We burn along the motorway a few hours after daybreak. On the edge of the city now, Barcelona airport behind us, Elrow up ahead. Stepping out of the vehicle, the structure that greets us is part DC10, part renegade garden centre, fused with a strong element of multi-coloured psychedelia.
We wander through the dust, passing inside the main gates, multicoloured camo netting shading the sun, sand beneath our feet and a giant inflatable lizard swaying in the breeze. Ker Beach is the first of the two outdoor stages to open. The dancefloor is all sand, the surrounding bars and burger vans decked with dried palm leaves. In the DJ booth, decorated with pop-art magic mushrooms, resident Tini Gessler drops ‘Blizz’ by Tolstoi. Her sound is chugging, fresh, not too hard. The first ravers of the day are pouring in: mostly young Spanish kids in vests and denim cut-offs, plus a few English ravers enjoying their first European clubbing vacation.
“I’ve been to Elrow at Parklife,” says Emma, 19, from the Wirral, “but this place is totally mad. It looks like some kind of multi-coloured jungle. I feel like I’ve dropped acid!”
The fact that today’s party was originally booked as a festival miles away in the small town of Salou, until the party got caught up between two feuding local councils and relocated, means the line-up is stacked: at 12 noon headline heavyweights Apollonia are opening the club. “That’s the cool thing about the rearranged schedule,” says Shonky; “we get to play early doors, basically opening the venue. It’s an opportunity for us to bring those deeper vibrations, which is what we truly love.”
Meanwhile, over on the Terrace stage where the dancefloor is twice the size of Ker Beach, an arsenal of silver cannons fire red confetti over a sea of bobbing heads. Musically the output is a little faster, a little tougher. When Jackmaster drops ‘Bang’ by ZDS, it signals an energy shift on the floor, a meridian moment.
"I’ve been playing Elrow for a couple of years now and the energy is primal"
The Terrace booth has been designed to mimic an old brick building. A couple throw fake dollar bills from one of the upstairs windows while stilt walkers dressed as Barbie and Fidel Castro stomp around in the sand, towering over the crowd. The production is typically over the top, typically Elrow.
“It makes most of the clubs back home look boring,” adds Emma’s friend Alfie, 18, from Birmingham. “Everything is just so random – there are loads of inflatables, acid faces hanging from the ceiling, weird costumed actors wandering around. But the best thing is being able to dance outside in the sun.”
Elrow’s influence on the aesthetic of clubland is apparent in the way so many clubs, especially in Ibiza, have upped their level of spectacle, from Ibiza Rocks to Benimussa Park: shares in confetti companies must be through the roof. But nobody does it quite like them, not least in the wacky characters that tour the venue (consider the bearded lady with a tortoiseshell on her back who can’t stop sniffing a pair of lacy knickers). And despite the spectacular backdrop, dancing seems to be taking precedence over selfies – a pleasant surprise, given the huge role that Elrow’s photogeneity has played in its success.
Later, we roam the dark maze of corridors that feed the Main Room. Pac-Man rushes by, chased by his arch nemesis, Inky, who has been doggedly pursuing him throughout the night. The Main Room is a covered indoor space, dark, with low ceilings, the walls awash with neon paint. The mood is messy, dirty, twisted. Early 90s warehouse vibes abound. It’s an underground showground, the perfect setting for DJs like Marco Faraone and Richie Hawtin.
A few minutes before Guti’s live show, the power cuts out. It’s a chance to take a breather, grab a bottle of water, maybe a mojito. And there are those who don’t even stop dancing, locked into a steady groove despite the silence, stomping away to the beats in their head.
“The power cut actually built the anticipation,” Guti smiles after his set. “The atmosphere was even better when it came back on. The fact that nobody left the stage shows the mentality of the people who come here. I’ve been playing Elrow for a couple of years now and the energy is primal. These young kids from Valencia and Barcelona have thirty years of rave ingrained within them.”
Back outside on the Ker Beach stage, the day having morphed to night, Agoria is all spine-tingling chords and melancholy melodies. It’s his first time playing for Elrow but the Scala’star understands the score immediately. “It’s always nice to play a venue where the audience come with their hearts,” he explains post-set. “The vibe is reminiscent of an afterparty. The crowd give something to us and we give something back. Ultimately, that’s what makes an amazing party. The success of this place is built around a strong relationship between DJs and crowd.”
Since moving to Ibiza in 2012, Elrow’s rise to global prominence has been truly breathtaking. When it first landed on the island few people outside mainland Spain had heard of it, and apart from Mixmag, the international dance press were nowhere to be seen. But as the buzz increased, so did the crowds. By September, Elrow’s average attendance had risen by 100%. Within two years it relocated to the much larger Space. Recent investment from private equity group Superstruct Entertainment means expansion into North American, South American, Asian and Asian Pacific markets is on the cards. Now one of the most recognisable dance music brands in the world, its momentum seems unstoppable. The only danger is dilution. After all, Elrow are a family operation. Today, top-ranking members of the Arnau family are climbing ladders, tightening bolts, all hands on deck. For years they’ve been fully involved, steering the ship, keeping it on course. As the brand travels further and further from its original point of inception, let’s hope that vibe can be maintained. If it can, we could be in for a much brighter planet.
This feature is from the September issue of Mixmag
Johnny Lee is Mixmag's Ibiza Correspondent
[Photo credit: Nachtschaduw and Toni Villen]