“I was just lucky – in the right place, at the right time,” says Paul Oakenfold when speaking of that fateful trip to Ibiza in 1987 that inspired the birth of club culture as we know it today. Contrary to the oft-repeated Ibiza legend however, that wasn’t actually his first Ibiza experience – Oakenfold had been visiting the island regularly since 1984 via his job with an independent record label. The experience saw him chaperone the famous and fabulous Divine and his (or her!) flamboyant entourage around the island, from a headline gig at KU Club to crazy nights out and villa parties alike. The famous hedonistic Ibiza culture already existed. It just hadn’t reached the masses yet.
Fast forward to 2017 and Oakenfold – who in addition to famously introducing rave culture to the UK, went on to be voted the number one DJ in the world, win two Grammy Awards, remix the world’s most famous pop and rock acts, score Hollywood films, launch the world’s longest running independent dance music record label and his own tequila brand – is once again holding a residency in Ibiza. This time around, it is on a completely different scale and of a different nature. It is the legendary party destination of Pikes that he calls his musical home this season, with an exclusive four-week pop-up residency entitled Generations, spanning 30 years of music, taking place throughout the month of August.
“My generation are older now,” he laughs wryly. “They don’t want to stand around in a club all night. At Pikes, we’ve got a tiny room and people can hang out outside. We’re seeing friends and family from the last 30 years listening to real Ibiza classics – not tracks from 10 years ago. It’s really fun.”
Paul Oakenfold Generations at Pikes. Photography by Mike Portlock for Pikes.
Tell us about your first Ibiza experience?
My first Ibiza experience is one of the best first Ibiza experiences you’re ever going to hear. It’s not that holiday everyone talks about – it’s before that, in 1984. I worked for an independent record label called Rush Release and we signed Divine – a 22-stone transvestite who was the main act of the summer. He was booked to perform at KU Club and rode onstage on a baby elephant, all flowing white blonde hair – it was crazy, crazy, crazy! But Divi brought the best crowd and I ended up hanging with this really affluent, artistic crew from America and Europe.
What were your expectations?
I’d never heard of Ibiza, but bear in mind, neither had 90-percent of the British population! I just knew it was a small island off mainland Spain.
What were your first impressions?
I wasn’t shocked at anything I saw. I’d been living in New York and working in music promotion and been going to a lot of gay and hip hop clubs because that’s where they played the best music. So, I was thrust into the middle of this amazing, flamboyant performance with Divine. It was KU Club, it was glamour, it was mostly European and Spanish. It was amazing – and it was all here before us. There was electronic music, there were nightclubs before any of us.
Did you experience Pikes back then during its hedonistic heyday?
Not that first time, but I came back the following year when I was working for a record company promoting Human League, Heaven 17, Sade, Culture Club and Wham. It was crazy. I was the promoter for all those acts and my job was to take those records and get them into the hands of Cesar at KU, Alfredo at Amnesia and Pippi at Pacha. All the artists used to stay at Pikes, so I came up here and met Grace Jones and Tony Pike… you know, I always say Tony Pike invented the first boutique hotel. Ian Schrager is known for the first one in New York, but really, it started here with Tony. Then George shot his video clip here and it became commercial…
So, it was your connection to Ibiza that inspired the famous 1987 trip to the island with Nicky Holloway, Danny Rampling and Johnny Walker…
It was my birthday. Two of my best friends – Trevor Fung and Ian St James – lived out here, playing records in a San Antonio bar and handing out flyers on the beach. They were beach bums, doing what kids in Ibiza are still doing to this day. I wanted to spend my birthday there with my best mates and I said if you guys want to come along you’re welcome. That’s how the four of us ended up here together. Then it rolled into the ecstasy thing with Alfredo at Amnesia. It could have been anyone. I was just lucky, in the right place at the right time.
What was it about that time that was different to your previous experiences?
The dynamic had changed with the introduction of ecstasy. My friends told me it was all because the ‘little fellas’. All of the sudden, I walked into a club – as we all have done at some point in our lives – and everyone had their hands in the air and I just stood there like, what the fuck is this? Until then, I’d never taken a drug in my life. I’m the same as anyone else – I just saw it a lot earlier than anyone else and I wanted to bring it back to England. I didn’t want my holiday to end, as we all don’t in Ibiza, and I knew I had the platform to share it at a club where I was a DJ. But it’s not about an individual. That was me, that was my story – but this island is about all of us. There will be a kid who arrives on the island today, and in 30 years’ time, someone might be interviewing him about his story – that time when he came here for the first time and what he saw and experienced that shaped him into the man he’s meant to become.
Amnesia in the 1980s – a far cry from the superclub you see today.
30 years later – how did you end up being involved with Pikes rather than a superclub for your Generations residency?
