The votes have been counted, the adjudicators have adjudicated and the king has abdicated (subject to confirmation). The number one slot on this year’s Furtive 50 goes to the Mancunian scourge of worldwide discos, Ruf Dug, aided by the delightful Private Joy, with their wistful paean to streetsoul, ‘Don’t Give Up’. We caught up with the Dugster, tending to his ferrets on the allotment, and asked him a few questions. Answers (and the full rundown of the Furtive 50) below.
So tell me about the genesis of Don’t Give In? How did you meet Private Joy and how did the tune come about? I genuinely can’t remember making the beat. To me the Rhodes sounds like ‘Summer Madness’ and the piano solo is a cross between ‘Promenade Sentimentale’ from the Diva soundtrack and Moby. I sent an instrumental demo to Gerd Janson with a bunch of other tracks and this was the one he was really crazy for, but I couldn’t quite see it myself. It was his mega A&R skills that led to the vocal, he texted me one day saying, “Do you know anyone who can sing on it?” Private Joy is Pops from Lovescene who I’d previously collaborated with on ‘Make This Right’. This track seemed tailor made for her genius.
How do you make music, is there a set process? Do you fiddle about with machines until something emerges or is it a bit more focussed than that? Yeah it’s just constant fiddling and hoping that what I’m doing manages to keep my attention held long enough to finish the fucker. If I can get to 80% done without being totally bored of the tune I can usually finish it then. I’m definitely not one of these producers who has their workflow nailed and bangs out an album a week.
When you’re making tracks/songs in the studio what are you visualising; how other people will hear them playing in a club, playing on the radio? Or what? I don’t know if I visualise much when I’m actually making the tracks… Defo more moods and feelings rather than images and even then I think the feelings are kind of abstract: dark/light, up/down…
How did you get into dance music in the first place? Xmas 1984, got my first ever Walkman and a Now That’s What I Call Music tape, put it on and heard Giorgio Moroder & Phil Oakey’s ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ and that synth line at the start totally reprogrammed my brain and things have never been the same since.
Did you always want to be a DJ/producer or was it a happy accident? About a similar time we were on holiday in Ibiza, I would have been about 10, and saw a mobile DJ in a bar somewhere, playing all the hits. It was the first time I’d ever seen two decks, slip-cueing, headphone monitoring etc and I was hooked.
What’s your most memorable gig and why was it so good? My first ever gig was at an outdoor squat party in Sydney down the end of the runways of Sydney airport. The sun was rising, I was playing with a broken hand and a bunch of ravers were mooning planes as they were coming into land.
Which is more fun: DJing or producing? And why? DJing. I’m a pretty decent producer but I’m a fucking amazing DJ and I love it.
If you had to pick one record you’ve produced that best represents your sound, which one would it be? I’m very fond of ‘Don’t Give In’ and you’re only as good as your last tune right? This is the one for me.
Have you ever seen a DJ playing who changed the way you approached the job? Derrick May, Theo Parrish, Simon Caldwell, DJ Gemma… all DJs I saw in Sydney when I was first starting out that informed me on a million different levels.
What are your plans for 2023? Working on my audiophile system more and doing more parties, more broadcasting and more tunes. Many thanks to all who enjoyed ‘Don’t Give In’ enough to vote for it! DjHistory has been one of my biggest teachers over the years so to receive this honour is genuinely meaningful to me. I’m buzzing a LOT!
FURTIVE 50, 2022
RUF DUG X PRIVATE JOY – Don’t Give In
ALEX KASSIAN – Strings Of Eden
PINKY PERZELLE – No Games (VS&THOG Mix)
RHEINZAND – Facciamo L’Amore
LADY BLACKBIRD – Lost & Looking (Cosmodelica Remix)
ETERNAL LOVE – Altar EP
CONFIDENCE MAN – Holiday (Erol Alkan Rework)
A MOUNTAIN OF ONE – Star
STR4TA – When You Call Me
LANOWA – My Fantasy EP
SAY SHE SHE – Forget Me Not
EDDIE CHACON – Holy Hell
MAGREHBAN FT. OMAR – Waiting
NAT HOME – Witching Hour
COYOTE – Kate’s Bush
GENIUS OF TIME – Sunswell EP
CRUISIC – Pacific 707
CHRONIXX – Never Give Up
LEA LISA – Love To The End
DANNY TENAGLIA – The Brooklyn Gypsy
CHERRIE BEA – Jafar’s 21st
BOLIS PUPUL – Neon Buddha/Rendez-Voodoo
EMMA-JANE THACKRAY – Venus (BSO Remix)
TORNADO WALLACE – Dream Corner EP
TIGERBALM – Kete (Mang Dynasty Remix)
THE ZENMENN & JOHN MOODS – Out Of My Mind
JUSTIN DEIGHTON, PETE HERBERT, LEO ZERO – Sentiments Of Soho Theatre
ATHLETES OF GOD FT. LADY BLACKBIRD – Don’t Wanna Be Normal
JAMES ALEXANDER BRIGHT – Wheels Keep Turning
DJ LEINAD – Souvenirs (Deep Dean Remix)
CANTOMA FT. QUIN LAMONT LUKE – Alive (Conrad’s Vacant Lot Remix)
HIDDEN SPHERES – You Are Not Your Body
DAVID HOLMES FT. RAVEN VIOLET – It’s Over If We run Out Of Love
OMAR S – Can’t Explain
ALEX BOMAN FT. BELLA BOO – Nowhere Good
CAPINERA – Suonno
