Solomun, the DJ who makes Ibiza dance
Midsummer in Ibiza, ten minutes to midnight. Around a long table in the filtered garden of Can Domingo, a restaurant in the southern hills, two dozen people picked up the remains of a generous dinner: ravioli, veal milanaise, caponata. Gerd Janson, a forty-five-year-old German DJ with courteous manners, asked me if I wanted some more fish. He was dressed like one of the Royal Tenenbaums, with a scarf and a white campanile shirt tucked into chinos. I was satisfied, but he insisted. “The fish is so delicious, and it’s a long night, he reminded me.
In the center of the table was another DJ, Mladen Solomun, the reason for the long night and many more. Solomun is a forty-six-year-old German-Bosno-Croatian from Hamburg who looks like a Visigoth leader or retired linebacker: six feet tall and plump, with a graying beard and long black hair that it often wears pulled back. He is known to millions of ravers only by his last name and to an intimate circle only by his first name. At Can Domingo, he was Mladen, gentle and attentive with the Chablis. After dinner, it would become Solomun, a master key for the enjoyment of thousands of people.
This summer, several people described Solomun to me as the “king of Ibiza”. He professes to hate this appellation, but it has merit. Since 2013, with the exception of covid break, he played at Pacha, the oldest nightclub on the island, at least twenty Sundays a year. (Parties start at midnight and continue until dawn Monday.) His residence, called Solomun+1, dominates the scene so much that other clubs plan their schedules around it. Spotlight on Ibizaa nightlife guide, recently called Solomun+1 the “center of the universe”.
At Can Domingo, Solomun turned to Janson, smiled and said, in heavily accented English, “Hey, it’s almost noon, why aren’t you at Pacha?” Other clubs on the island hire multiple DJs for a single night, and in larger venues, DJs play in different rooms simultaneously. With more names on the poster, clubbers are more likely to spot someone they like. Pasha has one main piece, and Solomun prefers a simple formula. He believes that dancers yearn to be taken on a musical journey and the way to take them is to create a long and involving set. When Solomun plays, he only invites one other DJ, his “+1” – tonight that would be Janson. Guest plays from midnight to 2:30 a.m. a mSolomun plays from 2:30 a.m. a m up to 5 a mthen the duo play together, or “back to back”, for the last two hours, ending at 7 a m.
Janson was aware that midnight was approaching, but he was not one to fuss. Indeed, he had chatted pleasantly with Solomun about the madness of their schedules. The next day, Janson would take three roundabout flights to Corsica, for a concert that evening. “I am a working class kid,” he said. “I have to work.”
At midnight, a Pasha employee chased Janson away in a van. The other guests were in no hurry: Paul Bor, Solomun’s tour manager, who is almost always at his side; a famous German actor; a London currency trader, who met Solomun at a health retreat; a Croatian technician who lives in Los Angeles Solomun usually doesn’t get to Pacha for about 2 a m. When the check arrived, Solomun paid and everyone went back to their villa to shower and change before the night – or the morning – started in earnest.
Ninety minutes after leaving Can Domingo, Solomun arrived at Pacha in a cool black t-shirt, black pants with a white stripe down the side, Air Jordans and a Yankees cap. He was carrying USB sticks, containing tens of thousands of tracks, in a pink Aristocats handbag he had spotted in an Ibiza supermarket earlier this summer. Solomun started DJing in the age of vinyl, when DJs carried boxes of records to their events. He told me he was still, at heart, an “analog guy” – he hated that clubbers were recording videos on cellphones rather than immersing themselves in the experience. But he acknowledged that the digital age had been good for his lower back.
Pasha is in a casa paysa—a traditional farmhouse—and its layout is quirky. Reaching the DJ booth from the street feels like a psychedelic recreation of the Steadicam shot in “GoodFellas”: After passing a security guard, you enter a garden filled with sculptures of unicorns, giraffes and naked women, then follow a winding hallway, lined with red lights, leads you past a bustling kitchen and mixed-gender bathrooms into the main club room, where you walk through the VIP area and, finally, down a short flight of stairs. The volume is engulfing. Mesmerizing hexagonal light panels move up and down the dance floor in response to the music, making the club feel like a living organism. The British designers who created the exhibition, Helen Swan and Chris Carr, were inspired by Émile Durkheim’s 1912 book, “Elementary Forms of Religious Life”, which describes “collective effervescence” – in which individuals become a group by communicating only through action.
