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How Ibiza nightlife plans to return safely this summer

More than a year after dancing stopped in Ibiza, the middle of 2021 sees a glimmer of hope. DJ Mag’s man on the White Isle, Mick Wilson, talks to some of the promoters and venue owners about how reopening is shaping up

For over 30 years, Ibiza has been at the forefront of dance music tourism, but when Covid-19 entered our lives, life on the White Isle came to a grinding halt. Events were cancelled and clubs and venues were forced to close, due to tight lockdown restrictions enforced across Ibiza. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought serious upheaval to the island’s economic and social fabric: the restrictions were some of the strictest in Europe, and the local economy has suffered heavily.

For many residents, the past 12 months have been some of the hardest that they’ve had to endure, and those working in the nightlife industry have particularly suffered. Few venues attempted to stay open, which effectively meant that the entire 2020 nightlife season was cancelled.

Now, there appear to be glimmers of hope for Ibiza. On 8th June, the government announced that nightclubs will be able to reopen this summer, with dancing until 3am — a stop-gap for the typically all-night-long season, but a welcome one nevertheless.

Across Europe, different countries have started to explore how live events can safely take place: the UK, Netherlands and mainland Spain have all run pilot events in recent months, some of them with very promising results. This April and May, 13,000 people attended various live events in Liverpool, including two club trial events hosted by Circus; of those 13,000, only 11 people reported a positive Covid test, leading organisers to determine that there was “no detectable spread” of the coronavirus from such events.

On 25th June, Ibiza will host its first pilot test event, a “Children of the ’80s” party at the Hard Rock Hotel. Jose Luis Benitez, manager of Ibiza Leisure Association, tells us how they organised the event.

“I have led negotiations with the Balearic government to get a pilot test [running], and start a de-escalation to get the leisure venues on the island of Ibiza open,” Benitez says. “Of course, it will be a different season to what we’ve known so far — the pandemic disrupted everything we know — but with this de-escalation, we will begin to see people having fun in these places on the island.

“The pilot test was the starting gun of the season, so [event results pending], the countdown will begin for dancing on the island again,” he continues. “There will be a gradual opening of all the clubs; we’ll seek normality, but remind people that we have to be responsible. We’re on the right track, but [the pandemic] is not over yet.”

One of the Ibiza venues working towards reopening is Amnesia, who in a bid to not get caught out by last-minute restriction changes, have announced their own season of events in reverse. “We’ve announced the Closing Party for the end of October, and over the next few weeks we’ll be announcing other line ups for the rest of the month,” says Neil Evans, Amnesia’s Director of Music. “It will include some of the club’s residencies as well as one-off events. 

With Amnesia, we are working backwards; as time goes on, and we get other directives as to what we can and can’t do [safely], we will be announcing the other, earlier months.” Amnesia’s Closing Party, scheduled for 23rd October, features a line-up that signals a welcome return to the Ibiza clubbing program: DJs include The Blessed Madonna, Adam Beyer, Jamie Jones, Deborah De Luca, Mar-T and Jayda G. “The Closing Party will be a 20-hour-long event, and the Terrace will open from the afternoon and run through to the next day,” continues Evans. “We’ve got Pyramid lined up for 10th October, too, with Ricardo Villalobos, Luciano, KiNK and Dax J, and we’ll be announcing our line-ups for Do Not Sleep very soon.”

Outside of Amnesia, Evans is working towards a full season of events with Amnesia’s sister venue, Cova Santa, which was due to reopen in June.

“This will be a different experience,” he says. “With Cova Santa, because it’s a restaurant venue and not just a nightclub, we can program a line-up that covers a wide range of age groups. We’ll be looking at bands and live acts, playing downtempo, deep house and disco sounds, so it’ll be different from our usual offering,” he adds.

“We’ve got it programmed from July until the end of October. With the current restrictions and recommendations for a safe event, with a limited, seated capacity, we can still have a detailed Cova Santa schedule with DJs, bands and other entertainment. As and when the remaining restrictions are lifted, we’ll also be looking to open the nightclub downstairs.”

While many venues still don’t know what official capacity restrictions they will be allowed to work within, club owners and bookers are still planning for a season of events, albeit ones that are outside the norm.