MAU P – Drugs From Amsterdam
BSS – De Regenboog
GUINU – Palago (Jose Marquez Remix)
HAAI & JON HOPKINS – Baby, We’re Ascending
JAMES RIGHTON FT. BENNY ANDERSSON – Empty Rooms
JACK J – Only You Know Why
GRAMRCY & JOHN LOVELESS – High Dive
OVEOUS X DON KAMARES – Legacy
PIG&DAN – Make You Go Higher (David Morales Stereo Mix)
CARLOS NIÑO & FRIENDS – Actually
RCHARD SEN – My Definition Of Funk
MAXINE SCOTT – Erykah U Bad (North Street West Vocal)
SIX O’CLOCK on a freezing Sunday evening on Hubert Street, down by the Holland Tunnel on Manhattan’s Lower West Side. The street is deserted save for a truck backing up to a loading bay. You have to look hard to find the open doorway up past the sloping pavement and, even then, there’s nothing out of the ordinary — no lights, no crush barriers, no wide-shouldered bouncers in nylon jackets. Nothing to suggest that this is the entrance to Vinyl, home of New York’s club-of-the-moment, Body & Soul. There isn’t even a queue.
Once inside, however, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. Passing through the warren of corridors, past the unobtrusive security, the first thing you notice is the chill-out area, with its collection of welcoming and obviously well-worn sofas. Beyond that, a couple of makeshift stalls sell Body & Soul T-shirts, hippy sweaters and hats. Even the main part of the club — a large plain square bathed in simple spotlights — seems surprisingly intimate for a venue which can hold up to 1,200 people. There’s just the dancefloor, a raised stage and, up to the side of DJ booth, a compact bar area serving energy drinks, sodas and mineral water. There is no alcohol on sale.
Body & Soul is a club which exists purely for the appreciation of music. It’s not a place for copping off with drunken strangers or getting ripped on E and pogoing all night on a podium. Aside from a few joints being passed around, there’s scant evidence of the heavy drug use — Ketamine in particular — which blights many New York clubs. Besides, the resident DJs at Body & Soul have seen it all before. Between them, François Kevorkian, Joe Claussell and Danny Krivit have been instrumental in providing a nocturnal soundtrack for New York City for the past 25 years.
Not that Body & Soul is just some trainspotter’s heaven. People don’t come here for a Sunday afternoon chill-out session — they come to dance. New arrivals pause at the edge of the dancefloor, stripping off coats and sweatshirts, stowing their outer layers in holdalls and bags which they then stack neatly behind the huge speaker stacks — a process we only fully appreciate after spending 50 minutes in the queue for the cloakroom. Out on the floor, it’s easy to see what makes the club special. The crowd is a unique composite of the New York club scene: colourful young ravers; groups of black and Puerto Rican club veterans; bare-chested gay musclemen. At the bar a clutch of DJs and musicians swap tips and records. As veteran DJ Kenny Carpenter puts it, relaxing at the bar: ‘You never see a crowd this mixed in the city.‘
As if in sympathy with the cross cultural mix, the music constantly shifts, from New York disco classics like First Choice’s ‘Double Cross’ to current dance hits and underground house mantras. There are some tracks, though, which everybody knows. Tracks which are the essence of New York club culture. When the guitar lick from Frontline Orchestra’s 1981 perennial ‘Don’t Turn Your Back’ bursts from the speakers, there is a chorus of knowing cheers. And, despite the early hour, steam starts to rise up in wispy plumes from the dancefloor, mingling with the knots of balloons and coloured paper butterflies suspended over the dancefloor.
IT’S NOW three years since an English ex-pat called John Davis approached François Kevorkian with an idea for a club. Davis wanted to hold a weekly Sunday afternoon party with Kevorkian as one of the featured DJs. Amazingly, Kevorkian — one of the longest-serving DJs on the New York club scene — agreed.
‘I was going to do something on a Sunday with [late New York pioneer and resident at Paradise Garage] Larry Levan,‘ says Kevorkian. ‘But we were playing together in Japan and when we came back he died, so it kind of took the wind out of me for quite a few years. I’d forgotten about it by the time John Davis came on the scene.‘
The idea that Davis and Kevorkian had was simple: they would host an evening that, despite being staged in a club, would feel like a house party. Sofas would be strewn around for people to chat on. There would be balloons suspended from the ceiling, along with cheap, gaudy trinkets that enhanced the DIY aesthetic. As for the music, there’d be none of the hard house and techno that powered the city’s big clubs like Twilo, Limelight and the Roxy. The music would create a mood rather than pound the dancers into submission. In fact, the whole atmosphere would be dictated by the music. Even alcohol would be off limits, with only soft drinks available at the bar. Another unique feature was the trio of DJs who, rather than play distinct sets, would play on-and-off throughout the afternoon and evening.
