Ibiza has long been an island for the outcast and non-conforming, and its history is littered with rock-star anecdotes.
By Emma Cooke
The buildings of Playa d’en Bossa and San Antonio were boarded up, but as we cruised down Ibiza’s pine tree-lined roads in a 1960s Mustang, it didn’t feel like the off-season. Caroline Lilliehook, co-owner of the car and of Mustang Adventures, Ibiza’s first vintage Mustang car-rental business, was in the driver’s seat and we were on our way to discover rock ‘n’ roll in the sleepy, rolling hills of the island. Or rather, unearth it. “Rock ‘n’ roll is how the music scene got going in the first place on Ibiza,” Lilliehook said. “But most people have forgotten that.”
Ibiza has long been an island for the outcast and non-conforming, from a diaspora of creatives first fleeing Francisco Franco’s Spain in 1936, to hippies throughout the ‘60s chasing the magnetic vibrations of Es Vedra island. Intrigued by how this history transformed into Europe’s wildest party scene, I’d badgered Lilliehook for stories over a tapas lunch. Just how did Ibiza become the go-to place for partygoers, I wondered? It turned out the answer is rock ‘n’ roll. “But you’ll have to go to Pikes Hotel to find out more,” she said. “That’s where it started.”
Ibiza’s history is littered with rock-star stories: German singer-songwriter Nina Hagen married here in 1987 in a punk wedding that lasted two days. In 1977, Eric Clapton was rumoured to have almost died in a shipwreck as he was arriving here on his boat with George Harrison. But everything always seems to lead back to Pikes – the hotel nestled in the hills overlooking San Antonio where Wham! recorded their Club Tropicana video; that hosted Freddie Mercury’s infamous 41st birthday party; and where Mercury stayed prior to his iconic Ku Club performance with Montserrat Caballé, the famous Spanish opera singer. Legend has it the performance rehearsal was held there, though, like much of the decade, the details are fuzzy.
The hotel takes its name from Tony Pike, a British-born Australian, former Navy sailor and international playboy who came to Ibiza in 1978 post a 48-hour party. On the recommendation of a friend, Pike boarded a Spanish ferry, got off in Ibiza – and decided to stay. A listing for a 500-year-old finca (estate) near San Antonio soon caught his eye; the name was Can Pep Toniet, meaning ‘the property of little Tony’. Who could resist such obvious fate?
Essentially derelict, with no water, electricity or sanitation, over the next few years Pike built his five-room hotel from the ground up, using a jackhammer to put in the infamous pool and illegally tapping into a government generator for electricity.
As the 1980s began, Ibiza was in the throes of its first flush of tourism. Pacha, Amnesia and Club Ku had opened, and rumours of Ibiza’s uncrowded beaches and rolling hills had spread quickly on the breeze. The former capital of the hippie movement was on the cusp of change. For Pike, that change came in 1983, when Simon Napier-Bell, the manager of Wham!, decided to shoot the group’s new single ‘Club Tropicana’ at the hotel. The video saw Pike making a cameo as a bartender, George Michael floating in the pool, and the cementing of both Ibiza and Pikes Hotel as the party destination to be. For a whole decade, you couldn’t say ‘hedonism’ on Ibiza without including Pikes Hotel in the same breath.
Andy McKay and Dawn Hindle, the current owners of Pikes, agree: “There’s not a rock ‘n’ roll hotel in the world that couldn’t say that Pikes competes with them for the top spot.”
The pair has been running the hotel for eight years since the legendary Tony Pike passed on the baton to them. Originally, they came to the island in 1994 to set up the fiercely popular Manumission club nights that defined Ibiza’s party scene throughout the ‘90s, ending in 2009. “We knew Tony from back then,” they explained.
“But as we got into the millennium, DJ and club culture was just so boring and the music wasn’t changing. I felt like we were treading water as an industry,” McKay said. So in 2005 they launched Ibiza Rocks, a series of live concerts featuring artists like Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys and The Prodigy, bringing a rush of live acts back to the island for the first time in years.
“Suddenly we were bringing a lot of international bands to the island and a lot of them wanted hotels – we didn’t want to lose the atmosphere we were creating by putting them in some faceless hotel.
“Pikes’ legacy was built around how all the artists used to stay there, and we suddenly went, ‘wait a minute, if we’re bringing all the talent and all the rock stars back, shouldn’t we just rent it?’.”
