Brief History of Time …Ku & Privilege

By Stan Farrow

I used to love getting the Guinness World Records encyclopaedia for Christmas. I would eagerly unwrap the obviously shaped present and sit cross-legged on the floor looking for hours at pictures of the longest toe-nails or the most dangerous ant in the world. I admit that I’m not so much of an avid reader as I used to be aged 9, but there are two current records on huge clubs that interest me. The first is for the longest usable golf club – a 14 foot, 5 inch driver invented by a 49 year-old Dane – and the second is for the World’s biggest nightclub still held by Privilege in Ibiza, which regularly held a full capacity of 10,000 people packing into Manumission in the late 90s. The club has not been filled to the rafters in recent years, but if you take into account that the maximum capacity of Pacha is 3,000 and Amnesia is 5,000, you can get an idea of how big the club actually is and how well any event does that can come even close to filling it.

Rewind almost 50 years to the early 1970s and in place of the sprawling clubbing mecca, the plot only contained a small restaurant with a swimming pool just a stone’s throw from the iconic San Rafael church and with fantastic views towards Ibiza Town. In the late 70s, entrepreneur and former footballer, José Antonio Santamaría, decided to expand on his Ku club concept born in San Sebastian and purchased the restaurant to open his new Ku Club in Ibiza.

Santamaría didn’t waste time in expanding his club. With the help of Brasilio de Oliviera (responsible for La Troya) and a plethora of creative geniuses, Ku’s party concepts would lead the club to become the place to be in the ‘80s for the European rich and famous. They would regularly dress to excess at the themed nights and would partake in the insane hedonistic lifestyle that only Ibiza offers. As well as the debauched parties such as Babylonia, Fiesta de Brazil and Somos Como Niños, Ku was the first club in Ibiza to really promote live acts. The highlights include Spandau Ballet performing on stage in 1981, Kid Creole & The Coconuts in 1986 and Grace Jones in 1989. It was also the building where the video to “Barcelona” by long-time Ibiza lover Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé was filmed on 29 May 1987.

During this hedonistic era, the original swimming pool area and restaurant now had the addition of a dance floor and a stage with a number of bars littered around the plant-ridden open-air area. The famous Coco Loco bar and all of the bars in the Garden, which served the likes of Valentino, Gaultier, Mercury and Bowie, are still in the same places today.

Strangely, whilst Amnesia and Pacha really hit their stride at the end of the 80s with the introduction of house music, Ku faltered. New laws on sound pollution required the huge space to have a roof installed, a mammoth undertaking for a club of this size. The initial roof collapsed in 1990 and had to be rebuilt which crippled owner Santamaría. He had a particularly bad run for the next few years as he was implicated in narcotics and cigarette smuggling and bribery cases. Then, whilst dining in a restaurant in San Sebastian in 1993, a young man posing as a waiter shot and killed him. Police at the time believed that Santamaría’s close friendship with a leading Basque politician, Jose Maria ‘Txiki’ Benegas may have motivated the assassination and put the blame on the ETA.

Ku lost its mojo and clientele in the early part of the 90s. The other clubs in Ibiza took advantage of the electronic music revolution, whilst Ku lumbered along behind not quite knowing what it was anymore. It wasn’t until 1994 that the English promoters who were now flooding the island made a success of the mammoth space. Cream did some early events here, but it was Manumission and their carnival-like parties that managed to give life to the sleeping beast.

In 1995 the new owner, José María Etxaniz, changed the name from Ku to Privilege and the flagship night, Manumission, went from strength to strength. The sex show, which only happened in the first few years, caused ripples in the media and led to a tsunami that blew Ibiza away. The overdose of costumed entertainers and the outrageous production were lapped up by the 10,000 clubbers who made the weekly pilgrimage. There was always something going on – Fatboy Slim DJing in the toilets, the Shin Jin Rui acrobats flying through the air, the random Cabaret shows or the skate park erected in the back room were just some of the insane backdrops to possibly the most ridiculous and excessive night ever in Ibiza.

After 15 years of providing the masses with a consistently bacchanalian experience, Manumission packed up shop and left a void that has since been difficult to fill. It may have already been mentioned, but the club is BIG and even with the success of SuperMartXé on Fridays, the club has not seen the same numbers from its late ‘90s heyday. The club owners accepted this fact and decided to split the space into two. The back room had a makeover, particularly with the installation of a spanking new sound system and the room has become the ‘Vista Club’, providing ‘proper’ music to the more discerning clubber. It’s a stroke of genius and one of the best spaces currently in Ibiza. It’s intimate and the sound is incredible, plus it still has that view towards the sunrise – the same view that the first clubbers coming through Ku marvelled at albeit with windows now.

In fact there are still elements of Ku everywhere in the club – the swimming pool is original, the layout is the same, the Coco Loco is still there, and if you take a moment to absorb the vastness of the club you might just find the spirit of Ku. Just don’t look at the roof.

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