The idea was nothing new; Davis and Kevorkian would be the first to tell you that. In many ways it was a return to the past, when people went to clubs like Shelter and the Sound Factory specifically to hear one particular DJ. With dance music in general still an underground phenomenon in America, many promoters have turned to the UK dance press for ideas and inspiration. Over the past five years many clubs have started hosting ‘theme’ nights featuring, say, house one night and techno the next. Some even went as far as booking British DJs like Sasha and John Digweed as residents.
So when Body & Soul opened its doors in July 1996, it was as much a cultural statement as a nightclub. From the decor to the DJs, it offered a new experience to seen-it-all New York clubbers. As musical director, Kevorkian took responsibility for hiring the DJs. But rather than just hiring the newest, most fashionable spinners in town, he, ‘decided to call the two people I felt were the most talented I could think of’. Their names were Danny Krivit and Joe Claussell.
Krivit, now in his early forties, has been DJing in New York since the seventies. His stepfather Bobby used to run Ninth Circle, a gay hangout in the West Village, and managed Chet Baker for a time. His mother was a jazz singer on the New Jersey circuit. Danny also has probably the most revered collection of dance music in the city. Joe Claussell, meanwhile, ran an early New York house label, Jungle Sounds, and is now part-owner of the Dance Tracks record shop and a label, Spiritual Life.
As for Kevorkian himself, you could almost trace the entire history of New York nightlife through the experiences of this famously eccentric, French-born DJ, remixer, producer, studio proprietor and label owner. ‘He is, basically, a genius,‘ says Charlie Grappone of West Village record store Vinylmania. ‘He really knows dance music. He’s been in it since its inception. He’s mixed records that still have strength today. When he said he was going to start a label I just knew it was going to be successful. There was no way it could fail.’
Yet when I ask François himself about Body & Soul, he remains silent for a time, as if unwilling to draw too much attention to himself.
‘As far as the party goes,’ he says, finally, ‘John Davis is my partner and equally responsible for the party. I find it unfair to be the only representative of Body & Soul; I can only tell you what it’s like to be part of it. I very much value that team, whether it’s the staff at the door, the host or the coat-check people. It’s a whole bunch of people who love doing it. And I think it shows.’
NEW YORK has long been regarded as having the best clubs in the world. Not only are the clubs themselves legendary — Paradise Garage, Shelter, Sound Factory — but so are the DJs: Larry Levan, Timmy Regisford, Junior Vasquez. In this sense, Body & Soul is merely the continuation of a great tradition. One which many in the city feared had died with the closure of Timmy Regisford’s black gay mecca, Shelter, in the early ’90s (the club has since reopened).
Of course, this past can be restrictive. More than anywhere else, New York’s club history looms ominously over every promoter who discovers an old disco, every DJ who cues up a record, every keyed-up punter in search of a new place to dance. But at Body & Soul, the past is actively celebrated rather than treated with reverence. The days of the ‘Fun City’ which existed under Mayor John Lindsay in the early ’70s may be long gone — the current mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, is the most reactionary New York has seen for decades. The club population may have been decimated by Aids — many people will tell you that once Aids took hold, they couldn’t face going out to clubs because all they could see were the ghosts of friends who were no longer there. But Body & Soul is the living proof that New Yorkers — black and white, gay and straight — still know how to party like it’s 1979. As the veteran DJ Kenny Carpenter puts it: ‘You know what I feel like? Since I come from that era of DJs, I feel like I’m still running with the torch.’
Even so, there is far more to Body & Soul than ’70s classics: the evening’s soundtrack shifts effortlessly from Donna Summer to Armand Van Helden to Basic Channel’s minimal techno masterpiece, ‘Phylyps Track’. Context is everything. As far as Kevorkian, Krivit and Claussell are concerned, you can’t chart the future without a map of the past.
ON A DRIZZLY Saturday afternoon we meet François K at Axis, the recording studio he operates 16 floors above the site of Studio 54 on West 54th St, Manhattan. Typically for a man whose CV encompasses almost every genre in popular music, sessions here have involved such disparate talents as fellow DJ Danny Tenaglia and Mariah Carey. More recently, though, this has been the room where he fashions the strange, compelling fusions of dub, house, techno — or whatever else takes his fancy — that are the hallmark of his label, Wave Music.
François became a DJ by accident. After arriving in New York from his native France in 1975, he wanted to pursue a career as a drummer. The idea was to find like-minded musical buddies and form a group. However, he landed a job playing drums along to the DJ at gay discotheque Galaxy 21 on 23rd Street. It was there that François unexpectedly found himself at the centre of an explosion of club culture.
Coincidentally for Kevorkian, one of the foremost revolutionaries was the resident at Galaxy 21, Walter Gibbons. Gibbons’ trademark was drums. Indeed, he was cutting up breaks and drum tracks well before Grandmaster Flash. He was also one of the first to remix records purely for the effect they would have on the dancefloor. ‘He had an amazing instinct for drum breaks,’ says Kevorkian, ’creating drama with little bits of records.’ Kevorkian’s first forays into production were re-edits of drum mixes Gibbons played live, like Rare Earth’s ‘Happy Song’ or ‘Erucu’, a Jermaine Jackson production that first surfaced on the Mahoganysoundtrack. As a result of these early edits, François was offered the post of A&R at fledgling disco label Prelude. In his first week in the job, he remixed Musique’s ‘In The Bush’. It ended up going gold.
