elrow CEO Juan Arnau Junior takes us on a whistle stop tour of Spanish electronic music culture in the lead up to his first ever Australian tour, as we spread rumours about about fake LSD, Florida 135 and why he will never tire of confetti.
In October, a large shipping container containing three tonnes of confetti, a menagerie of inflatable animals and a wardrobe studded with psychedelic sequins left Spain bound for far away shores. For years, Australia has been waiting for elrow to paint its shores with glitter, house music and excess. In a matter of days, the kaleidoscopic daydream will finally become reality as their Psychedelic Trip tour comes to Melbourne and Sydney. For party perfectionist and elrow CEO Juan Arnau Junior, it was all about waiting for the right moment. ‘I didn’t want to bring the brand until it was ready,’ he told Decoded as we caught up with him from Barcelona. ‘I wasn’t even sure if it was going to be successful.’ With rumours rife of fake LSD tabs, atomic mushrooms and a whole arsenal of gymnasts, dancers, actors and performers waiting in the wings, there’s little wonder the last remaining tickets are basically hallucinations.
Those who have had the pleasure of renouncing reality at an elrow party at any of their special global locations will be familiar with the otherworldly themes the parties are centered around.
‘Over the seven years we have been running, we have worked our elrow parties around 17 different creative themes,’ says Juan. ‘If I had to sum elrow up in one phrase, it’s where we make the magic happen. For our first ever Australian tour, we went with the Psychedelic Trip theme for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s one of our favourites. Secondly, we are all going on this trip together. And crucially, because the psychedelic colour scheme works really well in an enclosed space, like the warehouses we are playing in. If it was an open air party I would likely have brought the Sambodromo de Brasil theme that has worked so well last year in Barcelona and at ADE.’
The injection of creative gasoline that goes into the production behind the scenes is almost impossible to comprehend. This is much more than just another club night, but in fact a technicolour vision in serotonin. Stepping into the party is to leave your inhibitions at the door and dive into an enchanted rabbit hole. It’s like Roald Dahl meets Studio 54, filled with space cadets and glitter warriors in blissful cacophony, doodled over by a kid who went mad with a box of crayons. But these doodlers are professionals.
‘We produce everything in Barcelona, in a large warehouse with a talented team of 25 creatives, whose sole role it is to produce costumes and decorations. We have stage hands, performance managers, choreographers and technical directors. On tour, we hire actors and stilt walkers locally. Due to tight turnarounds, we often only have a few hours to train them in the elrow way of how to interact with crowd and excel as we require.’
There are many challenges in recreating elrow party overseas involving everything from logistics to authenticity while on tour. ‘We started touring four years ago, firstly taking elrow to France, then on to Italy, Belgium, Holland and later England where the brand really flourished. It’s crucial that we understand and control every part of the show working with promoters. We’ve taken time and energy to create and perfect this brand and will not compromise on it. We did some shows in North America, but the further you go, the more challenging it is. The local promoter has to believe in the brand. It’s not a cheap product, there are a lot of people involved. For our shows in Ibiza or Barcelona I employ up to 150 actors and stilt walkers.’
Curiously, Juan Arnau Junior did not turn up to the interview in a spandex unitard riding an inflatable glow worm. On the outset he seemed like a normal guy, who you might meet on any dancefloor. But like his bright ideas, Arnau’s heritage is aeons away from normal. elrow may only have been going for seven years, but the Arnau family heritage takes them back over six generations spanning over a hundred years of escapades as entertainers, transforming from farming to festivals in the blink of an eye.
