Willie Graff is a true Eivissenc – born and raised on The White Isle. While he now splits his “spinning” time between Ibiza and New York, Willie was the youngest DJ to ever land a residency at the island`s legendary Pacha nightclub. A long-time cohort of Kenneth Bager`s Music For Dreams, Willie`s Tranz Mekanica – produced last year in collaboration with Alex From Tokyo and Darren Eboli – was a quality, authentic, update of the EBM sound of Amnesia and Glory’s circa 1987. Working with “balearic beat” pioneer, DJ Pippi, he has a new 3-track E.P., titled Lunares, out on Leng. The slo-mo Island Visitors bumping kinda cosmically on sunset – with bright synths buzzing against the bass-line`s growl. On the self-explanatory Saxolicious, sexy drum percolations are led by the hand to the bedroom by a smoothly operating horn -serenaded by vibraphone chimes, and spied on by big electric chords. The title track is an oasis of calm – created by an incredibly uncrazy mix of cinematic strings, easy-listening harmonies, guitar microtones, mandolin, and Middle-Eastern reeds.
Can you tell me more about your background? Am I right in thinking that your parents moved to Ibiza from The States?
My parents are both from New York but met in Ibiza. My dad was traveling through Europe and made his way to Ibiza after Amsterdam in 1972. My mom had been visiting with her parents for years, and they had a little apartment on the island. They met on the island in 1975 and are still living there today. I was born there and raised there, and still call it my home, even if I’m away for part of the year.
What were they doing in America? Was it anything to do with OSHO?
My mom had been visiting Ibiza with her parents since she was 16. After a few summers she decided to stay for the winter and still hasn’t left. Mom went to the opening night of Pacha in 1973. One of her memories is of “Tits Renee” (an island character) on a swing – with her tits out, swinging the night away. If curious as to who Renee is, she’s on one of those Pacha posters that Toni Riera did with everybody on the balconies of the Montesol.
(Renee is bottom left ; Pippi is the top right)
My dad was just out of the army and didn’t want to start a 9 to 5 job, so he decided to travel around Europe and ended up In Ibiza. He started a few restaurants on the island over the years. Marty and Phyllis was one of them, which was probably the first American style restaurant on Ibiza. That was in Dalt Vila, Ibiza’s old town. The restaurant is mentioned in your recent booklet by Patrick Georges Michaut – as one of the restaurants he liked to go to in those years.
They had nothing to do with Osho – although quite a few of their friends where involved. Up until the late `80s you’d often see people dressed in orange. Now you can spot them by the looooong hugs.
Have you spent your whole life on Ibiza?
I was living there full time until I got offered a job in New York in 2003. At that point I started leaving for the winter’s. I was 20.
When did you first get into music and DJing?
When I was around 11 or 12. Growing up on the island you get the sense that it`s a special place. I grew up fantasizing about the nightclubs…The whole scene fascinated me from the very beginning. I loved music and dancing, the lights, the smoke, the posters…So I was going to the kids discos that the clubs would do. They would play mostly club hits and later in the night some very banging stuff like Commander Tom or DJ Misjah’s Access… I have fond memories of Hyper Pearl’s Can You Feel The Pain? – which was actually a pretty out there tune to be playing 12 – 13 year olds.
I would collect mix CDs, tapes, and get as much music as I could. A little later, when I was 14 my dad took me to a beach party. That was my first “real” party, with actual grown-ups, and music that the grown-ups listen to! It`s just the best memory ever…From that moment on I knew I wanted to be a DJ. I still have the tape from that day. The DJ was Sergi Ribas. I still see him around the island. He was the first guy I heard at playing at a real party.
Then I started making tapes for friends at school and ended up giving a tape to a beach bar owner in town – which got me hired as the DJ for the summer. I did that for 2 summers and was a lot of fun. I bought my first turntables and mixer after the first summer working there.
