A great one for the “but is it Balearic?” file. The Mule Musiq family of labels out of Tokyo has since 2005 been prolific in sounds around the deepest of deep house, but also broadened its palette into experimental jazz, indie, ambient and more — and has certainly explicitly touched on the elusive Balearic aesthetic. This 2022 album by Shunji Mori aka 222 blurs the edges of Japanese environmental music a la Hiroshi Yoshimura, Jon Hassell style fourth world, and Durutti Column guitar abstraction. It is precisely the sort of Japanese music that, had it come out in 1983, would have been a staple for the more chilled DJs of Ibiza — and there’s a nice oblique connection to the island too, in the album’s title… Joni Mitchell's “party down a red dirt road” lasting “a week or two” that she sang of in “California” in 1971 referred to the beautiful people of Ibiza, where the beautiful people were grooving long before it was called Balearic to do so.
The Balearic Aesthetic
A warning before we begin: this guide is far from comprehensive — it’s deliberately partial and full of major omissions. The thing is, it could only be that way. You could try and make a complete and definitive guide to the Balearic aesthetic in music, but the effort would inevitably destroy your mind and you’d probably have to go into hiding to boot. It is a contentious business to say the very least. Ask any five DJs what it means and you’ll get at a minimum six conflicting answers, and at least two of the DJs will hunker down into a bitter two week argument over whether Apollonia 6 or Wendy & Lisa are the most Balearic. There are even arguments over whether to capitalise the “B” of “Balearic” when referring to the music rather than the geography.
The canonical origin story is deceptively simple. Balearic music began in Ibiza – one of the Balearic islands off the eastern coast of Spain in the Mediterranean, and a longtime leisure spot for bohemians, hippies, queers, and other assorted beautiful people from around the world. The story goes that it began with the musical choices of Argentinian DJ Alfredo Fiorito (universally known just as Alfredo), who began a residency at the Amnesia club in 1984 just as the club got an all-night license, and just as the followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh aka Osho brought suitcases full of ecstasy to the island as they fled their cult compound in Ohio. This then got taken to the world by a bunch of cheeky chappies from London.
Alfredo played all sorts. There was plenty of the pop and soul of the time. Lots of new wave / alternative like Talking Heads, Billy Idol and Siouxie And The Banshees. Euro electronica that bordered on the industrial like Belgium’s Liaisons Dangereuses or Scotland’s Finitribe. 60s and 70s psychedelic rock. Latin grooves. Reggae. Nina Simone. Captain Sensible. The Pink Panther theme. Quite a lot of the cheesiest smooth jazz sax you’ve ever heard. House music as it began to filter in from Chicago and New York. All at a distinctly unhurried pace. In the summer of 1987 a bunch of young London clubbers came to Amnesia, had their ecstasy epiphany dancing to U2 and Mr Fingers at dawn, took the experience back to the UK as evangelists via clubs like Paul Oakenfold’s Future and Danny Rampling’s Shoom, and together with acid house it exploded outwards.
In fact though, it’s a bit more complicated than that. There’s an element of “history is written by the victors” to this narrative – that is to say, those Brits went on to hugely influential positions in the music industry, so the places and sounds that first turned their heads were written into the canonical definition. But when Alfredo started, he played a very simple mix of laid-back pop-soul – mainly a huge amount of Sade – without the variety he’d be known for a couple of years later, and there were plenty of other DJs at clubs like KU and Pacha and bars and parties across the Balearics mixing it up, with influence criss-crossing between them.
These included Alfredo’s own stated biggest inspiration, Frenchman Jean Claude Maury, who had cut his teeth in the 70s discos of Brussels and had brought a lot of the weird Belgian electropop influence with him. Italian KU resident Massimo “Max” Zuchelli was much revered by other DJs. Names like Pippi, Joan Ribas, Gerardo, Patrick Landry, Nelo and Juan Carlos were all mixing, matching and cross-fertilising through the early- to mid- 80s. And one of the key Brit popularisers, Trevor Fung, had been playing Ibiza since almost the start of the decade – while other music lovers and mischief makers came and went, taking Balearic fashion and tastes back to British and other European cities. So as much as the events of 87 and 88 were a tectonic shift, the Balearic aesthetic had already grown in conversation with the rest of the continent long before the mythical 1987 year zero.
