Finding the Feeling
International Feel's Mark Barrott is driven by many personal philosophies. But when it comes to Balearic, anything goes.
by Joshua P. Ferguson
If you take a survey of people involved in, close to, or inspired by Balearic music from its humble beginnings in the '80s to its rich, modern interpretations, you'll find yourself swimming in descriptions of sounds that cross styles, borders and decades. You’ll also find two things that remain consistent. One: Balearic music lives by one rule, and that's Anything Goes. Two: the sound was born in Ibiza, a Spanish Island paradise that remains its spiritual home to this day. Producer Mark Barrott has long felt the calling of the White Isle, as Ibiza's also known, and talking to him at length about the tropical destination and musical mecca, it’s undeniably his spiritual home too.
A self-described contrarian and the owner of the respected and expertly curated International Feel imprint, Barrott shares the Balearic scene’s rebellious nature. As a musician and label head, he also likes the space it gives artists to express themselves, a space he passes on to the artists that he signs. Catching up with Barrott over Skype from Ibiza, his home of the past two years, to learn more about his music, his label, and his thoughts on Balearicism, we found that while anything does go, there are also a lot of personal philosophies behind the man who’s become a sort of modern spokesman for Ibiza’s original music scene.
“It’s very much about personal freedom
and doing your own thing.”
The mentality of the Balearic scene has a way of hooking people. Its roots sprang from an exotic tropical island, and the scene that built up around it is storied as much for its wild eclecticism as it is for just being wild. At the same time, it’s super chill—especially by today’s standards. It’s music for sunsets and sunrises, sand and surf, for cold drinks and hot days. And, as Barrott explains it, it’s the context that ties it all together.
“A proper Balearic DJ can play a Front 242 record next to a house record next to a Wally Badarou record next to an ambient track next to a classical track next to a Ghanaian polyrhythmic track next to a techno track,” he says. “It all makes sense because of the context of the setting or the scene or the audience.” As an artist with wildly varied output, Barrott has always found this very enticing.
Outspoken with a mild British accent and youthful look about him, Barrott’s earliest releases were as Future Loop Foundation, a live drum & bass act that also pulled in heavy doses of ambient and chill out. More recently, the 46-year-old can be heard traversing tropical funk, breezy house, and lounge grooves, and doing so under a dozen or so different guises, including Rocha, Flights of Fancy, Boys from Patagonia, and the latest, The Young Gentleman’s Adventure Society. With this many voices, Barrott’s attraction to Balearicism is understandable, inevitable even. All the more so when you consider how much his long-running body of work skews towards chill out. Chill out and Balearic have always gone hand in hand as far as Barrott’s concerned, a fact he credits to legendary Ibiza DJ and famed Café Del Mar resident, José Padilla.
“Chill out music, or Balearic chill out music, didn’t exist before José Padilla, and what José Padilla did was contextualize this music,” Barrott says, returning to his point about context. “[Padilla] took bits of world music, Indian classical music, and put it next to European synth music like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze and weird other bits like Penguin Café Orchestra.”
Padilla’s style of selection flies in the face today’s standard of deejaying. Wildly inventive, he places songs side-by-side that would never otherwise go together. And it works. Couple that with Padilla’s preferred setting: seaside with a setting sun, and you’ve pretty much defined chill out, which is exactly what the Balearic originator did. In the process, Padilla also helped establish Balearic music’s reputation for deviating from the norm—something that, in Barrott’s eyes, the world could use more of.
“International Feel is this bastion against
the falsehood of modern society.”
Barrott describes the genesis moment for International Feel in terms as picturesque as the one that birthed the original Balearic scene. Shortly after moving to Punta Del Este, Uruguay where he lived from 2009 until his move to Ibiza, Barrott was cruising the Atlantic coast taking in the scenery and listening to Quiet Village’s Silent Movie while he waited for his shipping container to show up.
That’s also the idyllic version of the story. The label’s start was equally a product of the difficulty he had getting “Hands of Love,” his first release as Rocha, signed. The song became International Feel’s debut record—a 180-gram vinyl 12” with vintage map inspired artwork—and set the pace for the label’s track record of putting out small batch, collector-worthy releases that stand in opposition to over compressed, disposable digital music.
“There are two or three things that I’m very strong on that people are missing that modern society isn’t providing,” Barrott explains, the first of a number of astute—if colorful—insights he shared. “One of them is nuance, the second is subtlety, and the third one is a sense. There’s a very important sense that I think people are missing and that’s tactility, the importance of real things.” If he was going to take the plunge and do his own label, it would be done on his terms and that meant applying personal life philosophies from his strong work ethic to his creativity, passion, and drive to continually improve. Bespoke is the word that he settles on most often.
All of these qualities are embodied in his debut LP for the label, Sketches from an Island. Released last month, it is a lasting statement both inside and out, with gorgeous cover art that recall bird paintings from the Audubon Society and an expansive palette of sounds that draw from Padilla’s earliest days selling cassette mixtapes in Ibiza’s Es Canare and Las Dalias outdoor markets.
Like those early tapes, Sketches is a survey of sounds both retro and modern, from the new wave jungle adventure soundtrack “Dr. Nimm’s Garden of Intrigue & Delight” with its chirping field recordings and synth arpeggios to the sprawling tropical meditation “Formentera Headspace Blues Pt. 1 & 2” with its Hawaiian slide guitar, plucked thumb piano, and near-buried trip-hop rhythm.
“I really wanted to go back to that period and look at the pre-dawn of Balearic chill out and investigate those musical forms and give them context in a modern world,” Barrott says. “When everyone is making banging music and chill out is soundtracking hemorrhoid cream adverts, I wanted to go back before it became a genre and look at the disparate musical forms that Padilla provided context to, and really provide an album that had depth, and stood up to repeat listening.
“That’s really what we’re about as a label, keeping high quality and high standards,” he continues. “People do want real things and melody and music, and we’ve tapped into that.”
“People, in general, have been drip-fed just
enough happiness to keep them asleep.”
For Barrott, there’s a strong undercurrent that flows beneath an otherwise peaceful music that pulls us to a more pure way of living. When he talks about the part his label has played in being the antithesis to the homogenized, neon glowing EDM scene, his sense of pride is undeniable.
“At the start of dance music you had Guy Called Gerald making bizarre machine music, bastardizing the machines to do things they weren’t meant to do in a rat-infested squat in Manchester,” he says. “Now you have Avicii and Swedish House Mafia. [We’ve] resonated with a lot of people and long may that continue because the more pockets of guerilla resistance we have, we can create a cumulative force and the digitized 0 and 1 ringtones without melody, feeling, or soul that people think they need because they’ve been marketed that way will start to fall away.”
It’s this passion for substance and history that have helped International Feel sign some of underground dance music’s most respected names, artists like DJ Harvey—and his Locussolus project—and, as of this summer, Padilla himself. “Life is timing and synchronicity. It was just very good timing with José,” Barrott says. “You sometimes think with Padilla or Harvey, or these older guys, how relevant are they now? These guys have so much more to offer than some punk Scandinavian kid making corporate brand music and making Christ poses when he deejays. That’s not music, that’s just celebrity. When you’re speaking to someone like José Padilla, you’re getting 40 years of DJ experience. You can’t buy that.”
Judging by the success of International Feel’s catalog and the buzz around Barrott’s record—including a glowing review from respected online outlet Resident Advisor—it’s clear that there are a lot of people out there that can, and will, buy that. And while Balearic’s ‘anything goes’ appeal and balmy vibe may be what initially draw us in, it’s the craft and the care that keep us coming back around to hear where Barrott, International Feel, and even the artists that inspire him go next.