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Manumission creators Mike and Claire on the past and present

We chatted to the Manumission duo about their new party concept EGO taking over Thursdays at Lío.

Ibiza is an island famous for many things. Its cultural status as the party capital of the world, with leading venues and the hottest parties. Its dreamy sunsets. Its climate and gastronomy. The list goes on and on.

If there's been one thing that helped cement the island's lasting legend, it could very well be its characters. For such a small island, there's no shortage of them. Mike McKay and Claire Davies are a couple who form part of the island's historic alumni. They're as iconic as they come.

The couple is back in 2018 with their brand new party extravaganza EGO. It's their own unique twist on the classic tale of Romeo and Juliet. The concept occupies glitzy Pacha-owned Lío on Thursday nights from 7 June to 27 September.

Naturally, they add their own decadent, dare we say risque, personal stamp on the production. Think Shakespeare with exquisite pole dancers, contortionists, balletic acrobats, innuendos, expletives and haute couture to get an idea. Their daughter even plays the role of Juliet.

Plus an enviable list of guest DJs take part. These include Colin Peters, Pippi, Jon Sa Trinxa, Nightmares On Wax, Pillowtalk and Lovebirds, making each date unique.

Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the controversial Manumission Motel, we sat down with the legendary couple to learn more about the show.


PROLOGUE

O'IBIZA: BACK TO THE BEGINNING

Mike and Claire are affable and the conversation flows. It's unsurprising to learn that they have stories for days! Chat turns to the Manumission Motel. The debauched venture earned a level of infamy as wild as its namesake party.

Mike and Claire explain how they came to acquire the former brothel and recount numerous anecdotes: the bevvy of Puerto Rican strippers from New York who frequented the property, having to ban journalists and cameras to protect the celebrity guests and the conveyor belt of A-list DJs who rolled through the doors.

We could do this for hours...days even, but what we're really here to discuss is Mike and Claire's EGO.

EGO is their new party for 2018. What was it that made them choose Lío, the stylish, high-end cabaret and fine dining experience located at Marina Botafoch on the former site of El Divino?

Claire: “It all happened very organically. We congratulated an old friend Enrique Mandl on becoming general manager of Lío. He used to come to Manumission back in the day. Pretty much instantly, he said we should do something here... 'Ibiza needs you.'”

Mike: “What he said was that there were no real parties with any concept anymore. And he said he'd love it if we were to come and do something. So of course, I said we'd come and talk. And then that led to us returning to Ibiza.”

Claire: “As it turns out, it is the perfect venue for us at this stage of our lives. It's professionally run and beautiful; plus it has an amazing team. After having done the big main stage spectacle, we get to come back here and have a really fun, intimate party.

If you were lucky enough to come back to the Manumission Motel many years ago, you would've experienced that around this size. When EGO is rocking the vibe of the dance floor is reminiscent of The Motel strip joint.

We actually designed the party in that way. Our aim was to create a surrealist, deconstructed Motel. Wandering past the graffiti, dancing on the bed, the archive footage playing on the screens, the miniature motel with a pole coming out of the roof.”


ACT 1

PLOT DEVELOPMENT

Romeo and Juliet are two star-crossed lovers destined by fate to collide together. We wonder if Mike and Claire's choice of story was a deliberate nod to Ibiza's magnetic properties, and its habit of throwing relationships together, whether that be lovers, friends or business partners.

CD: “I wonder if it was even a subconscious link because even how we got to do the party at all was a bit like that. Fate brought us here.”

MM: “This grew very organically. We were creating a concept for the bullring in Barcelona, but it wasn't to be. Unfortunately, we couldn't see it through to fruition. When Lío approached us, the topic of EGO was still at the front of our mind."

CD: “First, we fell in love with the name EGO for Lío - especially for us!”

MM: “We liked a three letter word. It was perfect.”

CD: “Initially, we weren't planning at all on doing anything like Romeo and Juliet. Originally, it was just going to be bold and very fashion-led. But like we always seem to do, we got drawn into doing something more elaborate, out there and grandiose.

We invited our friend Cris (Mr Doris) to visit us at our retreat in the mountains. We talked him through the original concept and showed him the Chanel Egoist perfume advert. We all loved the emotion of the soundtrack.

On further investigation, we discovered the music for it was Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet.

Almost together, we all said ‘why don't we do Romeo and Juliet?' Suddenly, everything fell into place and we came up with this crazy idea. Can we get away with pole dancers doing Shakespeare?

It seemed totally impossible. But after working it, and working it and working it, we found a way to make it work."

MM: “What if fair Verona were Ibiza? What if there were multiple Romeos? Things started to feel right.

Feuding families - that has to be ego in the first place. If you can drop your ego, you probably wouldn't be feuding. It's your ego that makes you cling to a point of view you're unwilling to change.

