Pacha turns 50: Kelly Washington tells us how Ibiza’s oldest institution shaped rave culture.

Anyone who has had the privilege of visiting Ibiza knows how it feels to arrive at the airport. Airports are usually a hellscape, but landing in this one feels like you’ve just won the lottery.

As you step outside, the heat hits you immediately. Families and groups of likely lads, girlies, and stag and hen parties light cigarettes and pile into cabs. You are struck by a sense of immense possibility. It’s the same feeling you get when you arrive at a music festival. History is being made and you can’t wait to get in on the action. That feeling that anything can happen, or is already happening without you, somewhere nearby. Like you’re on the verge of being let in on a big, juicy secret. In this case, the secret you’re about to bite into is Ibiza’s juiciest red cherry: Pacha.

Ibiza gets almost as much criticism as it gets love. For everyone who tells you you must go because one summer they took their first pill and saw god, there’s someone who tells you it’s ridiculously overpriced and not their scene. Which is fair. In a cost of living crisis, is Ibiza really still a valid holiday destination for young people?

Having said that, to whoever questions if the white isle still has its magic, I say take them to Pacha. The best DJs from all over the world flock to do what Ibiza does best: music, hedonism and sun. As the island’s oldest club, here’s how Pacha helped shape the UK’s electronic music scene as we know it today.

Courtesy of Pacha

Courtesy of Pacha

Baby Pacha Is Born

Pacha began in 1967 in Sitges in mainland Spain, one of the LGBTQIA+ capitals of Europe. After the first club’s success, Richardo Urgell set his sights on a small island nearby with breath-taking views and crystal clear waters – the largely untouched Ibiza.

At the time, many young Spaniards had fled to Ibiza from the mainland, escaping General Franco’s fascist regime. It wasn’t long before American hippies (the wealthy ones) followed suit, finding their free-love safe haven and throwing unofficial early “raves” within their community. In the old Evissa town, Calle de la Virgen was already a refuge for LGBTQIA+ communities.

“People called him crazy,” Ángel M. Zorilla, from Pacha’s comms team tells me, as we tuck into a sprawling table of seafood at hotel Casa Pacha (the brand’s newest venture) in Formentera, a tiny island off Ibiza. I listen, trying not to get distracted by the breathtaking panoramic sea views surrounding me. The more laidback, luxurious vibe of Formentera is captured perfectly by Casa Pacha. Richardo’s financial advisors told him that there was nothing to be gained from setting up in Ibiza, “just a small group of hippies getting high in wasteland”, Ángel says. But Richardo ignored them and by 1973 had built the club as it still stands today, modelled on a Spanish farmhouse and complete with a pool. The dance floor was sand.

Back then, the majority of the Island was empty aside from the old town. Today, Pacha is near Platja D’en Bossa a.k.a the cool part of the Island (sorry Ocean Beach fans), and is surrounded by hotels; restaurants; clubs; casinos; that all began with Richardo Urgell’s “crazy” idea.

The view from Pacha Ibiza’s Terraza, stranded for miles

The view from Pacha Ibiza’s Terraza, stranded for miles

Seeds Are Sown

It’s no coincidence that Pacha was born in the queer capital of Sitges. I ask Pacha’s PR & Comms manager Paloma Tur, how important the institution was in creating a safe space for LGBTQIA+ people in the 60s and 70s when being gay was a criminal offence in Europe. “Pacha is Freedom in all its forms”, she tells me, “that’s why the Pacha of the 60s/70s was not only a ‘safe’ space for the LGBTQIA+ community, but for anyone in the world, regardless of their background.” People came to play, free from judgement, oppression and a world that wasn’t ready to embrace them.

By the 1980s and 90s, celebrities like Grace Jones and Armarni were regulars (Francisco Ferrer, Pacha’s Brand Director, fondly remembers when Anne Hathaway sang Happy Birthday to Armani in Lío, the brand’s harbourside club). Then Chicago found out: Frankie Knuckles and Marshall Jefferson bestowed their 120 bpm house sounds on Ibiza, influencing Paul Oakenfold, Johnny Walker, Nicky Holloway and Danny Rampling, who then brought the movement back to UK shores, birthing the rave Smiley and the 1988 “second summer of love”.

Pacha’s LGBTQIA+ night Fetish.

Pacha’s LGBTQIA+ night Fetish.

A Cherry Tree Blossoms

As I stand in Pacha today, the club operates at the highest levels of production and the spectacle envelopes me. The club’s original values still feel authentic, despite how much the rave scene has been monetised since. Resident DJs Solomon and Marco Carola are playing. From wherever you are standing you can easily see them playing in the DJ booth in the centre, under lighting that gives the illusion of a beehive. This is a choice.

When nightclubs began, owners believed the bar to be the most profitable (and therefore the most important) part of any club. DJs used to mix records facing the wall and were also responsible for manipulating the lighting. Mixing to the beat was unimaginable. It was a time when songs could be heard for several seasons and the same hits were played year after year. Both the clubs and the music that played there were timeless.

Then everything changed. In 1978 Panasonic introduced its legendary and standard-setting Technics SL-1200 MK2, the first turntable designed for DJs, revolutionising the world of dance music and hip-hop. This invention transformed DJs into more specialised professionals who mixed music, no longer just musical selectors (see: Madeline Argy’s recent “What The Fuck Do Djs Actually Do?” video, remixed comically by DJs during their sets this summer).

This shift birthed Pacha’s longest standing DJ booth, remaining until the early 2000s. As I stand there, I discover that the VIP booth I’m currently in is what is left of this old DJ booth.

Courtesy of Pacha

Courtesy of Pacha

New Roots

I wonder how Pacha will fit in with an increasingly fragmented rave culture and clubbing experience that transcends technological development. Electronic music, trends and audience preferences are undergoing a massive shift, but Paloma is confident that Pacha will be able to keep up, “we are constantly observing to ensure that nothing escapes us” she says.

Thanks to Gen Z, jungle, drum and bass and grime are creeping into the mainstream club scene and dominating festival lineups in the UK. I ask Paloma if Pacha will follow, “we’ve started experimenting with these genres with a party called Xtra”, which she describes as being “very cool”. Xtra hosts queer DJs like Toccororo who plays hardstyle (around 150 bpm), as well as GutterRing resident Naz (XNBTNI). The GutterRing crew began running illegal warehouse parties in London during lockdown, and have been described by Office magazine as “catering [subculture as a concept] to a new generation possibly too young, cool, or broke for traditional nightlife” with their harder and faster hardcore genres – which gives you an idea of the new areas Ibiza’s heritage brand is exploring.

At 50 years young, it seems Ibiza’s oldest institution isn’t going anywhere. If you haven’t yet, it might be time to pop that Pacha cherry.

Courtesy of Pacha

Courtesy of Pacha
Kelly Washington