Balearic Iconoclast - In Conversation with Apiento (FoH2016)
The head-honcho of Test Pressing, Apiento, chats with FoH about all that's balearic, bohemian and decadent. This conversation was WILD. Some of the weirdest/best bits are being kept back for a discussion dedicated to them alone.
In this series of interview highlights we talk about just what "balearic beat" was and is, how it influenced the world of dance music, the interplay between house and Ibiza, and we think about balearic spirituality/religiosity in a way that only really exists in special locations.
Don't forget to check out the specially created playlist to accompany our chat with the lovely Apiento. Classic and modern balearic beats at their finest.
FOH: So how would you define... I hate the term "balearic beat", if you can some up with a better one feel free, but can you define what that is? What is it about? What does it sound like?
A: Well originally I think it was an anything goes term. Some people would say that balearic beat is what Alfredo played in 1987, but I don't think it's that simple, I think there were a lot of DJs before him that paved the way. And you know Alfredo was DJing for years but then, you know, there was a time when—I think it's two different things—there was a time when balearic beat was very much what was played in Amnesia and night clubs like that so it would be anything from Sade to the big house records of the time; Marshall Jefferson records or whatever, through to like Nitzer Ebb and the harder end of really great electronic industrial records basically. And then Alfredo would play weird things like The Pink Panther theme tune and things like that. And that was the original balearic sound. Then in the latter years, maybe 10 years ago, there was sort of a bit of a revision of the very much José Padilla end of it, which is the Café Del Mar DJ obviously. Amazing DJ who used to DJ to the sunsets. And from there came this, more esoteric, floaty sound.
FOH: "Chill out" in inverted commas?
A: Yeah. You could say that. Yeah. Like good chill out. Yeah. So that's kind of what the new sound has become. But then, as ever, I like the tougher end of things so I tried a new beat record a few years ago and that did alright. So it's still pulling from the different strands that were originally making it up. So it's not just... flamenco guitars. If we're talking strictly balearic stuff then I think you're looking at labels like Aficionado and all the modern labels: Claremont 65, what Phil Mison's doing with his Cantoma project, Music for Dreams in Denmark. And International Feel which I'm half of.
FOH: While you've brought up Alfredo; every single interview that I've done so far, this is the only one where I've prompted it, every single interview that I've done so far—everyone's referenced that moment where Holloway, and Oakenfold, and Rampling go over and meet Alfredo. Is it that big of a deal? It seems to have become this myth that's super important.
A: Moment in time. I think there were people out there before. A good person to go and speak to is Nancy Noise, who is the queen of balearic in a funny way. She used to work with Paul Oakenfold, and she was out there from I think like 86 and 87, when it was still... there'd be people basically robbing their way around Europe to pay for their summer trip so, some quite... you know... obviously great people but people that weren't probably using the fairest ways of keeping their summer running. And Nancy knew loads of them. So there was quite a hardcore contingent of people that were there pre-Oakenfold and people like that. But I think it was those guys that knew how to do things and how to throw parties and Paul Oakenfold had been working at Def Jam, and he knew how to do it. So I think they came back and tried to bring that scene—and this is talking from a purely London perspective—they tried to bring that scene back to London and had parties in Project club in south London or wherever it may be that sort of start at 2am or Shoom and Land Of Oz. I think they're sort of some of the big clubs and then you had Fabio and Grooverider and people like that on the flip side of it at Rage and you know playing the slightly harder end. I just don't think there was tons of parties that you could go to then. You know there was Mr C and all those guys who were very important in bringing back that sound and Rampling was obvious on Kiss FM when it was a pirate so you know.
FOH: Oh right. Didn't know that.
A: Yeah so he could be playing those records. There's tapes of him, there's probably tapes on Test Pressing, and he's on the mic whispering "balearic" over the top of records. These people really believed in it. I think they had an epiphany on an E and all danced around in the sunshine holding hands.
FOH: Why is house music and dance music in general, electronic music, whatever you want to call it. Why is it very obsessed with, kind of... there's a couple of themes that come out in house music all the time, I'm curious where these themes come from and one of them is: dance music is obsessed with "the soul". Why?
A: Why? I don't know to be honest with you. I honestly wouldn't... I can't speak for anyone else, but everyone’s probably had that moment where you felt the hairs on the back of your neck go up when someone’s played a record at a certain point in time and it does touch you, and it's right, and it's a whole communal thing, and everyone feels the same thing. It is very church-like in a funny way which is what leads you back, it's a communal experience of a good few hundred people all enjoying the same feeling at the same moment in time. And if you put in very similar drugs to that pot then you've got something very, very potent.
FOH: I feel that with Ibiza it's hard to draw any kind of dividing line between the music, the culture and the drug aspect of what goes on.
