Above: the view from Cafe del Mar at sunset by Mark Barrott.
With his new solo album Sketches From an Island adhering to the ideals of Balearic, we put in a call to Spain and asked International Feel’s Mark Barrott to guide us through some of the genre’s most intriguing tracks. And if you’re feeling inspired: add your own Balearic tracks to our collaborative playlist.
From the very beginning, Ibiza has meant freedom. Those versed in club history know the drill: Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker take a trip to the Balearic island of Ibiza in ’87, neck a shedload of MDMA and have their minds blown open by DJ Alfredo. The afterglow of their collective epiphany would change the course of house music forever.
Nowhere is this freedom more explicit than in the broad parameters of a Balearic set. There’s no fixed formula that makes a record Balearic. Instead, it’s reliant on a distinct set of factors, “The whole thing with Balearic is you get away with anything,” explains Mark Barrott, Balearic envoy and International Feel label head. “It’s about what you build around the music in terms of sequencing, giving it a narrative and supporting context, that’s important. It could be the climate, the setting, the audience or the drugs the audience is on.”
We asked Mark Barrott to pick some of his favorite records which helped birth the Balearic counterculture. But true freedom is knowing there’s so much more than what we’ve set down here—so we turn to you. What are your favorite Balearic records? Add them to our collaborative playlist on Spotify and help us build the ultimate Balearic playlist.
First, can you explain your connection with Balearic music?
I think my connection with this music is slightly theoretical and slightly tactical. First, the tactical: I left Berlin in 2008 to live in Uruguay and we arrived at the end of summer. While waiting for the shipping container to arrive there’s not much you can do, so I drove around the Atlantic coast of Uruguay listening to the Quiet Village Silent Movie album and it all made sense. There’s very little difference in terms of the scenery and the vibe and the feel. Uruguay is very Balearic—it made sense to listen to that music in that environment.
And in practical terms?
I wanted to do lots of one-off releases because I was listening to so many different kinds of music; Afrobeat tracks, ambient tracks or more traditional Balearic beat tracks. To actually start a label and call it a Balearic label gave me that scope.
So International Feel is a means for releasing music free of restrictions by using this umbrella term “Balearic”. But what is Balearic?
If you took the playlist from the first night that Danny Rampling, Paul Oakenfold, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker heard Alfredo play in Ibiza—their MDMA epiphany that launched the British house scene—you’d wonder what the hell was going on. Balearic in its truest sense means you can play a Compass Point Grace Jones B-side next to a Front 242 industrial track next to an ambient track next to an early house and it would all work. I also think there are two actions that are getting lost: subtlety and nuance. Balearic has both. Compare that to EDM and the reality is that they’ve gone from its vocabulary, if they were ever there in the first place. It’s for all of those reasons that I make Balearic music and I adhere to the culture.
The Bayara Citizens – “Ju-Ru Rhythm”
Modern civilization was formed in the east of Africa and there’s something deeply connective about African music. This has got a beautiful swaying rhythm and that minimalist Steve Reich/Brian Eno/Manuel Göttsching guitar line vibe evolving underneath. I actually found this on an album put out by Claremont 56 which is Paul Murphy. He did a series of albums called the Originals where he called on various Balearic heads like Balearic Mike and Lexx to curate compilations. Lexx is an amazing DJ and knowledgable record collector so when you look at Originals Vol. 8 Selected by Lexx you’re going to find great tunes on it—as I did with this. I’m not going to pretend that I discovered this digging in a back alley of a half submerged swamp in Lagos in Nigeria.
Sabres of Paradise – “Smokebelch II” (Beatless mix)
Sabres of Paradise is Andrew Weatherall and his studio partners of the time. “Smokebelch” can reduce men of a certain age to tears! I think a lot of people came to Ibiza and had their first MDMA experience with that track. The beatless version is almost like modern classical music with the strings, syncopation and counterpoint. José Padilla made it what it is, it was one of the mainstays of his early chill out sets at Cafe del Mar. Balearic chill out was invented by Padilla, which is different to the chill out music that soundtracks haemorrhoid cream adverts—Balearic chill out is timeless. Here we go back to context, Padilla taking African music, Indian classical music, weird Mitteleuropean synth music like Klaus Schulze and contextualising it by the sea at Cafe del Mar. People came for a spiritual experience and out of that came these anthems. “Smokebelch” is like a national anthem for that period.
Andreas Vollenweide – “Behind the Gardens”
Andreas Vollenweide is a Swiss classical harpist but for some reason he caught a moment. He’s massive in the new age scene but was picked up in Ibiza at the same time as “Smokebelch”. I’ve played this track leading into sunset and it just works. Some people can’t imagine playing these tracks but really, it only works in certain places in Ibiza. Hear it as the sun is coming down or up and you’ll understand. Music is about capturing moments, it’s about creating really strong nostalgia because if you think about the climate, the DJ, the time of day . . . where else outside of Ibiza do you have that perfect storm which allows nostalgic moments to be imprinted upon your psyche? If I put this on a RA podcast it’s like, wear a hard hat and run for cover.