“Luckily enough, we’re very nimble, so we can operate in various venues and can put something together quite quickly,” says Game Over’s Eoin Smyth, who books events across Ibiza. “We can tap into the island’s network of DJs and champion local talent, using the DJs who are already on the island instead of having to fly in the international acts. Trying to work within hotel rules and beach club rules is not what we are used to,” he continues. “We’re used to putting on events for thousands of people, at Amnesia or DC-10. It’s very different [from our norm], but at least if we can do something, we will do it.”

Game Over have confirmed their production for events such as One Night Stand, Bohemia and Lift, and have confirmed Wild Child at the W Hotel for a 20-week run.

“We just have to work out creative ways to give an experience,” Smyth says, “be it food, dining, arts, music or fashion, in interesting spaces. To be able to keep the party alive and give our artists a platform to play is what we’re truly working towards.” Island venues such as Pikes, Nassau Beach Club, Las Dalias and WOW, along with many bars, beach clubs and restaurants, have also begun their reopened summer season, following government safety guidelines. While measures such as seated and reduced capacities have been taken on board by the bar and restaurant scene, it’s been a more difficult arrangement for the venues and clubs to adapt to. While DJs are being booked, and there’s an upbeat feeling on the streets again, those familiar, packed dancefloors are still off the island menu for now.

In recent weeks, the borders have been opened to foreign travellers, and Ibiza has seen an influx of Dutch, German and French tourists. At the time of publishing, there’s still no news of whether UK tourists will be allowed to safely visit Ibiza. This slow-burn arrival of visitors is being met with a mixture of relief and caution by the nightlife industry. Andy McKay from Ibiza Rocks is optimistic about what the company can deliver. “Yes, there have been challenges because of the flux, but the basic product we designed last year, these challenges now are positive ones,” McKay says. “We fully expect dancefloors to be back outdoors by mid-July. We are better placed [now, than in previous months] to be flexible and adapt to the needs [of changing restrictions], which, to us, is a competitive advantage. We can think on our feet, be agile.”

McKay is keen to impress upon the fact that 2021 will be “a year of outdoor Ibiza, predominantly — once outdoor clubbing can be safely established, it will look positive for the return of indoor clubbing. In the world of outdoor parties in Ibiza, I consider ourselves to be very lucky, frankly,” he continues. “There aren’t many outdoor venues [on the island], and Ibiza Rocks is one of the major outdoor events.”

While most events are only just reopening, others have been able to operate, to some extent, during 2020. Cosmic Pineapple is a monthly party which blends music and spirituality, hosted at the famous Pikes Hotel. Self-described as “merging the music and magic side of Ibiza into a creative offering of cosmic good vibes”, Cosmic Pineapple have been giving islanders a different vision of club music during the pandemic. “Last year, we were one of the very few events that were allowed to go ahead because of our format,” explains Kim Booth of Cosmic Pineapple.

“The events were a lot smaller, and surprisingly, a lot less stressful [than in normal times]. This year, I can feel the energy building up; we’re able to do more things, step into new territories, and figure out new ways of working. The opening this May was ace, and our June event was like something you would go to see in one of the main clubs. Ida Engberg played back to back with Adam Beyer, and we had Sasha, Ben Westbeech, Cici and Lex Wolfenden,” Booth continues. “This year, we can do more, and it feels like everyone is ready to work. We obviously have to keep people safe, but we need to have dancing and clubbing back.”

While there is obvious momentum towards reopening dancefloors, some venues are being cautious. Gaston Calabresi is the CMO of superclub brand Pacha. “Having been closed for all of 2020, we cannot wait to reopen, but the current reopening guidelines aren’t necessarily going to work for Pacha,” Calabresi tells DJ Mag.

“We don’t like the seated format — it isn’t the Pacha experience, the true club experience. Other venues can be flexible to do that, but it’s not the same: having a 20% capacity with a seated arrangement would mean dramatically changing the economics of our events,” he continues.  “We’d have to rethink how our residents and parties operate, so reopening isn’t something we want to consider right now. If circumstances force us, then we will think about it, but for now, this isn’t something we want to do, from our side.”

As the weeks roll on and restrictions ease, Ibiza has a chance to return to its former glory. How the summer clubbing season will take shape is up to the relationships between government and venues, and the ability and willingness of owners, bookers, artists and staff to comply with restrictions. Week by week, though, Ibiza is becoming a better place to be, and the road back to the dancefloor is beginning to take shape.

How will a return to clubs and festivals work in a post-pandemic society? Read our recent cover feature exploring the possibilities here

Mick Wilson is DJ Mag's Tech Editor