Space Ibiza 2024. The Battle For Portmany.

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Ibiza has always been an island of invaders and colonists. It resembles a modern-day version of the Pirate port, Nassau, in the Bahamas that existed in the Golden Age of Piracy from 1650 to 1730. During this era, Ibiza was governed by The Christian Catalans, who had reclaimed the island from the Islamic rule of The Moores in 1235. Spanish, British, French, Dutch and African monarchies traded allegiances with each other to protect their ships and rule the seas surrounding the island. They licensed Ibiza’s famous corsairs to safeguard colonial interests in the Mediterranean from Turkish attacks, including the feared pirate of the era Barbarossa. A monument was erected to their memory and heroic defence of the island and stands proudly in the port of Ibiza. To provide context and understand the politics, people, and cultures behind the multi-billion clubbing industry on the island, one needs to go back in time to its early roots.

While the Beatniks and the hippies inspired the culture of music on the island, the Beatniks, being more cultured, specifically around Jazz, they were not the people who made Ibiza famous as a clubbing destination. The Gay Community holds that accolade after the local tourism board marketed Ibiza as Europe’s first Gay Package tourist resort in the 80s. The Pink Pound brought much-needed income to an ailing tourism industry, as Ibiza was a sleepy, family-friendly island with little going for it in terms of trendy attractions. Families did not spend much money, but when the Gay population arrived, they had lots of disposable income, and Ku now Privilege became a mecca for their culture of flamboyant partying. KU put Ibiza on the map, and it all started there alongside a more reserved Catalan-controlled experience at Pacha, which was imported from the Gay capital of Spain, Sitges, by the Urgell family in 1973. KU was imported from San Sebastian, the Basque stronghold, by José Luis Anabitarte in 1970. Both cultures are considered rebels in Spain. However, Ibiza allowed them freedom of expression as it was a pirate island where your money didn’t smell. It was an open and accessible trading port, precisely the way it was intended to be by its founding fathers, The Phoenicians.

During the early years of the clubbing phenomenon, expertly promoted by “El brujo de la Noche,” the Godfather of Ibiza Nightlife, Brasilio de Oliviera, Ibiza flourished as an island that defended LGBT rights, inclusion, and equality. The Brazilian-born Oliviera made Ibiza famous for partying, and as an economics student, he saw the potential the industry brought to the island. Soon, Gay tourists from the UK were travelling to Ibiza to openly party because, in Europe, Gay people were getting beaten up for their sexuality. Boy George was among the first significant British names to establish an Ibiza connection. Then came the famous Danny Rampling, Paul Oakenfold, and Nicky Holloway’s trip to Amnesia, where the group of friends witnessed Alfredo playing an eclectic mix of music under the influence of the new drug Ecstasy. They returned to England with the pill, influenced dance music culture, giving birth to the acid house scene in the UK. Brasillo worked well with the British market and was an influential figure at KU, Amnesia, Pacha and Space, where he worked during his illustrious career.

As typical colonialists, the British were not known for missing a business opportunity and soon established a foothold. Like Brasillio, they recognised the potential of the income that could be derived from the clubs, especially on an island trading in the Paseta, which offered a much cheaper cost of living than doing business in the UK. There were no angry natives throwing spears at them either; the local population, made up of Catalan, Spanish, South American, and Ibicenco business people, welcomed them with open arms as they brought money and, most importantly, tourists to the island. The Germans had been to Ibiza before the British and had shrewdly purchased cheap property. They were well established but not so much in music and clubs; they were happy to have second homes on the island and holiday there quietly with their families.

The Ibicencos, those born on the island and who controlled it through a robust family network headed up by The Matutes family, were also happy to welcome the British invasion as it filled their hotel rooms, bars, and restaurants, their primary income source. They were not interested or involved in the clubs, as it was an alien concept to them. When you say “Club” to an Ibicenco, they think of a brothel. They use the word “disco” to refer to dance music clubs. Also, the Spanish and South Americans were never into house, trance, or techno; they preferred reggaeton and rock, so they never really grasped the concept of dark rooms filled with drugged-up clubbers dancing to 4×4 beats and 140 bmps. So, The British development of Ibiza as a music destination continued unabated in the 90s. Unlike the Italians and the Germans, the British spent a lot of money on the island. As a British tourist, it was a right of passage to blow your entire savings on a trip to Ibiza, living the life of a King to escape their mundane life back home in working-class areas of the UK. Money was not the object; having a good time was, and leaving Ibiza with money in your pocket was a sign you hadn’t lived it large enough on your holiday!

