The call came early one Friday. I’d been out until 7AM the night before reviewing a party here in Ibiza, but any drowsiness was shocked right out of my system when a woman on the other end asked if I could be ready to talk to Luciano, and now. I immediately sprinted out of bed, panicking and trying to figure out what we’d talk about.
Though my panic was for nothing. Our conversation felt less like an interview, and more like a one-on-one after-hours session between two new acquaintances who met at the club and, bleary-eyed, decided to find a kebab in the morning — funny, eye-opening, occasionally serious, never boring.
In our candid chat on his way to the airport in Switzerland to play Pacha, the Swiss-born, Chilean raised veteran DJ and producer tells me how Ricardo Villalobos first lured him to Ibiza, reminisces about the wild early days of the island’s nightlife scene, DC-10, and speaks honestly about what he thinks the island is missing these days. We also openly discussed the taboo subject of money in dance music, and chatted about the history of his hugely popular Vagabundos party, which has made a triumphant return to Pacha this summer.
You first came to Ibiza more than 15 years ago, in 1998. What brought you here?
Ricardo! [laughs]. Villalobos was living 6 months a year in Ibiza. He was not playing or not doing anything like this, he was working in a record store. But we were already making music together. We had a track under our Sense Club thing that we were doing that wasn't finished. I came to Ibiza to finish the tracks with him.
And I was like "Hey Ricardo, I swear I'm coming there. I stay for two days, we do the record and I leave straight away. I hate this kind of touristic place." I was coming from Chile. I thought it was just a tourist trap. I had never heard of or expected the nature side or the spiritual side of Ibiza. So I came for two days, and I stayed for two months.
Did you go to DC-10?
I remember once Ricardo and I going in the morning, which was nothing to do with what it is now. There was a palm tree in the middle, it was almost like open-air, and it was not at all the vibe that it is now.
What was the vibe like?
It was proper rude. Rude, like, after-hours day time club. It was fun. It was very different from what Ibiza had already. I enjoyed it from the first moment. But it was very different. Andrea and Antonio (the owners) knew Ricardo. I remember quickly going there and saying "Hi" and leaving.
Then I came back years ago to DC-10 after I went with my friend Dimitri who owns the Weetamix club. He came for the first time to Ibiza, and I brought him to a foam party, and it was not really fun [at first] — bad commercial music at Amnesia. But it turned out to be one of the best times we had! We were dancing to disco, old '70s songs, got completely high under the foam, left the club at 8 o'clock in the morning without passports, I lost everything I had. We went back to the hotel like "oh shit!"
We had no tee-shirts, on a small motorbike, and we decided we were probably a little too high to go back to the hotel. So we said, "Okay, let's go to DC-10."
So we arrive at DC-10. I remember being barefoot at this point. It was very early so it was kind of empty and Tania (Vulcano) was playing. And when we got in she was playing "Stone Age" from Cadenza. I went to her and I was like "Hello! I'm Luciano. That's the record label we are running.” They were super happy to have us there, and I think a couple of weeks later they invited me to play for the first time, and then I became a resident for many years after.
That's what I loved about Ibiza. Everything had that flow, and there was no judgement. You could still turn up barefoot in a place and nobody would care. You could still get lost in Amnesia — it was very naive and very different. It was so spontaneous compared to how it's changed in the last years.
You feel that spontaneity is gone?
Well I don't know if it's gone on my side or on the island side. On my side, of course I'm more popular, so it's hard to go to a place and have fun without anybody recognising me doing things. But at the same time, it's a conversation I have simultaneously with different people I have known over 20 years, and they feel somehow things have changed, or evolved into a new direction. Not that it's bad or worse, just that it's changed.
So you don't think it's any worse or better, it's just changed?
Well you can't really say. Some things went better, some things went worse. And back in the day, some things were worse and some things were better. In every state of evolution, there’s the yin and yang. There's always the good side, always the bad side. But changes are good in general, I think. When you know this place for over 20 years or something like this — or even longer — you have a nostalgic kind of feeling.
Ibiza was a hidden place back in the day. It was only for mature people that really knew what they were looking for, digging for. Now Ibiza became a global brand. It's like, "Oh, you haven't been to Ibiza?" It’s almost like a step that you need to cross in a teenager's life now.
Do you feel responsible for that step? Your success has been closely linked with Ibiza's success.
I totally feel responsible. A part of it. Though not entirely, because we all do have a part of responsibility between all the club owners and all the DJs. And I never expected it would blow up like that in that time.
Is there anything you would change if you could go back in time?
No. I'm not the one who should dictate anything to anybody. But what I've seen lately is the community that we used to have is more spread now, and everyone has the intention to be better than the other DJ, this is division. It divides people.
What I always loved about Ibiza was this unity thing that we always had. You can still find it at some places on the island. But now, it's almost every day you have a party with underground music, and you don't really know where to go and where you're gonna find your old friends.