Listen now to mid-80s DJ recordings, and you’ll see why the crowd of jetsetters, pop stars, hippies, urchins, drop-outs and weirdos from across Europe revered Alfredo and the other DJs. There was no technical trickery to the mixing, but their pacing and choices draw you in – one minute it’ll be just Simply Red and Sade and you’re wondering how it’s different from oldies radio, then you’ll realise you’re nodding your head to something completely alien, or which shouldn’t make sense yet does. The old cliché of a DJ taking the audience “on a journey” is made vividly real, but it’s not hypnotic electronics or slamming basslines, it’s Spandau Ballet and TV cop show themes getting you there. It doesn’t matter if a track was a million-seller or a mega-rarity, if it fits, then it fits.
Right away the disagreements start. Does a song become Balearic because Alfredo played it, or is there a distinct quality that made it Balearic all along? All those other clubs and cafes through Ibiza, Formentera, Menorca and the other Balearic islands started playing diverse connoisseurs’ selections too: are they also officially Balearic music? What are the qualities that link these songs? Certainly there’s a certain inclination towards high production values, clean lines, a bittersweet melancholy that speaks to the fleeting bliss of the ecstasy experience. But a sense of fun is just as present, and the smoothness can be interrupted at any time with a psyche rock wigout or some rough-edged Euro EBM.
And the complications multiply once you factor in what people took away from the Amnesia, KU and Pacha dancefloors. Even in the mid-80s, artists were aware of the sound of those clubs, and either deliberately tailored their work to be playable or simply took inspiration from the Balearic DJs. From the ostentatious lushness of soft rocker Chris Rea to New Order fully leaning into their electronic tendencies while recording and clubbing in Ibiza, the Balearic vibe radiated outwards, creating feedback loops together with mainstream and alternative music. Other club scenes from Belgian new beat to Italian cosmic disco likewise existed in a state of sympathetic vibration with the Balearic isles.
But that was as nothing to what happened after 1988 and in the first couple of years of the 90s. That year, ecstasy culture exploded out of Ibiza across the clubs of Europe and particularly the UK. Already a few oddballs within the football terrace and club cultures had adopted the hippie-ish Amnesia style, but with the acid house revolution, it was suddenly everywhere, with DJs hunting down Alfredo’s playlists obsessively. And the Ibizan sound blurred into many other things. UK street soul birthed the likes of Soul II Soul and Smith & Mighty, whose unique loping breakbeat style and soundsystem bass would feed heavily back into Ibiza. Indie bands went to Ibiza or hung out with DJs who had. The likes of Happy Mondays, Primal Scream and the Beloved created a whole Balearically-inclined indie-dance movement. Acts that were neither indie nor dance, like Saint Etienne, Moodswings, The Grid, Innocence and many more, produced downtempo and emotive anthems.
Meanwhile in 1991, something happened that confused definitions even more: already well-practiced DJ Jose Padilla began his residency at Ibiza’s Cafe Del Mar, playing as the sun set over the ocean. His sets, though they could include dance and soul-funk beats and were as varied as Alfredo’s, were fundamentally more chilled. Playing soundtracks by Ennio Morricone and Ryuichi Sakamoto, new age and minimalist tracks by the likes of Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and selling tapes of his sets, he created an association between Ibiza and chillout music that changed the meaning of “Balearic” even as it was settling into the wider public consciousness. And to mess things up more, that public consciousness would also start to think of the banging trance and prog house of mid- to late-90s megaclubs as Balearic as well.