They cut a deal, and five years later, they bought it. Now, the hotel does its history proud, complete with a flamingo-pink tennis court and decor that includes beds on the front lawns. They’ve even transformed the main suite back into the social area it originally was – although now it’s a tiny, vibrant nightclub rather than an ‘80s restaurant and bar.
“We wanted it to be the best hotel in the world if you’re a rock star,” said McKay. “It was about returning the hotel to the glory of what it was.”
While McKay and Hindle have been reinvigorating Pikes, Ibizan local and hotelier, Diego Calvo has been expanding that spirit across the rest of the island. With slicked-back hair and a private collection of vintage cars, Calvo seems to be the modern-day answer to Pike. “Since I was 17, I’ve been dedicated to two passions: the hotel industry and rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “The things that have influenced my life have also influenced the hotels: ‘80s movies; Route 66 roadside motels; the art deco architecture from South Beach Miami; classic cars. I want to take my hotels to another level, so they’re not just places to sleep in but also spaces to socialise in, places where things happen.”
He’s also well aware of the island’s free spirit: his parents moved here during Franco’s reign, and he grew up in ‘70s Ibiza.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Dorado, one of Calvo’s five Ibizan hotels. A fantasy of teal and white that’s set on the seemingly endless Playa d’en Bossa coastline, it’s entirely themed around the history of rock ‘n’ roll. Each of the hotel’s 14 suites is dedicated to a gold-certified record. As we walked into the Bob Dylan Suite, Blowin’ in the Wind automatically started up on a vinyl player, and a glance in the bathroom turned up retro microphones for showerheads. “Marky Ramone, the Ramones drummer, stayed at Dorado two years ago, and of course, he had to stay in the suite of his good friend Debbie Harry,” Calvo name-dropped.
Just as McKay and Hindle started in the party scene, so does Calvo come from a music background. The same year the pair were setting up Ibiza Rocks, Calvo was launching his own party and promotion business, Rock Nights, focusing on rock ‘n’ roll parties held in small, grassroots venues. All three champion live music, and all three agree it’s forgotten – but far from gone.
“There’s a huge live-music heritage on this island, whether that’s Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix,” McKay said. “The idea that it’s just a dance music island is a bit ridiculous. Ibiza was a live music island long before it was a dance-music island. But when dance music broke America, that brought a massive surge for all things electronic. By the mid-2000s, Ibiza had really, really forgotten live music.”
This has been helped along by the surprising fact that, technically, live music has been illegal in parts of the island for some time. Ibizan law states noise limiters must be placed on all sound equipment, something that is difficult to do on live instruments. In early 2018, further legislation added that music must not exceed 65 decibels, a move that brought Ibizan DJs into the firing range, too.
“Musicians could only play through a venue’s PA system resulting in ridiculously low decibel levels,” Calvo said. However, after demonstrations throughout 2018, the law has been recently changed to allow live performance between 13:00 and 23:00. Ibizan rock ‘n’ roll, it seems, is just about ready to be remembered again.
“Ibiza has been invaded over the years by this VIP, global culture and it’s become a very big place in a sort of ubiquitous way that’s not specific to Ibiza. We’re now beginning to see that levelling out and declining, and you are finding different kinds of Ibiza experiences are just exploding. The rock ‘n’ roll spirit of Ibiza is getting stronger again,” McKay enthused.
And indeed, clubbing doesn’t have the cache it once had, both on Ibiza and across Europe. Just ask Club 18-30, Thomas Cook’s notorious clubbing package holidays, who found that out last year when the brand was retired. But this doesn’t mean Ibiza’s party is over. Rather, in the face of a growing backlash against mass tourism, partying on Ibiza seems to be reinventing itself again; directing its energy into different channels as old ones close.
For McKay and Hindle this comes close to being a creed: “We don’t follow the money, we follow the energy. There’s usually a moment in this kind of work where the money keeps going up but the energy disappears. When the energy goes, we switch. Too many people on this island forget that the energy is what’s important. In many ways, we’re chasing rock ‘n’ roll. The rock ‘n’ roll attitude is what keeps scenes alive.”
As for the now-84-year-old ‘Tony’, the man who started it all? Grab a drink at Pikes next time you’re in Ibiza and maybe you’ll find him next to you at the bar. “He’s still regularly here too late and up too long,” McKay grinned.