A: Well I think Ibiza now is very different to what it was in the 80s. But in the 80s, what it had going for it was there was only a certain number of people in it, and it felt very, I'd imagine, very privileged and very much like you were part of something that wasn't known to many people. And there would be people from Germany or Holland or Spain or wherever and you'd all just be there together. You can watch videos and you can see it's a real mixture of people.
FOH: House music, and the balearic thing, in that late 80s period, that was the period where those two things really started to happen. To your mind, was there any interplay between the two or was it an insulted thing where they occurred separately.
A: Oh it was just a massive part of it! It would just be a big part of the night where you would build up to that moment where it was like, you know. Balearic is very much "anything goes", that's the whole premise of it loosely, that you can play anything as long as it's got that feeling of euphoria or ecstasy or whatever; ecstasy in that "arms-in-the-air" way. So I think it wasn't seen as a separate thing, it was very much a part of what was being played in those nightclubs at the time. And they were all going off, lots of the DJs would go and be sent off to Italy to buy records for example, which is where they'd pick up the odd indie records that were on Rough Trade like "Why Why Why" by The Woodentops, or the pop records like Mandy Smith, which was a PWL Stock Aitkin and Waterman record, "I Just Can't Wait". And I think that... That Mandy Smith tune is like a poppy house record basically. But it just has a brilliant flamenco guitar all over it which probably sounded incredible on ecstasy at 3 or 4 in the morning. But I would say house music was very much integrated, it wasn't a separate thing that got played as part of the evening. People would say that about London night clubs, taking it back, that, actually, there was point—like Noel Watson and people like that, the early house DJs or the early people playing house here—where you'd got to a warehouse party and obviously they'd be playing funk and even go-go say, if it was the mid 80's, and, yeah, rare groove or whatever, and they'd play a few house records, and all the kids that were into that would run onto the dancefloor, and then they'd finish and they'd run off again when they started playing Maceo and the Macks or whatever, the James Brown tunes.
FOH: In terms of what Ibiza is now, the times I've been recently, it feels like it's two separate places to me. There is the super clubs and San Antonio, and then there are little places that feel completely detached from the rest of the island, and that feel a little bit more sincere—if that makes me a snob I'm sorry—but do you think that is anything that will stick around, that smaller, nicer—
A: Side of it? Well yeah I think the island is still beautiful, the north of the island, the beaches, and they still have all the hippies and the hippy market, and people still have these percussion circles and things like that. You know, playing their bongo's on the beach. So I think there's still elements of it there, but I wonder whether the clubbing side of it will ever capture that again. Because they've locked it down so much. I think the last time I went there and thought "this is quite crazy" was when DC10 still had an outdoors part, and it was the year Kings Of Tomorrow "Finally" was out, so it was then, that big tune. 2001. It was open air, everyone was high, people crawling around on their knees out of their minds, and it was like "wow! this is brilliant! this is really great!", it felt like the end of Rome. Really good. And you could still have a good time at Space I'm sure, but it's very much a money-based thing. Space is closing now anyway. I think lots of the clubs lose money now, they generally work that they'll lose money for the first 2 or 3 months they're open in the season, and the few months is what'll earn them enough money to do it again next year. But if you go to Pacha and it's still mental on a Saturday night. But it's a different thing, there's women on swings with lasers up their bums.
A: That actually is true! I saw it! We used to go to Pacha and Pippi would be playing and he'd be playing really amazing percussive house records. DJ Pippi. He's like an old school Ibiza guy, Kenneth in Denmark can hook you up with him. He's a good person to speak to. But he's been DJing for years there, and he kind of runs across the whole thing and was probably still very popular after Alfredo. And then you'd still get beautiful 40/50 year-old German women on the podium having a lovely time, and there'd just be loads of room to dance. And there'd be whoever DJing, Pippi and someone else. That was probably the last great time for me before it went "big names on the roster" on the flyer. I think you can still find the essence of the island but I think if you want to party and have that feeling then the festivals in the Croatia at that whole site at Tisno for example, Dimensions, or the one that I do Love International, you can party next to the water and it's got that freedom and that feeling and everyone's there together and in it, and that's where you can feel it. I'm not sure if you can find it in Ibiza. I'm sure though, that someone who loves Ibiza and goes all the time would tell you "this is where you go".
FOH: The place has had a bizarre history hasn't it, more so than most because it's so out on a limb.
A: Yeah totally. And I think you could get away from what's going on in other countries in a way, you could only get there by ferry at certain points. There's a really great book actually, if you remind me I'll tell you, but it's actually a cook book by this lady, but she tells stories of her life around it4. In fact, there's two good books, there’s this other guy Damien, that Phil Mison did a talk with, but his books really good. And they cover that hippy end of it, but the hippies were hugely important in the 60s and 70s in Ibiza. Because I think without them you don't have the infrastructure of the night clubs because, even if you look at Ku in the 80s they would still have a Miss Tanga night and a Mister Tanga night and then they'd still have a hippy night. There's definitely a whole side to it that's worth checking out.