In June 1989, Dave Swindells headed out to Ibiza for the first time on assignment for Time Out’s now defunct 20/20 magazine. Swindells had spent his life in clubs, and kept hearing that the Balearic island was the place to be. “I knew it was special because I’d heard so much about the island from Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling and Nicky Holloway when they were setting up their Ibiza-inspired ‘Balearic Beats’ nights Shoom, and Spectrum and the Trip in 1988,” he tells CR.
“The Balearic Beats got subsumed into the whole Acid House tidal wave that I was writing about (and photographing) every week as the nightlife editor at Time Out. I knew it was special because 1989 was the last season that big Ibizan clubs like Ku and Amnesia could operate without roofs above the dancefloor. I was determined to get shots which showed that there was nothing between the dancers and the stars (or palm trees) above.”
Out of the shots Swindells took during a week on the island, only a small selection were used in the final piece. So to give the eight rolls of film the photographer took their proper airing, Idea Books has just published Ibiza ‘89, which provides readers with 144 pages of pastel-coloured, high-contrast nightlife. From the swinging arms of dancing groups to the chilled-out chats of the morning after, Swindells manages to capture the animated spirit and joy of Ibiza on the brink of a new decade.
“I was surprised to find some great shots that I’d previously overlooked that I could include in Ibiza ‘89 along with more club shots and previously unpublished photos taken on the beaches and around the island that show a little of the life beyond the dancefloors,” the photographer explains. The book also includes the original accompanying article written by Alix Sharkey (then-co-editor of i-D), which Swindells describes as “fantastically punchy and vivid reportage”. Not only does Sharkey’s essay provide context, it ensures the book isn’t just “sugar-coated in nostalgia” and that an authentic picture of the place is captured.
While in Ibiza, Swindells used flash photography with long exposures to “capture the ambient light” but he was also keen to capture the vastness of these venues using a mini tripod. “Most of the time my approach was to shoot on a wide-angle lens and aim to get as close as possible to the subjects and the action and hope that magic happened!” Swindells says.
As well as the images in the book, Swindell’s Instagram is packed with shot after shot of amazing nightlife photography. So what makes the perfect clubbing image? Apparently it’s as simple as photographing what’s in front of you. “This is an obvious statement but it’s easy to go into a party with preconceptions about the type of photo or people that you want to photograph rather than engaging with and photographing the characters or situations as they occur,” he says.
“The mistake I used to make was to try to take a photo that represented a party in one photo. Occasionally (it felt to me that) I achieved that, but when it happened it was as a result of trying to capture the personalities, the energy and the atmosphere of the event – or simply to record a fleeting moment between a couple who may have been oblivious to everything around them, because there aren’t really rules to be followed.”
One of the main drives in capturing Ibiza at that time was the fact that these open-air parties under the stars were to be a thing of the past. The documentation of music venues and clubs is something Swindells still feels strongly about today, especially since the pandemic has highlighted how vital these spaces are.
“The internet has been amazing and transformative during the pandemic but even so it can’t replace live performance and especially the experience of sharing events with others. Documenting it is less important than it used to be now that smartphones are ubiquitous but even so documenting venues not only shows how they have developed but also what we’re missing,” says the photographer.
“As for protecting these spaces it’s alarming that the importance of these social and creative hubs was overlooked for months and then the venues have had to prove their viability and importance to the Arts Council in order to be awarded grants. As a result, the ability to fill forms and tick the right boxes has in many cases trumped the skills required to operate venues successfully – some of the best clubs and music venues are now trying to crowd-fund their continued existence.”
Swindells believes if these venues disappear we all lose, and for him it’s not just the big-name places that need saving. “We need small and medium-sized venues for new talent to emerge and hone their performance skills – and to provide opportunities for the creative teams of lighting, staging, sound, design and so on,” he says. “It’s hard to tell if the government is being intentionally clueless about all this or whether they’ve just got it in for the creative arts.”
Ibiza ‘89 captures some of the buzzing euphoria that’s been lost in 2020. For Swindells, he hopes people get a sense of the freedom of those sorts of places back then. “Especially in the case of Amnesia, [there was] a sense of wonder too that a club like that could operate without a VIP area and all the superclub trappings,” he says. “That has long since changed at Amnesia, but how great it was while it lasted that some people managed to jump over the wall to get in to party alongside Boy George, Fat Tony and continental royalty!”