Then we thought, Ibiza is all about ego. All those billboards with all those giant faces of superstars. If there's one place in the world that's all about ego, then it's got to be here. Imagine having a night called ‘EGO'. At first, we thought they'd never let us do it.”

CD: “That was a turning point. From there it all fell together very naturally. So EGO at Lío was born.”


ACT 2

casting mR NARRATOR

We were keen to learn more about Mr Doris's role in all this, in the understanding that he was so much more involved than you would expect from a resident DJ.

CD: “He's quite the intellectual. He loves his history.”

MM: “He is actually a qualified archaeologist. I think that's super cool. He is always unearthing some great tracks. We wanted to avoid that label him of being a resident DJ. Unfortunately, it has turned into quite a demeaning term or a gimmick.

What we said with Chris was 'you're not going to be our resident - you're going to be our musical director.' He controls the musical concept the entire way through. It's a promotion from that other title. He has risen to the task.”

CD: “We gave him carte blanche for the guest artists he chooses. He gets one guest every week. He plays half the night, then they play the other half. He's brought in some amazing guests, including some from our past at Manumission.

Alfredo, who is one of the guests during the season, was our resident for 10+ years. We used to put him on at Manumission for the closing segment of the night - peak time when the sun was rising. He could do that better than any guest. Even though he was our resident, he was the star."

MM: “We hadn't worked with Alfredo since the days of Manumission and the motel, so it's pretty special to be working with him again. We had Nicodemus from New York, who was fantastic as were the PBR Streetgang guys, and Doorly too. Musically, it's a great night.”


act 3

big society

We wonder how hands-on they are? Do the creative minds of Mike and Claire Manumission ever have trouble conceding creative control to other departments? Or, worse yet, having to compromise their artistic vision?

If you are to believe one of the countless stories, even during Manumission's heyday, their relationship with Privilege management was often fraught with unreasonable compromise.

Claire is pragmatic in her assessment.

CD: “The amazing thing here is we have this very harmonious relationship with Lío. We have complete creative control and have been able to harness the talents of some genius friends to work on the project.

We work with a Couture Designer from Milan who is a sartorial genius. His name is DiLiborio. I couldn't even begin to imagine what it would be like without him. We like to work with people who take us up to another level. Rather than being a compromise, it's actually a pleasure.

The same with the music. We work with our friend Mark (Sayfritz), a composer from London. He's written the music for the show's performance for us and taken that to a different dimension - a more theatrical sound design.”

MM: "We get upset when we can't work with the best. We find that more frustrating. Fortunately, we have friends who have wanted to be involved. It's totally about being there for the passion, not the paycheck.

We also work in collaboration with some of the cast from the Lío show. And they're amazing.

With Manumission, we would have to do three week's worth of rehearsal before the show because it would take that long to learn the choreography. But with these guys, you only have to show them and within 15 minutes they've got it. They are that good.”

CD: “Everybody we have worked with is very talented, fun and, ironically, not too much ego-involved."

MM: “I would say, everybody has a healthy ego. The ego that says ‘I'm better than everybody' - that's the unhealthy ego. But if you think you can better yourself and do that job, that can only be a positive thing. They compete more with themselves than anybody else.”

CD: "We had this intense 24-hour one-on-one time with the Couture Designer. We actually flew to Milan especially to go over every single idea with a fine toothcomb. We even managed to squeeze in a bit of party time, too!”

There it was: the glint in Claire's eye that told us though older and wiser, the Manumission pair have lost none of the pizazz. The passion burns brights.


ACT 4

The Evolving Play

Talking further about the show, it is clear that it is very much a work-in-progress with no two shows the same and a constantly evolving narrative. Improv is not discouraged. Audience participation never off the cards.

Logistically, the venue has been fine-tuned to accommodate Mike and Claire's ambitious ideas.

CD: “We also bring a freestyle element. It's a very vibrant production.”

MM: “Polly Fey did an amazing job of casting all the performers. We have assembled a really great mix.”

CD: “It's a very small cast but ultimately one which works together as this incredibly intricate organism, full of synergy.”

MM: “High quality and bags of energy. It's contagious.”

We were interested to learn more about how the creative process worked.

With so many intricate details and departments working together, it seemed like relinquishing control to others was a necessary requirement. Knowing Mike and Claire, robustly minuted 10:00 conferences were unlikely to be on the agenda.

CD: “We don't work sitting around a table with a whole load of people. We direct. We work one-on-one with the music director or the composer.”

MM: “We talk with Cris about how the night will be musically or with Polly about casting. If somebody has an idea, we're not opposed to listening. We just tend to guide the ship. We might say ‘that won't work, but this will'.

But if somebody has a great idea, we'll listen. For example, one of the dancers Sascha, he brings a fresh, modern vogue-like element to the performance. You won't see that anywhere else. He's unique.”


