Irvine Welsh: “The great characters of Ibiza make me feel at home on this island.”

Irvine Welsh Interview 2023

Ibiza is known to be frequented by headline-grabbing names and the so-called ‘glitterati’. Yet, it’s not often you find yourself in the company of genuine pop culture royalty.

Checking in for the 2023 edition of annual music and culture pop-up Beat Hotel, which brings together creatives from all over the world in the eclectic melting pot of Ibiza, Irvine Welsh is paying a visit to the White Isle – and we are honoured to be given a few minutes of his time.

We meet the renowned Scottish author the day after his birthday, during which he spent some time with Rowetta of the Happy Mondays and her former bandmate Bez’s son, and ended up dancing the night away at San Antonio superclub Eden.

Having played a poolside session at Las Mimosas, the physical manifestation of the Beat Hotel for this year, we catch the Trainspotting author in the jewel-hued Green Room at hip Ibiza Town hotspot The Standard. A highlight in this year’s five-day Beat Hotel programme, he is set to hold a talk on the venue’s atmospheric rooftop later that night, served up alongside a delectable dinner prepared by chef Brad Carter.

Sipping on a Margarita with a generously salted rim, he openly, honestly and modestly tells us about White Island adventures past, his new venture as a record label owner, and why he fights with Underworld’s Darren Emerson over who plays “Born Slippy” during DJ sets… 

Irvine Welsh Interview 2023

How long have you been coming to Ibiza?

I think I first came here in 1985. It was before house music had arrived on the island, and it was less ‘packaged’ than it is now. A friend of mine and his girlfriend had gone the year before and they went on and on about it, so I came with a bunch of pals to stop him in his tracks. The only way I could shut the f**cker up was to go and see for myself!

It was a more alternative choice back then; the package holidayers went to Mallorca and the hippy crowd went to Ibiza. And then came Acid House and changed everything.

What was that first trip like?

Four of us went, and we booked a finca in the North of the island and it was such a great holiday. That part of the island is so wild and the coastline is so dramatic, and that’s when I really saw the beauty of it. But we also went to San Antonio for the entertainment and it was just full on. It was fabulous to go between the two.

Ibiza has attracted artists and musicians for many decades. Do you find inspiration here?

Yeah, the people here, the great Ibiza characters like Tony Pike or Javier from Café Mambo, made me feel right from the start that this is my kind of place. Everytime I come here there’s always someone I haven’t seen in a while, and Ibiza has become like a second home to me.

You have been part of the Pikes Ibiza Literary Festival in the past, what was your connection to the late Tony Pike like?

Tony was just a great raconteur, and he made everyone feel so welcome. He made you feel like Pikes was your place, basically. He was truly larger than life, everybody knew him and everybody liked him. It never felt like staying at a hotel, you always felt like you were staying at a pal’s house.

Having witnessed the glory days of Ibiza’s clubbing scene, how do you feel the island has changed?

The entertainment industry here has become much more regulated, which is partly to do with the council, but also the commercialisation of dance music on a larger scale. You have a lot of big-name hotels now and the clubs are super high-tech, but you can still see the magic of Ibiza when you drive away from all that and you come across a little beach bar where people are playing music. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun when you’re in a super club and you’re off your t**s, but I love finding the authentic places.

Talking about playing music, you DJed at the Beat Hotel poolside session today. What was the vibe like?

As it was an afternoon pool party, I went for a quite lowkey, disco kind of feel. Nothing too full on, but I’ve got a record label that I started last year to bring out my own stuff. So I mainly try to play a lot of my own productions. My music partner Steve and I have built quite a body of work and we have a lot of great remixes of our stuff, so it’s working out quite well. 

Trainspotting – the movie – has such an iconic soundtrack… But can you still listen to Underworld’s “Born Slippy”?

Every time I play a set, especially if it’s in a club at night, the crowd goes ‘one more tune, one more tune’… and then, ‘Born slippy, born slippy’. It was great today because nobody asked for it. Sometimes I play with Darren Emerson, and if I open for him he’ll ask me, ‘who’s going to play it?’. And we both go, ‘you take it!’ But it’s a signature tune now, and we just have to do it.

Irvine Welsh DJing

What made you want to start your own record label?

What happened was that Steve [Mac, his musical partner] and I were making all this music, and we basically started the label to bring out our own stuff. And, you know, Jon Carter is a friend and he was kind of huge in the ‘90s and early 2000s, but he stopped and opened a hotel. So when he wanted to get back into music, we brought his stuff out on our label. 

We also have Serge Santiago and Lisa Moorish, and in one year, we put out 30 singles and five albums. Next year, we’re going to bring out physical product and expand our gigs from beyond Brighton [in Sussex, England] to nationwide. 

We’ve got a real mix of old ‘90s heads who have come back into it and young DJs and producers with a massive Instagram presence and huge WhatsApp groups. And when you put the two together, you’ve got a really interesting business. 

We’ve got our offices in Brighton and there’s five of us now, so it’s growing quite solid. It’s great fun, but it takes up a lot of time. And the thing is, we’re not really bothered about making a lot of money because we’ve all got our day jobs.

Was it a steep learning curve to run a record label?

Yeah, we’re absolutely clueless! My partners – Steve who is doing the Trainspotting musical with me, and Carl Laben, the editor of DJ Magazine – and I, what we know about business you could write on a postage stamp. 

But you do learn, and you try to have some common sense about you. And we’re really lucky because we have some good people around us that help us out because they believe in what we’re doing.

It’s important to have a good team around you!

Music is the most collaborative art form ever, so you have to really be able to get on. We’ve all been pals for years so we all trust each other and there’s nobody there with a massive ego, it just works, and there’s nobody who is a massive pain in the arse. We’re just having a lot of fun.

And where do you go crate digging when you’re looking for music outside of your own productions?

On Bandcamp, usually. I feel like a bit of an imposter but I don’t really play vinyl anymore. When I started in the ‘90s I used to walk around with cases of records, but now I can just carry my USB stick and headphones, and it’s just great.

What came first, the writing or the DJing?

Well, I’ve always been into music and I’ve always been into reading and writing, so they both came around the same time. Probably I started to write a little bit before, but not in a serious way. And back then, I was also a mad record collector, and that’s what a DJ was – the person who had the most records. Most of the DJs of my generation that I know all started out just playing records at the clubs, and then they got more into it as the technology advanced.

But I stopped DJing for a while when, in the ‘90s, the books started taking off. And a writer’s hours are completely different to a DJ’s hours! As a DJ, I’d just be coming home at the time when I should start writing.

How did you get back into playing music?

I had moved to Miami and I got asked to play at a pool party. Arthur Baker had put all this stuff on a USB stick for me and said, “Come and play some records” at a music conference. And I thought, “This is great, I can get up at 6am and put in a good writing shift, have a nice lunch to myself, go and play some records by a pool, and come home for dinner and sit in with my mug of cocoa.” It’s the best of both worlds!

There’s much to be said for a daytime party!

It’s just fabulous. And you find as you get older, you just can’t mess with your sleep patterns like you used to.

Last question… When you have time off in Ibiza, where do you like to go?

I love the Chiringuito Cala Gracioneta, one of Javier’s spots.It’s a beautiful setting and it’s quite close to Pikes as well. You could just sit there all afternoon and eat and drink, and you get a bunch of good people around there. It’s just fabulous.

For more information on the travelling Beat Hotel event series and its next pop-up visit www.beat-hotel.com or follow on Instagram at @beat_hotel.

Beat Hotel Ibiza
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