Monday, 6 October 2014

DJ's Wanted

Along with the tourists who flood to the island there are thousands of experienced and wannabe DJ’s who perform at just about every bar and restaurant. For a long time there has been something of a running complaint amongst resident DJ’s that many of the newcomers haven’t the faintest idea how to entertain in sun-drenched daytime hangouts. In fact it seems as though many of them are merely playing their full on night time sets, to musically bludgeoned diners, in the hope that they are going to be discovered and launched into a mega career as club DJ’s. Instead of which, some of them will spend the whole summer playing for very little, if any, money just for the thrill of ‘living the dream’.

At the other end of the scale there are the large corporate venues, some coming from successful ventures in other European countries, who are now looking to grab a slice of the summer season action. Admittedly they do not tolerate such wanton abandon with the musical menu but it seems to me that in many cases, they are just providing a bland filler which ticks the box of ‘resident DJ’. In one venue I played, the preceding DJ informed me that the rule was that we were not to play anything above 115bpm during the afternoon set. Then even before I had played my first track the assistant manager came over to proudly demonstrate his understanding of DJ techniques by repeating nugget of esoteric doctrine. 

I understand the rationale that if you limit the DJ’s to a certain bpm then it will keep the atmosphere chilled but in reality many of the most sublime and blissful Balearic tracks come in at much higher bpm and the real challenge is to find DJ’s who know what they are doing and trust their judgement. This of  course requires musical judgement by the management and in truth they have more on their mind and so, for some venues, the hiring of DJ’s is just another post to be filled along with getting a decent washer up for the kitchen.

The other end of the corporate music culture is to be witnessed in many of the new wealthy visitors. I was playing a chilled set round a hotel pool the other day when towards the end a group of around eight residents appeared all dressed up for their night ahead. One of the things that has always impressed me with the island is that it is non-ageist and it wasn’t just the age of these guests which I noted rather their demeanour and fashion sense. I felt confident that back in the UK their regular hangs outs would not have been rave clubs but more likely the local golf club or even Conservative club. So, where were this crew going for the night? Why to Ushuaia Hotel, one of the islands more full on and expensive venues. 

As they walked off towards their cabs I noted to a friend that they were going to absolutely hate it and would no doubt find themselves shelling out several hundred pounds during the evening and returning home lighter of wallet but full of tales of what an appalling night of cacophony they had to endure and how they were forced to pay exorbitant prices for drinks and food. The owners of Ushuaia aren’t too bothered though as, while this group might not visit their establishment again, there are many more to keen to buy into the ‘Ibiza experience’. 

I am now starting to wonder where some of these Ibiza venues are advertising. Are they placing enticing ads in Saga Magazine, The Lady and Country Life? Probably not but what has happened is that Middle England has been introduced to the delights of Ibiza through the celebrity columns of the Daily Mail and everyone wants a bit of the dream.

Lest I sound rather jaded in my comments I would add that the island continues to delight and entertain. Its spirit draws to it many open minded creative individuals and I am continually surprised how many DJ’s can produce sets which feature track after track of new tunes to my ears which, given the amount of time I personally put into listening to new music, is always a surprise and delight.


One of my fellow DJ friends here is MOC Paoli (to my mind a much under appreciated local treasure) who has long been resident DJ and responsible for much of the ambience of the exotic Bambuddha Grove. Paoli dates back to the Goa Trance scene of the early 70's and in fact is credited as being one of the people who helped to develop this particular genre of music. Noting that the early 70's was way before the dance scene kicked off in Europe and before sampling machines had even been imagined, I asked him how it came about. He remarked that at the time it was not uncommon for acid beach parties to take place in Goa with up to 700 people in attendance. DJing at these precursors of the rave scene he had noted that with so many people crammed together, many of whom were experiencing extreme LSD hallucinations, playing tracks with too many prominent and possibly ambiguous vocals tended to 'mess with peoples heads'. 

