It has been such a busy year at Cafe del Mar that Resident DJ, house music producer and artist booker Ken Fan has been running around the Island (and the world) at breakneck speed. Finally, we caught up over a couple of cañas to ask him about life, Ibiza, and what it is like to provide the music at the most famous beach bar on the planet.
CDM: Like a lot of DJs, you were young when you decided on music as a career.What was the eureka moment when you said: “I’m going to be a DJ?”
I went to the DMC (DJ Mixing Championships) competitions, watched them on videos, went to one in Birmingham when I was 15. Then I went to raves from the age of 16 or 17 at Shelleys in Stoke on Trent, and I was hooked. I started DJing as soon as I could, doing school discos, youth clubs, local pubs, and bars, running my own parties in Lichfield which were really popular: until the police put a stop to it.
CDM: It was a strange time for sure.
I was running my own radio show from there. Lichfield is a small city north of Birmingham which is quite an affluent area and the police didn’t want it becoming a party town, so we had queues and queues of people and the bizzies would be there searching them. They just didn’t like it. After that I got picked up by Miss Moneypenny’s in Birmingham, they took me on as a touring resident and promoter, they brought me out to Ibiza every couple of weeks, where I took a residency at El Divino for Miss Moneypenny’s, Pacha in the funky room… and that was that! So I’ve been coming out here every year since 1998 and now I live on the island.
CDM: There you go everyone, School discos to Pacha in one easy move. So, based on that experience what advice would you give to kids wanting to break into house music today? Surely it’s a lot different today.
It’s very different today, there’s social media for a start- you have to be orientated to networking. These days it’s more of a business, being a DJ. The music and clubbing as an industry as a whole really; when we started it was naughty and illegal. For the kids who threw illegal parties, you know? Now it’s a multibillion-pound industry that conquered the world.
My advice today? First of all, in this day and age, you need to be more than a DJ. You need to have the contacts, you need to have a fan base- i.e, blag yourself a little residency somewhere, use that to start you off. Of course, if you’re not going to clubs and afterparties to get to know DJs and promoters, if you’re not partying with people they’re not going to know you, and they’re not going to book you. Start a record label, get producing too. Most important thing is to get yourself a nice little residency. That’s your platform.
CDM As you say dance music is now a multimillion-dollar business compared to the underground scene that you started off in, is that the main change that you’ve noticed, that dance music is mainstream?
It’s a funny one. What is underground nowadays? Back in the day on Ibiza what was deemed underground? Circoloco, DC10 that was one of the most underground places. But I find these days that as soon as you start advertising a party, it’s not underground. As soon as you put posters up, flyers, artwork- booking big DJs. That’s not underground. Underground to me is text messages to a crew with coordinates. Meet in a field, no VIPs, no lineups, just see when you get there. Anything that is underground gets popular, brings revenue, exposure and everyone is a superstar you cannot be underground. I guess the only places that are underground in Ibiza are the Ibiza Underground! That’s the only underground club we have here really. They don’t really advertise their lineups, the Romanians; Rhadoo, Raresh, they’re the only real sort of underground people here for me.
CDM: Tell us about a weird adventure you’ve had this year.
No comment. They could all get me in trouble.
CDM: Does God exist, and why is he Carl Cox?
I think, personally, I don’t believe in religion so I don’t believe in God. I do believe in Carl Cox and I do believe he is the King of Clubs, so that’s good enough for me.
CDM: How has Ibiza changed since you started playing here?
Yeah, well I’ve been playing here 18 years now and it’s changed dramatically. It was about free love hippy free spirit days of 24-hour parties, no restrictions- to now, which is very much controlled, which is very much about money and VIP culture. The music, the majority of the places has gone downhill, though I hate to say it. There are a few places still playing nice music, but the VIP culture is taking over.
I feel this is pushing some of the normal ravers and party goers out- after paying 50 or 60 euros to get in, I think it’s a more business-focused, the big backers aren’t interested in hippy smiley promoters, they want all the DJs, take all the revenue and form a monopoly on the island. I mean, I’ve heard stories of smaller promoters being bullied, say, the bigger companies go to the ticket outlets and say, “take their posters down, stop selling their tickets, or we’ll stop giving you ours to sell.” Which is a bit nasty. You could suppose it’s a psychological thing, they must be worried, even with all the money that they have.
