Sven Vath now occupies a unique position as dance music’s most effortlessly charismatic star and devoted practitioner of the ancient art of throwing the perfect, once-in-a-lifetime party. The closing night of this year’s seismic Cocoon stretch at Amnesia was simply one of the most emotional, inspiring and downright senses-detonating events it’s been my pleasure to experience in 45 years of going to see DJs playing records on sound systems.
Sven simply celebrated 15 years of running Ibiza’s most incendiary parties by throwing the best one ever, making sure that, like every Cocoon night, the bill was towering and the vibe at a premium high throughout, boosted by visuals and attention to detail.
Cocoon’s Monday (yes, Monday) club nights have been among the most successful of the season; a continued show of strength in today’s overcrowded dance market which laughs in the face of abominable recent developments which have swept the White Island recently and introduced elements completely at odds with Ibiza’s magical essence (Guetta life!).
As he prepares to celebrate his 50th birthday later this month, Sven’s visions, ambitions and legendary DJing skills seem to have clarified and matured with age. This time he was determined to re-emphasise the dancefloor ethos which Cocoon was built on, continuing to introduce new blood and innovation. Sven started Cocoon in 1999 after Amnesia’s Mar T let him throw his parties on a Monday; the one day of the week the club was closed. Sven says he was “excited and scared” but filled with “a strange sense of irrational confidence”. Now Cocoon can be considered the world’s leading electronic dance music celebration (with Richie Hawtin’s Enter. its next generation).
When I spoke to Sven earlier in the season, he said he was starting to get “scared at some of these huge smug eyes and faces gazing down at me from billboards wherever I went”, referring to the well-groomed, One Direction-style faces touting their nights everywhere you look after walking out of the airport. “It was time to give our club back to those that have made it what it is,” he declared. “All about the dancefloor, all about the people that come and inhabit it. Our mission will always be to make our parties something timeless and special and of course to present the greatest music and artists we can find. To move people in every way, their hearts, legs, soul, the lot.”
Luciano, now the island’s biggest DJ after scooping its DJ Awards, brought his Originals concept to the Terrace for eight dates, while lineups also included DJs associated with the club such as Villalobos, Hawtin, Adam Beyer, Mathias Kaden, Chris Liebing, plus Ilario Alicante, who Sven describes as “our new young star”.
Ilario was in full swing when me and my Cocoon veteran beloved Helen (who’s currently writing the definitive book on Ibiza’s decades-old clubbing story) edged into the main room at Amnesia. She tells me this club has the best sound system in the world and I’d certainly go along with that. Ilario is indeed an exciting young talent with a deadly knack for killer dynamics using bass as a weapon. When he brought in the lower frequencies, the ears became redundant flaps of skin on the side of the head as the bass became more like a heaving, booming space-monster pulsating heaven-wards from Satan’s scrotum in the Earth’s core; up through the legs, nether regions and stomach to somewhere in the rib-cage before napalming the noggin. Ilario was awesome and my pick to watch next year.
Next door in the Terrace, which had now drawn the biggest chunk of the six thousand or so delirious, smiling but always incredibly polite punters, Henrik Schwarz was traversing a subtler tech-house seam before Sven’s arrival around 4AM. With huge, illuminated Cocoon placards and another crystal clear, thermonuclear sound system stoking the magic, the vibe was already indescribable. When Sven came on it went through the roof.
When I first saw Sven in action at London’s Drum Club about 22 years ago he was already legendary for his beer consumption, sinking a whole crate during one of his epic sets. When I caught him again in Frankfurt a little while later his intake was astounding! But he still rocked the party in a way that managed to mix classic reference points with trailblazing new sounds, his larger-than-life character spilling out from behind the decks to make every punter on the dancefloor part of his fun, family and frolics. Now he practices the discipline he’s learned from Ayurveda between October and January (no meat, sugar, coffee or alcohol), Sven is firing on cylinders he probably didn’t know he had (and no need for a Portaloo under the decks any more, as regards a commonly asked question back then).
While the crowd went volcanic, Sven upped the atmsophere with highlights of the last year, including veteran house titan Lamont Booker’s ‘Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love’, Fur Coat’s ‘U Turn’ and MMM’s ‘Jack 7’ (showing how Basic Channel’s bottomless allure still resonates in techno), plus several classics from Cocoon’s lifetime.
At this point, it’s with enormous delight I can report that Sven was spinning vinyl (“I’m still a big supporter of vinyl and I simply cannot imagine DJing with anything else”, he said). Proper 12-inch singles, which he rummaged for, plucked from the record boxes stacked behind him, cued in and sometimes given a little rub. It does make all the difference, not least because he could interact and smile at the crowd (without even the tweak miming which distinguishes many DJs!). He wasn‘t about to ruin his unique bond with his crowd by looking like he’s more interested in checking his e-mails.
Around about six o’clock we dipped a toe into the action going on next door with Adam Beyer. While Sven was expertly steering his crowd to pressure cooker communal orgasms, that main room was heaving like Dante’s Inferno, the bass even louder and tempo more relentless. Another music in a different kitchen but still an unusually euphoric, if intense, tidal wave of banging techno liberation for the seriously headstrong.
Sven played for six hours at Amnesia, peak emotional moments reckoned to be his uncorking of Berlin new-blood David August’s ‘Epikur’ which, such is its widescreen emotional wallop, could have been recorded any time in the last 20 years, DJ Yellow & Flowers and Sea Creatures’ acid vocal tour de force ‘No One Gets Left Behind’ and Koze’s remix of Moderat’s ‘Bad Kingdom’. His last tune (at Amnesia anyway) was South African ‘Shangaan Electro’ pioneer Nozinja’s alien-sounding ‘Tselelele, complete with hectic drum patterns and ethno-chipmunk vocals. Bonkers enough to cap these proceedings before the party moved on to Destino, where Sven kept the smiles and cavorting going for quite a few hours yet.
All told, a remarkable climax to Cocoon’s brilliant season, explained by Sven as, “I always love what I’m doing. In the end, I think that’s what people feel. Ever since I started I’ve always tried to play the hottest, the newest and the most advanced electronic music.” Hopefully the annual The Sound Of The Season CD will be along soon, presenting these faves and scorchers as must-have souvenir for those lucky enough to have experienced the club this year and state of the nation address for electronic music for those that didn’t.
Finally, happy 50th birthday to Sven for October 25! Yes, there’s a party; at the Maimarkthalle, Mannheim. See you there…
Words: Kris NeedsPhotos: Phrank