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Travel to Dubai


Ibiza in the Middle East, Dubai

1 November 2014

Words: Gary Evans

Last summer Pacha parted ways with many of its big-name DJs and the musical director who booked them. It marked the beginning of a new era for Ibiza’s most famous brand. the changes continue this month with a new club opening in the heart of Dubai

Giuseppe Nuzzo would start his sets at midnight, spinning all the way through to sunrise. His day began around 4pm: Simon Le Bon’s place for brunch, paella at Roman Polanski’s hilltop villa. He’d eat and drink with visiting actors, directors and musicians, and make plans with fellow DJs and club owners. He’d drive down from rolling green hills, into old Vila d’Eivissa with its imposing cathedral and cobbled streets and yachts in the harbour, and out of town along the dusty roads leading to Pacha. 

Here, in the little whitewashed finca dressed up as a nightclub, Nuzzo played records for princes, playboys and draft dodgers‚ all side by side on the dancefloor. This was the mid-1980s. The club was still learning how to be a club. He recalls once looking out from the booth and seeing a horse stood beneath the lights. There was no VIP area in Pacha, he recalls: everyone in Pacha was a VIP. 

“From the beginning I fell in love with Pacha,” the Italian says. “I identify with its spirit. The message the club sends to everyone is: feel free through music.” Over the past 30 years Nuzzo‚ better known as DJ Pippi‚ has become synonymous with Pacha. He began his residency in 1984 and it changed his life. “No other club created such an impact on club culture as Pacha,” he says. 

“Remember, most legendary clubs, like Studio 54‚ they do not exist any more. But Pacha has survived all the trends over the years. Pacha creates the trends.” The older Ibicencos talk about their island using two terms: antes and ahoy. There was Ibiza then and there is Ibiza now; an island before and after tourism. 

Pacha doesn’t quite predate tourism. But some half-century since its inception, the island it calls home is almost unrecognisable. Package holidays happened. Cheap hotels happened. Booze cruises and foam parties and Ibiza Uncovered happened. Clubs became superclubs. Budget airlines began flying. More than ever before dance music is big business; the island in and of itself became a brand. 

Many competitors have fallen by the wayside while the club with the distinctive two cherry logo flourishes, grown from humble beginnings into a global brand with branches around the world. Its roots are and always will be in Ibiza. But in recent years, even this flagship venue has faltered. It, too, failed to escape the effects of an island and industry in flux. 

Pacha severed ties with both the DJs synonymous with the club and the man behind the scenes who booked them, the musical director that helped build to the brand into the institution it is today. So its latest venture, a three-floor venue in the heart of Dubai, is a doubly interesting proposition. Organisers say it marks a new chapter in the storied history of Pacha.

South from Sitges

In 1976 Toni Riera took his first photograph of the Hotel Montesol. The shot shows a section of the facade of the oldest hotel in Ibiza: three stories, nine windows. In front of each shuttered window on balconies stand Pacha patrons and employees. Big hair, wide trousers. The topless hippie. The moustachioed musician. 

A woman who appears to be holding aloft a python. This is: The Pacha Family. New Ibiza invading establishment Ibiza. Riera’s image appeared on the first of many iconic Pacha posters, the Spanish photographer continuing to document the changing face of the club for the next 40 years. Franco still ruled Spain when Pacha first opened its doors. Ricardo and Piti Urgell set up shop 35km southwest of Barcelona in the seaside town Sitges. 

That was in 1967, and the club is still going strong to this day, but it was this move south that saw the brothers and their brand shape club culture for the next five decades. Ricardo bought the plot of land on which Pacha Ibiza still stands in 1971. It cost him around US$14,000. He had a modest finca, a Spanish-style farmhouse, set in its own half-acre of land. His closest neighbour was a school. Locals said no one would travel that far out of town to visit a discotheque. 

Two years later the club opened. “Pacha Ibiza has a very special history,” DJ Pippi says. “It is one that cannot be compared to others clubs in Europe or in the rest of the world. It is unique. Playing there was, for me, a big challenge. I did not know how sophisticated the owners and the famous people who came to the club were going to be.” 

The Italian brought with him his love of black music and some experimental techniques: he remembers on equipment rudimentary by today’s standards playing two copies of the same record‚ something by Sade or Grace Jones‚ creating phasing, echo effects. House music arrived, which Pippi embraced, cementing Pacha’s music policy: dance music at its core, more experimental stuff in orbit.

A Way of Life

In 1986 Toni Riera took his second photograph of the Hotel Montesol. At the windows there are, according to the caption on Pacha’s website, fewer hippies and more yuppies. The Urgells had recently added to the finca a main room and VIP area. The location hadn’t changed, but it was no longer as secluded as it once was. Parties now took place entirely indoors.

It was in the summer of 1986 Pacha helped create the model that is now the norm for clubs around the world. José Padilla founded Moondance, the first regular party by an external promoter, as opposed to one organised in-house‚ hosting DJs such as Sasha and John Digweed. 

“Pacha’s strength is in this fantasy world it creates,” Pippi, who’s now been living in Ibiza and playing the club for over 30 years, says. “The club is always coming up with new events and able to reinvent itself. Pacha was never a simple disco-club. Pacha means music culture, music entertainment. It’s a lifestyle.” In 2005, Toni Riera took his third ‘Montesol’ photo. 

