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Ibiza love: The White Isle has informed everything Sven Väth has done since 1980

A flip of a coin at 16 paved the way for an incredible career

  • Words: Ralph Moore | Photography: William Oliver Worrell | Thanks to Liz Mendez
  • 24 May 2018

Sven Väth is a music fanatic, an aesthete and a visionary – and over the course of his 35-year career he’s not only encountered everyone from Madonna to Mick Jagger, but taken cutting-edge techno to a big club stage – and onto the global map – by bringing Cocoon to Ibiza back in 1999. And Sven’s love for the island has informed everything he does since the day in 1980, aged 16, when he flipped a coin in Barcelona and it told him to head to the White Isle rather than stay where he was...

When Sven arrived, it didn’t take him too long to acclimatise. After hitchhiking his way to the island, sleeping on beach chairs and giving out flyers to make cash, he built a makeshift campsite with a friend. “We were downright broke!” he says. But during those three months, he connected all the musical and spiritual dots, inspired by the people and the places he saw. He never looked back.

Cocoon at Amnesia was the first underground party on the island to cater to 6,000 ecstatic ravers each and every Monday. It was also the first party to cultivate an after-hours scene in Ibiza, a timeless tradition that continues to this day. Sven, Richie Hawtin, Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano (all still close friends) became electronic icons, not just in Ibiza, but around the world. While Loco Dice and Marco Carola helped usher in the next wave of techno superstars at the club, then decided to splinter off and start their own events, Sven remains the one true constant for Cocoon. Sven is Cocoon, and Cocoon is Sven. And for 18 years, things remained pretty constant. Always playing vinyl, and never for less than three hours.

“When it comes to what we do, it’s about consistency. There were always people around me saying, ‘This is new, this is coming; I used to play vinyl, but you have to check this out.’ Just leave me alone! I’ll do my thing with the way I feel it. Feeling: that’s the keyword.”

Sven ruled the Amnesia roost alongside Ricardo on the terrace, with a bond that remains to this day. But behind the scenes, things were changing. In January of this year he made the decision to leave the environment he’d called home for an entirely new one at the island’s oldest club, Pacha. It was a move which shocked some and intrigued everyone, and was one of the biggest changes to the Island’s interconnected club ecosystem in years. Some of Sven’s own staff took time to be convinced, but “it’s my job to be a leader,” says Sven. “Now they understand.”

So from May 30 until October 3, Cocoon will take place at Pacha for the very first time. A smaller, more intimate space, half the capacity of Amnesia, the club – perhaps influenced by the opening of Hï Ibiza last year – has been refurbished over the winter, with a bigger dancefloor and the booth now in the centre of the floor. Ricardo Villalobos plays twice, a first for the club; Nina Kraviz also plays once, another first; and Gerd Janson, Adam Beyer and Mano Le Tough all return. Equally intriguing, there will also be a series of five daytime parties at Destino: Sven’s appearance back in 2013 is an after-hours people still talk about now (hearing him play Stardust while plates of free fruit floated by is not an experience easily forgotten). Oh, and the night itself has moved to a Wednesday, which in a previous lifetime belonged to US house night Subliminal Sessions. “For me, it’s a different situation because usually I always came back on Monday from somewhere after a heavy weekend. But now I start the Wednesday very fresh and ready for the night,” Sven says.

It’s early April when we fly to the island to meet him and his team. The plan is to take Mixmag to some of his favourite spots and discuss his love affair with Ibiza. “It was a life-changing experience I had here. This place showed me a bigger picture of what is possible,” he says. “It was feeding my fantasy muscle!” Dressed all in black (of course), a modern-day pirate in heavy fisherman’s jumper with fashionable frays and holes, he meets us for lunch at Es Xarcu, a completely unspoiled (and music-free) family seafood restaurant next to Blue Marlin. Tucking into a plate of john dory, Sven is in a good mood. “I mean, I’m sitting in the sun here at one of my favourite beach restaurants and I have to say, I’m quite excited about what’s coming! It’s so fresh. After 18 years, it’s so inspiring for me to do something new.”

Is he nervous? “A healthy stress and a healthy nervousness. I think it’s a part of it. It should be a part of it.” By the time this feature is published, the club will finally be ready.

Pacha Ibiza

“The conversations started with [Cocoon promoter] Johannes Goller and [booker] Jessica Capaz McCarthy. It was very smooth and gentle, and we were all very open to discussing many things. That for me was a positive sign. We had a real history with Amnesia and had had extreme blissful, ecstatic moments in that club. At the beginning we were alone, everyone was laughing at us and then suddenly we became super-successful. And then everyone wanted to copy us. Then the club Amnesia gave us competition under the same roof [with the likes of Marco Carola’s Music On, and booking in HYTE on a Wednesday] – and then the battle started. We were putting ideas on the table, things you think you should change, but there was no listening. They were not really paying attention and discussing things with us. And things went from positive to negative, especially in the last years. So personally I had the feeling four years ago [to change], but there was no option at that time. We made the final decision in January this year – and that was when I said ‘it’s done’. It’s just done! It was for me a moment of joy and happiness: we’ll start something new. Many of the team were insecure: ‘We don’t know what’s coming. Is Pacha the right club?’ – and we didn’t know when we had our talks with Pacha that they were going to refurbish it. When they told us we thought, ‘That feels even more right!’ I’ve built myself two clubs already in my life, so I know what it’s like. The architect, the technician and the sound guy have shown us around. They were open, they were listening and they were very constructive.

