When Jose Padilla passed away, a little over a year ago, Lilac Camel contacted me out of the blue. As I’ve written a few times, “LC” was / is one of the people on the DJHistory Forum* who hipped me to so many of the tunes immortalized on Jose`s legendary mixtapes. Obscure IDs which made the musical tribute that I posted on Monday possible.
I hadn’t “spoken” to LC since the online forum wound down, I can`t accurately recall but it must have been at least a decade. So it was super nice to first receive a comment on the blog, and then to exchange emails – to finally learn his real name, and where his nickname / avatar came from**. ..and then he sent me this, which I think is lovely.
It`s LC`s account of how he discovered Jose, the Cafe del Mar, and how the music Jose played is interwoven with his own thirty-year long – and counting – romance with K. Not ketamine, silly, but his partner. Both will remain anonymous since he tells me they’re “semi-respectable now”.
Words by Lilac Camel
“Uh, this is from a long time ago…is that ok?” – No-Man ‘Reich’
By a strange quirk of fate I discovered Prozac and the music of Cafe Del Mar in the same week in 1994. A cassette given to me by a DJ I shared a house with in Levenshulme…and a box of those green and white capsules courtesy of Eli Lilly. I’d struggled with my mood on and off since adolescence, but then hadn’t we all collectively gone off the cliff together by that point? Eventually I got caught out by all those nights on the town, K. and I in our rampant ‘speed freaks’ period. Northerners on the peasant gear. Pills now too often of variable quality to be worth the hassle. Out of the Cornerhouse bar at the top of Oxford Road, down Whitworth Street, through those slaughterhouse plastic sheets and that photo of Tony smiling benignly at us in his bow tie, practically running onto the dancefloor in giddy excitement. Early hours in that sketchy Hulme basement with the drag queens and the gangsters and the night owl misfits. Anything to still hear that music. And then the inevitable sudden onset of paranoia – as predictable as chemistry. Getting on buses home in the morning with the bemused workies, K. still in her dress and heels. Horrendous comedowns in damp-filled shared houses. An aimless life drifting by. Putting off work. Winters with Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92 never leaving the turntable, appropriately cold and stark. Condensation running down the walls. Something had to give.
It’s Day 5 on the Prozac. Rare Manchester spring sunshine bathing the walls. I’m lying down in the afternoon, listening to this tape. It is like nothing I’ve ever heard before – strange and exotic. This is sunshine music, promising escape, like leafing through a Kuoni brochure for an hour. A strum of flamenco, tablas and flutes redolent of the Orient – minarets, palm trees and opium dens – soft Ambient glows, Morricone, some unclassifiable piece of frivolity that I later learn is The Penguin Cafe Orchestra. This really shouldn’t work together. But somehow it does. And here’s the strangest thing – I am grinning from ear to ear. By the end of it I realise that the gloom has entirely lifted. I am somehow…alright again. A minor miracle. It is like the inverse of that Nick Hornby Hi-Fidelity line, “What came first, the music or the misery?”
K.and I made our first pilgrimage to Cafe Del Mar later that summer, paid entirely for out of the whiplash compo from a car accident she’d been in. I’m not proud. The bar itself is something of a disappointment in the cold light of day – an odd wedding cake confection, underneath a dismal apartment block in an unprepossessing part of town. Disconcertingly close to ‘Brits on the Piss’ land. Also, it’s virtually empty as the weather is inevitably cloudy for our first visit. But Jose is playing the B-Zet remix of Stina Nordenstam’s Little Star and all the bad stuff falls away like a conjuror’s trick. A sort of homecoming. I am absolutely hooked.
By chance, Steve, an old friend from back home has moved out to Ibiza. A postie on the sick with a “bad back”, he’d gone to Ibiza as an aspiring DJ but had eventually resorted to financing his continued stay out there through other means – namely, selling overpriced Es to Scandinavians by the wall outside the Cafe. Steve has undergone quite the transformation while’s he’s been out here – he’s gone native! Gone is the uptight North West Casual look, replaced by a ponytail and billowing purple tye-dye pants. Utterly oblivious at the time of Ibiza’s draft-dodging hippy past, I am, to put it mildly, bemused. He has also hooked up with a glamorous Dutch KLM flight attendant whose name I forget now, sadly. After late afternoons of K. and I dozing on the sand at Cala Conta or Cala Bassa, we’d meet up again at the Cafe every evening, often just staying there until long after the sunset crowd have left. Sitting upstairs drinking and chain-smoking dirt cheap duty-free cigarettes as the music changed to warm, noodly Deep House after dark and the lights came on across the bay. The lethargic Mediterranean flopping half-heartedly at the shore.
Other nights we’d get on the amusingly named Discobus down to Pacha – all dark glamour, burning incense and its labyrinth of passageways and doorways, and an outside terrace with the citadel of Dalt Vila lit up as a stunning backdrop. The terrace we were shamefully kicked out of for smoking weed. Or the Ku club with its palm trees and swimming pool, glamorous Eurotrash, Maradona and Claudia Schiffer partying in the VIP, the sun streaming through the enormous glass windows at the back in the morning. It always amused me how at midnight everyone in the clubs was British, and by 6.00 a.m. everyone was Spanish. Our body clocks trained by dark winters and archaic licensing laws, and the indefatigable Spanish commitment to pleasure-seeking and la movida. After the cold, dark industrial spaces of Manchester clubland, this is all quite the revelation. I feel provincial. Then mornings back in the Star Bar, saucer-eyed, dazed and confused in the bright sunshine. Or the time we set our alarms to get up early on a Sunday morning to hit the terrace at Space. Which felt entirely against God’s plan, whatever the hell that was. Like with most things in life, once is usually enough. But it is the Cafe Del Mar that I am invariably drawn back to. I don’t realise it at the time but we are there at the fag end of its good days. The cosmopolitan backgammon players have probably long gone but the punters are still clued up, the vibe is mellow and relaxed, and I am obsessed with the music, forever interrupting conversations to ask “what’s this?”.
