Why Ibiza Won't Become The Next Miami

Clubs are fighting to protect the island's bohemian identity.
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Clubs are fighting to protect the island's bohemian identity.

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You cannot know yourself, until you know what you are not. The hundreds of thousands of people who have descended on Ibiza this summer have made the happy discovery that all of the famous old nightclubs, the venues that made Ibiza what it is, are reclaiming their true, Balearic identity. It has been a disorienting past three years – sparked by the sudden Miami-fication of Playa d’en Bossa – but, ultimately, an illuminating one. Just in time for the summer, the island’s clubbing institutions decided the path to follow is not to copy the luxury upstarts, but to embrace their inclusive, hippy-chic roots once again.

When the high end club-hotel concept that is Ushuaia sprung up in Playa d’en Bossa – a previously Costa-esque resort – three years ago, the competition did not know what to make of it. Although the product of an Ibizan family, the Matutes, the vibe was very American, very Miami/Vegas. It had been a winning formula across the Atlantic, and the family saw no shame in importing a concept that could bring prosperity to both themselves and the island. Ushuaia was swiftly embraced by clubbers for the sprawling open-air dance floor, replete with sound systems and stages, all constructed within its self-contained concourse. Radio1 and Pete Tong moved in. It also proved popular, right from the off, with the rich and super-rich, looking for Dubai-style accommodation in Europe.

Ibiza’s super-clubs, oozing flair and heritage all, did not react; they accepted Ushuaia. Clubs such as Pacha and Privilege could hardly object when they had played their part in cultivating a VIP culture on the island in recent years, sanctioning 70 Euro entry fees just for standard tickets. The Matutes themselves are also well-liked. This journalist could not find anyone with a bad word to say about them. The President of Grupo Empresas Matutes, a former MP who represented the Balearics in the Spanish Government, is passionate about bring jobs to the region, while his son, the CEO, is blessed with an ability to connect with everyone.

However, the Ushuaia Hotel has undeniably brought a different demographic to a place that has previously prided itself on its easy inclusivity. Then, hot on the heels of the inaugural hotel, the Ushuaia Tower surfaced next door (a taller hotel, offering rooms which are even more expensive). It didn’t stop there either. The Matutes bought the rights to a Hard Rock Hotel franchise, completing a hat-trick of five-star hotels. Each offers a clubbing experience of a kind, but the triumvirate carry a different vibe to anything the island has seen before. A golf course, shooting range and upmarket mall feature next on the agenda.

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“Maybe it is a romantic view, but I think I prefer Ibiza when it does not try to be quite so perfect,” says DJ Tania Vulcano, a resident at DC-10 and a regular performer at Space, Amnesia and all the other big venues over the last fifteen years. On visiting the island, it becomes clear that the Matutes’ Plan de Excelencia has encouraged the island’s party makers ­– its club owners, staff and promoters – to come to the same conclusion as Tania. After a slow start, the community is looking in the mirror and belatedly taking it upon themselves to recapture a more utopian Ibiza once again.

Pacha spokesman Rafa de Siria tells me the Matutes are “doing a really good job” but that what they have created is “not for him”. It has been agreed that Pacha’s marketing slogan this year will be ‘taste the real spirit of Ibiza’. “There are now a lot of clubs where the formula is from Miami. We want to say to people that we are still the same, with the same Ibiza spirit as from forty years ago. Our identity is about hippy chic. It’s more than about merely the DJs; we want to show the character of the club.”

Ibiza’s Flower Power Tuesdays, which celebrate the fashions and sounds of the decade in which Pacha Ibiza was born, reflect how Pacha is looking nostalgically backwards for its inspiration. The 1970s saw hippy culture permeate globally, but nowhere more famously than in Ibiza. The nights are run by Jessica Capez, who admits that the island came close to losing its essence recently. “What makes people fall in love with Ibiza when they come is a sense of freedom. I must say that changed a little bit, but the authenticity is still there and we want to enhance it. Pacha itself remains an old, white, Spanish house! We want to throw that out to the world.”

Even Space, one of the most hardcore clubs in the world, is placing greater emphasis on promoting purer experiences this year. “The essence of Space is about relaxing and enjoying the music,” PR Jorge Moreno tells me. “The essence of Ibiza,” he adds, pausing for effect, “is love”. At the time of writing Space were just learning that the scheduled start time of their opening party, larger than those of all their rivals, would have to be put back from 12 noon to 4pm. A few years ago this might have caused tension between the clubs and the Balearic government, but there is an absence of a desire for conflict in Ibiza this year. “It is difficult to find anyone in Ibiza that gets angry,” Moreno tells me. “There are enough people for all the clubs. You won’t find any shooting in the streets here.”

Over at Privilege, most famous for the theatrical sex shows held at its Manumission parties in the 90s and early 00s, there is a renewed appetite to capture the ethos of Ku (the old name for the venue). While Privilege won’t be offering free entry in the manner that Ku once did – switching on the lights alone costs a small fortune at this one-time aircraft hangar, which remains the biggest club in the world – they do provide considerable discounts for Spanish nights. “The Spanish will always find a way of coming to Ibiza, even if it means going without food for a week,” I’m told. “But since the recession we see that they maybe buy one or two drinks rather than four, and spend nothing on merchandise. We want to make sure Privilege is for everyone. We are selling magic, after all.”

If Ibiza ever forgot that it was selling magic, well, it’s appears to have remembered. Whatever else the controversial development of Playa d’en Bossa has achieved, it has clearly united a will amongst the island’s traditional so-called superclubs to become fun-loving, innocent, Iberian discotheques once again. Far from upsetting the dynamic here, the recent regeneration has only served to make the rest of Ibiza more ‘Ibizan’ than ever before.

Follow Barney on Twitter @BDOCullum