It all began in the humble Spanish town of Fraga, when Arnau’s Great Great Grandfather started bringing cabaret girls to bars in the 1870s. His fledgling industry advanced from bar to casino and from casino to black and white movie theatre as a family business of nocturnal hedonism found its feet – and later gave Spain its dancing shoes. After the Civil War in 1942, Arnau’s family opened the iconic Florida 135, which became one of the world’s oldest techno clubs, playing warm host to the likes of Laurent Garnier and Sven Vath before anyone else in the country. ‘To have a pioneering club of 4,000 capacity in such a small town meant people from all over Spain would come from miles around to our local party,’ says Arnau. ‘My first memories were more about bands; rock and pop acts. But when my father began to bring some of the first DJs and electronic music acts to Spain in the 90s, I began to find my niche. It was exciting to watch the new sound from the north of Europe unfold. My father was very much into techno and celebrated this with the launch of Monegros festival in the desert.’
‘When my father took me to the stage in Monegros in front of 5000 people, I was 13 years old. But I learned a very valuable lesson, which has influenced everything about my business ethos. He remined me that in front of me were so many people from sixteen different countries, with one common denominator. They were smiling. My father told me it was the reason why he did what he did. His advice – if you think about money you will never succeed. First up, you have to think about entertaining people and putting on a show. To this day, it is my benchmark. If I look at the crowd and they are not smiling, it’s my wake up alarm to change something in the show.’
It may be a challenge to constantly keep reinventing the elrow brand to titillate and amuse, but it’s for this very reason that Arnau keeps pushing the tempo to keep revellers enchanted. ‘One of my favourite moments was when all the customers were going absolutely crazy playing baseball in the middle of the dancefloor. But we’ve had it all. I like to test new concepts in our spiritual home of elrow Barcelona. It’s here that we have no limitations on budget so I can test some really exciting concepts. Whenever we do anything we test it there. It is our home, our club and we can and will do anything we want there. We’ve had people get married at elrow with special marriage certificates. We’ve created our own economy and have given out dollars for partygoers to spend in shops we’ve created. We’ve breathed life into over 1,500 characters in our lifetime. It’s like watching a live burlesque performance coming to life, but most importantly, it’s the people themselves who create the party.’
What does make elrow truly stand out is the shift of focus from the DJ to the customer experience. Physically, the DJ takes centre stage, but they are a million miles away from the kind of club where they are the sole focus.
And there’s good reason for this invigorated ideology. ‘We opened our Barcelona club in Viladecans 10 years ago, when Spain was in the middle of a dark recession. We needed to do something more than just bring top artists to our shows. We had to think of a new, more relevant concept that would be a breath of fresh air. We made it our premise to bring back the party. For elrow, it became all about the show, not just the DJ. Of course the music plays a huge part in what we do, but we pick a DJ based on their ability to bring a soundtrack to fun, not just because they are the next big thing. We honour those who do what they do as performers, with a smile on their faces. With Nick Fancuilli and elrow stalwarts Bastian Bux, wAFF and Marc Maya on the bill for the Australian tour, we like to think we are bringing the ideal mix to Australia.’
Following the closure of Space, elrow have just finished up your first year’s Ibiza residency and settled comfortably into their new home of Amnesia, with confetti canons and full entourage primed to pop. ‘I think Amnesia is the best club on the island,’ says Arnau. ‘Once again, I wanted to wait until we were completely ready to really do our brand and the venue justice. We had to build our reputation enough to completely sell out the club. We upped the ante with the craziest production ever. We sold out all 12 shows in a row. The feedback has been amazing across the board. We are delighted that Amnesia is now our new home on the white isle.’
For a man so invested and well versed in the art of partying, it must be a challenge to find a club night outside of your own that still puts the jam in his donut. It may come as a surprise that acclimatising to life outside of the elrow fantasy has turned Arnau into a not-so-secret psytrance head. ‘I really like to go to psy trance parties,’ he beams. ‘I love them. I go to Boom in Portugal every year. There’s not much psy in spain. Other than that, I’ve either got to go to Belgium or Holland, or to Origin in South Africa.’
Australia will be the furthest Arnau has ever taken elrow. He’s looking forward to rising to the occasion. ‘Production wise it will be challenging, but if it is successful, we will bring it back and go even bigger and crazier. So come with an open mind and prepare to let yourself enter a new dimension.’