Welcome to Elrow, the world’s craziest club night
Nights in Playa d’en Bossa are not for the faint of heart. Taxis sound their horns and clog the streets. Young people run wild as the night-time pitchmen try to entice them into their establishments. There’s a smell of frying meat, and the glare from the enormous neon signs on the fronts of the bars and clubs makes the street lights redundant.
This 2km beachfront resort on the edge of Ibiza Town may look like a sleepy holiday destination during the day, but when the sun goes down it’s transformed into one of the hottest party strips in Europe; nowhere else will you find such a high concentration of mega-clubs. Tens of thousands of party people gather here at the weekend, and Space Ibiza has become the epicentre of this nightlife Mecca. Converted from a conference centre into a nightclub in 1989, this Ibizan legend has won Best Global Club five times at the annual International Dance Music Awards.
When The Red Bulletin visits, the club is in a state of transition: it’s the final season for Space Ibiza in its current form, with plans for a revamp by its new owners.
A taxi pulls up in front of Space and two well-built men get out: a bare-chested pharaoh with a long beard and a green neon nemes (a striped Egyptian headcloth), and a Viking with a horned helmet, bright red tunic, and a plastic sword in a full-grain leather belt. When quizzed about their choice of outfit, they reply, “We don’t stand out at all here!” Javier, 24, and Mario, 27, both from Madrid, are working as waiters in Ibiza Town for the summer. At the weekend, they migrate to the other side of the bar and immerse themselves in the craziest club night anywhere in the world.
Elrow began life in Barcelona in 2010, as a small party with 200 guests, then became a daytime, open-air gathering for the extended social circle of its organiser, Juan Arnau Jr. His vision was to create a playground for grown-ups, with fancy-dress themes, crazy performances and a throbbing techno soundtrack.
Over the past two years, Elrow has transformed into a travelling rave circus which tours the world’s best clubs, with thousands of revellers attending each event. It has taken up residence in Ibiza during the summer months – or, to be more precise, Saturdays at Space. “Elrow is the Studio 54 of our generation,” gushes Mario. “It’s a place where you can leave your daily worries behind.”
The 50m-long queue is testament to this, with crusader knights lining up alongside Martians, who jostle for space with black-clad ninjas. Each night’s dress code sees Elrow fans trying to outdo each other – more so than ever for this, the end-of-summer party. Tonight’s theme is ‘Nomads, New World’ and more than 8,000 crazies are expected.
Andres, an actor by trade, is dressed as the Mad Hatter from Alice In Wonderland in a huge, blue top hat, enormous sunglasses and a shiny orange suit; he’s playing resident doorman at the entrance to party heaven. “Come on in, come on in!” he bellows, suitably theatrical and stentorian. Andres poses for selfies with an insane grin, and offers some revellers an inside tip: “Be in the middle of the dancefloor at 2am exactly, preferably without a drink in your hand.”
La Discoteca is the centrepiece at Space. In this, the main area at the club, there will be 2,000 people dancing at its peak. Every Saturday, the Elrow crew transform the space into a psychedelic dreamland in less than 12 hours. A massive blue and white sequoia at the side of the dancefloor stretches up to the ceiling, which is covered with branches and jellyfish garlands that glow under a black light. A Chinese dragon with a 2m-long head floats above the dancefloor. The DJ lords it up atop an Aztec pyramid. Behind him is a round LED screen that resembles a time portal from some sci-fi film.
Juan Arnau Jr is propping up the VIP bar by the stage. The Elrow boss has his hair cut short and is wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans. At just 30, he’s the youngest member of a Spanish party dynasty. Arnau Jr’s family have been involved in the nightlife business for six generations; his ancestors ran nightclubs in his hometown of Fraga as far back as 1870. In 2010, Arnau Jr and his sister, Cruz, went out on their own with Elrow. To ensure their club night stood out from all the others, they bought masks, confetti cannons and inflatable animals at party stores. This simple idea quickly took on a momentum all of its own.
“Guests started showing up at the club in crazy costumes, and they brought street artists with them, who would perform spontaneous performances on the dancefloor,” he explains. “That was when Elrow really came to life.” In London and Berlin, dark warehouse parties are currently all the rage: clubbers dressed in black, monotonous sounds, no decoration. Elrow is the polar opposite, and that’s precisely why it’s successful, because this party offers a home to all those ravers who want more from a club night than just the music. Elrow is now known for its crazy nights around the world; it hosts more than 70 parties a year across five continents.
Sixty designers in three warehouses work full-time on new party decor and outfits for the acrobats who appear at each event. “But our confetti is made in China,” says Arnau Jr, “because you can’t buy confetti the size we use anywhere else. We’ve shot four tonnes of the stuff on Ibiza this summer alone.”
This summer, Elrow also managed to sell out Space on 10 consecutive occasions; no one else manages that. Arnau Jr’s recipe for success? “You have to surprise your guests. Our parties have different themes. The only thing you can be sure of at Elrow is that your jaw will hit the floor during the show.”
Things are getting snug in La Discoteca, with guests streaming in from all the side entrances. Everyone is looking straight ahead, transfixed. The DJ slows down the beat and the lights go out. Then, bang on 2am, there’s a whoosh… Smoke spews from four huge cannons and fills the dancefloor as strobe lights flash.