I have been resident in Amnesia for Cream. I was resident in Pacha for Perfecto. I’ve done Privilege. I played Space many, many times. But my generation are older. I’d been doing Generations around the world and then when it came to Ibiza, I just thought, maybe I shouldn’t do it there. And then the idea came up to do a pop-up residency in a unique place, where it’s free. Instead of the big shows, I can do something where people don’t have to wait until the end of the night to hear the headline DJ. Where they can hang around outside and I get to play for three hours. I wanted that older crowd. To give something back.
Do you think that older crowd know their music better?
The crowd who come to Pikes on Wednesdays definitely know their music. But really the only difference now than before is that everyone has their phone and is Shazaming and filming the DJ. Back then though, the DJ would take risks and chances. He’d want to turn you onto new tunes, he wouldn’t be scared to lose the dance floor. Now the DJ just plays what he thinks you want to hear to get a reaction.
Are your Pikes sets much more fluid then?
[Laughs] If you listen to my set, from the opening night – Radio 1 recorded it – I’m all over the shop! I go from Debbie Harry’s Call Me, to The Cure, which is 25 bpm, into Bob Marley then into a rap record and into my mix of Massive Attack or my mix of Alison Limerick. It was difficult to mix all those records, but it’s really been a lot of fun.
Does Ibiza feel like work or a holiday to you these days?
In this day and age, it’s hard to be self-employed and have an official holiday. It’s not like you get home from work and sit in front of the TV here. You want to go out. I like to hang out with my friends here and go for long boozy lunches that roll into three or four hours, but then I also like to head back home and take it easy. These days I don’t want to be out until 5am – I want to go to bed early, watch a movie, get up in the morning and go to the gym. To have a ‘normal’ life here.
What’s your favourite part of the island?
I like to stay up in the hills of San Antonio, because it’s quiet and you see the sunset every night. I take a villa and base myself here every August when I’m touring around Europe. From San Antonio, I can dip into Pikes, La Torre Ibiza, Café del Mar or Mambo. If I want to have a nice dinner with friends, I still take them to Sa Capella – after 25 years it’s still the best restaurant on the island. That fish in sea salt – it’s the best. It’s still got wow factor. And Ibiza has one of the greatest sunsets in the world. I love to sit at home, have some friends over, and watch the sunset.
The ancient monastery that houses one of Ibiza’s most iconic restaurants, Sa Capella.
What’s your favourite DJ booth on the island?
The best booth in the world for me will always be Amnesia. Everything started there 30 years ago with Alfredo. We took the torch and brought it back to England and shared it. I mean, the talent that has gone through that booth, the experience and knowledge of playing in that room, the understanding of an iconic nightclub. You can’t go past it.
Ultimate Ibiza track?
There are so many, from Roxy Music and Pink Floyd to tunes Alfredo used to play and my own remixes, but there is one record that really sums up Ibiza for me. It was Rui Da Silva and it was called Touch Me. The record came to me through Danny Whittle, who said: “I’ve got a brilliant record for you.” I thought, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that before! I didn’t know who this Portuguese kid was but then I heard it and it was like OH. MY. GOD. And so that one summer, on Tuesday nights for my Perfecto Pacha residency, I would play it as my last track of the night. The only person you could hear play it was Paul Oakenfold. You couldn’t Shazam it. You couldn’t buy it. And that made it so special. At the end of the summer, he released it and it became a global hit.
Café del Mar – the birthplace of chillout music and Ibiza’s original sunset bar.
Do you still take the opportunity to go out and see other DJs while you’re here?
Yes, I make a conscious effort to, although these days I don’t like waiting until 4am for the headline DJ to go on! I’ve seen a lot of DJs this summer – a lot are friends, some are new – because we’re a community and we need to support each other. I’m working on the first big electronic music awards show in America on September 21 and I want to make sure all my colleagues are aware of it. It’s also important as the owner of a label to see new DJs coming through. But then, there are also the DJs I like to see such as Pete Gooding and Jason Bye, who have been playing the sunsets for more than 23 years. They’ve made the sunset DJ set into an art form, telling a story through three or four hours of music. They are the real legends of the island in my opinion. These guys are so gifted. I know it’s about the next generation now, but along with Alfredo, Pippi, Cesar, Jose Padilla – these are the real pioneers. And Sven Väth – what he’s done for techno on this island is unbelievable.
Do you still feel connected to Ibiza in its current state?
Of course. 100-percent. But the island has changed. My story’s not finished, but my DJ career is coming to an end. It’s time to give it to the next generation. Ibiza will always be a part of me but you’ve got to move on. A lot of these young EDM guys don’t know who Alfredo is or Nicky Holloway or Tony Pike – there have been some big moments here, the repercussions of which created multi-million dollar businesses, like the chillout CD industry. But it’s EDM, deep house and techno’s time now. I’m always going to love this place but we grow older and we move on. I like to think about the present and the future only.
PAUL OAKENFOLD PLAYS GENERATIONS AT PIKES ON WEDNESDAYS THROUGHOUT AUGUST, 2017.