What does the Balearic Sound mean to you?
Ever since my early days as a host, introducing renowned Italian DJs, I have always been fascinated by this term. Moreover, the creation of this mini-documentary has inspired me to explore it further.
Whenever I delve into the world of music genres, I find great joy in discovering their historical roots to truly grasp their essence. It was through Luca Bernascone’s kind introduction that I had the privilege of meeting Leo Mas.
Leo Mas played a crucial part in the creation of the Balearic Sound. Between ’85 and ’88, he and Alfredo set the agenda for Balearic Beat at Ibiza`s Amnesia.
His unique warm-up sessions captivated a wide range of music lovers around the globe, serving as the catalyst for one of the most influential movements in DJ history, which Leo Mas describes it as more than just a genre: “The Balearic Sound is a state of mind”.
A few months back, I had the opportunity to (virtually) meet Leo and delve into his experiences during a significant time in his life and his start at Amnesia.
In Conversation with Leo Mas
Let’s begin by exploring your musical journey. Can you share one of your earliest memories related to music? I’m curious about where it all began for you and what sparked your interest.
As a child, my introduction to music came from the songs my mother played on our black-and-white television, the radio, and my father’s record collection. Her personal favourites were Celentano. Even at ten years old, I was already purchasing my own 45s. Music has always been a constant companion in my life. There is something truly special about revisiting songs that you listened to years ago; it brings back memories and evokes a certain flavour and magic that can be enjoyed.
During that time, was there an artist who resonated with you the most?
Absolutely. I can say that Lucio Battisti was my absolute favourite, though I must also mention Mina and Celentano as well. My very first 45-record purchase was by Lucio Battisti. There used to be a radio program called Hit Parade, where they played the top ten hits in Italy, and I vividly remember rushing home from school so that I could listen to it.
When did you first get involved in the DJ profession?
I began my DJ journey relatively late compared to my colleagues, starting at the age of 27.
It’s interesting to note that becoming a DJ wasn’t even on my radar initially.
My disinterest in nightclubs stemmed from political reasons, as I was already actively involved in politics by the time I turned 15. I was active in far-left groups. Back then, those who listened to disco and frequented clubs in the mid-70s were associated with fascist ideologies, which didn’t resonate with me. Instead, I gravitated towards festivals and alternative events that veered away from mainstream culture.
At one point, I even aspired to be a musician myself during the early 80s when I played bass guitar for a band. This period introduced me to two influential figures: Massimo Spinosa and Ares Tavolazzi – both exceptional bassists in their own right. Unfortunately, major record labels showed little interest in emerging bands like ours back then, leading me to stop playing altogether. Meanwhile, friends within the fashion world started asking me to provide music for fashion shows – all thanks to my extensive vinyl collection. It wasn’t until 1984 that everything changed. That was the year when my friends forcibly brought me to Formentera, where I had the chance to meet Alfredo, the DJ of Amnesia in Ibiza.
How did you meet Alfredo?
I met Alfredo during my visit to Formentera, introduced by a mutual friend.
It was on August 14, 1984.
That year marked his debut at Amnesia, which was not as prominent as the Pacha and Ku (which later transformed into Privilege). His purpose for being there was to promote the foam party scheduled for August 15th at Amnesia. In a rush to catch the ferry, I drove him to ensure he wouldn’t miss it. Before my trip to Formentera, I had prepared some cassette tapes with recordings of music that I personally curated. While listening to my music during our car ride together, he asked:
Whose music is this?
To which I responded:
At one point during our journey, we also played Sade’s newly released album in Italy.
Through my friend’s introduction, I discovered that Alfredo had plans to relocate to Milan after concluding the summer season in Ibiza. When he arrived, I decided to host him at my house for the entire winter of 1984. During that period, I purchased records directly from distributors rather than from retail stores.
Fortunately, a close friend of mine happened to know the owner of the biggest distributor in Milan, where all the shops sourced their records.
With my friend’s connection, I had the opportunity to visit and purchase records at wholesale prices. It was a delightful experience for me, and I brought Alfredo along with me. At that place, we purchased numerous records that have become iconic examples of the Balearic Sound.
