Dancing to its Own Beat - A Hotel with no Fixed Abode Opens in Ibiza

The hotel dancing to its own beat in Ibiza
The hotel dancing to its own beat in Ibiza | © Dan Medhurst / Beat Hotel
Tristan Kennedy

The Beat Hotel, which has previously popped up at Glastonbury Festival and in Marrakech isn’t a hotel in the conventional sense. But with its gorgeous rooms, sensational food and artfully-curated entertainment it offers everything a high-end hotel should—and more. Tristan Kennedy heads to the latest iteration in Ibiza, to explore this most unusual of experiences.

David Keenan is excited. The Scottish author—beard, sunglasses, cowboy boots, the fingers of his right hand festooned with Occult Metal rings—is talking about the importance of not trying to author your own life. “My good friend [the legendary DJ] Andrew Weatherall used to talk about ‘the alchemy of circumstance,’” he says, his Lanarkshire vowels rising in volume the more animated he becomes. “He believed in living in the here and now, which means setting aside conceptions of what the here and now should be, and actually living in it as it is.” The key to achieving this state of mindfulness, Keenan says, is leaving yourself open to new experiences, not worrying too much about plans, and being receptive to the chance encounters that life throws your way.

Looking around, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect place for Keenan to be preaching his message—or an audience more likely to be receptive to the gospel according to Andrew Weartherall. It’s only 3PM, but the poolside of the Beat Hotel Residence, a luxurious villa tucked away in the pine forests of north-eastern Ibiza, is already filling up with partygoers. A festival without a fixed abode, the Beat Hotel is a week-long series of musical and cultural events aimed at people who want to mix the unabashed hedonism of dance music with a dose of intellectual stimulation, and perhaps, if they’re lucky, a side order of spiritual enlightenment.

Having started life as a stage at Glastonbury, The Beat Hotel first became an actual, bricks-and-mortar hotel in 2019, when the organisers took the concept to Marrakech in Morocco—a country beloved of the Beat Poets for whom the event is named. Nights filled with sets from the likes of Young Fathers, Maribou State and Gilles Petersen blended into days featuring talks by Irvine Welsh and Jeremy Deller, and the festival inspired rave reviews. It comfortably sold out its second year, only to have the plug pulled because of the pandemic, just weeks before it was due to kick off.

With Covid still causing problems in the summer of 2021, the organisers launched a somewhat scaled-down version in Ibiza. Spain’s restrictions at the time meant that while listening to DJs outside was allowed, dancing was still forbidden. “Security guards would literally come and have a word if you started moving your shoulders,” one festival-goer who’d attended last year’s event told Culture Trip. But the event, supported by Patron Tequila, was a runaway success, and aside from the overly-assiduous rave police, it was obvious that the White Isle was the perfect place to host this hotel that’s quite unlike any other.

Exploring the Wonders of the White Isle

“Everyone thinks of Ibiza as an acid house thing, but people have been coming here since the 60s,” says Miguel Espejo, the driver who picks us up from the airport. Despite his Spanish name, Miguel is actually a British transplant, but has lived on the island long enough—and ferried its famous residents around often enough—to know its history inside out. “It was the hippies who really started the party scene here. Ibiza has this special energy and they got that. You can really feel that when you’re here,” he says.
There’s a lot of talk about the island’s energy at the Beat Hotel, where each morning starts with a wellness workshop—either yoga, a guided meditation session, or in one case, a lucid dreaming workshop soundtracked by Edinburgh’s DJ Auntie Flo, the Hotel’s “artist in residence”, who’s created soundscapes from birdsong, and other found sounds recorded around the villa. With the previous nights’ cobwebs blown away, delicious breakfasts and lunches are served at the villa, and the wellness workshop attendees are welcome to lounge around the pool for the rest of the day. (While you can stay at the Residence, this isn’t a hotel in the conventional sense, and most of the attendees to the Beat Hotel sessions are staying elsewhere).

As the speakers arrive and the talks begin, ticket holders for the afternoon sessions drift in from all over the island. Random meetings of the kind David Keenan advocates happen by default. One lunchtime, I fall into conversation with Mark Butcher, an unofficial historian of Acid House. Originally from Manchester, Butcher was 18 in 1988, and has impressively intact memories of the second summer of love. “Those couple of years changed my life,” he says,explaining how the music spread throughout the UK, and setting the record straight on the influence (or otherwise) of Danny Rampling’s famous club night Shoom. An Ibiza veteran, he’s a big fan of what the Beat Hotel are offering. “I actually meant to come here yesterday as well, but I ran into an old friend poolside at Pike’s [the legendary Ibiza hotel-cum-club] and before I knew it, two hours had turned into 10,” he chuckles.

