Long before DJs such as Marco Carola, Sven Väth and Carl Cox ruled the roost, an entirely different brand of DJs were busy turning Ibiza into the music mecca it is today. Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, DJs such as Alfredo, Jose Padilla and Jon Sa Trinxa were busy putting their own stamp on the island’s sound, in the process coining a new genre that’d soon become known as ‘Balearic Beat’.
So-called because of the White Isle’s presence within Spain’s Balearic Islands, the Balearic sound — though resolutely eclectic in nature and notoriously tough-to-pigeonhole — often encompassed a hybrid of soft rock aesthetics and electronic beats, the latter crafted using synths, samplers and drum machines.
Typically characterised by its emotive overtones and sun-kissed flavours, it became a naturally perfect soundtrack for a then-comparatively-sleepy and chilled-out island like Ibiza. Eventually paving the way for chill-out, trance and house (and everything in-between), the early Balearic sound is very much the precursor to what you’ll sample on the island today. Here, we offer up a diverse list of some Balearic classics...
Roxy Music 'Avalon' (1982)
There are likely scores of Roxy Music tracks we could plump for here, but we’re choosing 'Avalon', a track that — though perhaps on the wrong side of discerning — is the sort of warm, fuzzy gem that gets under your skin like Balearic anthems tend to do.
Much of the track features little more than lead singer Bryan Ferry’s endless crooning, but it’s when the synth-line gets all gushy and deep and the 'Avalon' line is exaggerated that it really earns its Balearic stripes. Like many such classics, this one is all about context: listen to it as the sun sets at Café del Mar and you’ll soon know what we’re talking about.
Chris Rea 'On the Beach' (1986)
Two things stick out immediately about this track. 1 - it’s perhaps no surprise that a track called ‘On the Beach’ gets the nod. 2 - far more surprising, is that Chris Rea (a cheese merchant if ever there was one!) is included on this list.
But that doesn’t detract from what’s not only a brilliant pop song, but also a brilliant Balearic anthem to boot. German trancers York put a new lick of paint on the track back in ’97, but it never came close to matching the brilliance of the original. A true guilty pleasure if ever there was one.
Fleetwood Mac 'Big Love' (1987)
On the complete opposite side of the scale: the rock legends that are Fleetwood Mac. There’s little doubt that this one was hardly produced to be a Balearic anthem, but a Balearic anthem it soon became, not least because the likes of Alfredo et al caned it for summers on end. Its clever strings are the stuff of beauty, while Lindsey Cunningham’s heart-wrenched vocals give it that added Balearic flair. Arthur Baker’s remix of the time is worth checking out too.
The Grid 'Floatation (Subsonic Grid Mix)' (1990)
It’s hard to even get a word in edgeways with any self-respecting Balearic fan before they mention ‘Floatation’ or, to be precise, Andrew Weatherall’s version under his Subsonic guise. The reason being, of course, is because it’s a damn fine track and one that manages to touch on numerous styles in the process. Tranquil and laid-back but also a potent weapon in the clubs, it’s a seductive slice of harmonious brilliance from the first beat to the last.
Sabres of Paradise 'Smokebelch II' (1993)
Something of a contentious inclusion here (the melody is pretty much ripped directly from L.B Bad’s ‘New Age of Faith’), there’s still little doubting that this is a track that’ll go down in Balearic folklore. As blissful an anthem as they come, it sees the Sabres of Paradise (a dub-influenced trio including that man Weatherall again), perk up with a track that’s stunning for its deceptively simple arrangement and celestial charms.
Nightmares on Wax 'Les Nuits' (1999)
Orchestral, epic and the sort of track that could well reduce you to tears (especially after you reflect during your final day of a pretty monumental trip to the White Isle), 'Les Nuits' by George ‘Nightwares on Wax’ Evelyn is a stirring, melancholic anthem that pulls at the heartstrings like few others. Although it samples Quincy Jones, it’s testament to Evelyn’s work that he puts his own inimitable spin on it — and emerges with a genuine classic in the process.
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