‘It was really my first experience in a studio,’ François says, his French accent now submerged in a New York drawl. ’And the record just blew out. Everywhere you would go in the summer of ’78, they were playing that fucking record.’
At the time, not only was François a regular fixture at all the major rooms — The Loft, Better Days, Paradise Garage — he would often be found playing at downtown after-hours gatherings like AM-PM. ‘John Belushi would be there all the time,’ he says. ‘Billy Idol would be lying on the floor half-drunk.’
Yet, by the early ’80s, Kevorkian had more or less stopped DJing altogether and he wouldn’t start playing again on a regular basis until 1990. Instead, he began to concentrate on remixing and production, developing a unique, dub-influenced style inspired in part by reggae producers like King Tubby and partly by an early UK dance track incorporating dub elements: Funk Masters’ ‘Love Money’. It was a style which proved equally effective whether applied to disco — the reprise of D Train’s ‘You’re The One For Me’ on their eponymous album; rock — Dinosaur L’s ‘Go Bang!’ and The Smiths’ ‘This Charming Man’; or early electronica. ’I pride myself on being the only person that has worked with most of the major electronic music figures,’ he says, ‘whether you’re talking about Depeche Mode, Erasure, Kraftwerk, Eurythmics or Jean-Michel Jarre.’
Great dance music is constructed as much from silence as it is from sound; what gets left out is as important as what goes in. And part of what makes François Kevorkian such a great producer is his unerring sense of what to leave out. Two decades on from those classic early mixes he continues to conjure new rhythmic textures — from the strange, echo-laden depth of recent Wave productions like ‘Time & Space’, ‘Mindspeak’ and ‘Hypnodelic’ to the sparse, dub-orientated tone poems he has wrought from Talvin Singh’s ‘Vikram The Vampire’.
In fact, over the past year, Kevorkian’s profile has risen steadily thanks to the quality of the Wave releases and the label’s burgeoning old-school offshoot, Wave Classics. Yet the release most likely to transcend his specialist-shop status here in the UK is the mix CD released as part of the Essential Mix series on ffrr.
‘It’s just a take on our scene here,’ he says, simply. ‘I think it’s incredible when someone just says, ”Pick what you think’s really great and let’s put it out.” What else can you ask for?’
BY 7PM THE dancefloor at Body & Soul is packed, the crowd growing more excitable with each record. Yet at times the response to the music — as when the O’Jays’ classic ‘Love Train’ comes in — is strangely devotional. An alternative form of Sunday worship. As one of Kevorkian’s contemporaries Steve D’Acquisto told the New York Post 25 years ago: ‘Nobody goes to church anymore, and if you listen to those songs, you’re getting religious and political instruction.’
Just after 10pm, the lights go up. To round off the evening, Danny Krivit throws on Lyn Collins’ rare groove anthem, ‘Think’. The crowd go into a wild hip-shaking frenzy. I look up and see François himself excitedly jumping up and down in the DJ booth. Then, as the track plays out, a Puerto Rican girl called Rosie accosts me. ‘It’s the bomb! I been meaning to go here forever,’ she shouts. ‘I cancelled a flight out of town so I could come here tonight. I had to. And it’s great, everybody getting off on the music, not the drugs. It’s the vibe, man.’ Bill Brewster
In the aftermath of the Second World War, hobbyists and tinkerers set to work stitching together the equipment for mobile DJing. One of these ‘men in sheds’ was Boston’s Ron Diggins, creator and controller of the wonderful Diggola.
In the wilds of Lincolnshire a 2008 auction of ’40s and ’50s DJing equipment sheds light on the career of a pioneering post-war disc jockey, one of the very first mobile DJs. Monster wooden consoles, ancient Bakelite gear and big clunking wind-up double decks, strictly for 78s. The equipment belongs to Boston hero Ron Diggins, who died in 2007, having started DJing in 1947 and enjoying a career spanning 50 years.
It was the notorious Jimmy Savile who revolutionised British nightlife by spearheading the Mecca organisation’s move from dance bands to DJs at the end of the ’50s. But in the austere post-war years leading up to this, Savile was certainly not alone in realising the mass entertainment potential of recorded music.
Ron Diggins was a professional radio engineer with a business providing public address systems. ‘I‘d been playing background music and doing voiceovers out the back of my van at school sports days and the like,’ he told the Boston Standard. ‘It was nothing to do with dancing – that was the last thing on my mind.’ But in September 1947, the farm girls from the Swineshead Land Army decided Ron’s gear could be put to better use: ‘They were passing the office, saw the van and came in to ask if it could be used for dancing. They were having a harvest supper with some of the Italian POWs. Well, I’d never thought of it before, but I didn’t want to lose the booking – so I said I’d give it a go.’
