Last night a DJ saved my life
How to have a Number One hit: fly to Ibiza, flog your record and watch the money roll in, says Oliver Swanton
Sunday 11 July 1999
Behind the Ibizan package holiday scenes there's a small army of record company types oiling the wheels and pump-priming tomorrow's hits. In theory it's simple: get your record into every DJ's grubby little hands, let them hammer it all over the island and then, come September, sit back and watch as it effortlessly shoots to Number One. Ninety per cent of the public who find themselves whistling "that annoying tune" on the way to work won't even know it's an Ibiza anthem, but then that's half the fun. More to the point, get it right and you can secure the Number One spot all across Europe, just by cracking half a dozen clubs on an island no bigger than Birmingham.
On any given balmy summer's evening at the Rock Bar, nestled under the city ramparts of Ibiza Town, you can't move for "hit makers". DJ's, promoters, A&R scouts, record reps, marketing execs, press officers; they're all on expenses, up all night, every night, after the same thing.
Eddie Gordon, co-founder of Manifesto Records, is largely credited with turning more Ibiza anthems into hits than anyone else. He says the competition has got much tougher: "It used to be a three or four man race, now it's a marathon. But it's more fun this way. You meet all your friends and it's a blast. Only thing is you can't park anywhere, get a table in any restaurant or get to the bar."
A bar managed by the co-owner of Flyin' Records, Charlie Chester, opened recently in Ibiza Town, largely for music industry debriefings. As the sun rises and the clubs kick out, the "hit makers" descend on Mezzanine to network - and drink a liquid breakfast.
Last year four top ten hits, several of which were specifically produced with Ibiza in mind, were exclusively broken on the island. This year that number will be at least six. Another, "ATB", expressly marketed as an Ibiza anthem on the back of this year's Ministry of Sound Ibiza Anthem compilation, hit Number One before the season even started.
Like the Premiership football season, says Radio One DJ Pete Tong, the Ibizan summer now starts earlier, lasts longer and is worth a hell of a lot more money. "Arriving in Ibiza now is a bit like going to a Grand Prix," he says. "From the moment you get off the plane you see adverts and posters for clubs and records. In arrivals you're besotted with magazines, posters and flyers. When you hit the road in your coach there'll be billboards and more posters. It's only a matter of time before you're hit with branding at Gatwick, before you've even left."
Tong doesn't believe the Ibiza hit machine is even close to performing at full stretch. The island, he says, has the potential to create chart hits continuously throughout the summer. Last week, in his lesser known role as head of A&R at ffrr Records, Tong had three employees out working the island, pushing his records.
Ibiza isn't just about chart hits. For every top ten hit to come out of Ibiza this summer at least 15 other records will be commercially successful for those working on smaller budgets. Enter Carbon, a record shop in London. This week two of their team, Jan Mehmet and Jon Lee, were in Ibiza with 40 promotional copies of their record, chasing the acid house dream. Mehmet produced the track at home on his own studio set up and they hope it will establish their new label, Carbonate.
Dance music promotion is less to do with what you know as who you know - or at least recognise. Before their plane has even departed Lee and Mehmet spot a member of the A-List (DJs who headline the biggest clubs, earn the big money and whose support can make a record). Jon Pleased Wimmin may not be in his usual drag, but he has been clocked. As he walks through customs Jan collars him. He leaves the airport with a new record, promising to listen to it when he gets to his villa. One down, 39 to go.
The next four days pass in a blur of sleepless nights, blagging guestlists into clubs, access to the DJ booth, shaking hands. There are DJs everywhere. At sunset they're at Cafe Del Mar in San Antonio or the Bora Bora beach party in Playa D'en Bossa. Nightfall proper finds them at the Rock Bar in Ibiza Town or a party at the Manumission Motel. Club flyers list where they're actually DJing and if all else fails they can be found crossed- eyed at Mezzanine waffling to Charlie Chester or wobbling about on the terrace dancefloor at Space, which opens when the island's other clubs close.
"Despite the big money in dance music now," says Lee, "you can still operate as a cottage industry." Carbonate only have to shift 600 copies to break even. Mehmet predicts they could do as many as 3,000 and is hopeful it will subsequently be picked up by a major and maybe even feature in next summer's top ten.
As well as the British A-List, who spend so much time flying to and from Ibiza they could keep a small airline afloat, the key to a record's success - particularly the more commercial ones - is the support of the lowly resident DJs playing the islands many bars. "Top DJs come and go," opines Pete Tong, "but the residents are there day in day out. If a record is big with them, then you know you've got a hit."
To service the residents, who don't have the time or the money to fly back to England to buy records, special import record stores have sprung up on the island. Record reps are also required by their bosses to try and meet-and-greet as many as possible to build relationships.
Although Ibiza Anthems are all very different they do all have one essential thing in common, reckons Eddie Gordon. "The energy of the hook is crucial," he says. "Ibiza is an island full of energy so the music has to mirror that. It's got to go right off!" That said, Ibizan anthems do tend to exploit the odd Spanish vocal sample, samba trumpets or flamenco castanets. Surely it's easy to produce an Ibiza anthem? "It's not that easy," says Chris Nelson, one half of Angelli & Nelson, who had a top ten hit last year out of Ibiza with El Nino. "It's blood sweat and tears in the studio. You've to put your heart and soul into it. The audience won't fall for the obvious. You have to be a bit more honest, a bit subtle. You've got to capture a little bit of that unique spirit of Ibiza."
Testimony to the growing importance of Agnelli & Nelson, who have just returned from recording their video in Ibiza, is industry speculation that they'll be the first act to have two top ten hits out of Ibiza in two years. And it doesn't stop there; at the end of the season they reckon they might cram in another one. "We're not greedy or anything," laughs Nelson. "We just want to take over the island."
JOIN THE CLUB
The must-do Ibiza nightspots:
Privilege Superclub. Glam, largely gay, debauched crowd. Famed for its live sex shows. Your mother wouldn't like it.
Space Legendary morning club. Huge decks for outdoor dancing, chilling, boozing. And sleeping.
Cafe del Mar An oasis in the otherwise vomitous San Antonio. The place where it all started. Spot-on cocktails, shame about the beach.
Pacha An institution. Stylish, moneyed. Worth trying to blag your way onto the Pacha yacht.
Es Paradis Grab some grapes for this Roman orgy. Huge pillars, Renaissance- style glam.
NAME THAT TUNE
Ibiza anthems that went top ten:
Children Robert Miles ('95)
Spin Spin Sugar Sneaker Pimps ('96)
Jumping Todd Terry ('96)
7 Days BBE ('96)
Free Ultra Nate ('97)
Bellissima DJ Quicksilver ('97)
Horny Mousse T ('98)
Gym Tonic Bob Synclair ('98)
El Nino Angelli and Nelson ('98)
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