Suddenly, figures – each on stilts, standing about 3m tall – enter the auditorium from each side of the stage: there’s Genghis Kahn, followed by Julius Caesar, then an alien from the film Avatar. A fully crewed Viking longboat descends from the ceiling. A man-sized cockatoo dances in a cage. Alexander the Great, cackling theatrically, abseils into the room wearing upper-body armour and lands on the shoulders of Moses, who is biting off chunks of the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments and spitting them into the crowd. Next to him, a jungle explorer rides through the crowd on an inflatable banana.
It’s easy to tell the Elrow regulars apart from the novices at times like these: while some dance exuberantly around the stilted performers, others stare upwards in disbelief. One guy, dressed as a priest, exclaims with joy, “Oh man, this is crazier than being on acid!”
The 30 performers on stilts are still hustling on the dancefloor. The scene is completely insane – total sensory overload. Then the DJ cuts the bass. You could slice through the atmosphere with a knife. Suddenly, with a bang, confetti rains down on the dancers. There’s so much of the stuff that you can’t see more than a few metres in front of you. It’s a riot of colour. This is the grand finale of the first of four shows tonight, each beginning on the hour.
The oldest raver on the dancefloor is 60 years old, 2m tall, bald-headed, wears glasses and sports a hearty smile. In Spain, Juan Arnau Sr is well-known as the padre of party culture. He has known nightlife since birth – “I was born in my grandfather’s casino,” he says.
Today, he runs Florida 135 – the legendary Fraga nightclub opened by his father in 1942 – and also helps his son with his party. He’s been there for Juan Arnau Jr since the very first Elrow party – in the role of bouncer. “You can only be successful as a club owner if you’re part of the party yourself. My father drummed that into me,” he says. Many clubs fail because the boss retreats into their office after the first wave of success, more interested in turnover than the atmosphere they’re providing.
Arnau Sr says the secret of the family’s success after so many years of nightlife experience is simple: “You have to talk to your guests and watch people dancing. Or, to cut a long story short, you have to make sure that people are having fun the whole time. That’s the only way they’ll come back.” Can one really live out that attitude at 60 with a clear conscience? “Do you want to know how long I’ll be staying here today?” he says. “I’ll be here to the very end!”
When three female clowns wearing colourful wigs appear and push five white boxes onto the stage, those in the know begin to cheer and surge forwards. It’s time for an Elrow ritual: the costume hand-out, affectionately known by some regulars as ‘the feeding of the vultures’. “Over here! Over here!” roars a guy dressed as a Roman in the front row hysterically, and gets a red sombrero thrown at him for his efforts.
Other flying objects of the costume kind include baby bottles, clown noses, Afro wigs, hard hats, hippy sunglasses, horse-head masks and Smurf caps. By the end of the feeding frenzy, even the stoical security guy by the side of the stage is wearing a green wig.
There are huge pieces of cardboard cheese hanging from the walls outside, alongside pictures of the Matterhorn. It’s all in honour of Andrea Oliva. The Swiss minimal house specialist has had the DJ booth of the Terrace floor to himself at Elrow parties many times throughout the season in Ibiza.
This has meant marathon shifts from midnight to 6am, often even longer. Although the DJ is totally worn out – this is his fourth consecutive night shift – he couldn’t be happier. “When you’re a top DJ, most clubs will book you for a two-hour set and then the next DJ will come on,” he says. “At Elrow, I can take the dancers with me on a long journey. That’s why I love playing here.”
Many other Ibiza club nights try to outdo each other with the number of star DJs they hire, but Elrow takes a different path. “If you’re DJing at an Elrow party, you have to soft-pedal your ego,” says Oliva. “It’s not about you. Like everyone else, you’re part of this huge, wonderful madhouse. Which is exactly why people love Elrow.“
Oliva drops the pounding Patrick Topping remix of Raumakustik’s house track “Dem A Pree“ and everyone’s hands go up in the air. Right in the thick of it are Mario and Javier. Both look as if they’ve had fun dancing the night away. Mario has lost his tunic – “Where? No idea!” – and is dancing in green Calvin Klein shorts. Javier has confetti in his hair and beard.
What do they make of Nomads, New World? “The best party of the summer. Mind you…” It’s hard to choose one highlight, as there have been so many during the course of the season: at the Psychedelic Trip party, they were married on the dancefloor; at the Rowlympic Games, they got other freaks to take part in a football match and practised penalties with an inflatable globe.
Another of the club’s DJ regulars, De La Swing, plays the final track of the night: Theo Kottis’ euphoric tech-house anthem “Running Nowhere“. Crusader knights and nuns mobilise all their remaining strength to bid a proper goodbye to the party.
Five minutes later, the DJ shuts down the decks. The beat gets slower and ends with a muffled rumble. The lights go up. The ravers protest loudly, but the security men are not to be messed with: “You know the rules. Be off with you!” One of the last men on the dancefloor is Juan Arnau Jr. When he spots his father on the stage, the youngster calls out to him. “Dad, are you ready for the afterparty?”