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People at the beach in San Antonio, Ibiza.
People at the beach in San Antonio, Ibiza.
Ralf Niemczyk

SAN ANTONIO — It's a mild evening on Passeig de Joan Carlos I, opposite Ibiza's historic Old Town. The setting sun bathes Life Marina Ibiza, an apartment development designed by renown Paris architect Jean Nouvel, in a surreal sea of color. At the Madrigal Bar, Champagne cocktails are being prepared. At the roundabout by the Botafoch Marina, the B.E.Y.S. beauty salon beckons with tempting treatments for hair, skin and nails.

And just as it might in a presentation video, the sonorous hum of a Ferrari Testarossa emanates as the car pulls into a driveway. The slim, well-tanned legs of a woman emerge from the vehicle, and the unmistakable red soles of Christian Louboutin shoes confirm the impression that this part of Ibiza is not for package tourists.

The 2014 summer season is still in full swing, but there's already a preliminary winner in the ongoing competition to define the island, or "former hippy island," as some glossy magazines now characterize it. Paparazzi have their work cut out for them shooting pictures of the flashy crème de la crème — P. Diddy, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, Kate Moss, Justin Bieber or hotel heiress Paris Hilton.

But of course the Balearic isle still has many different sides to it. The town of Sant Antoni de Portmany with its cheap hotels (which are increasingly being razed or renovated) continues to be the noisy bastion of red-faced British ravers in West Ham United soccer jerseys. The legendary Café del Mar with its chilled-out vibe is something of an exception.

Once upon a time

It's no surprise that Café del Mar pioneer José Padilla once described Ibiza as an "English aircraft carrier." But it's a fast-disappearing image. In Platja de Ses Salines, bird watching is popular, as are guided walks through the rough landscape. In the quiet north around the beach resort of Portinatx, there is scarcely a trace of frenetic partying. International investment is concentrated around Ciudad de Ibiza and adjacent beach areas.

"The first sector to bounce back even after the massive economic crisis such as we've experienced in Spain is the luxury sector," says Gran Hotel director Raúl Sierra, noting that American guests select their hotels in large part based on broadband Internet availability. He says that on weekends in particular, Ibiza's airport doesn't have enough parking places for all the private planes, so they have to be parked temporarily on the Spanish mainland — usually Valencia, where guests use a helicopter service to fly them directly to dance clubs such as Pacha and Amnesia.

Ibiza's superclubs have long been a kind of "conveyor belt" for a new international elite born of electronic dance music. Probably nowhere else in the world is the commercial conversion of a leisure resort so narrowly tied to electronic forms of popular music. House and techno provide a soundtrack for the boom of vanities.

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At the Ushuaia Closing Party in Ibiza, in October 2010 — Photo: Federico Capoano

The key players are the club owners and party organizers, strident entrepreneurs who run decentralized pilgrimage venues such as Kilometro 5 on the country road to Sant Josep. And of course, record industry folks such as London-based Sven Väth, who, with his Cocoon Club, is basically running a traditional residency with a seasonal program of concerts. Väth will be joining the over-50s club this fall, but he has no intention of giving up his hedonistic role as head shaman for the party crowd.

Instead, as an Ibiza icon and old-school businessman, he criticizes the massive business interests of the new players, starting with the newly opened beachfront Hard Rock Hotel ("Ibiza, Love & Rock "n" Roll"). It's Europe's first, and the Rock Café group's profit-making is affecting the island's once free-floating vibe.

The old and the new

Ibiza war horses like Väth view appearances by American rap heavyweight Pitbull (Sept. 1) and British rock band Placebo (Sept. 12) with mixed feelings. It could be that the old Balearic Beats spirit feels foiled by the new Las Vegas-style showbiz strategies, but the fact is that in the summer of 2014 both posh ravers and new rockers can live — and dance — beside each other, no problem.

The stories about the old youth centers with their tea kitchens and billiard tables are still told. They are a part of Ibiza's trade-up tale, too.

Pacha, the disco with the cherry logo that opened in 1973, has undergone several different incarnations — from the psychedelic flower-power nights with DJ Piti to the "F*** ME (I'm Famous)" shows by French turntable multimillionaire David Guetta. Today the club is part of the Pacha Group that has franchises of the posh venue around the world as well as a designer hotel, boutiques, restaurants and event management.

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At the club Pacha in Ibiza, in 2013 — Photo: Bombman

Then and now

In the entrance area of Pacha, there's a black-and-white photograph dating back to the 1970s of a lonely white cube. It's an iconic photo that evokes Ibiza then and now. Into the 1990s, the local casino was a low-key neighbor located in the marshy reed terrain across from the Old Town. Today the rather unspectacular gambling mecca belongs to the multi-complex of the Gran Hotel Ibiza, opened in 2008, a mighty terraced concrete block that played a decisive role in getting construction of the marina land strip underway.

Inside, the retro-nuevo design looks like a Mad Men set. Vintage is in any case big — the soft-rock songs of the 1970s have been repackaged as "yacht rock" CD compilations and are perfect when played here, with the high heels of "Oh my dear" Englishwomen in fluttering dresses click-clacking along with the rhythm.

The yacht harbor across the way is the largest in the western Mediterranean. A spectacular boat painted anthracite gray is bobbing up and down gently in its moorings. The strawberry-red fender hanging down from the deck turns the luxury scene into an art exhibit. A small reception hosted by Sotheby's Realty will soon get underway at Puerto Deportivo.

A Düsseldorf broker is talking agitatedly on her rhinestone-covered smartphone. The ice cubes are rattling in her fig mojito, which, by the way, is this summer's hottest drink along the marina. Today on Ibiza. Tomorrow in the hipster metropolises of the world.

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