It seems like you ended up in Ibiza unexpectedly…
Sure, sure, I had no desire to go. Let’s just say that my arrival in Ibiza was fun. When I looked at the port, I thought to myself:
This place is incredibly commercialized.
It was noon, and my initial impression wasn’t positive at all. However, later on, we ended up at this renowned bar by the port called Montesol, where we met our friend who knew Alfredo. We sat down together and enjoyed some drinks. At one point during our conversation, he mentioned that he hadn’t even slept yet. This took me by surprise, and I asked him how that was possible. He replied that he had been to a party and then hopped between different clubs throughout the night.
This whole concept of experiencing nightlife in this way, was something completely new to me.
After staying with Alfredo that winter, I decided to travel to Ibiza the following year again. Amnesia would open at midnight and close at nine in the morning. The club had an outdoor setting where people danced under the sun. During those early days, he would play a cassette tape while we went to visit Pacha and Ku – it was during my visit to Pacha that I saw my first cubist artwork. One day I said to Alfredo:
Instead of going on this visit to the discos, which I didn’t enjoy much, if you want I’ll stay here and play some music at the beginning.
Alfredo told me to put on what I wanted. Amnesia didn’t fill up until three, but after three, it was full. Since I was a little sad because there was no one dancing, I said to him:
But listen, what if I take some records, albums from home, yours and then from the Amnesia archive?
During that period, the records were purchased by the club owners. Although the DJ had the freedom to select them, once chosen, they stayed within the confines of the club. As a result, there were also records from previous years in rotation.
In truth, I discovered a few songs and began incorporating them into my set.
Did you begin your journey from the Amnesia archive?
Regarding amnesia and Alfredo’s music at home, I used to play soundtracks. During my time in Spain, I developed a keen interest in exploring the history of Spanish music, particularly flamenco. I became deeply passionate about Paco De Lucia and started playing his music, along with other alternative Spanish bands like Radio Futura, at the start of each evening at Amnesia. I would play a blend of genres, including Reggae, Jazz, Soul and funk.
Was there a particular track that you frequently played which seemed to resonate with the crowd? Perhaps you remember it?
When people entered, I created a musical atmosphere. After a few days, the owner asked Alfredo if I played music for airports. Alfredo responded by telling him to leave me alone and let me do what I wanted. Playing dance music when there are only ten people may not be the most uplifting experience. However, the venue had multiple bars, about five or six. It also had a billiard table. Very kitschy.
So, when did people start referring to it as Balearic Sound?
The starting point is 1987. In the previous year, we had already made a collective decision to focus more on House music.
It was during this specific year that Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway, Johnny Walker, and Nancy Noise (who had been a regular visitor to Amnesia since 1986) made their debut at Amnesia, accompanied by Trevor Fung, a Londoner who owned a bar in San Antonio.
The English typically stayed in Sant Antonio and had never been to a club in Ibiza before. The experience they had at Amnesia made a lasting impression on them. It was unique to be able to dance on the floor with the Prince of Monaco, Grace Jones, or even just an employee from Milan – there was something for everyone. And it was all done in a very free and unrestricted way.
Amnesia’s sound also differed from what the English were used to. Up until that point, they hadn’t really listened to House Music, so everything played there was new and exciting for them. Additionally, there was a mix of music from all over Europe and beyond – something that they hadn’t experienced before as well since previously they only played English or American music. They weren’t interested in exploring anything outside of their own musical world. While Alfredo and I were playing music from various European countries such as Germany, Belgium, Holland, Italy, and Spain, Paul Oakenfold approached me multiple times asking about Elkin and Nelson’s Jibaro.
This particular track was one of the popular hits that we purchased in Milan.
Interestingly enough, Paul decided to cover Jibaro the following autumn in 1988. During this time, both Paul and Danny Rampling wanted to recreate their amazing experiences at Amnesia in London. As a result, Paul started Future, and Danny started Shoom – both venues that significantly influenced the English scene. And because the lighthouse was in London at that time, it caused a significant change in the world. In September 1988, we were introduced to something called “Balearic Beat” by Paul Oakenfold. It was during what would later be known as “The Second Summer of Love”. Oakenfold came with a compilation that caught our attention because all the tracks on it were records we had been playing.