He explained how he and a few fellow DJ's got together with two tape decks and set about creating their own rough edits. This largely consisted of recording the intro to a track, pausing the record machine, rewinding the player and playing and recording the intro again. This might be repeated several times before winding on the track past the vocals to the instrumental break. This would again be looped several times. This simple formula formed the basis of a style of music which would eventually grow to maturity some years later when the first sampling machines became available and Goa Trance joined with music which had been similarly engineered in other parts of the world to form one of the many strands that would become dance music.

We have often joked about Paoli's ability to ‘DJ blind’, that is to mix tracks without using the headphones by cleverly and quickly manipulating the EQing of each track, blending them together using the house PA system. Standing by him the other night I was asking him about some of the tracks he was playing. I know that until recently he didn’t have internet in his house so was dependent on sitting in cafes with his laptop to download new tracks. I joked that he must have sat for hours with his headphones on before downloading the new tracks and he remarked that he often downloads them without listening because he knows their lineage and is reasonably confident of what to expect. So, maybe he is the DJ equivalent of The Who’s character, 'That deaf dumb and blind kid’ who played a mean pinball. 

All praise to Paoli who can downloads tracks he has never even heard, and mixes them with no preparation (and without using headphones) to create an endlessly entertaining set full of musical gems!

For my part here is a one of my recent mixes:

Balearic Spring Part 1

Balearic Spring Part 2

A Trip To The Beach

It must have been around 16 years ago that I first visited the island. I had been working in Saudi Arabia for a couple of months and phoned my partner to suggest she book a cheap package tour holiday to leave a couple of days after my return. As we had a friend who had moved to live here a couple of years before this seemed a good opportunity to visit. In truth I had never been on a package holiday before but it seemed like a simple option. We arrived late at night to a hotel, which has since been converted into one of the most desirable up market venues on the island. At the time it was anything but and we arrived around 2am to settle into our cell like room. No problem, we just needed somewhere to lay our heads at night. 

The next morning my partner noted that free breakfast was part of the deal so we made our way to the restaurant. It turned out this was less of a restaurant and more like a works canteen with seating for around 400 people. We joined the queue for deep fried eggs and dried bacon and took our place next to a family of six, two of whom were wearing the latest football shirts and already limbering up for the day by bouncing a ball round the breakfast table. 

Father, whose enormous gut was stretching a more classic football strip, the emblem of which was echoed on the very visible tattoo on his calf, tried to calm his young offspring with a vicious roar of expletives. It was at this point that I remarked that this wasn’t my idea of an ideal holiday breakfast and we opted to leave our half eaten slop and head off to find something better on a nearby beach.

Fortunately, a German friend, hearing that we were headed for 'the white isle, had written some instructions on a Post-it note. The words were: Salinas Beach, Sa Trinxa Bar, DJ Jonathan, The man with the Spanish guitar sells the drugs. As I made my way to that same beach again this year I noted that not much had changed: as weathered gypsy face of the guitarist still smiled from under an umbrella offering some over priced hash.


I must have spent the best part of an hour sitting in the DJ booth before deciding to go for a swim. The sea here is particularly salty and the first intake in my nostrils as I dived in was a shock to the system. But then feeling very relaxed I opted for floating in the limpid sea. If floating was an Olympic event I have no doubt that I would be on the UK team and so was luxuriating in this sport when I noted two young couples jump in off the walkway that leads over the rocks. I took no further notice of them and was intent on floating and stretching my frame when I became away of some sort of conflict going on between one of the couples, who were embracing in the waves. 

I turned to look at them some three yards away and quickly deciphered what was going on. He had just suggested that they make love in the waves where they were (somewhat surrounded by other bathers) The look on her face was one of shock and outrage as I saw her mouthing the complaint that, “everyone can see us.” Then his voice assumed that of a small boy being denied an ice lolly as he pleaded, “But I’ve been dreaming about this.” Ah the collision of romance and reality. 