The bar was in Santa Eulalia, and called Mariners. Its funny, the owner liked the tape I`d given him but said, “Thats not the music your going to be playing here though.” I realized then you have to start somewhere…I was just thankful to get a job doing something that I loved. I`d play BGM while folks ate, and then between the various live acts they had – bands and flamenco dancers. One night a week I would be the “show” – making people dance after dinner, and then I`d get to mix some of my music in with the ABBA, Barry White and Julio Iglesias I was expected to play. It was a family place – tourists and their kids – not a club. Thinking back, it was quite a responsibility for a 14 year-old – to keep people drinking, spending money, after dinner.
How old were you when you started visiting the nightclubs properly?
During that first summer of working at the beach bar, I really wanted to go see the proper night club action. I couldn’t really get in `cos I was under age, but the door policy was more relaxed back then and I found little tricks that helped…it took me a few times though. I was 14 when I first went to KU – well Privilege really, since it was the first year that they changed over. It was 96 I think..I chose Ku because I`d already been going to Pacha for their kids nights. Cesar de Melero was playing and I knew him from seeing his name around on posters and his mix CDs, so I was very exited to go hear him. I was always interested in hearing the local DJs play. He still tells me that he remembers me sitting behind the booth many nights that summer, thinking “who’s this young kid back there?”
Then I would alternate between Pacha and Ex-Ku as they called it… Amnesia and Space were harder to get into – I started going there a few years later. I went to a few of those clubs in San Antonio in the west end, DC10 as well – when it was just locals running it and only the inside room….beach parties `cos any age could go to those…I went to one of those Aqualandia (water park) parties…A lot of parties! (laughs)
How did you get your break working in the clubs? Were you working in radio, or in a record shop?
From 96 til 99 I was at the beach bar, and then somehow in 99 I got an offer to play at Guarana – a little club in Santa Eulalia. David Moreno – one of the first DJs in Ibiza on the radio to have a 2 hour slot each day for dance music – heard me playing and invited me to play on his show “Ibiza Dance”. I was playing deep house in those days, and after playing he said “hang on a minute”. David called up Joan Ribas and said “Hey I got this kid that plays the perfect music for your room”. David was talking about the Funky Room at Pacha! Joan was taking care of the DJs in that room back then and was always so kind to me. Joan taught me so much about playing music. I played a few times that summer and the next year he offered me a residency. Naturally I accepted. The nightclub I grew up dancing in and dreaming about playing in was suddenly where I was. It was a magic feeling – and I’m very happy to still be resident there today, 20 years later.
Is it true that you are the youngest person to land a residency at Pacha?
I`m pretty sure that`s true. I was 17 when I started as resident in 2000, 16 when I first played there in 99. Maybe someone younger has played over the years but not as a resident, 6 nights a week.
Which other clubs on the island have you DJed at?
Over the years i have played at most of the main clubs…Space, Privilege, Amnesia, DC10, Ushuaia, Destino…I don’t think I’ve played any of the San Antonio clubs – apart from Pikes.
Where else in the world have you DJed?
I mostly spend my time playing between Ibiza and New York – but I have travelled around a little over the years…
How did you get the residency at NYC`s Cielo?
Nicolas Matar was also a resident at Pacha during the first years I was there. We got along well from the beginning. One year he didn’t come work for the summer season, but then showed up the following year – when he told me about opening up Cielo, and how he wanted both of us to be residents there. At that time Ibiza was pretty quiet during the winter, so I thought it would be crazy not to accept. I`d just finished high school but I thought “Fuck college, I`m going to DJ in New York!” Cielo opened in January 2003 and again I was under age – 20, but we made it work. I was resident there for over 10 years – some of the best times of my life for sure. The later years I played on and off as a guest. Cielo sadly closed on December 31st, 2018 – after 15 years. I still spend my winter’s in New York though. I love this city and its people.
Do you currently have any other residencies?
Pacha in Ibiza is still my main residency, plus lots of weekly things I do in the daytime around the island. I really enjoy playing different kind of sets. In New York I play for different promoters and clubs – no real residency anymore.