Ron’s waltz and quick-step 78s proved wildly popular, no doubt because his record selections gave audiences slightly grander music than they were used to. ‘When I started out, the ordinary village halls danced to live piano and drums – that’s all. If it was something extra special, they’d have a violin as well.’
In 1949 he built his famous ‘Diggola’ a wonderful art deco mobile DJ booth modelled on the bandstands of the jazz era. The first of six, it came complete with double decks for 78s, a home-made mixer, lights, microphone, amplifier and ten speakers. ‘It took me about six weeks to build the first Diggola. We couldn’t get plywood in those days, so soon after the war. So I had to make it out of coffin boards.’
Diggins was not alone in his pioneering efforts. In his Radio 4 documentary ‘The Other Mobiles’ Chris Eldon Lee tracked down a series of DJs operating in the 1940s and ’50s, including Bertrand Thorpe, who as far back as 1941 was rocking the crowds with his 30-watt amplifier. Bert recalls how he’d stand with his back to the audience flicking three 40-watt light bulbs on and off in time to the music.
In the ’50s Ron Diggins’ fame had spread so widely around south Lincolnshire that he had to hire two other DJs to keep up with his bookings. His success angered the Musicians’ Union, who used their clout to prevent him playing larger venues. So sadly, though he’d set his heart on it, Ron never played Boston’s Gliderdrome. He retired in 1995 after playing around 20,000 parties. The most he ever charged was £50.
‘I’ve invented nothing,’ he insisted on his 90th birthday. ‘I put the same things to a different use, that’s all.’ Frank Broughton
Up until the ’80s the word Balearic meant nothing more than a collection of islands huddled near the Mediterranean coast of northern Spain. It was the sort of place you might go to if you booked your breaks from the pages of a Thomson’s Holidays brochure. But then something strange happened. British DJs, holidaying on the island of Ibiza, discovered a DJ called Alfredo Fiorito and before we knew it, the Balearics – the location – also became a musical genre: the Balearic beat. So what is Balearic? Is it simply a genre, or more of a feeling? Did it ever exist outside of the confines of DJ Alfredo’s record box? A fuzzy and scattered set of records that may or may not include Wang Chung, Phil Collins and Simply Red? Or is it simply, as dance writer Frank Tope once jokingly defined it, ‘pop records that sound good on pills’?
A Short History Of Ibiza
Ibiza has always retained a mythical hold in people’s imagination. Its location in the Mediterranean meant it was perfectly positioned to offer sanctuary for transients travelling to or escaping from somewhere else. It was a favourite haunt of the Carthaginians’ whose goddess of sexuality, Tanit, populates trinket stalls on the island to this day. Its first settlers were the Phoenicians, who gave it its name (it derives from their god of safety, dance and protection, Bes); and thereafter by the Romans and the Vandals, the Arabs and the Catalans, the Jews (fleeing persecution) and Americans (draft dodgers, most of them), fugitives from justice and injustice, pirates looking for place to hide or trade; finally, it was the hippies and the jet set.
Ibiza is a tolerant place. You’d have to be to welcome/endure so many visitors over two thousand years. Despite the despotic Franco’s brutal reign on mainland Spain, it became known as an island that was particularly sympathetic to gay men and women, well before most of mainland Europe; Santa Eulalia was a popular gay tourist destination from the 1950s onwards and Ibiza has remained one of the top three gay holiday spots worldwide ever since. The island’s first gay disco, Anfora (snuck away in a cave in Dalt Vila) opened as long ago as the early 1960s. Pacha’s Piti Urgell recalls the contrast in attitudes between Ibiza and the mainland. ‘Once the police came to our club in Sitges and they said that that it wasn’t up to standard because it was too dark to read. My brother told them, “Well, that’s not a problem because nobody comes here to read!”’
An American Jack Hand (aka Bad Hand Jack) helped launch Ibiza’s musical scene when he began booking jazz musicians to come and perform on the island, including Billy Eckstine and Jon Hendricks (sadly, Jack lived up to his nickname and was later convicted of murder in Barcelona).
Thanks to its reputation among the gay community and among a strata of super-wealthy individuals, movie stars, actors and playboys found its secluded bays perfect for either relaxing or getting up to no good, away from the prying eyes of a hungry celebrity press.
Errol Flynn spent time there, along with Ursula Andress, Denholm Elliott (who made it his home), Nikki Lauda, Goldie Hawn and Roman Polanski. ‘Ibiza was pretty much left on its own,’ claims Bar M’s Willie Crichton. ‘This is why, in a way, we were able to have what we had. It was a well-kept secret. This was a bastion of liberty in the country. It was like an independent republic.’
Seminal hippie movie More, which employed a Pink Floyd score, was shot on Ibiza and nearby Formentera, and provided further temptation for the long-hairs of Europe to head for the Mediterranean. The Ibiza of 35 years ago was somewhat different to today’s commercialised island. Hippies would hang out in the open, often literally since many of them never bothered to wear clothes. ‘The show was not in the clubs it was in the streets,’ recalls Argentinian Nino, aka Captain Birdseye. ‘I mean the street was a club. You walked to the harbour and there was a crazy world there with the hippies and the hippie market, people naked on the street, drag queens, Germans on their motorcycles. But in San Antonio there were package tours and one of the attractions for the tours was to come and see the crazy people so they brought the tourists down to look. The people did not feel comfortable being looked at, so they took refuge in the clubs.’
