Hands up if you’ve heard about WooMooN? Umm, okay then, what about Cova Santa? Even if you don’t know where it is or what it looks like, most of you have heard vague rumours about a weird open-air club situated along Ibiza’s lonely San Jose road. But how many of you who have actually partied there?
Travel back in time to 2013 and things were very different. Cova Santa was the talk of the island. A series of unannounced Music On afterparties had just defined the summer for thousands of island regulars. Over the wintertime, team Amnesia, who manage Cova Santa, were poised to take things to the next level. Solomun was quickly locked down to an exclusive alfresco mini-residency, likewise Luciano, who was booked for six exclusive dates. Unfortunately, in typical Ibizan-style, the entire 2014 program was cancelled before the start of the season due to legislative wrangles. Consequently, the enormous buzz surrounding the venue promptly fizzled out.
Nothing much was heard about Cova Santa until last summer, when a brand new psychedelic hippie party called WooMooN landed at the venue. An immersive fusion of art, food, drink and tribal dance music, WooMooN immediately struck a chord with discerning ravers seeking a spiritual alternative to big room Ibiza. Some even likened WooMooN to Burning Man, albeit on a much smaller scale. It all sounds rather cosmic, right? Indeed. Which is why we decided to go to Cova Santa earlier this month to sample the mystical buzz for ourselves.
It’s 9pm and we’re riding a fat little bus along the narrow San Jose road, zigzagging through the mountainous countryside on route towards the airport. Outside, the sun is falling fast. A spooky mist sits atop the lush green hillsides. There are no houses, no people. We’re out here in the middle of nowhere, miles from civilisation. Suddenly the driver pulls up at the edge of the roadside and orders us out onto the kerb. Abandoned at the roadside, we watch the bus lurch away again into the evening heat haze.
It’s in remote places like this – among the swooping carrion vultures and giant lizards – that press teams often go missing, never to return. Having grown fat on VIP wristbands and drinks tokens, the modern dance music journalist is no longer able to survive when the going gets tough. But Mixmag’s Balearic team are a different breed. We are trained survival specialists, hardened to an off grid lifestyle. And so, undaunted by the sights and sounds of the campo, we march on, heading towards the source of a distant thudding bassline.
Beyond the next line of trees, we catch sight of Cova Santa. With its terracotta walls and multilevel amphitheatre design, nestled into the rocks, this sprawling club and restaurant complex resembles the fictional township portrayed in the third Mad Max epic, Beyond Thunderdome – a big, smoking, apocalyptic village improvising to startling effect out here in the idyllic wilds.
Here are 11 tracks that took us through the night...
1 Francis Bebey 'Forest Nativity' (Red Axes edit)
Well beyond the entranceway now, roaming the venue, the sound of electronic cowbells perfectly harmonised with bursts of organic instrumentation. Mini-festival vibes abound. To our right, we catch sight of a pop-up stall trading special mojitos made from cold-pressed sugarcane. We order a round and slurp them down. Up ahead, we inspect a shack vending hippie skirts and shirts, while a team of body painters in a nearby hut lash a giddy cluster of Dutch girls with flecks of neon glitter paint.
2 Svendsen 'Andromeda'
After exploring the courtyard, we step up, up, up and up again towards the open-air dancefloor – a 1,000-capacity courtyard surrounded by an amphitheatre restaurant where wealthy clans are still dining. The dancefloor is already busy, everyone slow dancing to psychedelic beats and tribal house music, while performers in flowy skirts rove the edge of the crowd carrying strange mystical goblets pouring smoke, steam and burning incense.
3 Valentin Huedo 'Jellyfish'
Shooting up another set of steps, we trek on to the very summit of the venue, where a girl in a tree house bar serves her smiling customers shots of hierbas. Above us, the moon and stars shimmer and shine. Below us, the tempo on the dancefloor slowly increases. Native Ibizan DJ/producer Valentin Huedo is in the booth, showcasing the true sound of the island. Flutes, bongos and guitars are his weapons of choice, fused with all manner of contemporary electronic production elements designed to create a truly enchanting sonic journey.