Are you involved at all in the Pikes or Hostel La Torre events?
I`m not involved, but I hang out there often…I`ve played around the Pool at Pikes a few times, and once in Freddie’s with Daniel Klein (Sirs). It`s a great place! I haven’t played at La Torre but I would love to. It`s the ultimate sunset setting.
Photo by La Skimal.
Did you take part in Music For Dreams rooftop parties at the ME hotel?
I did. Kenneth set up a weekly party and that was very nice. He`d rotate every week between the DJ’s involved with label. We’d play music overlooking the bay in Santa Eulalia and would get some beautiful colours during sunset. It was a very relaxed affair – something different for the people on that side of the island. I really hope that it can continue.
Where is your favourite place to party – when you’re not playing?
In Ibiza, these days…I would say Pikes. It`s just a great place to hang out and listen to good music around like minded folk. The Harvey party – Mercury Rising – has been a ray of sunshine for the island. Underground is also place I love hanging out at when I’m in the mood for a darker electronic sound, it still feels very Ibiza there.
How did you meet Kenneth Bager?
I met Kenneth through Pippi about 10 years ago. We hit it off right away, since we’re both music nerds. We’ve been friends and in touch ever since. He brought me over to play one of his COMA parties in Copenhagen, which was an unforgettable / crazy experience – great up for it crowd! We hang out every summer when he’s over in Ibiza. He’s very supportive of our stuff and I’m super grateful.
You have a new record out with Pippi. How did you meet Pippi?
Yes, we have a new record coming out on Leng Records on May 9th. We’re very happy how it all turned out. I`d been following Pippi since I was a little kid. As I mentioned earlier, I looked up to the island residents. After I started work at Pacha we got to know each other pretty quickly – I explained how I looked up to him when I was a kid and how happy I was to be working in the same club with him. We’ve become very good friends, brothers, and partners. As well as making music together, we have our weekly party in The Funky Room at Pacha.
Are the older generation of DJs supportive of the younger folks? I guess you’re all competing for the same gigs to a certain extent.
It is a small island and there is only so much work to go around, but I think somehow everybody kind of finds their own place. The locals don’t tend to step on other’s toes, since we all know each other…I can say from my own experience that the older generation has been very supportive.
How and when did you first learn about the “balearic beat”? As a kid were you aware of the island’s bohemian history?
Hard to say really…We use the term for new stuff too – to describe house tunes or anything that has that feeling. Around 2002 – once I was hanging out with Pippi and Cesar more – I’d ask them a lot about the Balearic sound… What they played and how they played it…stories of the DJs before them. I`m in heaven just thinking about it. I was starting to go deeper into music during those years – going back, learning the history and finding my own way. So Balearic was something I knew about, but I really started to go deeper into it a few years after starting at Pacha.
Surrounded by the guys who created it I bet you have heard some amazing stories – and I bet you are an expert. Phil Mison told me you have an incredible record collection. Would you be able to give me a few – lesser known – classic “balearic beats”?
Where to start? There are so many possibilities…I’ll stick to stuff that I know was played on the island and put me in that balearic state of mind.
State Of Play – Natural Colour (Instrumental)
This is a nice record from the UK…I like the instrumental. I found out after I bought it that it was used in the “Look De Ibiza” video. It just has that Ibiza feeling.
John Martyn – Smiling Stanger (live)
This is one from the earlier years.
Mag & The Suspects – Erection
This record isn’t mentioned that much…Massimo Zucchelli was the one playing this at Pacha, and Cesar first heard it there. He’s done a cover version – with a nice dubby mix – that’s coming out soon.
Positivity – Positivity
I`m not sure how unknown this one is but I don’t hear it out anywhere anymore. It’s got that feeling….It was a big record on the island in 91 / 92.
LaLuna – Come To Me
The great Mark Kamins and Eric Kupper…This was played a lot too. It still sounds amazing to me.
