Ibiza in the ‘80s was known as a hedonist’s heaven, a sunny playground so magical that it inspired a generation to celebrate freedom and life on and off its dance floors.
“And that’s long gone,” a disappointed Mr C tells me. “Long gone,” he reitterates.
While Mr C might not be a name you readily associate with early Ibiza — not like the Carl Cox’s, Paul Oakenfold’s and Pete Tong’s of the world, anyway — he’s actually been coming to the island since 1988.
“I was playing in San Antonio,” he told the crowd at IMS Ibiza this May. “It was a club called Weekend in the West End, and it was a dump back then,” he said laughingly about the western Ibiza beach town. “It kind of always has been. But there was a vibe there.”
It was the Second Summer of Love, an era that saw dance music explode around the UK with Mr C as one of its driving forces, as well as the beginning of an annual pilgrimage by thousands of rave-hungry Brits to the sunny shores of Ibiza, each arriving in search of the magical feeling that Mr C, real name Richard West, now thinks is long gone.
It’s a harsh and honest assessment, but in true Mr C fashion, when asked about his feelings on Ibiza’s altered landscape 30 years on, he bluntly responds, “I don’t give a shit.”
Honesty is one of the London-born dance music veteran’s hallmarks; he’s never afraid to voice his opinion, and doesn’t hold back during our conversation behind the Hard Rock Hotel at IMS, where West took part in the fiery Great Ibiza Debate panel with Matteo Milleri of Tale Of Us, Pete Tong and others, speaking about the island’s global relevance, authenticity in dance music, and throwback nights like his Sankeys residency Dance 88/89, the Second Summer Of Love-inspired bash led by DJ Alfredo.
“I play a few of these old school events in London — two or three times a year — and a lot of the time it’s pretty cheesy,” he told the panel. But Dance 88/89 doesn’t have that problem, he says. Its vibe is much closer to the dingy, dungeon atmosphere of Clink St, the pivotal London venue where West earned his stripes as an up and coming acid house DJ in the late ‘80s for the now-legendary RiP parties. Located “within spitting distance” of the more famous Shoom, Clink provided a grittier alternative to the Balearic inspired club, which was launched by Danny Rampling after he and friends Nicky Holloway and Paul Oakenfold witnessed the magic of DJ Alfredo at Amnesia Ibiza in 1987 and attempted to bring it back to London. And thus, as legend has it, the Second Summer Of Love was born.
It’s an era remembered by many as “the good old days,” a time never to be topped in dance music or raving and clubbing again. And depending on who you are, you might agree, even if you weren’t yet alive during its peak. Though not for West.
“I think these people are stuck in a time warp and didn’t move forward” he flatly states.
Now well into his third decade as a professional DJ, West thinks the scene is actually getting better all the time, you just have to “scrape below the surface to find the gems.” But that hardly diminishes the allure of the golden age of raving, especially to the younger generations whose parents might have lived through it and talked about how good it was. And on its surface, it does sound more authentic — or at least, less disposable than much of what’s happening today.
“There’s something like 600-700 records released every week,” West says with a smirk. “There’s so much it becomes almost intimidating.” A fact that’s in stark contrast to the early days when a handful of producers were making as many as 20 or 30 records a week, often in professional studios, and always pressed to vinyl.
There’s little hope in arguing against the quality of many of those records, or the parties they soundtracked. But a large part of 1988-98’s legacy comes from its newness, and the naivety of those who experienced it. “It was there, it was easy to find, and that made it very exciting” West explains. Though most importantly, it wasn’t just an excuse to get fucked up. “It was a change in attitude,” he says.
“Clubs pre-1988 were basically meat-markets — places to go and pull,” West continues. “It wasn’t about music culture, it was about socialising and getting your end away, and the acid house movement changed all that. It became a lot more friendly. Drugs had a lot to do with that; ecstasy does make people very open and warm to each other. That helped. So this brand new type of music that came through in the late ‘80s, coupled with the drug, created something very special in London, and that echoed around the world,” West says.
That echo is still reverberating today. Though of course, as Mr C says, it’s getting more difficult to hear as time goes on unless you know where to listen. Part of the problem, he thinks, lays with today’s promoters, or “glorified bookers” as he calls them, who no longer push unknown talent in the hopes of exposing audiences to new sounds like they once did, instead chasing more tangible gains.
“Promoters should have — they don’t have — but they should have a moral responsibility to expose new talent, especially once they’re established. There needs to be more of that. More stepping outside of the box. But most promoters are in it for fame and fortune,” West says.
Because of this, a wide pool of unique, authentic talent is going untapped, resulting in a surge of generic musicians who’d rather copy their peers and heroes than try something new and risk going unnoticed in an already overcrowded market, where even a veteran DJ, producer, promoter and label-head like West finds it a struggle.
“So what’s it like for those who just want to break in as artists?” West rhetorically asks. “It’s a nightmare.”
After breaking through, “they find that they’re appreciated for that generic stuff, and they start to believe in it. For me, that’s not art. And music is an art. It’s one of the arts. And that’s difficult to find in the dance music world. It’s a shame, because the music is there, and the art is there, but they’re not getting the chances and the opportunities they deserve to push the sound.”
It’s something he sees not just in the underground, but across Ibiza as well. “You’re not hearing anything different,” he says. “The DJs are playing the same thing. It’s boring.” Though here, promoters aren’t just playing it safe, instead setting their sights on the VIP crowd while treating regular punters like “sheep,” letting as many ticketholders into the clubs as possible at every opportunity, something West says bothers him.
“They don’t cap attendances and say, ‘okay, it’s packed but it’s comfortable, you can dance, you can move around, let’s stop.’ No. They’ll cram another thousand people in. When you’re crammed in like that [imitates a crushed clubber], you can’t dance.”
He also calls Ibiza’s drink prices “ridiculous,” and claims the clubs are actually losing money in the long run, arguing it’s simple arithmetic: “If they were to charge 10, 12 euros a drink (instead of 20 or 25), everyone would have a drink in their hand. Not one in 500 people.”
Though unlike some who think Ibiza is in danger of losing its crowd to its high prices, West remains convinced people will continue saving all year for their two week holiday here, and those on less meager means will also continue to flock. “There’s a lot of money here. Look at the boats in the port. They’re rich ravers, and the clubs all want the rich ravers. They don’t want the old ravers.”
The final blow to Ibiza for West came with the mid-2000’s credit crunch. Before then, he felt a very special sense of community on the island between the residents, expats, workers, DJs, their crews and the promoters, all of whom could be seen at different club nights each week. “Now you don’t,” he says. “You never see promoters going to other promoters’ clubs. The community’s gone. That is a big problem for me, and what made me stop doing Superfreq here. I did seven seasons here and it was amazing. But once that community fell apart, for me, it was time to concentrate my energies elsewhere.”
These days, West lives in LA, where he throws four or five Superfreq parties a year, while continuing to run his imprint of the same name. “It’s a platform for new talent” he says about the label. He’s also continuously touring globally, hitting his hometown of London often, but preferring to keep his exposure to other cities to a maximum of once or twice a year, which “keeps it special.”
Though despite his misgivings on Ibiza, West firmly believes in his new night at Sankeys, saying the opening “was amazing” and that he “can really see it being one of the success stories of the summer.”
And even with all the money that’s invaded dance music in recent years, he’s also very positive about the future of our industry.
“People have been dancing to tribal rhythms for 50,000 years and it’s not about to stop. So I’ve got no worries. And the bigger it gets, the more space there is for the underground. So roll on.”
Mr C returns to Sankeys for Dance 88/89 on July 20th. More info here.