ACT 5

THE PSYCHEDELIC BARDS

Is there a weight of expectation - perhaps even burden - to do something with the prestige of Romeo and Juliet justice?

MM: “There are Shakespearean lines spoken but for the most part, it's all very accessible.”

CD: “Our version is a very, very rock n' roll interpretation with a tiny a splash of the original tale. In our story, we go back to the night before Romeo & Juliet meet.”

MM: “Maybe this is completely sacrilegious, but we felt like but it's very much in the spirit of Shakespeare's time. Going to the theatre back in Elizabethan times must have been about a whole load of entertainment. Drinking, watching, fight scenes, it would've all been going on.

We have a tendency for things to become set-in-stone, holy and untouchable. Recently, I was listening to the In Our Time podcast by Melvyn Bragg. He was saying that in Greek times the myths we know today were freely changed by whichever Rhapsodist was reciting the story.

They all had free reign to reinterpret stories in a different way. And each story would be no less valid than the last. So with that knowledge, we felt why not?”

The Romeo and Juliet we know is famously a romantic tragedy. But we get the inkling that Mike and Claire's version might have an alternate ending.

MM: “We wanted to steer completely away from the subject of death."

CD: “Sadly, it's far too prevalent in the music & entertainment industry, with young men in particular, Avicii being a tragic case, and so many more that we don't learn about.

So we wanted to find a way of bringing light outside of the darkness. Mike's love of psychedelics took us there! There is a psychedelic element to our retelling.”

MM: “Interestingly, there's been some modern research into psychedelics like magic mushrooms, which has shown them to be very effective at treating cases of depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, cases that have otherwise been considered untreatable up until now.

They're now saying there may even be hope for degenerative conditions like Alzheimer's. They might help stimulate new neural links. It's incredibly exciting.

With all of our projects, we have always tied in things which have interested us. I think the psychedelic thing could be a very important milestone for medicine and humanity. After all the negative stigma, it could end up impacting us all in a very positive way."


ENCORE: history repeating itself

Our conversation turns to Ibiza's current clubbing landscape. We're interested to get Mike and Claire's take on the growing trend for immersive theatre.

The production-heavy events that place as much focus on the peripheral entertainment as they do the music. Surely they are the modern-day manifestation of the foundations that Manumission laid?

MM: “This is the way we've always approached throwing parties. It's a personal preference. We don't really know any other way.

People are seeing sense to do that, it's going to make a party more interesting, but too much of anything is a bad thing. If everybody starts doing it, it'd soon get boring.”

CD: “We see that they reference Manumission and take it as a compliment. Though I don't think anybody does theatre for the masses like we did. I'm not sure if anybody else is quite insane enough!”

Finally, we just had to ask: how much time do the Mike and Claire of 2018 get to spend on the dance floor?

CD: “I'm on it all the time. You're always trying to get me on the catwalk, and Cris is trying to get me off as I hog the mic too much. It's mayhem.”

MM: “It's true, she is. And I'm normally by the bar! Usually going from one bar to the next, but I may go via the dance floor!”

CD: “We have given him this robe in which he swishes around. It's handy because it means we can always spot him, and he always has the drink tokens on him. Generally, after we've done the show and said hello to everybody, everybody pours inside.”

MM: “We don't believe in spending much time in the dressing room. In this business, you need to be in the party. You're no good to anybody backstage.”

CD: “For us, it's very much been about friends and family, getting that old kind of feeling back.”

MM: “What a lot of our friends have said, is they go to the clubs nowadays and they don't know anybody. They don't know the doormen, they don't know the bartenders or anybody at the party.

What EGO can be is a really refreshing place, where you come here and you do. That's been the feeling so far. That's our way.”

It's that old-school mentality that shines through. In a day and age when the DJs and their entourages seem so distanced and behind barriers from the clubbers, it's a reminder that to really connect with your audience you need to put the ego to bed and share the dance floor with them.

To live the party, you have to be the party.

It leads fittingly to one last story. Though if truth be told, we could listen to their entire back catalogue for days.

MM: “We never believed in the VIP lifestyle. Guy Laliberté who owns Cirque du Soleil, he once wanted to see us in the VIP at Manumission. People kept coming up to us telling us he wanted to see us. But we never went. We were too busy partying.

Eventually, he came down to the Coco Loco with all of his tables and all of his drinks, and he dropped it right next to us. He said 'I've been watching you for ten years.' Years later he went off to do a show that was very much Manumission-inspired in Vegas. He even nicked our drag queens! C'est la vie!



Whether you did or didn't get to experience Manumission but want to experience a flavour of what it was like, get along to EGO to see an essence of it in 2018. Go with an open heart and an open mind, but check your ego at the door.

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