The booth is about thirty feet wide and has its own little bar for the DJ and his friends. Two club employees guard the entrance, and no amount of money or fame guarantees admission. You can’t press the DJ music, or get too close or too drunk. Bor, the tour manager, oversees what he calls “booth policy,” and any violation of the unwritten code can result in expulsion. The truly chosen are invited to take an occasional shot of tequila with Solomun. His rider’s mark is Clase Azul Reposado, which the club brings especially for him. Solomun sometimes drinks more than thirty shots of tequila in one night on the turntables, with no visible change in his sobriety.
By the time Solomun arrived, Janson was at the top of his set. It bustled about on the four decks in front of it: they were fitted with circular jog wheels, for navigating a particular track; sliders, to adjust tempo and volume; and a set of dials and buttons that perform various functions, from eight-bar loops to drum rolls. The Pacha, which can hold more than three thousand people, was at the limit of its capacity. In front of the stand, general admission clubbers, most of whom had paid seventy euros a ticket, were bouncing. Behind Janson was the VIP area, where securing the best table – close to the DJ but with space to dance – can cost twenty thousand euros.
Solomun and Janson hugged, and Janson quickly took control. Dj’ing requires concentration. It’s not just about selecting tracks, but also putting them together in time and in a nice key. Additionally, modern turntables essentially allow a DJ to remix tracks while playing them, and clubbers now expect improvised magic in a set. Over the next hour, several other top DJs joined Solomun and Janson in the booth, including three Germans – Adam Port, &ME and Rampa – known collectively as Keinemusik. They produce and play silky, melodic house, and this summer they were the hottest thing in dance music. (&ME and Rampa produced two tracks on Drake’s latest album, “Honestly, Nevermind.”) They also frequently collaborate with Solomun on remixes. The trio had just arrived from New York and headlined the following night at DC10, an influential club near the airport. They all looked exhausted, but, like midshipmen in a medieval court, they had come to pay their respects to the Pasha.
At 2:30 a.m. a m., Janson was playing his final track, a buzzing remix of the 1984 Belgian disco number “Love Games.” Solomun spotted his first track – “Dos Blokes,” by Spanish producer Orion Agassi – then listened to it on his headphones to make sure his beat matched the outgoing beat. Many ravers near the bridges had pupils like bath plugs, and they ecstatically greeted Solomun’s approach. The rolling hook of “Dos Blokes” spilled into the club. Like almost everyone present, I raised my hand. As I did, I dropped my notebook, then spent an uncomfortable minute crawling among dancing feet to retrieve it. Solomun gave a thin smile but barely recognized the clamor. He was at work.
Ibiza, a beautiful Spanish island in the Mediterranean, is forested with pine trees and lined with spectacular coves. When Phoenician merchants first arrived, in the 7th century BC, they named the island ‘ybsm, after Bes, the Egyptian god associated with music, dance and sex. ‘ybsm became Ibiza. For the past few decades it has been a destination for transgressive intruders: beatniks, jazz lovers, artists, refugees, hippies, celebrities, yogis, ravers. Walter Benjamin, who stayed in Ibiza in the 1930s, noticed the inscription on the sundial of the cathedral: “Ultima Multisor “The last day for many”. The sundial has since disintegrated, but its message could serve as a creed for a hedonist: Seize the night.
Clubs began drawing people to the island, which is about twice the size of Martha’s Vineyard, in the mid-20th century. According to ‘Dope in the Age of Innocence’, Irish émigré Damien Enright’s gripping memoir of Ibiza’s counterculture era, jazz was the hot sound then. In 1961, wrote Enright, the island’s nightlife was fueled by benzedrine and booze, and centered on a bar named Domino, from which flowed “the craziest, freest, most innovative music that most of us have ever heard”.
In 1966 two brothers, Ricardo and Piti Urgell, started a nightclub called Pacha outside Barcelona. The name was suggested by Ricardo’s wife, who predicted that the club’s profits would allow him to “live like a pasha”. (Not so long ago, the Urgells sold the Pacha Group to private equity for three hundred and fifty million euros.) In 1973, the brothers opened an outpost in Ibiza, and it became a melting pot where hippies hung out with movie and pop directors. the stars danced with the fishermen.
At the time, the dominant music was disco, which was played largely using conventional instruments. Tracing the genesis of modern dance music, with its electronic rhythms and sounds, is like trying to find the center of a cloud, but most enthusiasts agree on certain milestones: Roland drum machines, loft parts of David Mancuso in Manhattan, Kraftwerk. In the early ’80s, a group of black Chicago DJs steeped in disco, R.&B., and synth-pop began playing locally produced dance music at parties. The Chicago sound had a strong 4/4 beat, a bit of a bounce and often soulful vocals, and it typically pulsed at around one hundred and twenty beats per minute. It was house music. An electronic music scene also developed in Detroit, with harder, sparser tracks that often lacked vocals. It was techno.