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Words: Andy Pemberton
Photo: Peter Walsh
Published in Mixmag July 1994
The bottom of the sun is just touching a Mediterranean horizon. The crowd sitting around the tables at the Cafe Del Mar fall into an awed silence as a spacey ﬂamenco passage segues into Ennui Morriconeʼs theme to Once Upon A Time In America, the stirring strings perfectly matching the encroaching dusk. Jose is mixing to nature, Earth and DJ in perfect harmony. It's a 24 carat Balearic Moment. Itʼs Ibiza.
"If any piece of music is near to perfection it's Once Upon A Time In America," says DJ Jose later. "It's more amazing when you play it to the sunset. It goes per factually, like itʻs made for that."
Jose Papilla has been mixing to the sun set at the Cafe Del Mar for four years. It's probably no big thing to him, but to a first timer the experience is immediately ﬁled into the Ten Best Things I've Ever Seen memory bank.
Visiting Papillaʼs house high in the Ibiza hills it's not hard to see why he's so good at his job. His beautiful villa overlooks rolling hills and miles of terraced fields. Looking out from the veranda into the balmy evening’s half-light, listening to the tinkle of the wind chimes, you realise you're standing in the middle of one big ambient record. Papilla though explains his skills more simply.
"l feel more secure, more comfortable playing ambient music," he says in English mixed with Spanish inflections and Northern slang (picked up over seven years visiting the UK as a DJ). "Itʼs a natural thing I have. I have a special ear for that kind of music. I recognize a good ambient track straight away, with dance music sometimes it's more difﬁcult."
Sitting in his dusty Ford hatchback driving down the hills towards the Cafe for tonight's gig Papilla, originally from Barcelona, explains that he ﬁrst came to Ibiza in 1974 when he was at the end of his teens. A marriage was on the cards, his brother's furniture business was in trouble, and family pressures was intense. (In his kitchen is a poster which reads "Warning: Families can seriously damage your health.") "It was too much, I was only 19, 20," he says now.
So Papilla went down to the docks with his only suit and a spare pair of jeans in a suitcase and got on the first boat he could ﬁnd. It happened to be going to Ibiza. From such ﬂimsy decisions are careers made.
With one hand on the steering wheel and the other pointing towards the coast Papilla says he used to paint houses. "I got a DJ job in a hotel for tourists, it was that one there I think (pointing). It was a proper little disco for tourists, playing fucking Julio lnglesias and Barry White and all that shit," he adds, wincing at the memory.
Years later he would be bringing his acute ear for all things ambient to the Cafe and now, to a compilation LP entitled ʻCafe Del Mar'. It is, quite simply, one the best ambient collections you will ever hear. Eschewing the voguish reliance on out and out spacey weirdness, Papilla has chosen tracks with form and structure, songs if you will. Highlights include the semi-classical 'Smokebelch ll' (Beatless Mix) from Sabres Of Paradise, the middle-European chug of 'Music For A Found Harmonium' by Penguin Cafe Orchestra and the anthemic 'Fanfare Of Life', an ambient reworking of their ʻSong Of Lifeʼ classic from Leftfield.
Papilla had the idea of a Cafe Del Mar inspired ambient collection for ages but kept getting knocked back by big record companies. Eventually he found a home for his idea at React Records. "l wanted to make an album so that each time you play it you discover a new track you like," says Jose. "l would like people to buy this album in two years time."
Of course the real place to hear this is at the real Cafe Del Mar. But like all good things, there are always a few who don't know when to stop. As Papilla pulls up in the car park he says that every year the Cafe, like all the world's legendary chill-out dream joints, attracts at least one screaming headcheese.
"There was this guy we called Martin The Poet," he explains. "He would just sit there from opening till close with paper and pen, 12 hours a day, every day for six months. Then there was a man living on the beach and he was doing mad things. He would find a wheel from a car, an old bicycle, a piece of furniture and jeans and he'd do mad sculptures. And we all loved him because he looked so surrealistic. Everyone gave him money and bought him sandwiches."
Ibiza might be Jose's own clubland heaven but, typically for Ibiza, thereʼs always a British connection in there somewhere. "I always end up with Northern girls" he confesses. "Always Liverpool girls man, I donʻt know why. I think theyʼre more er... reliable."