Tuesday, 10 February 2015

I'd like to teach the world to sing....Balearic

Recently I found myself saying to a friend that I have a new ambition – to introduce the world to the Balearic musical vibe. I’m not really sure how this could happen, but ever since saying it I’ve felt a growing sense of excitement.

Ibiza was not the starting point of the Dance music scene, which began in the mid 80’s, but it was a crucible, blending together many of the ingredients which had been gestating in various parts of the world. One of the familiar tales that people will tell of those early days of the Ibiza scene was the sense of musical freedom. Yes the club might have been pumping out an evening of disco and early electro hits but there was always the lingering possibility that someone like DJ Alfredo would, with no warning, drop something by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin or……well that was the point, there were no boundaries and, if the vibe was right the dancers would respond to whatever was thrown at them.

This spirit of musical inclusivity eventually became known as the Balearic vibe or simply Balearic. This style of DJing is really given its full expression in the beach bars, cocktails lounges and private villa parties that abound on the island because only there, away from the Beats Per Minute tyranny of clubs, can the eclectic nature of Balearic be given full and free rein.

When the dance music scene began it was made up of quite young ravers (I was one). Dance music was never intended to live very long, at least that’s what the critics said. However, they were wrong and it became a crucible for the creation of new sounds and has since multiplied and divided into countless genres and sub genres all linked by the egalitarian heartbeat of looped rhythms. Many of the, now older, ravers (grey ravers or Gravers) have ‘been there and got the T shirt’ with night clubs but still want to enjoy contemporary Dance music. Turning away from clubs many of them are finding stimulus in DJ bars, cocktail lounges - venues for people who like dance music but don’t necessarily want to dance.

People who go to nightclubs don’t want to wait for it to get started and the beat is pretty uniform so that people can jump on it and dance from the moment they arrive. Don’t get me wrong, I have great admiration for many club DJ’s. It’s a very demanding skilled job keeping everyone dancing and knowing when and how to build the atmosphere. It only takes one badly chosen track and you can find that half the dance floor spontaneously decides to go for a drink and you end up with a half empty dance floor.

Once dance music leaves the dance club environment the criteria change. How do you entertain people for two hours of conversation and canapés? If the objective in a beach or cocktail bar is not to get people dancing how do you gauge your success? How do you know if everyone is engaged and stimulated by their experience? Firstly I think DJ’s have to change their priorities. In a previous blog I tried to define what DJ’s do and broke it down into the three elements of selecting, mixing and nob twiddling. I could have added a fourth dimension of reading the mood. On a dance floor the criteria of success are fairly obvious - are they dancing and having fun? Reading and manipulating the mood of a more passive audience is harder. Yes I look for the head-nodders and feet tapping under a table but there are also levels of enthusiasm in conversations and sense of energy in the room. I’ve started to think that whereas DJ’s traditionally think of beat mixing as the way to create transitions, I am now more interested in the concept of mood mixing. However, in order to do this successfully you need a broad palette to work with and hence my love of Balearic.

Most Balearic DJ’s tend to play long sets so they can take people on a musical journey either from early afternoon into early evening or late afternoon till late at night. So, what is Balearic? Firstly I should say that nothing is excluded but it does have a number of regular strands and I thought it might be an idea to consider some of them. 

Chill-Out and Ambient
The whole chill-out genre was probably best encapsulated by the Café Del Mar series of releases. 

Much of this music was concocted to be taken with delicious sunsets but then, as people took the music and the vibe back home with them, it also found favour with afternoon garden parties and cool dinner parties. However, I think that what many fans failed to recognise was that this music was not designed to be played as background sound filler but rather, when played at significant volume, its psychedelic soul has the power to take your head off. However, be warned: too much chilling turns your brain to mush.

Lounge Music
Another bedfellow is what has come to be known as Lounge music. A major constituent of ‘Lounge’ music is more chilled versions of popular dance and rock tracks. Sometimes, slowing a track down and placing what might have been quite angry lyrics against a more lyrical backdrop, can bring a new sense of clarity or add a sense of irony and humour. I like humour in music.

Jazz, the original ‘lounge music’, also found a new lease of life in dance’s Lounge genre but generally its more demanding elements were eschewed in favour of Cool Jazz. I think the popularity of Lounge music grew because bar owners were looking for music that wouldn’t ruffle feathers. Sadly this often resulted in a musical diet of tunes which sound as though their soul has been surgically removed.

One of my favourite Lounge tracks is Barefoot’s Cool Jazzversion of Grandmaster Flash’s anti-coke Hip Hop anthem, White Lines. When I first played at London’s Groucho Club this was my opening track as I thought it was an appropriately ironic take on that sophisticated but hedonistic environment.

World Music
Parisian restaurant Buddha Bar with DJ Claude Challe was one of the prime movers bringing Oriental, Arabic and African rhythms under the Dance umbrella and all thanks to them for opening things up. 