The traditional home base of the British tourist in Ibiza from the 60s was always Sant Antonio. The locals considered it a dumping area for undesirable cheap tourism. To this day, many Ibicencos do not venture into the resort as it is too uncultured, brash, and obnoxious for them. For British package holiday companies, the resort offered a plentiful supply of cheap accommodation, bars, and restaurants that catered to the UK market’s tastes in food and drink. From its early cosmopolitan and artistic beginnings, the West End soon expanded from its original Calle Coloum street into a British stronghold with Irish, Scottish, Welsh and British bars serving cheap alcohol, kebabs, English breakfasts and chips. The locals in the main were Catalan, young Ibicencos and Andalusians, the workers that first migrated to Ibiza from mainland Spain. Unlike their snobby neighbours, they adapted to British tourism and welcomed their arrival. They were younger and willing to work harder and make cultural sacrifices to earn a living. They forged a friendship with their clients and built a new Sant Antonio. What you find in Sant Antonio, you will not find elsewhere on the island. The streets were Spanish, but the buildings were foreign and smelled of cheap perfume and suncream. The San An experience is unique to Ibiza. Some will stick their noses up to it, but others admire it, myself included. 

While the Club scene grew, primarily thanks to UK brands like Cream, Ministry Of Sound, Manumission, Judgement Sundays, Gatecrasher and Home, just to mention a few, the Ibicencos were watching the rise in its power closely. The Matutes family, who were primarily invested in Hotels and property, decided it was time to claim a piece of the action and invested in Privilege, buying a minority share as silent partners in the club. They already owned the lease to Space, which Pepe Rosello managed for them, growing it from a small after-hours venue to an award-winning international club. It began the transformation of Playa den Bossa from a family resort into a trendy clubbers’ mecca. Old Able Matutes was astonished as his rooms at Ushuaia, sold for 20 a night, increased to 200 a night after some fresh paint, artistic design, and modern facilities were added to its basic 70’s built design. I always smile when I enter these old refurbished hotels and see the pillars they couldn’t remove downstairs in the lobby, a testament to their original spartan design. What you can conceal with scatter cushions, insta art, bright colours, and WIFI is impressive. For old Abel Matutes, it was time to hand over the reins of power to a younger generation and his son and namesake Abel was the perfect person to bring the Matutes empire into the modern era. This is where life started to change for the UK spinmasters who controlled the clubbing industry in Ibiza. According to reports in the local press, Matutes and Rosello could not agree on a partnership to rebrand his Hotels with the Space logo, which left Matues searching for a new partner.

Adopting The Wisdom Of Solomon

Soon after, Abel Matutes Pratts forged a Spanish Franco alliance with a young Napoleon of the French entertainment industry, Yann Pissenem, who had cut his teeth on the Barcelona party circuit. Pissenemen impressed the young Matutes with his hard work ethic and charm, and he shrewdly went into business together as equal partners, establishing Ushuaia Entertainment as the company that would operate all their clubbing activities. Matutes supplied the finance and buildings, and Pissenem brought his energy, professionalism, networking skills, and the electronic theatre created by his brother Romain Pissenem. With the signing of this Spanish-Franco alliance, the bell had tolled for British dominance of the clubbing industry in Ibiza.

Their first victory was the battle for Space Ibiza and the exile of Pepe Rosello from Playa den Bossa. Pepe had forged strong links with the UK market, mainly Carl Cox and several other British promoters and business people who recognised the importance of having a local man as their agent. They fought alongside Pepe at The Battle of Space, but the Spanish Franco alliance had too much artillery and local support in their arsenal, and the battle resembled the charge of the light brigade with Pepe Rosello leading it. Cultural blood was spilt, and enemies were created during a bitter fracas from 2014 to 2018, when Hi eventually rose like a Phoenix from the ashes of Space.