Since then, layer upon layer of variation have been added. DJs around the world from Copenhagen to Kyoto made careers from a laid back yet ecstatic vibe. Some, epitomised by Andrew Weatherall, led with the darker, more industrial side of Alfredo’s tastes, merging into more techno flavours. Some found overlaps with other stylistically voracious hedonistic scenes - like the cosmic disco of 1980s Italy led by Daniele Baldeli, or the Loft parties started in New York by David Mancuso going way back to the start of the 70s. Indeed, Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy, an associate of Mancuso’s, has lately presented a Balearic Breakfast Show on Worldwide FM, shoring up the sense of kinship between similar open-minded ecstatic dancing scenes.
Whole labels have grown up from releasing new dreamy dance experiments with a Balearic flavour (one is even called “Is It Balearic?”), or from digging up and re-releasing the type of obscure records that Alfredo might have played. Local variants have sprung up like the Norwegian disco scene of the 00s which tapped into cosmic disco, Ibizan influences and a whole load of bongos to create some of the most genial music of the new millennium. But is it Balearic? Well, here come the months-long arguments. Some say it’s not Balearic unless it’s actually a fish shack on an island beach with a wizened old hippie or hooligan playing Cocteau Twins and Jimmy Cliff singles. Some think it needs to be connected to certain clubs in London or Manchester. Some think there’s an aesthetic with rules, others demand that there must be rule-breaking curveballs to count.
But the brilliance of the legacy of those original, endless 1980s Ibiza nights is that nobody ultimately can decide what is real or authentic any more. So much of the magic is tied up with contingent experiences, the time of night, the juxtaposition of tracks, the cultural mix and expectation of a crowd at any given moment, the colour of the sunset, the flux of innocence and experience…in that sense it’s the epitome of club/DJ culture’s unique constitution: a record itself, or even a DJ set, can never be the definitive artwork, because the artwork – the creativity, the expression – is made up of the night, the weekend, the summer, the life story. This is a musical experience that shifts, shimmers and changes with every experience across decades and nations.
So with that in mind, I’ve selected some good records that have had the B-word attached to them at one time or another – many of them are explicitly Balearic compilations, in fact – but I ascribe no great claim to definitive status for any of them. Rather, think of this as a way in, a hint of how to navigate your own tastes, a waft of pine and patchouli as you try and track down that great mythical Mediterranean party of the mind…
His fame as resident DJ at the Café Del Mar in San Antonio, Ibiza — where he would famously soundtrack the sunset over the bay with global sounds, film soundtracks and more — has eclipsed the late José Padilla’s own recordings. But they very much deserve attention, his 2001 second album being case in point. It does, in its Seal collaboration which lifts chunks of U2's “One” and its rather over-egged cover of “The Look of Love,” illustrate the risks of Balearic DJs embracing of mainstream pop and gauche emoting — but for the most part it’s gorgeous. Strange jazz waltzes with flamenco vocals and Tex-Mex slide guitar, a super delicate take on LTJ Bukem style drum’n’bass, lots of lush ambience, stirring chord sequences and sublimated Latin grooves: you don’t even need the sunset to have a spiritual “moment” to this.
When the Balearic ethos emerged in the early 80s, it wasn’t the first DJing style to blend the coolest soul and dance of its time with experimental music, chillout and global beats, all with a psychedelic atmosphere. Indeed, David Mancuso, in his Loft parties, had been doing something similar in New York for over a decade before. So there’s a nice resonance in Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy — who cut her musical teeth as part of the Loft team from the early 90s — latterly bringing the streams together in her Balearic Breakfast Show on the sadly-missed Worldwide FM. This 2022 compilation is all pretty modern stuff and leans significantly more towards house and disco than the average “Balearic” selection — with Phil Asher remixing P’Taah, Ashley Beedle doing the same for Lady Blackbird, and Murphy herself reworking Australian jazz-fusioneers Mildlife. But there’s plenty of the washes of chillout dreaminess, krautrock chug and other sounds that you’d more associate with The B-Word, and altogether it feels like a very natural dovetailing of Ibiza with New York, London and other global dance spaces.