It's good for the people who come and dance because they have more opportunities to different parties, listen to different DJs who are newer. But I would say that for the inner scene, it divides. The division is hard.
I spoke to Mr C a little while ago and he also talked about how there used to be more of a community here.
That's what I miss most! You always felt you were a part of something unique and special. There is still unique and super special things going on, but it's just that it's so spread out that the community feeling and the extremely special people who used to come have either disappeared or stopped coming or spread to the more commercial side. This is all wrong. It's not the spiritual side of the island.
Do you think it's possible to get that back?
I have no idea. It all became a proper service island, where it wasn't before. It's all about service, and this changed the way people consume, go out, make relations to each other; this changed a lot, and I think when this comes in, it's very hard to go back. Maybe there is a chance that at one point, people will realise this is not the way to protect something special, but it's more a decision everybody has to take inside themselves.
It used to be more difficult I'm sure. Less infrastructure.
But you know, that's the fun part [laughs]. When everything is so challenging, it's extremely funny somehow. When you get out of your entourage and little niche, your comfort zone, you have to be ready for it, and you have to let yourself go. That's why everybody talks about Burning Man. They’re dropped in the middle of the whole desert, and they’re out of their comfort zone, even if it became much more comfortable in the last years. They’re out of their comfort zone and ready for anything, and that's what Ibiza was before. There was less infrastructure, less organisation, and it was super arty and creative.
When I started with music in Chile, I was evolving constantly in a surrounding that was exactly like this. Absolute chaos. And that chaos was extremely creative, was extremely good in relationship to art — in everything — because you could only go upwards, you could only do better.
Do you feel this has taken its toll on the parties in Ibiza now?
There's a lot of great parties with great DJs doing great things. There is Marco at Music On and Sven at Cocoon. But we all come from the same pod at the beginning. And now the problem is not that someone is better than the other, it’s that everybody's divided and doing a party alone — including myself — and we all pretend to be better than the other, and it's not true. This is the wrong way of perceiving or transmitting things.
The real problem is that most of the same type of DJ trying to do the same type of music at the same type of party. When you have too much of the same, you just drop out. There's no discovery when it's like this.
But I'm not spitting in the soup. It's just a very personal feeling that I put on myself before anybody else, and I consider that this is sometimes the way that we all evolve, but sometimes we're also responsible for a lot of things that happen.
Money has to play a huge part of this.
Of course, money is a real issue. I always see fans and people reacting over the Internet and criticizing how much as DJs we take. Yes, of course, it's true. Today, most of the DJs that are in this top 50 or top whatever it is, we all do have a good life, we all profit out of the business we created over these years. But it's not only us. There's a whole industry, from promoters to clubs to festivals, that profit out of this. And it became a huge business.
If you see rock and roll history, when it started back with rhythm and blues and Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson — all those guys back in the '50s — it was out of nothing. Strings and a piece of wood, playing music from house to house. And if you see this history of rock, rhythm and blues, 40 or 50 years later, it became an industry. It's a huge industry, very organised, and you would have never believed years ago that it would turn into such a professional or profitable industry. And electronic music, like hip hop, lives exactly the same phenomenon.
All of us: artists, promoters, even yourself as a journalist, we all became that because we were passionate about something that nobody knew, and it was something new, and we live the process of something that is turning into a professional and very profitable business. And we are all going with it. And probably in 20 years, it's gonna be even more organised and more profitable.
I think so too, but do you think it inherently detracts from the overall feeling of what it's all about?
No. I believe 100 percent that good music will never be affected by anything. If the music is good, there's no way to change this.
Fair enough. Now you’re returning to Pacha. Do you feel like Pacha is the spiritual home of the Vagabundos?
No. Vagabundos, I think we were — we had a very fast success that we were not expecting. We were just having a party because we thought it was fun, myself and my sister. I was touring in Brazil, and the Brazilians were always joking with me, calling me "vagabundos sin futuro" — vagabond without future — because I was always drunk and going in and out of the club. We thought this is so funny because it represents us somehow. because we're vagabonds who go around the world.
We had this opportunity at the beginning, either Amnesia or Pacha, and we decided to go to Pacha, and let's call it Vagabundos!
What was behind the reason to leave there in the first place?
It was a very simple thing. One of the reasons I [started a residency at Pacha] was (former Pacha brand director) Danny Whittle. Danny for years was chasing me. He is still today one of my closest friends from Ibiza. The year I left was the year Danny left. I stick to the people I love, I stick to my friends. Maybe it was a mistake because I'm too impulsive with my emotions, but it was nothing against Pacha.
What brought you back in the end?
I felt that now, they again have this small family that is taking care of the nightlife, and I felt it's the right time to come back.
I felt like I'd come home.
Luciano returns to Pacha with the Vagabundos at Insane this Friday, joined by Josh Wink, Alfonso León and Willie Graff. More info here.
Chandler Shortlidge is the UK and European editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter: @ChandlerShort