Ancient decadence and a modern beat

Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning suggested that “happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue”. It is the paradox of hedonism that pleasure can only be found indirectly. If you go looking for it, you won’t find it.

Yet since the Eighties, millions have travelled to an island in the Balearics looking to subvert the paradox. For many, the island of Ibiza is the contemporary pursuit of pleasure. In a world in which the social boundaries lay under constant siege – secularists push out and the religious push in – Ibiza remains aloof, not only an island geographically, but a place set part from social mores, somehow above the moral bickering of everyday life.

A recent trip for the closing party of Pacha, one of the island’s main nightclubs, was my sixth and perhaps my last visit to the small, acorn-shaped strip of land just off the coast of Spain. Did I say my last? I’ve said that after every single visit. One day I’ll mean it. It was a two-day jaunt, a surgical strike. In and out, starting with the customary 4am taxi to Stansted and a monstrous two-hour flight on easyJet (made worse by a flight attendant on the microphone reading excerpts from what I presume was The Bernie Winters Holiday Gag Book).

The thrust of the trip was to interview David Guetta, the prominent French DJ currently dominating the charts. As such, I was surrounded by my professional brethren – hacks, bloggers, online video bloggers, fashion writers, feature writers, camera men, dinner ladies and just about anyone else who had managed to charm their way onto the trip courtesy of a press card.

Some carried the scars of previous trips – a blank stare and the occasional twitch. They knew what was coming. Those unapprised chatted freely, each one a blank canvas on which the island would soon paint its indelible mark.

The sun, allied by a pool-side setting and an open bar tab, claimed several early victims. At 3.59pm a young woman on assignment for a saccharine teen mag, decided it was time to take a dip. Bereft of suitable attire, she progressed to the deep end in her dress. The press conference started at 4pm. Had she sat at the back dripping quietly, she may have got away with it. Sitting on the front row and demanding the first question made her slightly more conspicuous.

The interviews slots offered similar entertainment, as rival publications locked horns over space and time.  “I don’t do group interviews” shouted one girl. “Neither do I” said her mate. They were sent in together. I waited for feeding time to finish before making my move on the interviewee, probing him with banalities on dance music before getting the required joint picture for the paper… and then one for Facebook.

Dinner was booked for midnight. Some had made it through, some had gone to bed, some were face down on sun loungers… one was face down in the pool. Everyone was flagging. By 4am, a second wind had blown in, with all revelling in their VIP status at the club.

Kelly Rowland had put in a brief appearance, belting out a number on the stage, before disappearing, possibly to the VVIP area, which remained a constant aspiration. Still, high shenanigans reigned behind our own velvet rope as press, DJs and just about anyone in attendance became better acquainted.

It was at this point I decided to miss my 10am plane. I wasn’t alone in that folly, an expensive one as it proved. Still, the extra day was worth it, affording more time on this strange little atoll, this beautifully debauched place, this pretty whore.

Previous, longer trips had proved too much for some, with men and women of every stripe turning feral. I recall one chap rampaging through the villa at six in the morning looking for “something big to throw in the pool”. The fact that he’d already thrown in his wallet, a sun lounger and the music correspondent for a popular London Daily failed to quell his need.

One woman, a producer for music channel, disappeared for three days, having left her purse and shoes by the pool. I never enquired as to what she’d been up to – It’ll no doubt be disclosed to a psychiatrist in later life. Fortunately, the brevity of this recent trip prevented any major mishaps.

I quizzed the organiser on his hopes for the event during the meal on the second night. “Get them in, get them out, and hope nobody dies in between,” was his response. Mission accomplished.

It is hard to explain Ibiza; it certainly has a dark underbelly, like any tourist destination, whether that’s Blackpool or Benidorm. Yet for me it remains a place far removed from those Uncut programmes, scheduled well past the witching hour at the back end of the EPG.

For some it is Gomorrah, a 24-hour bacchanalia where ancient decadence dances to a very modern beat. For others a bastion of acceptance and tolerance in a world in which those central tenants are coming increasingly under threat. Hedonism is indeed a paradox… but I did have fun.

This first appeared in The Sunday Express. The original article can be found here.

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