That’s when we realized that what we were playing had been given the name Balearic Beat. It all started there.
I feel that Spanish music was one of the biggest influences on the Balearic Sound. Am I right?
Not only is the mix of things that created the genre, but the genre is a mix of many genres. So is Daniele Baldelli’s Cosmic. Different genres were used, but not many more. And then Baldelli had a limit that never exceeded 120 bpm. Ours was a much freer sound.
You mentioned Baldelli. There’s a question I wanted to ask you because one of the first books that I read regarding music is the book written by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton. I consider it one of the best music history books I’ve ever read – Last Night a DJ Saved My Life.
Then, he also made a new edition. Anyway, yes, but I don’t think I’m ever mentioned in that book. Alfredo didn’t tell him about me.
In fact, I wanted to ask you. The book contains a chapter specifically focused on the Balearic Sound, discussing its origins in Ibiza and drawing comparisons to both the Belgian scene and, most notably, Italy. Within this chapter, the author begins by addressing the Italian scene, with their first statement being: “Perhaps the strangest Balearic scene of all was Italy’s afro-cosmic movement”. And this is quite fascinating. What are your thoughts on this?
For me, the Plastic in Milan was a cosmic experience.
Let me tell you something else. Nicola Guiducci, compared to Baldelli, who was known for his precise mixing skills, didn’t really care about that. He would stop the records whenever he felt like it; strangely enough, it had the same impact on the crowd. Interestingly, many elements found in Cosmic Sound can also be categorised under what they call Balearic Sound.
What is your opinion on the Balearic Sound genre in Italy?
In Europe, we were pioneers in playing 3 hours of House Music in Ibiza. As early as the winter of ’87, there were initial indications of this trend emerging in Italy. I had the opportunity to perform at Macrillo, which was considered Italy’s first historic “Balearic Club” located in Asiago. At that time, Diabolika and Echoes did not yet exist. It is important to note that many Italians also visited Ibiza during this period. Mauro Bondi stands out as he has been hosting Ibiza parties at Pineta, which began in the mid-1980s – a renowned venue located in Milano Marittima.
All the DJs from Ibiza performed and attracted fans from Riccione, who flocked to listen to them. While there hasn’t been a significant evolution within the genre itself, Clubs and sounds have evolved over time with a greater emphasis on House music. Another noteworthy development occurred when Jose Padilla started playing at Café del Mar from 1991 onwards.
This introduced another interpretation of the Balearic Sound different from what was previously understood.
Do you have a standout memory from your time in Ibiza during the 1980s?
Reflecting on the year 1987, when this revolution began, little did we know what would unfold from that point onwards. We were unknowingly becoming advocates and leading players in a musical revolution that continues to thrive even today, and it introduced unconventional musical phenomena that were previously on the fringes of mainstream recognition. That summer, when I listened to tracks like Phuture – Acid Track, it felt like listening to Punk music—a genre-breaking experience that defied expectations and started a movement.
This phenomenon propelled unknown DJs towards recording in small home studios using equipment like keyboards, electronic drums, and samplers – equipment that larger studios had already discarded – and climbing up the charts, breathing new life into Dance Music just as Punk had done for Rock back in ’77 ten years prior. These are the moments I fondly reminisce about, and there is one specific moment etched deeply within my memory. When we performed House Nation, a House song, I witnessed an incredible sight – everyone raising their hands in the air. My reaction was immediate:
It was such a breathtaking and memorable moment. I had never experienced anything like it before. The crowd genuinely enjoyed whatever music we played and were there to have fun simply.
Leo, thank you so much for this fantastic conversation about the Balearic Sound.
Sure, you’re welcome.
I’m highly grateful for having the chance to sit down with Leo, as he was really generous and open to sharing about his life and the time he spent in Ibiza in the mid-80s. Back to my initial question, I felt really connected to what he said about the Balearic Sound musically.
Speaking of, I asked Leo to compile a list of tracks to describe the Balearic Sound.
I am curious, which track do you believe represents the essence of the Balearic Sound for you?
In addition, listen to this Podcast Episode: The Birth Of Italy’s Acid Jazz Scene w/ Nicola Conte
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