Sometime around 1989, Creation Records’s Alan McGee and his proteges Primal Scream fell hard for acid house and Balearic culture, and the course of the indie rock label took a sharp left turn. And this 1991 compilation of their wholesale adoption of electronic production perfectly captures the still-optimistic, no-rules afterglow of the acid house explosion. There’s a Rolling Stones cover (“We Love You” by JBC, formerly spiky indie band The Jazz Butcher), there are soaring disco strings (“Philly” by Fluke), there are names who would become huge like Primal Scream, Andrew Weatherall and Danny Rampling, and obscure oddballs doing one off projects. Somehow, though, among all this, it feels coherent — precisely because it does that rare trick of capturing a vibe and a moment perfectly.
Grant Cunliffe aka Grant Showbiz was a record producer who’d worked with the likes of Billy Bragg, Pretenders and The Fall, while James “JFT” Hood was a drummer who’d worked on many of the same projects. Together, like so many in the music world, they had their head turned when acid house and Balearic beats hit the UK — and in 1990 they created “Spiritual High,” whose rudimentary dub baseline, Soul II Soul beat, choirs and strings became a huge Balearic / end of rave / after party anthem. It would get bigger still with the addition of Martin Luther King samples, then transformed again into a cover of Donna Summer / Jon & Vangelis's “State of Independence” with The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hyde on vocals. All of that is on this album, as are silky house beats, gentle rap, Johnny Marr, Jeff Beck, and a lot of lush new age atmospherics. It remains a joyous expression of a point where the rules of genre and style had come completely unravelled and anything-goes was the order of the day.
If someone says “Balearic music” nowadays, as often as not they’ll be referring to something like this: synth disco running at 120bpm and below, often with a rock-band chug to the drums, and lots of psychedelic swooshes and swirls. But actually this manifestation has only really been the case since the mid 00s, when people began to join the dots from the Spanish Balearic Islands in the 80s to the Italian cosmic disco that had been happening at the same time thanks to DJs like Daniele Baldelli. This in turn fused with other new-wave / synth / alt-disco revivalism happening via labels/collectives like DFA, Optimo and RVNG INTL, plus a whole new wave of Nordic space disco from the likes of Prins Thomas, Todd Terje and Lindstrøm — and a new musical grammar was formed. Eskimo Recordings from Ghent in Belgium was a vital part of that agglomeration, and this 2007 compilation captures the magic perfectly. It’s at least as much Baldelli as it is Alfredo (hence the “Cosmic” in the title), and it still stands up as a warm, hedonistic joining of dots through international dance cultures.
House music had been in the mix for Balearic DJs like Alfredo and Leo Mas from the mid-80s on, but this collection from 1989 really encapsulates the blissful point where Ibiza and Chicago intersected. It has a load of elements which would influence the codification of the Balearic aesthetic for years to come — synth arpeggios a-go-go, rich and warm soul-jazz chords, orientalist and Latin motifs, the tempo of the four-to-the-floor kickdrum dipping well below 120bpm. But in fact this was convergent evolution in action: Larry Heard was already steeped in the same influences as the Ibizan DJs, like jazz fusion, prog, Kosmische and new age, so it was absolutely natural his music would fit with the Mediterranean environment so well. Whether the album’s title had any link to the Ibiza club where Alfredo and Leo Mas played is unknown: more likely it’s just synchronicity as elegant as the music.
The slipperiness of the Balearic aesthetic makes it impossible to name definitive records — but there are several without which it’s very hard to understand that aesthetic. And this collection of the best works by the late Simon Jeffes’s collective is one. It’s appropriate that the concept for the group came to Jeffes in a dream on the Mediterranean — albeit in the South of France — as the gentle, repetitive string minimalism of PCO has proved to be the ultimate soundtrack for sunsets and waves in the Balearic isles. Combining whimsical English and other folk motifs, the minimalist repetitions of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, and the dreamy modernism of Brian Eno (who initially signed them to his Obscure Music label), PCO pre-empted a lot of the most sophisticated dance and electronic music, and created bittersweet moods that would be heavily mined by Balearic DJs like José Padilla. Individual PCO albums can swerve a bit far into prog rock indulgence on occasion, but this best-of collection is pretty much faultless.
