Touring

Spain Gears Up For A Return To Live — Everywhere But In Ibiza

Nicky Jam
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Nicky Jam performs on stage during a show of 'Íntimo Tour' at Mesquite Rodeo Arena on June 11, 2021 in Mesquite, Texas.

Latin stars Nicky Jam and Camilo are touring parts of Spain this summer, but clubs on the Balearic island still have no re-opening dates.

MADRID — Spain’s summer music scene is gearing up for a strong return, but on the island of Ibiza the restart of live music after more than 14 months remains a less-certain prospect.

While clubs are reopening in Madrid and Barcelona -- and some festivals are planned in July -- the chances of a summer season in Ibiza, Spain’s clubbing hub for electronic dance music, are hanging in the balance. Promoters and venue owners are scrambling to find ways to avoid a second summer shutdown, or to somehow convince the authorities that they can prolong the season into the fall to make up some of the lost revenue of a late start.

“I’m quite frustrated that things seem to be going better almost everywhere in the world apart from Ibiza,” says Neil Evans, the artistic director at Amnesia, one of Ibiza’s biggest clubs.

For months, the regional authorities of the Balearic Islands, which include Ibiza, have tussled with club owners over whether and how to revive their party nights without risking another uptick in COVID-19 infections, which local officials fear could stain the long-term reputation of Ibiza. More than any other music market in Spain, the island relies on tourists, in particular from the U.K. and Ireland.

In early June, Spain reopened its borders to vaccinated visitors from the U.S. and most other non-European Union countries. The easing of travel restrictions also extended to cruise ships that will again be allowed to dock at Spanish ports.

For visitors from countries deemed to have a higher COVID-19 infection rate, the testing hurdle was also lowered to an antigen test rather than the more expensive PCR test. But Britain has so far kept Spain off its green list of countries from which no quarantine is required upon return, to the frustration of the Spanish islands that had hoped that their low infection rates would be viewed favorably by the British government. (In the first two weeks of June, the Balearic Islands registered 39 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants, about one-third of Spain’s national average of 105 cases.)

The British decision felt “like a jar of cold water poured over our heads,” says José Luis Benitez, the vice president of Spain Nightlife, an association of Spanish club owners. “People of course are feeling tense with so much uncertainty, knowing that it takes one or two months to prepare a club.”

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Amnesia nightclub which remains closed in Ibiza on July 30, 2020.

Different regions of Spain have put in place a patchwork of rules and timetables for the opening of clubs and bars, as well as music festivals and other concert venues.

In Madrid, whose regional politicians have defied the central government and kept most venues open during the pandemic, nightlife feels almost like it did before the pandemic, even if clubs and concert halls are forced to limit capacities to 75% and enforce some other rules, including the compulsory wearing of a face mask indoors. From July 6 to Aug. 29, Madrid will also stage Veranos de la Villa, a cultural festival that was scrapped last year and includes several music concerts by mostly Spanish artists like the band Cariño and Carmen Linares, a flamenco singer.

In Barcelona, Spain’s most-visited city and the regional capital of Catalonia, the reopening has been more tentative, reined in by cautious regional officials who also kept bars and restaurants shut far longer than in Madrid. Most clubs are not expected to operate again before the end of June, and some major music festivals like Sonar and Primavera Sound -- whose headliners included Megan Thee Stallion, Tame Impala and Dua Lipa -- have already decided to push back their events until after the summer, or even until 2022 in the case of Primavera Sound.

At least three festivals will be held this summer in Catalonia, starting July 8-10 in Barcelona with the Cruïlla festival, which features mostly local Spanish artists and plans to host 75,000 people over three days.

Even though the pandemic means that mostly Spanish artists are performing this summer, some Latin stars are also touring mainland Spain, including Nicky Jam and Camilo (eight dates in July and another six in September). Iron Maiden and Rufus Wainwright also have scheduled dates in Spain this summer.