“I first came to Pacha in the middle of 80s and I loved that club so much. I was spending a lot of time there... Pacha was for me like a discoball, and the only club I had a more freaky relationship with was Amnesia because I was there at the beginning with the opening parties. I mean Pacha was an outdoor area, it was open air! There was a romance about Amnesia and Pacha. That was the spirit of the 80s where it was a small scene, a small group of people, very hippy, freaky and open-minded, and very stoned!

“We knew that there was a new owner [since last year] and we knew that they wanted to change things. It’s going to be a different Pacha and we wanted to be a part of it. They will focus much more on the dancefloor and they will extend the dancefloor. Also, communication is very important to me: no-one wants to hear things after the fact – that was the situation with Music On. After that, there was no more trust [with Amnesia]. They were even hunting [talent] in our circle and that is a no-go. When I came to see Pacha and talk to the technicians they were super-friendly first of all, very professional and open. How will it feel to have a proper collaboration rather than butting heads?”

Ibiza Town

“This represents my youth, when I was first here back in the 80s. By the Port was most important strip here. It was called ‘The Mile’! I found myself running around with my box of mixtapes from one bar to another. I was selling my mixtapes to three bars; one was called Graffiti, where I always had my gin and tonic in the evening. The owner was a German, a funny old man and he was playing only my music, music I recorded in the afternoon in the clubs I was DJing in at that time. Then later in the evening you’d go slowly cruising up the Old Town towards one corner where there was a bar called Dôme, I think it still exists actually [it does], and this was where we all met before we go to the clubs. Getting ready, getting in the mood – I also had some sexual contact up there in Dalt Vila… fun times!

“For me, the Old Town is the most iconic place and a symbol of Ibiza. At the time I was here in the 80s it was more Italian, Spanish, French and some Germans. The evening always started there. Nowadays it’s all in [Playa d’En] Bossa.

“Looking back to the time I flipped a coin and came here, you can see what destiny can do to you. I think you have to be lucky
in your life, but also stay true to yourself and don’t get irritated by all the temptations and noises. Remember what drives you, in the end, to do what you do. It shouldn’t be the fame. It shouldn’t be the money. It shouldn’t be the lifestyle. It never has been for me. The music is what’s important: nothing has changed for me. I mean, look at Mark Spoon [the larger-than-life DJ/producer who died in 2006 of a heart attack; one half of Jam & Spoon], you know, he was a very good friend of mine, and what happened? He got lost. Many people got lost.”

Off the beaten track

“I run here in Ibiza with my dog Copito: cross-running. It’s a bit more rough, jumping over stones – it’s not a jogging path! It’s more like a wild path not far away from my house. I always run for around an hour. I never see anyone, I’m just there with the dog in the woods, no shirt, wearing pants, but no shirt. In February the almond blossom is stunning here, and in summer I go to the beaches just to eat and chill out. I prefer swimming out at sea, jumping from the boat – mainly because when it’s crowded here at the beaches I get too many people come to me then and ask me for the guest list!

“Do I like nature more than city life? I need both. yin and yang. I like the speed of London [where Sven lives the rest of the year], London is so vibrant, it’s unbelievable. But nature in Ibiza is fantastic. It’s not a rock like Mykonos; here it’s lush, it’s green.

“Has Ibiza changed? It’s a logical evolution. Things are changing for good and we also improved. If you go up north to Sant Joan and places like this, you still have hippy communities there. They invite shamans to come from Mexico, Peru or Brazil and do ayahuasca sessions there. These people will never come to the clubs. You have your own little circles here in the north, in the south, and the other side there’s also the hippy market still on. There is still that vibe. At Las Dalias, they do these more old-school Ibiza parties, like Nightmares On Wax’s [Wax Da Jam]. I love his new album! I’m not sure if he recorded it here, but I was just listening to it this morning and it fits so perfectly with the vibe. There are still hippy pockets here, while up-to-date events like the WooMooN concept [at Cova Santa] are also very welcome. It’s not just about Bossa – there’s much more to discover.”

The island's artistic side

“There is a museum, there is a cinema, there is a contemporary art museum in the Old Town, where my friend Douglas Gordon, a video artist, just had an exhibition with the sculptor Tobias Rehberger. There’s also another new gallery that opened near the new fashion store, so there are a lot of artists and painters.

“My friends say to me, ‘Where do you go? What is your favourite place?’ I say, ‘You know what: rent a car and discover the island’. Of course, there are so many guides and magazines telling where you go, but there are always new places popping up now. La Granja is a very nice place with a little hotel. They also do shamen sessions there and yoga retreats – nowadays there’s a lot of yoga happening here in Ibiza. It’s quite colourful.

“At the end of the day, there are just five clubs. There are other little beach clubs here and there, but personally I think it goes a little bit in the wrong direction when every beach club has a dancefloor and pushes people to drink and party. Of course, the day business is a very attractive business now. I remember when I played in the old Ushuaïa for our after-hours, a twelve-hour back-to-back set with Luciano – that was amazing, but you can’t compare it with Ushuaïa now. In the past, the after-hours was for those friends and fans who wanted to keep on dancing the whole day: that was the magic. But then slowly, year by year, more people came, more people talked about it, and we found ourselves in a situation that more people wanted to come to the after-hours than to the night.

We are family

“My family, many of my friends and I have always had a home on this island, and now it’s my home during the summer. I was looking for something and I found it here, in Ibiza. I’m also proud that I could give something back here to the island with my vision, with my music, with my energy and creativity. My son sees me on the billboard and he says, ‘Papa I also want to be on the billboard!’ And I say, ‘The time will come, Tiga, the time will come.”

Ralph Moore is Mixmag's Editor At Large, follow him on Twitter

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