The Sunset Sounds From The EMI Music Archives series, put together on streaming services by EMI Sweden in 2012, as neo-Balearic eclecticism was becoming big business in Scandinavia, is a mixed bag to say the least. Some volumes are stellar digs through history by someone who obviously knows their onions, others seem like an excuse to remarket mid-range Scandi electronic acts. But when it’s of the quality of this, Volume 9 in the series, it’s hard to argue. There’s dirty 70s boogie (Suzi Quatro, Hawkwind, Cozy Powell, Alexis Korner's C.C.S.), there’s new wave (The Stranglers, Fad Gadget, Flying Lizards), there’s a little of the early 90s dance-rock expressly inspired by Ibiza (a very early Andrew Weatherall remix of former Undertones members That Petrol Emotion). But the real joy here is how that elusive Balearic quality emerges as you play through this — it’s a coherent set, it’s danceable, and somehow there’s a hidden connecting thread through it all.
This is where the crate-digging DJ ethos of the Balearic generation of the 80s starts to blur around the edges. Germans Gerd Jansen and Jazzanova are best known for house/techno and nu-jazz respectively — but for this compilation they dip into their collections of mostly new wave era music. There’s tracks from Serbia (Propaganda — not to be confused with the ZZT mainstays), Belgium (Aksak Maboul), the US (Will Powers — an all-star satirical collective around photographer Lynn Goldsmith). There’s synth music that’s disco-leaning (Sylvester) and prog-leaning (the track that gives the compilation its title, from violinist Jean-Luc Ponty), there’s lo-fi and expensive sounding stuff. But is it Balearic? Is anything? Certainly it taps into he same rewiring of the past and present through contextualisation that the OG Balearic DJs did, and brings out a whole new coherent personality from an extremely diverse set of tracks.
Balearic archival is a funny old business. The market (including streaming services) are flooded with compilations with a sketchy degree of legality, and a pretty slapdash sense of aesthetics to boot. But when it’s done well, it’s done really, really well. “Balearic Mike” Smith and Richard “Moonboots” Bithell are both mainstays of the Manchester scene, with close connections to clubland legends like Luvdup, Justin Robertson and co — though are perhaps as known and loved for their tenures in the city’s record shops. Moonboots is also, along with Low Life party resident DJ Jolyon Green, responsible for one of the best Balearic playlists in existence: begun by the pair in 2010 and subsequently expanded by Green into a deliriously sprawling 69-hour (!!) affair. Together, they created the first of a 10-edition compilation series for the Claremont 56 label, which ranges from first-generation Balearic inspiration (the 1982 Italian pop-soul of Band Aid — no not that Band Aid), through second generation dance (again from Italians: The Night-S-Press in 1989, sampling older Balearic indie staple “Jesus on the Payroll” by Thrashing Doves) to the then modern. The latter includes gorgeous chill out by Café Del Mar resident Phil Mison and Claremont 56 founder Paul “Mudd” Murphy. The wonderful thing about this kind of compiling done this well — with loving remastering, sleeve notes etc — is that the compilations themselves become collector’s items, and so the cycle starts all over again.
It’s amazing, some 40 years after the Balearic ethos of DJing coalesced, how its essential principles and methods continue to spread and mutate. Take the RE:WARM label from the English South Coast, which is rooted in Balearic record collecting and DJing culture, digging up and polishing up obscure tracks including anything from New Zealand space disco to 90s South African pop. And on this fantastic collection by DJ Paul Hillery, they apply the ethos to folk, country and gentle psychedelia new and (mostly) old. This is all ultra obscure stuff in an area somewhere adjacent to Nick Drake, Tim Buckley, Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Everly Brothers in their psyche-kitsch days. And as ever with the Balearic approach, it’s not just the individual tracks, but the juxtaposition, the presentation of them as part of DJ culture, which makes them not museum pieces but living, breathing treasures in the here and now.
