Manumission is one of those names that has come to be synonymous with the Ibiza clubbing scene. More than just joining in with the fun, the event revolutionized partying on the Balearic island and came to define Ibiza’s nightlife as we know it today. After more than 10 years of hosting some of the most hotly anticipated events of the season, the party finally came to end in 2009. We look back on how the legendary Manumission first got started and how it earned its place in dance music history.
The Balearic island of Ibiza had been a hotspot for bohemian living since the 1940s, attracting painters, writers and bon vivants looking for an easier life on the isle. But come the 1980s, the island underwent a cultural shift as DJs from the UK and elsewhere started experimenting with house, techno and dance music in the few nightclubs to exist back then such as Amnesia or Pacha. Soon Ibiza was attracting party-goers in their thousands, eager to discover the laid-back atmosphere and feeling of freedom that reined on the island.
It was this sense of open-mindedness that attracted brothers Andy and Mike McKay, founders of Manumission, to Ibiza back in the early 1990s. Until then the duo had been running a club in Manchester, back in the day when knife attacks and gang violence were common place in the local nightlife. Eager to promote a more tolerant atmosphere in the venue, the brothers described themselves as a ‘mixed gay club’ and asking men to kiss at the door became a standard rite of passage for gaining entrance. Borrowing its name from the act of freeing someone from slavery, Manumission was born in 1993 and soon became one of the biggest nights of the Manchester party-scene.
But the die-hard Mancunian spirit was just too much for the brothers to handle and they decided to finish with the city once and for all. The story goes that the brothers flew out to Ibiza initially just for a holiday and a chance to get some rest on the island’s white sand beaches. But soon enough Manumission was brought back to life in its new spiritual home on the island, Ku, better known today as the world’s largest club in the world, Privilege. Along with their partners Claire and Dawn, the team were originally given just one of the room at the venue — which boasts a whopping 10,000-person capacity — but soon the entire club would fill with party-goers eager to experience what was rapidly becoming one of the hottest nights on the island.
True to the open-minded spirit they had tried to harness back in the UK, Manumission became notorious for its sexually explicit live shows that have been described as ‘a cross between a porn film set and a Monty Python out-take’. It was around that time that the British vice-consul on the island decided to resign, at a wits’ end with the ‘degenerate and out-of-control’ behavior of his fellow compatriots. So new to the times were the events taking place at Manumission that for a long time the authorities and club owners didn’t dare address what was taking place behind the club’s doors. Had they, the party scene on Ibiza might well never have become what it is today.
Until then, the clubs on the island had mostly focused on attracting prominent DJs and relying on the music to make the nights a success. But Manumission decided that rather than just a DJ set, the events should be something more and started incorporating elements of live performance, theatrics and acrobatics. Attracting a truly international crowd, the events soon developed a world-wide reputation for being one of the most avant-garde parties around at the time. From then Manumission’s success continued to grow and summer after summer the shows would get bigger and better.
Following what is believed to be a dispute between the Privilege club-owners and the Manumission team, the night relocated to rival club Amnesia in 2007. But the party didn’t last long and in just two years Manumission closed up shop for good. The details surrounding the decision aren’t clear, but it’s perhaps telling that the two brothers have since gone their separate ways. Mike, who has always been the more outgoing of the two brothers, has been behind a number of projects on the island with his partner Claire — including Phantasmagoria in 2014, as well as a cinematographic project called Cinemission. Whether Manumission will ever see the light of day again is something of an urban legend among party-goers on the island, especially those old enough to remember the event in its hay-day. One thing is certain though, the legacy of Manumission is one that will live on for years to come on the island whose nightlife it came to define.