20 years of Cocoon - Culture - Mixmag

20 years of Cocoon

This year Sven Väth’s Cocoon celebrated 20 years as a world-changing force in dance music

  • Words: Duncan Dick | Main image: Phrank.net
  • 6 September 2016

The opening party of Cocoon Ibiza, 2016. Up on a VIP balcony inside Amnesia crammed with friends and Cocoon family, Sven Väth grabs two glasses of champagne and clambers over the back of a sofa, exchanging hugs and hellos along the way, to offer one to Mixmag. Marking his 35th year as a DJ and 20 years of his creation, he has plenty to celebrate. “I get nervous before the opening party,” he says, “But also super excited. I’m a DJ, of course, but I’m also the company owner, the promoter. We give our best and we want to have success. We want to make people happy.” Below us the club is pretty much full even at this early (for Ibiza) hour. Ilario Alicante, one of Cocoon’s brightest stars, is lighting up the main room with tracks like the KiNK remix of Sven’s ‘Accident In Paradise’, while Dixon weaves his web in the terrace. It’s the first of 19 weeks of parties at a club that holds more than 5,000. Add the dozens of festivals, club nights and arenas this summer, from Tokyo to Temple Newsam in Leeds, and that’s a lot of happy people.

Naturally, Cocoon – booking agency (renamed ‘Flash Artist Booking’ in 2014), record label and global events company – started with a party. The first use of the Cocoon name was for a 1996 rave in an industrial building called the Alte Brauerei in Frankfurt. On the bill were Sven, DJ Hell, Underworld, Alter Ego, the Advent and more. Talida Wegener, who started out doing Sven’s bookings in 1994 and would become a key figure alongside Sven in the growth of the organisation before leaving in 2009, remembers it well. “There were acrobats swinging across the dancefloor, stiltwalkers, people hanging from the walls, it was very high-end, everyone who was there loved it.” Unfortunately there weren’t quite enough people there. “We lost a lot of money!” she says. “An event that size, normally you would do promotion, marketing, you’d get a sponsor, but Sven disagreed – he didn’t want anyone compromising the passion, the realness. And he was convinced that if he just called up all his friends the night would be full!”

"Sven didn’t want anyone compromising the passion, the realness" - Talida Wegener

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Even pre-Cocoon, Sven Väth was already Germany’s biggest ever DJ, a pop star thanks to smash euro hit ‘Electrica Salsa’ and famed throughout Europe thanks to his regular radio shows, DJing, his labels Harthouse and Eye Q and his first club, Frankfurt’s Omen, which opened in 1988. “Back in ’93, when I was 17, we would drive all the way from Sweden to see him play,” recalls Adam Beyer, now a regular at Cocoon events all over the world. After the overreach of the first party, Sven went back to playing the Omen for a while, but in the meantime the brand was spreading its wings. “The motivation was first to start events,” says Sven, “but with events came the idea of supporting artists, creating a platform with Cocoon bookings, using my contacts and my experience in my job, supporting young talent and featuring them at parties”. Soon Cocoon was signing up not just the cream of German and European DJing talent, but handing European bookings for US stars from Josh Wink to Carl Craig. Today the Cocoon roster includes British artists like Eats Everything, Tim Green and Subb-an alongside the likes of Wink, Frank Lorber and Dana Ruh. By 1998, licensing problems had shut down the Omen and Sven was throwing monthly Cocoon nights for a couple of thousand people in Frankfurt’s U60 club. That’s when the call came in that would change everything, and eventually catapult Cocoon to its current place as perhaps the most famous techno party in the world.

“Back in the days when I started with Cocoon,” recalls Sven, “I said ‘One day I want to realise my dream and make it a dream come true in Ibiza’. I had the feeling I had to give something back to the place, to the island. That was my motivation at the time.” Ten years after his first Ibiza gig at Ku (now Privilege) Sven was asked by Martin Ferrer, son of the owner of Amnesia, to host four parties at the club over the summer of 1999. Sven invited Richie Hawtin to play what would be only his second gig on the Island alongside Ricardo Villalobos, an old friend of Sven’s from Frankfurt. It was the heyday of UK superclubbing on Ibiza, with nights like Manumission, Cream and Gatecrasher: “Through the 90s the club scene in Ibiza was dominated by the English super-clubs,” says Sven, “and the music became really cheesy. Cocoon was a reaction to that – to try to recapture the spirit of the club life on the Island that I’d first fallen in love with.” The music was hard, and sometimes as fast as 142bpm. On Monday nights, it competed with the king of Ibiza, Manumission, and there are echoes of that first night in Frankfurt as only locals (who got in free) and a few hundred Germans and die-hard techno fans turned up. At the final party, Sven played to 150 people ’til 10am.

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