4 Definition 'Orient'
11.30pm and Valentin drops that implausibly sexy, ethic-tinged monster we heard Solomun championing the week before at Pacha, causing the atmosphere on the dancefloor to turn primal.
5 Dandara & Meraki 'Fire'
“The music on offer here at WooMooN is very different from most of the other venues in Ibiza,” Valentin explains after his set. “And the outstanding performances from the Ritual artists are also something new. I’m happy to have the chance to play here at Cova Santa every Sunday. I play a large range of styles, from organic Balearic selections with world influences, to danceable downtempo through to gentle techno. I see WooMooN as a spiritual journey – all you have to do is allow the music to heal you and work inside you.”
6 Yacine Dessouki 'Unidos' (Sis Remix)
Outside the entrance to the indoor dancehall – which isn’t open yet – we bump into another WooMooN resident, Rico, who is literally sitting on the doorstep. Surrounded by a glut of production hardware, Rico uses his equipment to create psychedelic tunes direct from the heart. His digital performance is totally of the cuff, nothing pre-recorded. He’s constantly improvising, fusing weird sounds together to make tangible tunes. The only limitation, he explains, is his sound library.
7 Coss 'As Flores No Chão' Feat. Ayam
“I’m bringing an alternative to Ibiza,” Rico says. “I’m sculpturing music, painting music. I have a loop machine here with me. Basically it means I can record a sound and then repeat it. I also use a Maschine sampler loaded with different rhythms, bass drums and snares, which I use alongside my favourite VST plug-ins for sound generation. Electronic music gives us so much freedom, but many of the big DJs on the island seem afraid to step out of the four-to-the-floor structure. But as you can see, I really enjoy that freedom, that playfulness!”
8 John Talabot 'Without You'
2am and the indoor dancehall is in full swing. The room is surprisingly large, with capacity for at least 2000 souls. In terms of size and appearance it looks a lot like the old Space Discoteca merged with the Terraza. All darkness and chrome. The mostly Latin crowd are wild, totally up for it. Many of the more affluent folk who came for dinner and to watch the open-air spectacle unfold have long since gone home. Only the local rave crews remain. Girls with long dark hair and piercings and boys with tattoo sleeves dancing alongside educated tourists from Italy and Spain. British faces, however, are a rarity.
9 Morphine 'The Other Side' (Unders Remix)
“The crowd here are really conscious, open-minded music enthusiasts,” Netherlands-based DJ Unders explains after jumping down from the booth post-set. “This makes it much easier to present new sounds – deep organic electronica on a low BPM tip, fuelled with drive, energy and warmth. Music to take you on a trip!”
10 ANNA 'Artha'
The party concludes with a live performance from German producer Rampue. His set is seamless, like one long track, constantly evolving. “I use some vocals from other musicians,” Rampue explains, “but mostly I use my own basslines, beats and melodies. Then I build up the arrangement live using Ableton, a lot of vocal samples, beats, loops, effects and those types of things, triggering everything with a Akai APC40 MKII, a Novation launchpad and the Novation Launch Control XL!”
11 Rampue Live
Obviously the mystical manifesto laid down at Cova Santa isn’t going to appeal to everybody. Most Ibiza newbies visiting the island for the first time will no doubt prefer Amnesia, Ushuaïa and Ibiza Rocks, where the sonic output tends to be faster and more upfront. Electronic music purists, however, are advised to pay WooMooN a visit as soon as possible. Likewise, spiritual party heads and Ibiza regulars looking to discover something new, somewhere different to dance. You won’t necessarily know all the DJs on the WooMooN roster, but the four-to-the-floor nomad rhythms broadcasting at Cova Santa every Sunday throughout the summer are as accessible as they are psychedelic. The venue, too, is truly something to behold. From dusk till dawn, nature and nightclubbing literally seem to merge here. But only for those with eyes to see.
Johnny Lee is Mixmag's Ibiza Correspondent