Side by side with Pacha PRs and dancers stand DJs Roger Sanchez, Erick Morillo and Pete Tong. Morillo had recently started what was to be a decade-long residency at the Ibiza club; for many years, his Subliminal Sessions was one of Pacha biggest draws. But the Urgells chose not to renew the American DJ’s contract for the 2013 summer season. 

Gone, too, Tong, Tiesto and Luciano. Each guaranteed a full a dancefloor, tickets offering little change from €100, but also demanded in appearance fees more than US$100,000 a night. Ricardo and Piti decided the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) bubble had stretched to bursting point. The DJs wanted more money to play less, Piti told The New York Times. It was an abuse. 

We had to come up with a new plan because the old one was going to explode. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Urgells’ decision to end a 13-year relationship with musical director Danny Whittle, for many the face of Pacha. The brand as its known today blossomed during Whittles tenure. He believed in the blockbuster DJ, the big draw, and was committed to ensuring as many people as possible knew the significance of the two cherries: Pacha Magazine, Pacha Recordings, Pacha Restaurants, Pacha On Tour, Pacha Sailboat, Pacha DJ Agency and franchises opened everywhere from the US to Russia, Brazil to Egypt. 

“This is going to cost them a fortune,” Whittle said in repose. “I am either dealing with madness or genius.” This summer and last have proved more evolution than revolution, though Piti’s party, Flower Power, becoming a weekly rather than monthly event serves up a slice of Ibiza past. And that’s the Urgells’ plan: to recapture something of the old Ibiza, a return to antes. Such changes mean that Pacha Ibiza Dubai is a different proposition to previous franchises.

Ibiza in the Middle East

“Pacha Ibiza Dubai is quite unique compared to the other Pachas around the world, as it is the first franchise of our new concept and promises to bring to the venue the whole Pacha Ibiza lifestyle, the real spirit of Ibiza,” says Marta Planells. Pacha’s global franchise director sees some similarities between Dubai and Ibiza. 

Culturally very different, Planells accepts, she feels something in the city’s “free-spirited lifestyle” that reminds her of the Balearics: tourists out to enjoy themselves, expats on working holidays lasting a lifetime. But Planells wants the venue to be more than just a club. Pacha Ibiza Dubai opens weekdays, with a restaurant and rooftop terrace alongside the club. 

The venue covers three floors in a 40-hectare, five-star resort in Madinat Jumeirah. Also making the trip east are Pacha’s famous, and indeed infamous, live shows. The club takes over the Souk Madinat space previously occupied by nightclub Trilogy. It’s a 27,000sqft venue with a proposed 1,500 capacity. A big club, but not so big that the best DJs can’t make it feel intimate. “Madinat Jumeirah is very centrally located and accessible from all areas of the city,” Planells says. “It attracts a lot of tourists and expat citizens who we believe make the prime target market for Pacha Ibiza Dubai. The space provided by Madinat Jumeirah is the perfect space in which to showcase Pacha’s three elements, representing the best of Ibiza lifestyle. 

“Souk Madinat is a hospitality hub in the city, full of renowned hotels and restaurants. We believe the dining, show and club aspect of Pacha Ibiza Dubai will really bring something unique to Souk Madinat. We will of course bring recognised international DJs. But there are a lot of gifted people within the Middle East region and we are working on a strategy to promote the local talent as well.” 

Numerous similar big-name brands have set up shop in the UAE to varying degrees of success. But Planells is not concerned about what is an increasingly competitive market. “It is true that many major international brands come to Dubai. However, all that comes with them is a brand name. There is no spirit or essence of the flagship property from which the brand originated. We believe we are bringing a unique concept that doesn’t exist in Dubai. Pacha Ibiza Dubai will transport you to the best nights of Ibiza.” 

“Pacha is more than a club, “ says Sarah Main. “It’s an institution, an experience, a feeling. It’s warmer and more inviting than the other superclubs. When you enter it feels like you just walked into a huge party in your own lounge room. We all find our own place in Pacha. You feel like it was built only for you.” 

Throughout all its recent changes the Australian remains as one of Pacha’s resident DJs, playing franchises around the world. Main joined in 2001, eventually relocating to Ibiza, and says no matter how big the brand becomes, it still feels like family-run business. Three generations of Urgells currently work for the company, a family that extends beyond blood ties. 

People stay with Pacha their whole lives, start out as PRs or dancers and work their way up. Other clubs, Main argues, simply cannot compete with this kind of history and heritage. You feel it as soon as you step into any one of its venues, which makes its new venture in Dubai so exciting. “I played my first gig in Dubai in the same venue where the new Pacha will be – for a Pacha party, too. 

"The venue was already a beautiful space and with the Pacha Ibiza touch it’ll go beyond anything I’ve experienced so far in Dubai. The authenticity of the brand will set it apart from the other clubs, a one-of-a-kind atmosphere that comes from Pacha’s values, its freedom and joie de vivre. It has an ageless class. I feel that energy from the crowd: everyone feels like they are part of something special.”



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