There has always been a hippie-rock element to Balearic music — Mediterranean DJs playing 60s and 70s Californian and Californian-adjacent bands, and a long-haired, bearded, open-shirted fashion sense. So it’s no wonder that acts steeped in the Balearic vibe would find new ways to present that. Thus A Mountain Of One, who emerged during the major Balearic renaissance of the 00s. Channeling Love, The Doors, Crosby Stills & Nash, Fleetwood Mac and a little late period Hendrix along with the 80s production and electronic sequences more commonly associated with Ibiza and its surrounds, their early EPs — collected here — are the absolutely perfect soundtrack for letting your hair billow in the wind as waves crash on a beach beneath you.
It was a somewhat grim irony that Balearic — an aesthetic that originally could only be defined by context and juxtaposition in multi-genre DJ sets — began through the 90s and into the 00s to become a predictable genre in itself. Many hundreds of labels sprang up specialising in wafty chill-out beats with breathy voices, Spanish guitars and pictures of swimming pools on the cover. But amongst the glut, there were gems too — and nowhere more so than on Danish DJ Kenneth Bager’s label Music for Dreams. Bager had a long history as a DJ going back to the early 80s himself, so he made sure that the label was imbued with the variety and weirdness of his original Balearic inspirations — and as this album of its output through the first two decades of the millennium shows amply, there was plenty of mileage in it. Lush and surging electronic soul songs, barely-there ambient, New Order-style electronic pop: this is chill out with guts and heart.
This compilation from 1994 — now highly sought after — captures the moment just before dance music culture got mega-mainstreamed, when the Balearic aesthetic was still super loose, blurring the original smooth pop mix of the 1980s DJs with the electronic producers they inspired. Soft rock from Chris Rea, proto house from Arthur Russell, Italian sophistication from Sueno Latino and Tullio De Piscopo, downbeat production from post-acid house UK generation like Moodswings and The Grid: it’s an impeccable, and perfectly balanced, selection.
Arguments will simmer for ever over whether Argentinian DJ Alfredo Fiorito was the prime originator of the Balearic aesthetic or just one part of a movement — but there’s no question that his mid-80s sets did serve to codify it. This 90 minute recording, dug up for a summer solstice post on the Chill Out Tent blog, is case in point, and is a perfect illustration of how technically simple but inspired DJing can pick up and transport an audience somewhere truly magical. It opens in shamelessly mainstream fashion with Simply Red, and there’s plenty of the more sophisticated pop and soul of the time (Style Council, Zushii), kooky (and un-Shazamable) Europop, lots of emotionally ambiguous new wave-derived songs (Joe Jackson, Talking Heads's “Home,” Sandie Shaw’s gorgeously bleak cover of Lloyd Cole's “Are you Ready to be Heartbroken?”), all culminating in a joyously weird ending of “How Much are They? by Jah Wobble with Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebzeit of Can into Henry Mancini's “Pink Panther Theme.” You can understand why intoxicated newcomers to the Amnesia club began to worship Alfredo as some kind of shaman — for all its seeming accessibility this is a deep musical ritual.
The influence on this extended sequencer and guitar jam on dance culture cannot be overstated. Larry Levan reportedly fell in love with it the minute he heard it, making it a staple at NYC’s Paradise Garage and the last record played at his last gig before he died in 1992. The impact it had on house and techno is obvious and vast — in technique, in spirit and through being sampled directly, most notably by Carl Craig, Basic Channel and on 1989 Italo house hit “Sueño_Latino” by Sueño_Latino which would become one of the defining records of the Balearic DJing style as it went international. But E2-E4 had long been an Ibiza staple before any dance producers reworked it, with brave and or zoned-out DJs sometimes letting its entire hour-long duration play out. As its cycling patterns develop, it truly captures the mood of a party or dance floor that has come untethered from the everyday, where the demands of normal time no longer exist.
