Continuing where we left off last week, I was really excited and more than a bit honoured to be asked to play in the back room of the greatest club night on Earth, as Manumission undoubtedly was.
I’d never even been to Ibiza before that summer. For me and my sort, the so called White Isle was the home of straight up house music and very little else, and as a well documented loather of that style of music, and a lover of The Prodigy, drum n bass, breakbeats and leftfield dance tracks, I had, unsurprisingly, never been asked to play there.
After a wide-eyed journey from the airport to Privilege, where Manumission took place at the time, slack-jawed at all those massive billboards advertising nights with huge DJs (the best one was blank, but for the words “Reserved for Sander Kleinenberg’s ego”, which I thought was borderline self-deprecatory genius), we went for a very late dinner and then on to the club, where the closing party was well underway. The place was rammed. Having said that, Privilege was so vast that even with 10,000 people in there, it was easier than most clubs to get around.
I was shown to the DJ booth in the Coco Loco room and looked down over the heaving crowd. I was slightly nervous. I didn’t want to clear the floor with my first tune. So I thought I’d play relatively safe at the top: I recall the first record I dropped was Tiefschwarz’s remix of Spektrum’s ‘Kinda New’.
It worked, and now I could start to push them a bit. Adam Freeland’s mixes of Nirvana and White Stripes rolled out, that old bootleg mix ‘Skanktuary’, which samples ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ by The Cult. I noticed that during these unofficial remixes, whenever the mix went back to the original sample, the crowd reacted euphorically, hundreds of hands shot roofwards and the room lit up with the reflected light from a thousand smiles. So I mixed in The Cult’s original and the room went bananas.
Halfway through the set, one of the Manumission PRs came over and asked how I was, and if I needed some drinks.
“I’m shattered but very happy, thank you”, I said. “I’ve been up since seven o’clock yesterday morning”. It was now nearly 6am the next day.
The PR ricocheted off somewhere and bounced back a few minutes later with a bottle of vodka, some mixers, and a crumpled up Rizla paper, which he placed on the record deck with a knowing smirk, adding: “This’ll sort you out”.
I’ve booked many a DJ whose first question on arrival is “do you have any drugs?” I’m bound to add that I’ve never, ever asked for drugs from a promoter. It just gives you a bad rep. But that night felt extraordinary. I felt like a famous gladiator in the last years of the Roman Empire, and you know what they say: “When in Rome…”
I waited until my set was over and snorted up the probably quite generous contents of that crumpled cigarette paper, and exited the booth to watch Manumission’s mesmerising 6am main show. As The Greatest Show On Earth unfolded before my eyes, I sensed something was not right. A wave of panic hit me and my heart started racing upwards in tempo. Like the end of the first Indiana Jones film, when the German soldiers watch the Ark Of The Covenant being opened, it starts off as the most beautiful thing they have ever seen, then like the flick of a switch, turns to pure horror. My night suddenly turned into unprecedented despair. Oh my god, I thought, I’m going to die in Manumission. My son’s face flashed before me and I had images of newspaper cuttings, little paragraphs at the bottom corner of inner pages, that read, ‘Radio DJ found dead in superclub’.
I went back to the now empty back room DJ booth and panicked, sweating like a galley slave. I rinsed out my nostrils and drank water, but that was just shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted. I was in trouble. A second wave of panic hit me as the name of Manumission’s main press guy flashed up on my vibrating phone. I was supposed to be interviewing the club’s main resident DJ. The full horror of my position engulfed me. The embarrassment of the situation simply added another layer of panic to my already maxed-out nervous system. Like a spitfire pilot with a bullet riddled cylinder block and all dials in the red, needles bending against the stopping pin, I went into a tailspin. I spent the next hour or so avoiding the PR’s increasingly frequent calls, and playing a game of cat and mouse in this enormous venue.
I ended up backstage, losing myself in the area where all the dancers were milling about. Some of the most beautiful buttocks I will ever lay eyes on jiggled past me at eye level as I sat on some steps, oblivious, with my head in my hands. I even stuck my head in the dancer’s shower, to cool it down. Grease-painted faces looked at me as they sashayed past, all too busy to give me any more than a cursory glance. They must have seen this time and time again – another week, another casualty, business as usual.
After what was probably about an hour of cat and mouse, I decided to answer the phone this time and lay the PR’s mind to rest. I asked them to meet me outside, where I sat down in the broad daylight and came clean.
The PR was very understanding and explained that the drugs were much stronger here, and that they’d assumed I’d know to take less than normal. They had forgotten I was an Ibiza rookie, and didn’t know me well enough to know how green around the gills I was with a drug that many DJs treat with the same normality as a cup of tea.
I’ve never been more than a once-in-a-blue-moon partaker of Class A drugs and consequently my resistance is much less than more frequent users. A lightweight. Panda blood not tiger blood, as I wrote here a while back. That was the last line of coke I ever took. And just writing this made my heart beat a lot faster and a slight echo of that panic reverberate around my head. As I sat outside that morning in Ibiza, listening to the muffled beats from inside the club, my body seemed to absorb and draw strength from the increasing sunrays, like a knackered Superman, my strength returned and I started to feel like a more normal, albeit wobbly, version of myself.
I pulled my shit together and headed backstage with the PR. Not long after, with the interview in the can and nobody any the wiser, I looked back at the day and night with a mixture of shame and triumph. But the positive side still stood out stronger.
I’d dropped rock and drum n bass on a crowd that had never heard it in that space, and it worked. The first Pendulum tune ever to be dropped in Ibiza made those massive speakers wobble like they had never wobbled before, and half of that crowd almost exploded with gratitude. Nirvana, Blur, Franz Ferdinand, Led Zep had all been thrown out in the mix, and I’d had one of the best sets of my life. The joy on the face of that crowd had not gone unnoticed by the Manumission bigwigs. There was a definite sense that a spark had been struck in a massive tinderbox of very dry kindling.
Next time: Rock arrives at the island of house. The return of Adam Freeland to the club that had previously thrown him off the decks after two tunes. Barry Ashworth celebrates his return to The White Isle by staying awake for three days straight. And Pete Doherty wants some smack to go with his crack. The incredible roller-coaster of how Ibiza Rocks started continues with its first year in existence.