The defeated Pepe Rosello and his wounded British troops retreated to the safety of Sant Antonio and the predominantly British Fort Portmany. After establishing Ushuaia Entertainment in 2012, the Spanish no longer required the services of UK marketers, networkers, and promoters; they could now do the job themselves. An inherent Ibicenco trait is to watch, observe and learn. Then, when you know the success formula, cut out the middleman and do the job yourself. Over the decades, they preferred to deal with the warmer Gallic culture, which they found similar to theirs. The French-Spanish alliance is an old one in Ibiza, forged back in the 60s when Les Bleus influenced the island greatly with their culture, lending it popular social icons like the Mehari and the CV2, along with several artists, musicians and writers who became part of the islands social fabric.

As the Rosello/British alliance withdrew to Sant Antonio, the Spanish/Franco armies marched onwards to Privilege and are now camped out on the high ground in Sant Rafel, in the municipality of Sant Antonio Of Portmany. They are constructing a brand-new base at Privilege, which will be operational for the 2025 season. Across the road, Amnesia stands isolated. It has strong links to the UK market and would not be a friendly ally of the Spanish/Franco forces. The old hippy fort suffered reputational and financial damage when the Guardia Civil Central Operative Unit raided it during a tax fraud investigation in 2016. Four individuals, including Amnesia owner Martín Ferrer, were arrested but later released with restrictions imposed and their accounts seized.

Several high-profile DJs soon departed, most notably Marco Carolo and Sven Vath. Amnesia may come under enemy fire in the shadow of a state-of-the-art club at Privilege next season. Earlier this week, Amnesia’s British-promoted Do Not Sleep party posted its branding on the Ushuaias Hard Rock Hotel wall, mocking the infamous Space Ibiza image that appeared there in 2020. That incident led to local press reports that Groupo Matutes owned Space Ibiza and reignited the debate over its title. While the taunting post was removed, certain people seemed not content with letting sleeping dogs lie.

One would have to fear for the future of Amnesia with Ushuaia Entertainment now camped out in its back garden. DJs are fickle creatures, and the lure of lucrative contracts will encourage many to defect. If Amnesia falls, its sister venue, Cova Santa, located in Grupo Matutes, home municipality of Sant Josep, will follow. Sadly, Amnesia is not in a position to fight the powerful Spanish Franco alliance, so to survive, they will have to adapt and work with their new neighbours rather than against them. With the high ground secured, then, in my opinion, if they are so inclined, the Spanish Franco troops will advance on Sant Antonio, which is currently flying the flag of Space Ibiza over Eden nightclub, a disputed spoils of war which the Matutes Group will relish recapturing given the bad blood between them and their old partner Pepe Rosello who appeared at the Space Ibiza Opening party in May.

However, the question is, will Grupo Matutes take Sant Antoni de Portmany? Their troops are massed on the town’s borders, but to date, they have not moved on the Space Ibiza flag, flying like the Union Jack at Roarks Drift. The party is doing ok at Eden, with slick promotion and some quality DJs. A notable withdrawal from its lineup was Jason Bye, connected to the Mamboland Agency run by the ex Es Paradis music director Pablo Rodriguez. The owner of the Mambo Group, Javi Anadon, is of Basque blood. His sons are Ibicenco, and the family has wisely decided to stay out of this skirmish. While the Matutes-supported Partido Popular party politically controls Sant Antonio, the town would have a strong Catalan presence. Pepe Rosello is Catalan, and the owners of Es Paradis and Cafe Del Mar are Catalan.

This may be one reason why Matutes has been careful in his dealings with the town. While he owns many properties there, the undeveloped landbank next to Cafe Mambo, which hosted the Ibiza 123 Rocktronic Festival in 2012 with Elton John as headliner, is his most prized. He would require local council permission to develop that prime coastal land, and rumours suggest he has plans for it. I have found The Matutes to be Conservative Monarchists loyal to the King Of Spain and Madrid, but like the Balearic Catalans, they are more liberal. Ibiza is their island, but as it’s a Pirate port, they understand and respect the complexities of local culture.

Grupo Matutes will also be aware of the redevelopment of the West End area. This multi-billion euro project, headed by Sant Antonio PP Mayor Marcos Serra Colomar, is expected to copy Barcelona and Madrid in its style. Colomar is a popular and respected figure across all divides in Sant Antonio and has a bright future ahead of him. His Catalan surname is woven into local Ibicenco culture, and Marcos is an accomplished dancer of the island’s traditional ceremony, the Ball Pages.