I turned slightly and glimpsed the other couple who, clearly feeling less inhibited, were giggling as they tried to further entwine themselves while keeping afloat. At this point I decided that this was all a little bit too personal for me. I silently wished them well, climbed back on to the walkway and found my way back to the isolated comfort of my friends DJ booth.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Winter Reflections on the Island

Summer is almost upon us on the island. In fact seasons are something that I have had to rethink since coming here. In October when you expect leaves to fall, few do. What does happen though is that the last of the seasonal visitors leave and their passing is almost as sad as the falling of leaves. But in the natural cycle of course we need to rejuvenate – and I know a number of people who would be dead if they didn’t get a few months of R&R. Summers here are intense - in the nicest possible of ways. Strangely the summer months are the time when the island is most barren but it still manages to buzz and sparkle.

We arrived here last spring – or rather I left the UK in spring but I arrived to what seemed like a pretty warm blue skied summer.  The summer months were a blizzard of names and faces and I can only apologise to the number of dear people who have said to me, “You can’t remember where we met can you?” I don’t think this face and name memory thing is anything new for me. It has long amused me that I can get completely thrown when I meet someone, who I might know very well but in a different environment. Like neighbours, of many years, who I meet in a bar on the other side of the city. A lady who I only ever see from waist upwards as she stands behind the counter of my local shop but who I can not compute when I meet her full length. Whatever, winter months here are a time to meet and reinforce those friendships previously only glimpsed from the whirlwind of the season.

The visitors go home and some days it rains but mostly I remember dazzling sunshine and trees full of figs and oranges. Then in January overnight the whole island is covered in small yellow flowers. This continues till round the end of February when the farmers plough up many of the fields to reveal vivid ochre toned soil, so that the land looks like a rather fanciful Impressionist painting.
Art Critic: “That’s ridiculous, the land never looked like that.”
Observer: “But that is the land.”
Then just as the yellow flowers have diminished to provide an edging to the landscape, rather than its main radiance, an army of wildflowers starts sprouting from everywhere and the roads are lined with ostentatious growths sprouting white and yellow flowered wheels.

Just before I left the UK I saw a programme on TV about the growing campaign to plant wild flowers in cities. Every council in the country pays quite a bit of money each year to plant bands of brightly coloured flowers in civic areas and roundabouts etc. It hadn’t occurred to me that these plants are largely useless as far as insects are concerned because they have been bred for colour and don’t produce any nectar. Sheffield is trying to lead the way in planting wild flowers in their city. As well as being more sustainable I think wild flowers could help soften the hard edges of a city. Part of the problem though is one of taste. In the West we are used the concept of man dominating nature so a perfect rectangle of identically coloured flowers appeals to our innate learned sense of order. I remember hearing a review once on the radio by an art critic who was comparing two contrasting exhibitions. One exhibition was of Chinese landscape painting, the other of Victorian photography. The critic noted how the attitude of Victorian Britain was summed up by one of the photographs which featured a formal group of inappropriately be-suited surveyors standing proudly and dominant infront of the mighty and majestic Victoria Falls on the boarder of Zambia and Zimbabwe. He noted that their demeanour seemed to suggest that they might have made this magnificent edifice themselves. By contrast he noted that in a large Chinese landscape painting you have to look quite carefully to see the tiny man with his donkey cart as it disappears behind a willow tree. He continued by comparing a Chinese poem with that of ah honoured Victorian British poet. I can only offer a wild paraphrasing but the Chinese poem read something like this.

Fragrant peony
Bursting through a broken wall
I stop to breathe with you
Then walk off remembering your sweetness.

By contrast the British poem went something like this.

Oh simple dandelion growing out of the crag of rocks
I stoop down and pluck you from your hiding place
Gazing at you in my hand I think, ‘what is it that make you live?’

By which time of course the poor bloody dandelion is dead!

So maybe it's not just public policy that needs to change but also an attitude about our relationship with the living world.


In the meantime music continues and while there are less opportunities to share it with others in the winter I still find myself putting in around 20 hours a week sifting through music websites hunting for gems, all of which will be revealed when summer finally breaks on the island.

Here is a mix I put together reflecting on this time:

Warm Winter Beaches Part 1

Warm Winter Beaches Part 2