CDM: What’s the best part about playing at Cafe del Mar?
It’s my fourth year, and I love all of it, to be honest. We’re putting the sun to bed and welcoming the moon. The team we have there are like a family, I feel very relaxed. We have the free range of playing what we want, what I perceive is suitable music for Cafe del Mar, rather than have a dictated music policy. It’s a concoction of a lot of things. Playing underneath the moon and the stars after the sunset is a beautiful thing.
CDM: Cool. So, what’s the biggest influence on your sound?
My music sense comes from everywhere. I think with a lot of things, like food, like music, like martial arts, don’t stick to one style. Like, you don’t want to be served spaghetti Bolognese every day at a restaurant, do you? Same with martial arts, I think MMA is better than being strictly a boxer, mix it up a bit. So I like to take my influences from everything. So I take elements from hip-hop producers that I like, the ethnic and world music producers, house music, and take the bits that I like and put it all together.
Like, I’m going shopping for ingredients to cook, and it depends on who you’re cooking for. I work with a lot of DJs and no disrespect they play one style or nothing at all. I find at Cafe del Mar especially, you need to be very adaptable. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of DJs who can play all across the board, from the chill out to the techno and banging stuff and lounge and house music and the afterparty stuff. There aren’t many around, it seems like people are finding their sound and just want to stick to it. I think a lot of the up and coming DJs just wanna play that big sound and be the next Marco Carola or Carl Cox.
CDM: Do you think that’s down to people being afraid to take risks? You talked at the start about social media presence, do you think people get big on Beatport for one particular sound and they think “Well, this is my thing and I have to stick to what’s popular or I won’t get booked.” Do you think that is part of it?
I think there are different artists and DJs of course. The producers who DJ are pushing the sound that they make themselves- but DJs, especially Ibiza resident DJs, we play so many different venues and have to adapt to so many different people particularly in places like Cafe del Mar, it’s very international, with a wide age range.
Compared to the other places down Sunset Strip we have a slightly more mature audience, while in other places they’re seeing younger, predominantly British customers, so they have to play more EDM to please their crowd. At Cafe del Mar we have people from Japan, South America, Eastern Europe, Russia, from everywhere– and they do tend to be slightly older. So instead of banging it out, we need to play music we can lounge to, eat to, chill out to, but by the same token if you want to get up and dance you can. To me, that’s good music, rather than catering just to just a formula club sound.
CDM: What are your plans for the winter season?
This winter, November I’ll be back in the UK, December is Thailand doing Koh Pha Ngan to do full moon parties in the jungle with 6 to 8 thousand people, New Years Eve is Kuala Lumpur, then back to Thailand, then Australia for a month, then Romania for a ski resort in January, and back here in about February or March. House music and chill out alternating really.
In the meantime, we do have something special in the pipes called The Root Sessions. I and a few DJ friends will go to beautiful spots on the island at the full moon and play some music, recorded on video and high-quality audio. If we pull it off it will be incredible.
CDM: You’re a busy boy.
CDM: Who would you love to see play at CdM? Your dream booking.
It’d have to be Carl Cox, to play from an hour before sunset to an hour after, an eclectic mix of what he thinks would be a good transition. The King of Clubs at Cafe del Mar?
CDM: That would be radical.
It would, wouldn’t it? With Carl, he plays house music, soul, disco, funk. He knows Cafe del Mar, and I think it would be an interesting one.
CDM: No doubt. Let’s talk about your new mix you’ve released. Tell us how that has come about.
It’s coming to the end of the season, and people are often coming up to me and asking me for a CD or a mixtape. But of course, we’re playing a lot of the tunes as we receive them and the tracks are brand new. I think it’s nice to get out to the public what we do at Cafe del Mar do around sunset. I think it’s a little bit different to what everyone else is playing around the island. There’s a lot of influences in there, a lot of ethnic sort of influences, some nice house music in there. I start about 86bpm and finish around 120bpm, so it’s eclectic, not mainstream. I’ve mixed in some meditation sounds and chants with some afro-latin samba stuff too and some old school tracks. I’m very happy with it.
CDM: Thanks, Ken! You can hear Ken Fan’s new playlist right here, and the download is free.