Ibiza's Bambuddha Grove also produced a beautifully eclectic world series produced by the wonderful MOC Paoli.

However their very successful concept was quickly copied and before long record shops began touting dire collections with titles like “Buddha Best Hits” and “Desert Lounge Greats” Whatever, the arrival of world music on the dance scene certainly enriched the musical palette. One of my favourite early Oriental Dance tracks is Substances from French producer DJ Cam.

Deep House
Some of the more ‘sophisticated’ cocktail bars now frequently serve a diet of Deep House. I love Deep House but how would I define it? Well initially I think it was House music which had a more subdued tone and often I used to think that it sounded as though it was played through a muffler as though the hard edges had been rounded out. As it’s progressed this has also often meant that highs and lows of emotion are eradicated in favour of a more minimal, comforting warm groove. 

I really appreciate the phasing and psychedelic nature of many of its tracks but sometimes, when sifting through hundreds of Deep House tracks searching for new gems, I find myself thinking, “Gosh this is so dull” and much of it undoubtedly is. Maybe it’s because, like a lot of Dance music, it is produced by people who don’t really have a very good grasp of music and rely rather too heavily on the groove.  This is one of my favourite Deep House tracks which certainly has musicality:

Nu Disco
I must admit that I didn’t really like Disco music when it first appeared as, for someone raised on Soul, much of it seemed rather sugary sweet to my taste. However I love Nu Disco. Nu Disco largely consists of Disco tracks which have been slowed down, vocals degraded or minimised and a much heavier, sometimes darker beat added to give it an almost hypnotic tone. Nu Disco cuts across age barriers. It is particularly popular with Gravers because it brings the comfort and reassurance of familiarity but with a contemporary twist. At the same time it uses production techniques which are attractive to a younger audience.

One of my favourite Nu Disco tracks is Just a Memory from Glasgow’s 6th Borough Project. The original was “You’ll Never Know” by Hi Gloss from 1981. 

In the Nu Disco version the vocals have been virtually eradicated in favour of an incessant introduction. By the time the chorus arrives I am so wound up with anticipation that I feel like shouting for joy and it seems to have a similar effect on many people hearing it for the first time.

A few years back a musical genre known as Folk Psych emerged. These were largely acoustic or stripped back laments. Once the remixers got to work they helped introduce many subtle song-based tracks into the Dance canon. A producer friend of mine is so enamoured with this genre that he trawls albums by many famous rock bands looking for more acoustic tracks to edit in such a way as to bring out what might be regarded as their Balearic quality. In fact he is so enthused with this particular style that he once, during one of my sets, had the cheek to tell me that I wasn’t a real Balearic DJ because I played too many looped beats. I didn’t have the inclination to discuss this with him in depth as I was busy lining up the next track but had just enough time to wink and spit the word “Fascist!” at him. As I said, to my mind, there are no barriers with Balearic.

So, Balearic is all of the above but mixed with a magic sprinkling of Latin, Jazz, Breaks, Tribal Beats, Reggae, Dub, Techno, Hip Hop, House, R&B, Funk, and just about any other musical genre you can think of as long as it’s appropriate to the changing time and mood of the audience.

So why do I want to take the Balearic vibe to the world? Because I think the maturing audience for Dance music deserves it. People are often much more sophisticated than entertainment professionals admit. Variety can be refreshing, enlivening and inspirational. If you don’t want your feathers ruffled you should stay home and drown in Easy Listening music. If you are out and about meeting people you deserve something that will draw you in, entertain and stimulate you.

If you check out my latest mix below you should be able to namecheck some of the genres mentioned above though my suggestion would be that you simply play it and enjoy the journey.

NB. I could have named it Tribal Electro Nu Disco Deep House Rock Remix Chilled R&B Funky Hip Hop Island Jazz but the title wouldn’t have fit on a CD.

Lest anyone thinks that I am trying to lay sole claim to the Balearic vibe I would like to pay my respect to some of the founding fathers of this movement, all of whom I am pleased to say are very active largely in Ibiza with periodic gigs around the world to places where an audience for Balearic has developed.The following links will take you to either their biogs or their musical interpretations of Balearic.

The Godfathers of the scene in Ibiza were Alfredo, JosePadilla, DJ Pipi and the man who inspired me to begin DJing in the first place, Jonathan Sa Trinxa. On Ibiza Sonica Radio a number of DJ’s and producers host regular weekly shows including Andy Wilson, Pete Herbert, and Danish record boss and producer Kenneth Bager. Others notable advocates are producer/DJ’s Phil Mison and Kelvin Andrews.

A number of record labels also feed the well of Balearic music, including Kenneth Bager’s Music For Dreams, North of England label Is ItBalearic?, and Claremont 66

The web site for Piccadilly Records in Manchester features a weekly best of Balearic releases which largely focuses on the lush, chilled, downbeat and quirky aspects of the genre.

There are many, many more names and places but if you are really interested then these are good starting points.

Enjoy the Music and Magic