The first modern-style club to be opened on Ibiza was Pacha. Even then it was already a burgeoning empire, with clubs on the mainland (their first place opened in Sitges in 1967). Pacha was opened by the Urgell brothers, Ricardo and Piti, the latter also being the founding DJ. Piti played a mixture of British rock (Island Records was a favourite label with bands like Spooky Tooth and Traffic particular favourites) and pop and soul. The early ’70s was somewhat different to now. ‘There were two floors and two worlds,’ explains Piti. ‘The touristy side was on one floor and the hippie world was on the other floor. The same music but totally different scenes on the different sides. Lots of hippies would come, but the tourists would come and they would also pay. The hippies would just bring their dogs.’
Pacha parties grew legendary. One such night involved a flamenco performer dancing with a horse on the main dancefloor. Another involved transporting the whole club on a boat to Formentera. And then there were the White Parties. ‘I’ll always remember the first White Party we threw in ’76, three years after it opened,’ chuckles Piti. ‘Everybody had to wear white. They were saying, ”What shall we do to make this party special?” So we put two UV lights so you could really see the white. Everybody made a really big effort. So when they put the lights on so the clothes glowed, everyone took them off and danced in the nude. The atmosphere was incredible. The challenge was to make a better party than that one because that one was just so amazing. But we never managed it.’
Jean-Claude Maury is a mysterious character who steps into the frame just as the camera lens blinks. His story collides accidentally with that of Ibiza and Balearic music despite the fact he is rarely, if ever, mentioned. He is the Zelig of the Balearic scene, a Frenchman, originally from Marseilles, who lived in Brussels. His background was originally as part of the punk rock explosion, but he first came to prominence as a DJ at the Mirano, a swanky Belgian club that is often described as the Studio 54 of the Lowlands. He was a primary influence on the Belgian new beat scene and championed the dark leftfield pop that became such a fixture in sets in Antwerp and beyond. It was Jean-Claude who broke Max Berlin’s ‘Elle Et Moi‘ and also did a very passable cover version under the name Joy. In Ibiza he was originally the DJ at Glory’s (which had French ownership) before moving on to Ku, where he was resident when Alfredo was making his name at Amnesia.
When asked about the DJ who influenced him most, Alfredo cites Jean-Claude Maury. ‘He was a very simple guy, without a massive ego. And, although he wasn’t young, he had a love for the music, particularly, and he had great taste. Other details are sketchy. Was the Jean-Claude who played at the opening night of Pacha Sitges in the late ’60s, the same person? And how much did he bring his new beat influences to bear on Ibiza?
Certain tunes offer a clue. Mag & The Suspects’ ‘Erection‘, for example, was massive with Belgian DJs like Fat Ronny and also a big Balearic tune. Connections like these show that Jean-Claude Maury almost certainly had an influence on the sound that eventually became defined as Balearic. And when you consider them side by side it’s not hard to see the links between the music played in Belgium during the years leading up the new beat explosion with that of Ibiza and Alfredo. The difference is probably just a healthy dose of sun to wash away the doom and acid rain.
In the very same year that Pacha threw their infamous White Party, a young Argentinian journalist arrived on the island by way of Madrid and Paris. Alfredo Fiorito was visiting a friend. He never left. His first job on Ibiza was selling candles on a market stall. A few years later he was running a friend’s bar. The bar also had some decks, a mixer and a small collection of records, so Alfredo doubled up as barman and DJ. He had but one ambition and that was to become resident at Amnesia, then an ailing open-air club that no one seemed able to make into a success. As to why he wanted this job, he says simply: ‘It was the most alternative place in Ibiza.’
Amnesia had originally been a finca that had belonged to the Planells family for several generations. They sold it to the aristocratic Maria Fuencisla Martinez de Campos y Munoz in 1970, who turned it into a hippie enclave replete with art exhibitions, live performances by stoner bands with a side order of mung beans. It became a discotheque in May 1976 when a Madrileño called Antonio Escohotado began leasing the finca from its owner. He chose the name Amnesia (having discarded the markedly less snappy the Workshop of Forgetfulness).
Amnesia was not a success for several years. Trevor Fung recalls going over to play there in 1984 after two Belgians bought the club. ‘There was no one in there. No one. Dead. I played there for about two weeks. It had just been bought and they’d just got it going. Didn’t happen. Lost my job.‘ During that same summer, Alfredo finally got his chance. ‘By the end of August, we had not had one person in the club,‘ he laughs, knowingly.
By the end of that season, it was the hottest club on the island. What changed their fortune was switching from regular club hours to after-hours – and a little Alfredo magic. It all happened by accident. ‘One night we’d been waiting to get paid and some of the people in the club, my work colleagues, asked me to play for them while we waited for the money,’ explains Alfredo. ‘Some people came down from Ku, heard the music and stayed there. Fifty to sixty people. The next day there was 300; the day after 500 and four days later there was a thousand in the club. Just like that.’ From then on, Amnesia opened at three and closed at midday.