This is it: the motherlode of the original Balearic beat. Or at least the Balearic beat as it was taken to London in 1987 and 88 by a tight team of music scene friends. This album’s main compiler Trevor Fung had been a DJ on Ibiza since 1982, while his co-conspirators Pete Tong (or “Razor” tong as he’s credited) and Paul “Oakey” Oakenfold — both soon to become big time industry movers and shakers — were more recent converts to the scene. Sleeve notes, meanwhile, are written by Terry Farley, then known as part of the Boys Own fanzine but himself soon to be a house music superstar. The music is a mix of wired indie (The Woodentops, Thrashing Doves), punky industrial electro grooves (Nitzer Ebb, Fini Tribe, even The Residents keeping up with the times) and breezy Mediterranean-scented pop/dance (Mandy Smith, Electra’s “Jibaro”) — to UK dance insiders familiar to the point of hoary, but actually, listening back with fresh ears, still gigantic fun.
There can be few artists more under-appreciated given their vast influence than French keyboardist Wally Badarou. His role as the unofficial “fifth member” of Level 42 contributed majorly to the sound of the 80s, but probably even more, as part of the Compass Point All Stars, his work with Grace Jones, Tom Tom Club, Gwen Guthrie, Jimmy Cliff and more fed into so many overground and underground currents. And just as potently, but even more unknown, his solo work practically defined the sound of the Balearic DJs of the 1980s, and thus the more sophisticated sound of dance culture thereafter. The delicate, thoughtful grooves of Echoes bring together everything from West African highlife guitars to Yellow Magic Orchestra inspired orientalist motifs, jazz-funk to academic minimalism, all with cutting edge use of synths and rhythm machines. The sense of a record out of time is increased by “Mambo,” large sections of which would be repurposed for Massive Attack's “Daydreaming,” and by the final beatless, emotive piano piece “Rain” which seems to carve out a space beyond influence. All of it has a globalism, a sophisticated outsider vibe, that perfectly fits with the most otherworldly of dance floors, still.
As is well established, there is no true core to the Balearic aesthetic in music. It’s all about context, about juxtaposition, about what works in the moment. However there are certain sounds, styles, records without which it couldn’t be what it is. And this is one of those records. Munich’s ECM label has always specialised in finding a calm neither/nor space between jazz, modern classical and new age — and they were a perfect space for Metheny’s meditational jazz fusion experiments. The guitarist is known as one of the greatest virtuosos of all time, but on this album, everything is about underplaying by him and his band. Gentle Brazilian percussion, ambient synth pads, melodies that flow through the air like liquid gold, combine with the kind of ultra crisp production that so much in the 80s aspired to but all too often overshot into digital harshness. It’s pure elegance, and — although it’s laid back throughout — the sort of pure groove that made it into catnip for the DJs of Ibiza.
In the early 00s, two things happened. First the last-days-of-rome decline of superstar DJ culture turned many musically curious people off the 90s dance mainstream and drew attention back to the stranger, more eclectic roots of DJ culture in New York, Chicago and Ibiza. Second, the arrival of easy to use editing software — notably Ableton Live — allowed any music from any time to be chopped up and made “DJ friendly.” All too often this led to a ghastly blanding and straightening out of quirky source material, but there were a few people who did it right — notably obsessive crate-digging Brighton party crew Soft Rocks. This collection of their 00s edits has stuff that sounds like Gary Numan, like Prince, like The Allman Brothers, and even a cod-reggae Europop cover version of Iron Butterfly's “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida.” It skims exactly that weird fractal boundary between pop and freakout, sophisticated and demented, that the original generation Balearic DJs consistently navigated, and while it’s extremely reliable party material, it’s never, ever predictable.
This 1990 album is a perfect exemplar of how the Balearic aesthetic merged into deeper streams of music and subculture. Richard Norris was a psychedelic archivist and musical experimenter, who had already leapt headlong into acid house with the Jack the Tab album he made with Genesis P. Orridge of Psychic TV / Throbbing Gristle in 1988. Dave Ball also contributed to that album but was best known for his own dark electronic innovations as half of Soft Cell. Together as The Grid, they plugged naturally in to the moody EBM and other Euro electronic records played by Ibiza’s Balearic DJs and effortlessly drew lines of connection from these into both house and the more soulful / blissed-out / easy listening aspects of Balearic sets. “Floatation” in particular, with its Soul II Soul derived beat, captured perfectly the flowing-together of elements and lack of rules of the time — and via its Andrew Weatherall remix (included on extended reissues) has been a part of dance culture’s nervous system ever since, as evidenced by Paul Woolford’s extraordinary remake of it almost 30 years later.
