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SKETCHES FROM AN ISLAND BY MARK BARROTT
KEYBOARDIST AND GUITARIST MARK BARROTT CREATES EXQUISITE CHILL MUSIC
Sketches From An Island
Although Mark Barrott is well-known in the worldwide underground eclectic dance scene as the owner-entrepreneur and key musical force behind the highly-regarded International Feel label, he also is emerging as a major chillout recording artist and one of the world’s top proponents of the “balearic music” sound as evidenced by his new album, Sketches From an Island.
The island is Ibiza (pronounced ee-beez-uh), one of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain, where Barrott now lives and creates music. This album contains a variety of chillout music ranging from gently-pulsating dance beats and melodious grooves to new age relaxation and even the sounds of birds. For more information, go to www.sketchesfromanisland.com or facebook.com/internationalfeelrecordings. The album is primarily available as a digital recording at sites such as iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/sketches-from-an-island/id828387280), but a small number of CDs are available at select online stores.
Barrott -- who was raised in Sheffield in Northern England -- first made a musical impact in the early Nineties with a series of recordings under the name Future Loop Foundation which started with a drum-and-bass sound, but evolved to include more atmospherics (“it was basically ambient music with break beats”). Continuing to involve himself with music in various ways, Barrott moved to Germany, to Italy, back to Berlin, and finally to Uruguay where in 2008 he started his own record company, International Feel Recordings, that became infamous for issuing great balearic music, releasing at least one recording every month like clockwork, and pressing the singles and EPs on thick high-quality vinyl.
Looking for a remix master, Barrott lured DJ Harvey (whom Rolling Stone magazine in 2012 called one of the Top 25 most influential DJs in the world) out of studio retirement for his genre-defying Locussolus project. Harvey, who was the resident DJ at numerous top London dance clubs for many years, had occasionally traveled to Ibiza for guest DJ stints and was familiar with that scene. Barrott spent the next three years releasing other new music on his label by important acts such as Quiet Village, Gatto Fritto and the Italian cosmic disco don Daniele Baldelli. But Barrott also has always been interested in making music himself and since moving to Ibiza in 2012, he has been releasing music on International Feel under the names Rocha, Bepu N’Gali, Flights of Fancy, Boys from Patagonia and The Young Gentleman’s Adventure Society. The releases covered house music, Afrobeat and proper downtempo balearic, and all quickly sold out and became highly collectible. But additionally Barrott also has been involved in a variety of chillout music projects which led him to collaborate with Michael Conn on a new age album, Inner Harmony (Music for Mind, Body & Pilates) on the New World Music label in 2012.
Barrott took piano lessons as a child, progressed to organ and finally got a Roland synthesizer when he was 13. “I grew up with Human League and Cabaret Voltaire and all of that kind of stuff, and I just had a fascination with synthesizers. I saw Kraftwerk perform on their Computer World tour and I never looked back. When I was a teenager playing in bands, acid house took off and there was a real Do-It-Yourself ethos about it, and I loved that expression of control. I had a real love for ambient and chillout music that led me to Steve Reich and then on to John Cage and Philip Glass and the Orb stuff which inspired me to do the Future Loop Foundation.” His first album on his own label sold more than 35,000 copies and propelled him into touring the U.K.
“One thing I have noticed in recent years is that the large clubs and dance rooms in Ibiza and throughout Europe are far more intense than they ever were before, yet there’s no chillout spaces. The music mix doesn’t allow for chill time. I am quite interested in that early Nineties ambient scene, and especially how in Ibiza they brought such a wide variety of music into it.”
Ibiza has a long history as a refuge for many different cultures and nationalities. After World War II it became a popular tourist destination and from the Seventies onward the island has built an international reputation as one of the top summer dance scenes in the world with both indoor clubs and outdoor music events that often start at 10 p.m. and last until 6 a.m. To accommodate the all-night parties, DJs in the Eighties began playing whatever new music was available which led to an eclectic blend of international sounds that became known as balearic-beat and was eventually exported to British and American clubs. Besides the energetic dance/disco music, some of Ibiza’s DJs worked ambient, downtempo and softer grooves into their sets, especially at sunset or sunrise, and this music evolved into chillout music, sometimes referred to as balearic chillout, balearic trance or lounge music, or simply balearic (to differentiate it from the harder-edged balearic-beat). In all cases, the defining factor of the music was its “freestyle expression, sharp turns and a healthy disrespect for style conformity,” according to the musicologists, or “anything goes” or “whatever fits, fits,” as described by some of the DJs themselves.
“The reason I started International Feel as a balearic label,” says Barrott, “was for the very reason that it left it wide open musically. In a music set, for example, you can play a house track next to a new age tune next to a Compass Point B-Side next to an industrial track from Belgium, and it all works. The first DJs to champion this style were Jose Padilla and his historic Sunset DJ Sets at Cafe Del Mar and Alfredo with his legendary sets at Amnesia. They did it simply because they had to fill large time slots and needed as much music as possible, so they played whatever was available. Ibiza at this period in the Eighties had some beautiful open-air dance clubs like KU and you would find European aristocrats on the dance floor next to construction workers from London next to Freddie Mercury.”
Barrott explains that “Sketches From an Island takes its influences from the music that came together to form early balearic chillout music. Jose Padilla created many trends starting in the Eighties. In those days, certain styles of music existed in isolation -- Eno, Vangelis, Vollenweider, Compass Point, Steve Reich, Tangerine Dream, Penguin Cafe Orchestra and various new age and world music artists. Jose contextualized all these styles with both his Sunset DJ Sets and by blending the music on tapes that he sold in Las Dalias, the Hippy Market near San Carlos on Ibiza. The context that he created became known as chillout and eventually the compilations he put together for a record company in London sold millions of copies worldwide. Sketches From an Island takes its references from all these varied musical forms that came before and aims to contextualize its own version of balearic chillout. This album is what I think balearic sounds like.”
Recorded in Ibiza’s northern hills using “weird percussion, some slide guitars and a few borrowed synths,” the album is a melodic and mysterious representation of a place steeped in a rich and rebellious history. The music paints a picture of the island, the people and the magnetic beauty that pulses through it. “Baby Come Home” radiates with carefree tropical sounds and upbeat instrumental harmonies. The blues-soaked melody of “Essene” navigates the tension between heart-bursting happiness and melancholy. Barrott describes “Go Berri Be Happy” as “Prefab Sprout gone to Ghana.” He says “Formentera Headspace Blues” is comprised of “color-smudged hazy-emotions that are free-flowing and that swirl somewhere between the sounds and vibes of Brian Eno, Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Compass Point.” Before completing the entire album, Barrott pressed 500 copies of Sketches 1 as an EP on vinyl and it sold out in two hours. A special edition 12-inch created for innovative retailer LN-CC sold out in two-minutes.
In 2014 a new generation of DJs, bloggers, house heads and Ibiza-lifestyle fans are embracing the “into-everything” mentality that marked the original balearic-beats music. Now Mark Barrott’s new balearic music is not only propagating the classic aspects of Ibiza’s historic sound, but at the same redefining and expanding it for a new generation.