Surrounded by all that history would you also be able to give me a few new tunes, that you’d describe as balearic beats – that have “that feeling”?
Pedro Ruy Blas – From Restinga To Ibiza
This tune isn’t that new but it wasn’t released until last year, so I hope that counts. The album was one of my favourite’s last summer. This has got “Ibiza” in the title and a shakuhachi sample – which I’m a sucker for. Great music for just sitting back and having your cafe con leche.
A Separate Reality – Hairy Dancer
A Separate Reality is a new project from Nick Chacona and Tim Wagner. The whole album is really nice, but my pick would be Hairy Dancer.
Cantoma – Solando
Phil Mison aka Cantoma came over in November and stayed for a few days. We drove around the island listening to his new album. It was the perfect soundtrack.
Anthonius Feat. Tidiane & Syla – Berede
This is from a really nice new album by Spanish artist Anthonius.
When did you start making music?
I started around 2004 – in New York. I met Jeff Goldman (T. Tauri) through Nicolas. Jeff had helped us with the Cielo compilations. He had a nice studio set up in Hoboken and we made three records together. The first one was with Kyle Errison. Kyle is King Errison’s son and he used to bartend at Cielo. The second one was Jeff and myself. Francois K released that on Wave. After that I did one more tune with Jeff and Jerome Sydenham – which came out on Ibadan. That was a lot of fun. Dennis Ferrer stopped by and helped us with the keys. Jeff moved away, so we stopped making music but we still see each other at the Loft parties in NY.
How does the collaboration with Pippi work? Do either of you have a studio?
I have more of a mobile set up, since I’m not really living in one place. I can get ideas started, but always finish them somewhere else. In Ibiza I work at Pippi’s house. We spend most of our free time together at the studio, figuring the whole thing out and making tunes. Lately we`ve started working at a distance, since we’re all staying home.
Who else have you collaborated with?
In Ibiza, Tuccillo. We’ve done quite a few records together. He’s helped Pippi, Cesar and myself a lot over the years. I’ve also made some new music with him that will be out later this year. In New York I’ve been working with Darren Eboli – we also do the Tribeca Tapes series on Music For Dreams. We did an E.P. with Alex from Tokyo for his label World Famous late last year.
One of the best experiences of collaboration I’ve ever had was last year .Kenneth organized a Music For Dreams writers camp in Copenhagen – with a bunch of super talented artists, producers and musicians who all work with the label. We all jammed out for a week. We made so much music. Nada Mais – with Copanema – was one of the songs from those sessions. Blank & Jones just released a new mix of Nada Mais that we did specially for them. It’s called The Enchanted Mix. There will be more tunes from the music camp sessions coming out I think…It was a very creative and eye opening experience.
You and Pippi are both old friends of Kenneth`s. I was wondering why the new record is on Leng, and not Music For Dreams.
No reason at all. We still have new music coming out with Kenneth. When we finished the E.P. I had the feeling that it could be something for Claremont 56 or Leng – labels we’ve both have loved for years – and thought why not give it a try, maybe we can reach some new people who haven’t heard our music. Phil Mison introduced me to Paul and Simon – Thank you Phil – they liked the tunes and that was that. We’re all friends, and in this together.
What is it like on Ibiza at the moment, under the lockdown. The place is so dependent on tourism and entertainment – are a lot the inhabitants worried – financially – about the future?
Im in New York waiting to be allowed back into Ibiza, but I’ve been speaking to friends out there regularly. They’ve taken the lockdown seriously and have kept infections pretty low so far ,but still, it is there, and people have to get tested. I don’t think there is anybody that’s not worried right now…It affects everybody, the whole chain is on pause…and in Ibiza it can be extra hard as most people depend on the summer season to make it through the winter. Even with without a pandemic it`s not easy. We still have to see what new regulations are put into place for businesses and if it`s viable for them to open or not. The future is uncertain…but the music goes on. Take care everybody.
The Lunares E.P. by Willie Graff and Pippi is out now on Leng.