But the situation remains murky for Ibiza, where entertainment is a 770 million euros business. Over its 22-week music season, DJs spin seven days a week at eight main clubs -- including Amnesia, Privilege, DC10, Hï and Ushuaïa -- along with dozens of sunset bars and after-party spots. In recent years, the island has also lured big name Latin stars like Bad Bunny and Natti Natasha.

Ibiza Bets On Trial Event To Persuade Officials

Island promoters are hoping that an outdoor trial event for up to 2,000 people on June 25 at Ibiza’s Hard Rock Hotel will change the minds of cautious local authorities. If the “Children of the 80s” party proves successful -- which would mean that no new COVID-19 infection cluster could be traced back to the event -- club owners say they could reopen outdoor venues in mid-July, and then indoor ones in August.

Ibiza’s trial comes three months after a 5,000-person indoor pilot rock concert by Love of Lesbian was held in Barcelona. Local politicians had agreed that the concert should be treated as a medical litmus test, under close supervision from health experts. Six people tested positive for COVID-19 after the concert, which was considered a positive result.

“We are now reaping the fruit of our efforts,” says Jordi Herreruela, the director of the Cruïlla festival. “The lesson is perhaps that instead of waiting for politicians to legislate, the right approach was to have trials as early as possible to generate activity, enthusiasm and show that things can work out after all.”

Still, among Ibiza’s club executives the frustration is palpable. Not a single club has announced its opening date, in light of the ongoing negotiations with politicians to green light any mass indoor event. But in a sign that the calendar planning has turned upside down, Amnesia is already selling tickets for a season-closing party on Oct. 23, featuring Jamie Jones, The Blessed Madonna and Adam Beyer. Some music industry executives question whether local officials see the pandemic as an opportunity to forge ahead with an upgrade of the archipelago’s tourism model.

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View of the Pacha nightclub´s logo taken in Ibiza on July 31, 2020.

Early last year, even before the pandemic swept across Europe, the Balearic Islands introduced legislation to ban pub crawls, party boats and happy hours -- for up to five years -- in order also to dissuade Britons and other tourists who have been coming to the islands for wild partying and drinking.  The local government decreed that establishments in the zones that sell alcohol would need to close between 9:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. Business owners violating the rules face fines of up to 600,000 euros ($727,000) and closure for up to three years.

“At the moment, we literally don’t know from one day to the next what to believe,” says Evans. “I don’t even know if the main scare is because nobody wants to receive the blame of a new [COVID-19] wave or whether some local people believe that clubbing is actually not so important for the island.” (With Ibiza still mothballed, Evans says Amnesia is focusing on events in Miami and Croatia, where it is holding a weekender July 1-5 at a 17th century fortress on the island of Pag.)

Some music artists who live on Ibiza, like the DJ Sasha, have noted the dramatic change to the island without the club scene. Despite “a few secret parties,” last year it “felt like Mother Nature was reclaiming the island," Sasha told Billboard in May. "The water was clear. There was no litter or pollution.”

The regional tourism ministry of the Balearic Islands declined to speak to Billboard. In early June, Patricia Gómez, the region's health minister, said that nightlife presented “a lot of risk,” which meant that no club, at this stage, could re-open.

Victor Agudo, the director general of Pacha, one of Ibiza’s main clubs, said that the Hard Rock trial was happening “late,” particularly for a club that normally employs about 300 people for its summer season.

Agudo says Pacha still hoped to break even this year, but “making a profit is a pipe dream.” For Pacha and most other clubs, the long wait is also creating problems for their visiting DJs, who would in any case be signing contracts that have a COVID-19 clause that allows the club to pull out if faced with another health emergency. Agudo says Pacha will make a final decision on reopening around mid-July.

“We have historic ties to many artists and DJs, and I think they understand this situation, and of course DJs are very flexible and are used to taking a flight to here, Mykonos, Tel Aviv or wherever,” Agudo says. At the same time, however, “there are a lot of DJs who in any case want to have the full experience of the club (performing in front of a large dancing crowd) or prefer not to play any music at all.”