It's a disgrace

The vice-consul calls them `depraved' while tabloids condemn their clubs as `pornographic'. Yes, thousands of young Brits on Ibiza are having the time of their lives. By Alister Morgan
Click to follow
The British vice-consul on the Spanish island of Ibiza has resigned - shamed, he says, by the behaviour of young British tourists who go to the island in their thousands to party. "These degenerates are dragging us through the mud," said 51-year-old Michael Birkett. "These young people are out of control."

Ten years ago Ibiza's heady mix of sun, sex and dance music inspired visiting English promoters to create a comparable experience in the UK, and modern acid-house was born. In 1998 the UK's club industry continues to decline while Ibiza, boasting the biggest and best venues in the world, attracts more hedonists every year - 85 per cent of them British.

Essentially the same nocturnal activities that take place every weekend in towns and cities across Britain are mirrored on Ibiza, but the Spanish island acts like an amplifier, lending the experience a larger-than-life, open-all-hours quality. Ibiza follows its own, uniquely exaggerated programme. In the UK a Saturday night timetable might read as follows: 8pm, eat dinner; 9.30pm, meet for drink; 11pm, hit nightclub; 4am, get taxi home; sleep until midday.

The Ibiza itinerary requires considerably higher levels of stamina. Midnight, meet for dinner; 12.30am, hit local bars; 2.30am, go to club; 8am, leave club; 9am, go to daytime club; 2pm, go back to hotel; crash until 10pm.

For thousands of clubbers it's a trip worth saving for (seven-day packages start from pounds 140), and worth sleeping on a mate's floor or on the beach for a couple of weeks. It's a place where fellow believers fill the streets and the weekend never ends. But, of course, for others Ibiza represents Sodom and Gomorrah.

Fiona and Tricia from Hastings are both 17 years old and "Ibiza virgins" (the phrase refers to the fact that it's their first time on the island). "My friends came last year and kept saying that this was the best place in the world," says Tricia. They've pushed their way to the front of the crowd to watch Pete Tong at Cafe Mambo. The broadcast lasts several hours. They look tired but are still smiling. "This is the best place - the best place in the world!" Fiona agrees with her friend's assessment. "The people here are so friendly, and the clubs are amazing. We've been here two weeks already, so we're making the most of the few day we have left."

Both girls have boyfriends back in Hastings. They give the impression that the boys' absence hasn't exactly spoiled their holiday. "Tricia's snogged twice as many blokes as me," says Fiona. "I'm staying faithful - or at least I'm trying to."

They tell me that they'll be at the infamous Manumission club tonight. Radio 1 are continuing their live broadcasts there. "Watch out for us by the fountains."

That night at Manumission it's impossible to recognise anyone among the 8,000 people inside. With its fire-eaters, escapologists and theatrically dressed ravers, Manumission feels more like a festival than a club. Radio 1 press personnel have been in a panic all day. The Daily Mail has run a story about two Manumission promoters and their infamous early-morning porn act.

"They [promoters Mike McKay and Claire Davies] perform depraved acts in front of thousands of strangers," the Mail reveals. "Radio 1 will broadcast a seven-hour marathon of live music from the club. Many might question whether it is an appropriate use of licence-payers' money to promote an event whose reputation is founded almost entirely on pornography."

"The Mail's piece was an insidious load of nonsense; they try to hold on to the self-restrained, old-style model of Britain," says the Radio 1 DJ Judge Jules. He's headlining tonight's gig at Manumission. "If they don't change soon, their readership will eventually die out, because this generation aren't going to believe that bullshit - their values are meaningless to our generation."

For years Jules was Kiss FM's headline house DJ, before Radio 1 bought him up last year. "It wasn't really a hard decision," he says. "I didn't join Radio 1 at a time when my music was fighting against the grain. They have a wholehearted belief in the importance of dance music and the associated culture, so there was no hesitation whatsoever."

Middle England may disapprove, but in fact the essential attraction for most of the British clubbers who flock to Ibiza every summer is familiarity. They know exactly what to expect: English-speaking Spaniards, 24-hour full English breakfast, The Sun, copious amounts of alcohol, English DJs, and other Brits.

Even after 10 years, the dance music phenomenon refuses to fade away. The vice-consul may feel shamed by the excesses of sun-drunk youth, but this is now mainstream youth culture. Just to prove it, from broadcasting only about three hours of specialist dance music a week in 1991, Radio 1's current output exceeds 30 hours. And Ibiza is an integral part of the wider youth culture.

Ibiza's increasing popularity persuaded BBC Radio 1 to broadcast live, via ISDN links, from Ibiza for the first time earlier this month. The broadcast ran for three days and nights, featuring more than 35 DJs and live performances. It's not certain how many extra listeners the broadcast attracted, but the venture received energetic criticism from the Daily Mail, concerned for the moral safety of the nation's youth. Broadcasting from Ibiza was the logical progression of an ongoing cultural shift, aimed at attracting younger listeners.

As the station's headline DJ, Pete Tong, made his live Essential Selection broadcast from Ibiza's Cafe Mambo, hundreds of young people crowded on to the beach to listen. As the beach stretched away into clear blue sea, the sun beat down on hundreds of dancers.

Tong has been coming to Ibiza for around eight years, and made his first broadcast from the island two years ago. He has been instrumental in persuading Auntie to increase its involvement every year.

"Radio 1 didn't really realise what I did, or the impact the music was able to have, when they hired me in 1991," says Tong, speaking after his beach broadcast. "I'd spent years travelling the country building up a reputation with the crowd. Specialist presenters must have that respect from the core audience, and now Radio 1 has got the best in the field.

"They wanted to re-justify the existence of the station, and reposition it to take risks and attract younger listeners. Three years ago I said, `if you want to relate to your audience on that level then you should go on holiday with them and participate in their lives outside of the UK.' There's no island in the world like Ibiza. No other place has the same set-up or infrastructure."

Radio 1's rival station, Kiss FM, is also broadcasting from Ibiza, and also hopes to consolidate its position as a credible dance music station. A generation of clubbers has been ostracised, patronised and criticised by sections of society for years; their confidence is not easily won. Radio stations can buy credibility, up to a point, but clubbers know that while Pete Tong and Zoe Ball are both Radio 1 DJs, only one has any kudos in Ibiza's clubland.

As Manumission continues into the early hours of the morning, the ambiguity of Radio 1's position is comically highlighted. In a club famous for its sex shows, a giant screen flashes pornographic images on which Radio 1 has superimposed the message, "Annie Nightingale, LIVE IN THE BACK ROOM".

Nightingale is a Radio 1 DJ, but the Daily Mail could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.