While the Balearic Catalans are less radical than their Barcelona cousins, many would be wary of Grupo Matute’s powerful business monopoly. Ibiza remains a Catalan-administered island; its official name is Evissia, the Catalan for Ibiza, and all its civil service conducts its business in the culture. A military and political alliance between The Catalans and the Kingdom of England goes back to the Pact of Genoa in 1705 after the War of Spanish Succession. However, true to form, the British reneged on that alliance when signing the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which awarded them Gibraltar and Menorca in return for betraying the Catalans. To this day, both countries pay homage to King George. In national politics, Pedro Sanchez’s socialist coalition government is loosely held together by the support of Catalan separatists in Catalonia. So politically, Sant Antonio is a sticky wicket for Matutes, especially now, with the redevelopment of Privilege, located in its municipality. For the sake of a brand name, which is now traded publicly on the open market, is it worth going into battle on the home turf of Pepe Rosello?

The Catalans in Sant Antonio have made a lot of money from the British market over the years. The British privateers have also done well for themselves, and both cultures have found a way to work with each other, albeit on a commercial basis. British culture has lent the island much creditability especially in music. One of Ibiza’s USPs is its diversity and its multicultural society, where everybody finds a way to get on whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Alien. You leave bigotry at the airport and find people as you meet them. Their tribes may be enemies elsewhere, but they find a way to live in peace on the island. One of the golden rules of Ibiza is that you do not interfere in the family business of another.

So, what does this mean for the future of Space Ibiza as a party at Eden? While I was of the opinion that it would not survive an entire season due to the dispute over its ownership, the lack of legal action to date would lead me to believe that it will hold its ground. Grupo Matutes has bigger fish to fry than to engage in a public spat over ownership of a title that most people on the island would agree belongs to Pepe Rosello. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and Grupo Matutes are masters at playing the long game. Space Ibiza may be gone, but it will not be forgotten. The team at Space Ibiza should be rewarded for their bravery. While defeated in Playa den Bossa, they mustered a courageous stand in Sant Antoni by digging in and issuing a come-and-get-me call to the Spanish Franco armies, who hesitated to advance. With their ground now seemingly secure and safe, it should allow for the safe return of their exiled General Carl Cox, which is all that is missing to bring Space Ibiza to another level.

Cox appeared as the headliner at Italy’s Opening Fiesta of Space Riccione earlier this week. There to greet him was Pepe Rosello, who issued his trademark “ “love and family” speech to the large crowd present at a venue owned by Giuseppe Cipriani, the Italian playboy restauranteur who owns the Danny Whittle managed Heart Nightclub and Downtown Ibiza. The camera-shy Italian has allied with Pepe Rosello after ending up on the wrong side of arguments with Grupo Matutes in the past. He has learned to keep a low profile, and his influence is silent, a lesson he acquired from previous battles. The production at Space Riccione was impressive, and the presence of Cox and Rosello on stage would indicate that their arrival on the Ibiza stage is imminent.

They say competition nurtures innovation and success. Ushuaia Entertainment has brought Ibiza to another level in terms of production and quality of its DJ roster. However, its business model is commercially driven and prioritises the DJ and style over the music. Space Ibiza was the opposite of that; it promoted musical integrity and substance on a more intimate stage. In recent years, I have witnessed the erosion of musical integrity on the island, replaced by entertainers and performers bouncing around to pre-recorded USB sticks. The music they are playing needs more innovation, diversity and creativity; it all sounds the same, over-produced and music by numbers. A reason why we are hearing more hits from the 80s and 90s being played. This is not DJying; it is acting. Im not saying anything is wrong with it as it is clear from the success of these events that people enjoy it, and thats what Ibiza is about: freedom of expression. I am always reluctant to judge another person’s taste in music because that is also a form of bigotry.

However, it is incumbent on our generation to promote the classical art of DJing, mixing, set building, introducing new music, and encouraging independent production without over-reliance on stage production and visuals. Ibiza needs to retain and nurture that art alongside the digital theatre experience. A balance must be found between classical Ibiza and modern Ibiza, as both complement the other. Musical integrity must be protected at all costs, and I believe Space Ibiza offers the island the best opportunity to preserve this vision. For music lovers of all eras of Ibiza’s rich and diverse musical culture, the most benevolent outcome in the Space Ibiza saga would be for both parties to adopt The Wisdom Of Solomon for its future. For this reason alone, The Battle for Portmany must not be lost.

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