Buggles – “Island”
The Buggles were Trevor Horn’s first project. Trevor Horn is, well, Trevor Horn. He’s produced everybody from Grace Jones to Frankie Goes to Hollywood and is probably the producer of pop music for the last four or five generations. What he did with pop and how he structured his productions was incredible. This was originally released as a B-side and there’s nothing more Balearic than a B-side! Balearic music is very much drenched in melody and this one is a vibe track, it just hangs there. It has an offbeat reggae chop played on a synthesiser and the occasional vocal. On the one hand it’s just an eighties B-side on the other it has all the ingredients to work in Ibiza.
Cocteau Twins – “Pandora”
A lot of the 4AD output is accidentally Balearic. I call Liz Fraser’s style of singing ‘chakra singing’, she’s expressing herself through her voice as if it’s an instrument. There’s also a style of guitar track that really works in Ibiza: songs that are drenched in reverb, interesting effects . . . and that’s something you can really hear with Cocteau Twins. It’s like Brian Eno’s ethos where the studio is the instrument, here you use your gear but not necessarily the way it was designed to be. It creates this anti-Phil Spector wall of sound, by which I mean a wall of ambient sound. I have DJ-ing lists like “ambient”, “sunset”, “downtempo”, “midtempo” and the Cocteau Twins are in a folder called “emotion”. It sinks a little fishing hook in your heart.
Coober Pedy University Band – “Moon Plain”
This is really tickling my fancy at the moment. It’s like an acid house remix of The Doors and the mood it creates is incredible. If you’re coming out of the sunset period of the evening and it’s time to dance, you either want to go bang! or you want a joining track, so something euphoric and up like “Smokebelch”, then into “Moon Plain”. It maintains the scene you’ve set but frames it, like, “You’ve looked at the sun now let’s howl at the moon”.
Aphex Twin – “Analogue Bubblebath”
This is a very early Aphex Twin song, one of the first releases he ever did, on an EP around the time of “Digeredoo” before Selected Ambient Works 1 on R&S. It has a subtle feeling, an MDMA record at the end of the day. Even now it blows people’s brains; they come up and ask what it is, even though it’s thirty years old! Just that chord and then the “doo-doo” synth sound, which is a very Balearic trigger sound. It’s almost an end of set record, you’ve come out of sunset, you’ve had a bit of uptempo stuff and then in the last half an hour you bring it down. It’s like a marathon—people only remember the last five minutes. You can play averagely the whole time but play three great songs at the end and you get yourself out of jail. This is my get out of jail free card.
8. Woob – “Wuub”
There was a label in Nottingham in the nineties called Time run by two guys called Chris and Dave. They also had an ambient label called Em:t and there was a guy called Woob whose real name is Paul Franklin. He recorded two seminal albums for them and these records are regarded in ambient circles as the best ambient albums ever. But there’s one track in particular, which is this. It’s an incredible piece of music, really filmic. This is how you can play an ambient track in the middle of a DJ set in Ibiza without putting people to sleep. It’s like taking a sorbet between two dishes in a tasting menu, it clears whatever’s gone before and you can start again.
9. New York House Authority – “Apt 3B”
This track lifts your soul, which is the purpose of music. The purpose of music isn’t to enhance twenty wraps of Ketomine, it’s not something to put on your phone when you get called by your mate. It’s tracks like this, which allow music’s deeper purpose to circulate. This was recommended to me by Ben from Gatto Fritto who is a serious record head. “Apt 3B” is a nineties-ish deep house track when deep house tracks weren’t made by Crosstown Rebels. This comes from a period of music typified by Larry Heard aka Mr. Fingers when he was arguably making instrumental deep house. It’s a beautiful deep house track based around the flute. There’s just something about flute that grabs people’s attention. People come up and ask what it is because of the melody.
10. William Orbit – “Water from a Vine Leaf”
This is another very famous Balearic song in the same vein as “Smokebelch” and it’s from the same sort of period. I really like William Orbit but a lot of people think, “Oh, he’s the guy who produced Madonna’s big dance album,” and fair play to him, because that album is a great album. William Orbit and a couple of mates worked on the oil rigs for a few years to fund their music. They saved a load of money and then came back and started Gorilla Studios in London. In some ways he’s provided a loose blueprint for my album Sketches from an Island with his Strange Cargo series. All these disparate kinds of music put in one place as a listening experience, and “Water from a Vine Leaf” was on one of the early Strange Cargos. It’s got a great breakbeat, and it’s got Beth Orton with her first appearance on record—doing a spoken part. It’s a great song. ~
Now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite Balearic track? If you use Spotify, subscribe to our Balearic playlist add your own favorite tracks to Mark’s selections.