The music that Alfredo compadre Leo Mas and a cadre of island DJs began to discover and promote over the next few years formed the original Balearic playlist (many of which were later codified on the FFRR compilation Balearic Beat Vol. 1). Although many of these records were mainly European and often English, they’d remained a mystery to many of the travelling British contingent – mainly because they were all soulboys for whom the idea of listening to music made by white people, especially white English people, was anathema.
Trevor Fung was an early devotee of Alfredo’s and soon got to know him. ‘At the time what I used to do was bring him stuff from the UK and he used to buy it from me,‘ he says, ‘I used to look through his records going, ”Where did you get this from?” I thought where the fuck did he get all this stuff? And then I looked at the labels and it was all English stuff. It was from Leeds and places like that. I thought what the fuck’s going on here?’
What was interesting about Alfredo’s selections was that even though they were, indeed, from unlikely locations like Leeds, they still somehow had a Mediterranean feel to them. The Cure’s ‘Pictures Of You‘ was a perfect example sounding like a strange hybrid of dour Estuary vocals and Latin heat; perfect for Amnesia, in fact.
What turned Alfredo’s music from a popular local curiosity to worldwide infamy was the intervention of four young enthusiastic British DJs out on a holiday at the behest of Fung, who was running the Project Bar during the summer of 1987: Johnny Walker, Paul Oakenfold, Nicky Holloway and Danny Rampling. It was Fung who had told Oakenfold about the burgeoning scene there (he’d actually been once earlier in the season, not liked it, and returned home). It was also Fung who introduced them to ecstasy.
‘I’d give them all one at the bar. I didn’t want to say too much, I just said, ”Try this, it don’t do too much to you!” Then we went to Amnesia. Fucking hell! We was all off on one here. Danny Rampling skipping round the room and jumping speakers. Johnny was sitting in a speaker. Paul was like, ”I can’t fucking believe this, it’s changed since I last been here!” Chaos.‘
Johnny Walker recalls that night: ‘I remember walking into this open-air, white-walled fabulous club with palm trees and mirrored pyramid and dazzling light show going on and all these crazy, flamboyant people dancing. You had all the jet-set around the edges drinking their champagne and all the gay crowd going mad on the dancefloor. It was a real carnival atmosphere, full of life and energy.’
‘And then hearing Alfredo play was completely mindblowing to what we were used to in London,’ he adds. ‘We were like, ”Wow! What the fuck is this?” Something completely different. Alfredo was mixing up house records with indie guitar records, pop stuff like Madonna and George Michael, and then some of the things that are now Balearic classics, that I suppose he was finding in Ibizan record shops. I think we did go there every night; we just couldn’t get enough of it. We were like: ”We’ve got take this back to London.”‘
What happened next has passed into legend in the UK. Often cited as the start of the dance scene in Britain (as though nobody had ever danced until ‘Acid Tracks‘ landed in London). Paul Oakenfold started The Future (aided by pal Trevor Fung), Danny Rampling ran Shoom in the Fitness Centre, while Nicky Holloway had the Trip at the Astoria. Within months they had help transform a holiday epiphany into a nationwide phenomenon.
‘Shoom DJ Colin Faver has never seen anything like it,’ wrote John Godfrey in i-D magazine. ’”At the end half of them come up and shake my hand. It just doesn’t happen anywhere else.” It’s the most obvious display yet of a realignment in club attitudes, a move away from the fashion victim voyeurism that has dominated London clubland in the past and more than just a return to ‘fun’. ”We want to change people’s attitude towards each other when they get out, get rid of that aggressive atmosphere that most clubs have,” says [Shoom’s] Jenny. ”As soon as you step inside The Shoom or The Future, you can literally feel and certainly see the difference. Nobody glares at you, everybody smiles at you and someone might even give you a present.”‘
Nights swiftly sprung up all over the country (although, in fact, many early house nights in Nottingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Sheffield had long been thriving anyway). The style magazines began gingerly stepping around the scene, while the tabloids’ interest – often denouncing and praising the scene, almost simultaneously – ensured that ‘raving’ became a national pastime for any youth with a sense of fun and access to some half-decent drugs.
‘Now while it’s true that the Balearic beat was born in Ibizan clubs, such as Amnesia and Pacha, its breeding took place in a small, sweaty, strobey, smoky south London club called… The Shoom,‘ wrote Terry Farley, in the sleevenotes for Balearic Beats Vol. 1, a compilation that was entirely based on the playlists of DJ Alfredo. ‘The hardcore original Shoomers, along with another London club The Future, had discovered the joys of Balearic beats, during several previous ‘summers of love’ (sic), and had brought the music and the attitude back to London with them. The kinetic style of dancing now associated with Balearic’s ugly brother, acid house, is pure Ibizan in origin. The loudest screams at Spectrum are always reserved for Nitzer Ebb and the Residents while hearing Enzo Avitabile booming through the smoke at Joy is an ecstatic experience one step away (some say forward) from sex.’