It’s kind of hilarious thatone of the most flagrantly Balearic modern record labels of all — International Feel — for the first few years of its life was run not from the Mediterranean, but from Punta Del Este, more than 6,000 miles away on the Atlantic coast of Uruguay. But the Sketches From an Island records were made by label founder Barrott after decamping back to Ibiza, and they absolutely radiate Balearic vibes. Brazilian tropicália lilt, German Kosmische synth ripples a la Klaus Schulze, Pat Metheny flavoured new-age jazz, an undercurrent of Mr Fingers and Marshall Jefferson, gentle whispers of pop melody, all kept ultra delicate at all times. And in case you were in any doubt at all where this is located geographically, there’s even a track called “Formentera Headspace Blues” to make it 1,000% clear.
It’s strange that an album that came from the same rain-drenched and unglamorous Manchester environs as Joy Division — and even sounds a little Joy Division at times — should become a soundtrack to sun-soaked psychedelic adventures for beautiful people in Ibiza, but such is the magic of the Balearic DJ ethos. Vini Reilly’s gently chiming guitars — echoing both New York minimalism and West African highlife — lyrical piano chords and bare drum (occasionally drum machine) patterns came to life in a new geographic and narcotic context — and this 1981 album is essential listening if you want to understand certain patterns that would be codified in explicitly Balearic records of the decades that followed.
The soundtrack to the movie Sakamoto himself starred in alongside David Bowie ranks as one of the greatest scores of all time. It marked the moment when Ryuichi Sakamoto really demonstrated that he was an artist for the ages above and beyond his work with Yellow Magic Orchestra and subsequent club-friendly successes. And it’s also a defining Balearic record. You wouldn’t need to know Sakamoto had performed it live at Ibiza’s pivotal KU club in 1990 to know that its sophisticated synth work and unforgettable melodies were perfectly tuned to the (then) sophisticated club culture of the island.
Is this a vision of an alternate timeline Balearic sound? In a hilarious irony, Swiss-Italian producer Roberto Concina aka Robert Miles was more responsible than most for shifting Ibiza’s dominating sounds away from the variety and sophistication of OG Balearic ethos thanks to his superclub-dominating trance anthems epitomised by 1995’s “Children.” But then with his mainstream money, he settled in a mansion in the Ibiza hills and threw himself into making music altogether more varied, psychedelic and luxurious. 2001’s Organik was an outstanding blend of prog rock, krautrock, jazz and trip hop, with the mighty Bill Laswell in tow. But this follow-up with Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu was a big step further out. In its gentler moments, it’s very keyed into the early Balearic vibe — jazz fusion melody, transglobal percussion, ambient pads all floating by elegantly — while when it’s more manic it slips towards Squarepusher-like junglist jazz, but still retaining its poise. Very much music for wafting around in a kaftan to.
There are few albums as explicitly Balearic as this. The title, the lizard on the cover, every sound herein explicitly signals Ibiza — the Ibiza away from the megaclubs, that is. Manchester producer Ruf Dug has been a part time resident on “the white isle” since his teens, and his music is all about capturing the hidden away pleasures of its bars and fish shacks. And in particular he’s always channelled the pop immediacy of the Balearic DJs — so here, even when there are oddball radiophonic sounds, dub reggae spaciousness or Kosmische synth repetitions, it always comes with a cleanliness of production and melodic hooks that you’d swear you’d heard before — that trigger a bittersweet non-specific nostalgia. And when the folky soft-rock vocals of Nev Cottee come in on “Dominica!” and “Le Rayon Vert,” you’d swear you were hearing a song from your childhood echoing in on a lost oldies station of the mind.