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Pete Gooding: the true meaning of balearic

With Ibiza season back on the horizon we've revisited Mike Boorman's interview with Cafe Mambo legend Pete Gooding about the true meaning of the term Balearic.

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 18th Mar 2015

Ibiza season is looming. The White Isle remains the destination of choice for many a hedonist or electronic music enthusiast, but the island's magic and beauty lies in much more than that, having been a destination for free thinkings for generations.

It's helped coin the idea of an attitude and ethos simply know as Balearic, taking the name from the group of islands with which Ibiza is one. It's been misinterpreted over the years, so in order to really understand we decided to talk to an expert. And who better to ask than a man who has DJd at the centre of it all in Cafe Mambo over three separate decades?

That man is Pete Gooding, and here is his thoughts on what the word translates as defining...

The term 'Balearic' is actually a geographical term for a set of islands that includes Ibiza, but in our world it means much more than that. It clearly doesn't just mean the current sound of Ibiza and surrounding islands, but at one time, maybe it did.

What do you know of the history of it as a musical entity? So how can a term that encompasses so many different genres and things become so associated with music from Ibiza?

I was speaking to Jose Padilla about this the other day actually. He's one of the keystones of the whole movement in my eyes. He was saying that under General Franco's regime, you just couldn't import things like the Beatles or the Stones so you'd end up making the best of what you could; so you'd have to find these unusual folk records and stuff like Tangerine Dream.

Anything that was part of youth culture just wouldn't get through, so there was an obscure element that certainly shaped his sound and other people's.

Ahhhh, that's an interesting one. So there was already a bit of a culture in Ibiza of avid record collecting?

Maybe, although Jose started in Spain. He moved to Ibiza in 1975.

And for you, what was it that took you down a Balearic path?

For me, my first understanding of Balearic was when my sister Emma took me to see DJ Alfredo in Ibiza for the first time. What I remember is that the slow records were the peak of the night, like early Andy Weatherall kind of stuff. Those records stood out to me because they were different.

So I became quite obsessive in collecting them, me and Steve Lawler actually. We used to both work in the same record shop. Then you'd hear labels like Junior Boys Own releasing things like Bocca Juniors (below).

Which is 100bpm sorta stuff...

Yeah. You see what Justin Robertson was up to, you see what Weatherall was up to and what was going on at Shoom… even though I was too young to go, you start to join the dots. They were referencing the Balearic stuff they'd seen.

When I first started going out in Birmingham there were a lot of DJs running the scene like Lee Fisher, who were Shoom goers and had been to Ibiza as well, so I basically grew up around a quite Balearic vibe.

So do you feel pretty fortunate to have been schooled in that, as opposed to, say, the harder darker techno that Birmingham has a rich heritage for?

I basically didn't know any different so I haven't really given it much thought. Because I'd be watching people like Lee Fisher who had been influenced by people like Danny Rampling, who in turn had been influenced by Alfredo, I was just always into that open-minded style.

DJ Dick used to run very good nights too. And also a guy called Nathan Gregory was a really big influence on me. He played at a really cool pre-club bar we'd go to, playing kinda jazz funk, rare groove, acid house, funk, soul etc… I just thought that was normal. That is basically the blueprint of what I play at Cafe Mambo to this day.

'Balearic' can appear, to the untrained eye - and it certainly was in my case until I got a bit older - to be a musical genre like deep house, progressive house etc., but it isn't quite like that.

It can appear to be all over the shop. I guess it's more like a freedom. A lot of people would assume that Balearic is chill out.

And I guess it can be - there is plenty of chill out music that falls under the Balearic umbrella. You could also fairly say that it's mostly a lower tempo than what you'd hear in a club. But there's not much more you can do to describe it as a sound. Perhaps you could say it's "music that sounds good outside"?

I think that's spot on. You know back in the day, I'd often sit on this bench at this time of day and look out here (he gestures across Richmond Park in West London), and as the sun sets like it is now, I'd play stuff on my Ipod which was basically the same as a set I would play at Mambo, so I think that's exactly right about Balearic music suiting the open air.

I think also you can define the sound as 'often a lot of melody'. It's generally more than just a nagging groove.

What people sum up the Balearic sound in a nutshell?

I don't want to sound too obvious or cliched but I guess it's Jose Padila. Just look at the mix he did this year for Cafe Del Mar - the first for fifteen years - it starts with a load of really lovely Bossa Nova, then it dips down to more traditional down tempo, then it goes dramatic, then it lifts up to some very interesting deep house but genuinely deep house and not just garage-rehash deep house.

So it goes through all the styles and covers all the bases which for me is what it's all about. Rob Da Bank is very good like this as well. Also Weatherall, but not so much in the sense of a specific sound, but more because he's always seemed to be even more off-centre than most. You get people like that who are always ahead of the game, just doing their own thing.

And as a personality, who do you think absolutely lives and breathes and stands for 'Balearic'?

DJ Harvey.

Great shout.

Justin Robertson as well. Not quite sure what he plays nowadays...

I've seen him play blindingly good acid house recently, but I've seen him play all sorts down the years. You can tell just by looking at him that he's an absolute dude. A man of many styles. But let's be honest though, the term 'Balearic' can be bloody cringe worthy in the wrong hands. I wasn't there in '88 or even '98, so I'm cautious when using it... there's quite a lot of cliche and misinterpretation surrounding it isn't there?

One thing against a lot of people who say they're Balearic, is that they might play 116bpm records by Lindstrom all night. And there is nothing wrong with those kinds of records - I play them myself - but to keep it in the same gear all night kind of contradicts what it's about for me.

All that said, there are people like Nic Fanciulli, Lawler and Luciano who can build a brilliant journey all night in only one genre. And there is something to be said for adding some of that structure to a more Balearic-style set - like that recent five-hour set from Weatherall that was recorded at Back To Basics (listen to it below) - but I deliberately don't do that.

There is structure to most of the Balearic sets that I play, but it's my own - it's a structure that other people couldn't really pick out and analyse but at the time of hearing it, hopefully they'd get it subconsciously.

The other thing with Balearic is that it is a path to so many other things. As a 21-year-old I would not have thought I'd have been into flamenco or epic film soundtracks, but because I bought Cafe Del Mar Volume 2 and heard someone like Paco De Lucia (an all-time great in flamenco), it broadened my horizons.

The Balearic world put these kind of things into a context where I was open to absorbing it. So you could buy an early Cafe Del Mar compilation and know that there'd be fourteen or fifteen tracks on there that you'd have never heard in your life. It's obviously harder to do that now with the internet etc, but the Balearic ideal of broadening people's horizons very much lives on.

Indeed it does. If you want to see how Pete and friends bring a touch of Balearic to The Riverbank Bar And Kitchen in Nottingham on August 24th, you can buy tickets here or follow the box below.

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