licenses for independent cultural events should be more readily available. Art, theatre and music should be promoted. Books and films documenting this history should be supported.
Ibiza’s musical and cultural heritage needs to be embraced not vilified, we are at a crossroads in a time when commercialism has devoured much that was authentic, when many iconic cultural figures and venues have departed, at a time when the leisure industry has taken over the music scene. Contemporary art and music should be given as much respect as traditional, if Ibiza wants to stay relevant then it should look to the future and continue blazing the trail as a beacon of expression and creativity as it always has, doing so we should also remember our past and the events and people who made Ibiza such a unique destination.