The arrival of the Balearic beat, reinforced by the unstoppable force of acid house, altered the direction of British clubbing and, indeed, British youth culture, for the next 15 years. But, while it was Balearic that was the launching pad, the idea of playing eclectic sets in the same manner as Alfredo soon waned as the new house hegemony began.
The New Balearic
These days Balearic is a constant. It’s almost as ubiquitous as minimal house. So what does it mean now? Is it a genre of music and does it have anything to do with Alfredo?
In the 1980s, before the arrival of house music, almost all club DJs played an eclectic range of music that might incorporate disco, funk, soul, rare groove, go-go, electro, hip hop and even the occasional comedy record (and some would argue that comedy records are the epitome of Balearic). Nobody billed these DJs as Balearic; a) because the term did not yet exist and; b) because everybody played in this style.
In New York, it was the same story, too. Larry Levan, with his wide ranging tastes that encompassed the classic disco and soul of his youth to bands like the Clash or Cat Stevens or even Nu Shooz, it could be argued (and is, frequently, by some) that Larry Levan was Balearic. The same could be said for Ron Hardy. And Frankie Knuckles. Oh and Tony Humphries, Shep Pettibone, David Mancuso, Nicky Siano and about a hundred others.
What house created was both a template – a hegemony – but also because of its all-consuming power, it created a small but vocal opposition. The reason many DJs used it as a shorthand term to describe their style was a simple way of differentiating them from everyone else. It was a way of saying, ‘We don’t only play house’.
The idea behind Balearic is that any record could be made to work on a dancefloor provided it had the right feel (that fantastically nebulous word that means one man’s Funkadelic is another man’s Dana International). But it’s also because the idea of a bearded misery guts from Wigan who had never been further south than Macclesfield calling himself a Balearic DJ was intrinsically funny (it still is).
So the new Balearic – or The New Balearic, should I say – is both a myth and a reality. It’s a myth in as much as there is no specific genre of Balearic as there is for, say, house or happy hardcore or even hardbag. But it’s also a reality, an alternative reality, admittedly, in which records from any genre can be Balearic if someone has the chutzpah – or the stupidity – to claim so. Balearic is like the giant rabbit in the James Stewart movie, Harvey, a preposterous notion to some, but to Elwood P. Dowd, a very real six-foot fluffy animal. You either get it or you don’t. Thus Wang Chung can be Balearic, as can Simply Red or Jamiroquai. The list is endless, as is the debate.
For some DJs – like the Idjut Boys or DJ Harvey – it’s simply about taking some foggy notion of what it is and interpreting it their own distinctive way. The most important thing about becoming a Balearic DJ is to have a sense of the absurdity of your chosen role. You should take great pleasure watching faces drop on a packed dancefloor as they realise they have been dancing to Cliff Richard or Lieutenant Pigeon for the past three minutes.
For the original Ibiza DJs, that time and place has long passed and for most of them the style they championed was not necessarily an ethos or lifestyle, but simple expediency. An Ibizan DJ would be playing almost every night for up to eight hours a day; they had to fill 40 hours or more programming a week. ‘I think it was because we were brought up like that, but also there was not much choice,’ thought José Padilla. ‘Now you can specialise in Detroit techno or deep house or whatever, then you had to play with what you had. We had to play so many hours that we have to play different tracks to make the session happen. It’s not because in Ibiza we like to play like that. We have to play Talk Talk, we have to play Belgian beat, we have to play rock, we have to play reggae, because we have to fill the space of so many hours.’
Terry Farley, not only wrote the sleevenotes for the 1988 Balearic Beats Vol. 1 compilation, but also championed much of the music. He has been known in his distant past to have played records by Phil Collins, though thanks to counselling – and primal scream therapy – has not re-offended for many years. ‘My personal view on Balearic is that it was a moment in time namely a few Ibizan clubs from 1986-88 and Alfredo’s personal taste. In 1988 all the records spun at Future and Shoom were direct steals from his sets. It was when the UK DJs tried playing their own pop records on drugs that it went wrong (I stand at the front of the guilty queue myself) although it was fun at the time.’
I canvassed opinion on some message boards as to what Balearic really means: ‘Harvey playing Easy Lover in the a.m. at New Hard Left,’ said one; ‘Hearing Donna Summer’s ‘State Of Independence‘ on a pill for the first time,” countered another; ‘Love of music for its own sake, free of puritanical bias and entrenched prejudice, free of marketing pigeonholes…’ But this put it more succinctly and more ludicrously than anyone else: ‘It’s a state of mind,’ wrote Barry Devan. ’It’s a group of islands. It’s sand in your foreskin but not caring. It’s Clark’s comfy shoes. It’s corduroy. It’s a lazy place. It’s warm. It’s Wellington boots. It’s knowledge. It’s Moonboots. It’s carpet not laminate. It’s Van Halen not Europe. It’s council not Hilton. It’s Jason Boardman. It’s the M10. It’s borrowing not buying. It’s me, it’s you, it’s everybody. It’s bollocks. It’s great.’ Absurd, but true. Bill Brewster