As the night rolls in, the Beat Hotel expands outwards beyond the four walls of the villa, and the music begins in earnest. Each evening’s party takes place in a different legendary venue around the island—including sunset restaurant La Torre, and Pike’s Hotel itself—and the week’s line-up is a lesson in classy curation, with an emphasis on global sounds, and the more experimental end of electronica. Acts include Dusseldorf’s Bufiman, Edinburgh’s Auntie Flo, and Poly-Ritmo, who until recently hosted her own show on Gilles Petersen’s generation-defining (but now sadly shuttered) radio station, Worldwide FM.

Thinking Outside the Hotel’s Four Walls

Like all hoteliers, the Beat Hotel organisers take their food and beverage offerings very seriously too. Pre-dinner Patron cocktails whet the appetite for each evening’s menu, which is created by a rotating cast of chefs, cherry-picked from some of London’s buzziest restaurants. On our first evening, taxis transport us to the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Montesol in Ibiza old town, where we’re served a delicious taster menu cooked by Chef Tom Brown, the man behind Cornerstone restaurant in London’s Hackney Wick. As the sun sets over the Almudaina, originally built during Ibiza’s period under Moorish rule, local DJ Willie Graf spins an eclectic set which ranges from modern global house to 1970s tracks Lucio Batisti, Italy’s answer to David Bowie.

The following evening, the Beat Hotel takes over the courtyard at Las Dalias, site of Ibiza’s famous hippy market, where a sold-out crowd of around 800 gather to hear Róisín Murphy perform live. Now an Ibiza resident, having swapped her native Ireland for the island permanently during the pandemic, Murphy is nonetheless a huge booking for such an intimate setting. Her staging is stripped back—there’s no live band, just the statuesque singer and her backing track—but the set loses none of its potency.

With all the hopping around from place to place, there’s a risk that the festival might feel disjointed, but the Beat Hotel crew put in a lot of time and effort into ensuring that the aesthetics and the vibe remain consistent throughout the venues. “We basically have a single stage set that we move around,” explains Dan Baxter, the co-founder in charge of production operations for the week. “We have a whole team on it. They always think: ‘oh, working in Ibiza for a week, that sounds easy,’” he chuckles, “but it’s like SAS Who Dares Wins, I’m on their case so it runs like clockwork.” This hard graft—which, like in any good hotel, the guests never see—pays off. The overriding impression is less that the hotel has moved round Ibiza, and more that the island itself (or at least, the coolest corners or the island) has become a part of the Beat Hotel.

Unfortunately, the rude intrusion of real life and deadlines, means that I have to leave this arcadia early, before the closing night takeover of Pike’s Hotel. But on my final evening the focal point of the party is set to be the Beat Hotel Residence itself—hardly a less illustrious location. Beneath the swimming pool we’ve been lounging around all week there’s a private club. “A lot of these villas built them during the pandemic,” explains Beat Hotel co-founder Nick Griffiths. “The big clubs on the island were all closed, but their clientele still wanted to dance”. Of course it wasn’t hard to persuade DJs to play at these small, private venues either, because there wasn’t much other work going around. Thankfully, there are no such restrictions on the current festivities, and the crowd which steadily gathers at the Beat Hotel Residence is the biggest I’ve seen all week.

We ease into proceedings gently, with poolside sets by Pikes resident Camillo Miranda, local legend Andy Wilson, and NTS Radio’s System Olympia, before the action moves to the garden. Here, Auntie Flo is setting up a live showcase of another of his avant garde noise-scape projects—an album that he created with drummer and percussionist Sarathy Korwar, that’s built around the sounds of a Shruti Box, a traditional Indian drone instrument.

“It’s basically a jam,” explains Korwar. “Flo plays the tone, and manipulates the signal through his pedals, and I’ve kind of just got to go with it.” The Shruti Box emits a tone that’s halfway between the bagpipes and an accordion, which Flo distorts so that it sounds like a synth. Korwar’s drumming builds and releases tension, and their audience sits on rugs, enraptured.

After this brief hypnotic interlude, the night cranks back into gear, as the club beneath the pool opens up. The crowd is impressively mixed, with holidaymakers joining locals, and all ages represented. Before long, small groups are spilling out into the various chill out areas, chatting. Random encounters ensue, and when I bump into David Keenan, I tell him I think I’m beginning to understand the alchemy of circumstance. It’s been a whole week of new experiences, chance meetings, and not worrying too much about plans—and it’s been incredible. In fact, my only real worry is getting so swept away by the living in the here and now that I forget my early flight the following morning.

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