If I had to pick one track that encapsulates those times it would be D*Votion by D*Note. It was something of an oddity, tucked away at the end of an otherwise unremarkable Acid Jazz album from 1993. It was played a lot at the Cafe. It’s a strange, elegant record that I somehow never tire of – somehow managing to be both deeply meditative but at the same time completely capturing the exhilaration of day transitioning to a night filled with warm breezes and the promise of pleasure. Being handed enticing club flyers: 2000 pesetas entrance plus a free drink. Vodka limons that were more vodka than limon. A mix of pianos, warm ambient tones, rising flutes, the beats finally kicking in over that Steve Reich sample at the end – to me it will always signify freedom, sunshine and escape from grey old England. Steve proclaiming confidently “I will never work again”. He’s 25. A mirage of youth.
One night I bought a tape off Jose for the princely sum of 1000 pesetas. More unknown pleasures. The only thing I know is Cavatina, which I remember as the incidental music that was played while shit kids’ paintings were shown on the weird 70s/80s children’s TV show ‘Take Hart’. Over a decade later the tracklist was pieced together by the high priests of Balearic on the DJ History forum: Mahavishnu Orchestra Blue Turns Gold, Double Dee, Perpetuum Mobile. Like Egyptian archeologists excavating and sifting through ancient artifacts, all of us trying to make sense of the past. To reconstruct a place that no longer exists.
Occasionally the Guardia Civil would come down for an old fashioned shakedown, blocking the two roads leading down to the Cafe on either side. I recall a middle aged hippy openly touting her wares from a hessian bag to passers-by, with a dippy rhyme that I can’t quite remember (“pills for thrills”), as if she was selling fruit down Walford market.
One of the things that strikes me when I listen back to the music from that time is how ethnic / spiritual / psychedelic much of it sounds. How that hippy ethos was still embedded in the Ibiza fabric, even at that late stage. A reminder that Ibiza is as close to Algiers as it is to Barcelona. That spiritual part was airbrushed out entirely by the subsequent nauseating “Chill Out” boom of the late nineties. But you can hear it in tracks like Cantamilla by Tranquility Bass, MC Sultan’s Der Bauch, Wuub by Woob, or the Sufi devotionals of Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn on Peter Gabriel’s Passion. Hearing the latter as the red sun descended over Illa Conillera felt otherworldly, cosmic even, especially to minds softened by the previous night’s MDMA. Which I guess explained Steve’s pants. And, um, the pygmies of Deep Forest.
For a few summers on trips in the mid-90s this was our routine – the Cafe always a starting point to elsewhere, though you’d long since realised that it was always the best part. But it wasn’t to last. A visit in the late nineties found that the whole thing had been horribly commodified and sanitised. Boy, had word got out. Red Bull sponsors’ cars parked outside, a packed beach, a shop selling absolute tat, sunset cruises, paragliders, Madonna. A fucking circus really. Jose was gone – a victim of the success of his own compilations. And with it the ineffable magic that made it what it was. Joe Normal tourists and families where the Moroccan dealers used to stand. Which, admittedly, is a pretty odd thing to feel regret about when you stop to think about it.
“When you’re young, you always feel that life hasn’t yet begun—that “life” is always scheduled to begin next week, next month, next year, after the holidays—whenever. But then suddenly you’re old and the scheduled life didn’t arrive. You find yourself asking, ‘Well then, exactly what was it I was having—that interlude—the scrambly madness—all that time I had before?” – Douglas Coupland – Life After God
I was talking to somebody the other day in Manchester about Jose’s passing. “Grumpy fucker apparently”, he said. Well…
A few years back Phil Mison introduced me to Jose one night at Kumharas. In my patchy Spanish I laughingly told him that he’d changed my life. This barely registered at all. He had the evasive, distracted look of a man who’s just remembered he might have left the iron on at home. A desire to be elsewhere. I know that look because I also have it when accosted by random strangers telling me mad things. One eye on the exit. I have a theory that Cafe Del Mar’s devotees are mostly introverts. It’s like our brains work that bit too fast and we crave the space and quiet in order to slow it down. Grumpy fuckers to outsiders, I guess. But that mental chatter subsides when the sun is setting and you’re watching this planetary interplay with a suitably cinematic soundtrack. For a brief time you remember that you are, literally, floating in space.
K. and I last saw Jose play during the summer just gone, at Hostal La Torre. A place with a beautiful setting and a roster of fine Balearic DJs put together by Pete Gooding. Sadly it has also rather succumbed to Ibiza’s relentless cash grab and crass drive to the VIP market, with minimum table spends, Insta hordes, harassed bar staff. The madding crowd…And then, just as you’re wondering if it’s all quite still worth the bother, you glance over towards Cap Nuno, glowing in the fading light, whirling swifts overhead, the sun sinking into the sea, & you realise that Jose’s playing the Global Communication remix of Warp 69’s Natural High. You remember why you came yet again. A long way from Levenshulme. I lost touch with Steve a long time ago… K. and I are still together, 30 years later.
*DJHistory.com is about to be reactivated.
**“Lilac Camel” is a reference to day-glo garmed gurners, “cheese-y quavers”, another euphemism for the dreaded term “ted” – again, I think, lifted from the Boy`s Own fanzine.