Just over ten years ago Yann Pissenem arrived in Ibiza with his DJ equipment and his dog in a broken-down car. Today he is the creative force behind two of the best nightclubs on the planet. His story is one of overcoming challenges with passion, ingenuity, creativity and hard work.
Pissenem’s move from Barcelona to Ibiza was literally a make or break moment, he recalls. “I was done. I needed a new moment in my life. So, I put everything in my old car and booked a one-way ticket. Just before boarding the ferry, my car gears broke with a loud CRACK. For me it was like a question, ‘do you really want to go?'” Stalled on the docks in the sweltering heat, in front of a queue of beeping motorists, Pissenem’s answer was decisive. “I said, ‘I am leaving! I don’t care! I’m going!’ So, I forced my car into first gear and made it up the ramp, little by little. When we arrived, they had to help me to push it out.”
In person, Pissenem is friendly and very engaging. He talks fast and thinks faster; he is full of passion and ideas; they segue over the previous ones like a crossfading DJ. A lot is going on in mind and his world. Pissenem’s company, The Night League, has grown quickly. It was just him and Joseph Rivas in 2008, but he now has a team of 50.
His clubs, Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel and Hï Ibiza, employ an additional 750 people in season. The venues regularly host some of the most famous DJs on the planet, and attract the party crowds to match them. The International Nightlife Association awarded Hï the title of the World’s Best Club of 2018, while Ushuaïa took the number two slot, and both venues are in DJ Magazine’s top five. A staggering 1.5 million clubbers danced at the venues last year, but it all started on a deserted beach.
The End Of The World
Years before his stressful ferry ride, Pissenem had been working as a club promoter in Barcelona. One of his friends knew of his dream to open a beach club, so recommended he check out a little restaurant on Ibiza’s Playa d’en Bossa. “When I arrived, and I saw the place, it was beautiful. Just blue sea, super organic, I loved it. But there was nothing on that beach, nothing. Everybody told me, ‘What, there?!? Nobody is going to come!’ but when I saw it, I had to stay.” Pissenem celebrated his remote location by naming the club after Ushuaïa, the town in Patagonia nicknamed “the end of the world.”
In isolation, Pissenem was free to make the beach club that he had always imagined. During the winter he slept in the chiringuito together with his beloved Australian shepherd, Aston. By day he renovated the venue using the now distinctive décor of minimal white with ethnic touches. He wanted to try something new. “I thought about the concept of opening something to allow both the young kids and also the older crowd to have an amazing daytime experience.”
The Ushuaïa parties quickly became wildly popular, thanks in part to the A-list DJ’s to whom Pissenem had access from his years in Barcelona. Ushuaïa’s 2010 closing party with Marco Carola, Luciano and Loco Dice attracted over 14,000 clubbers to the beach. This success caught the attention of many on the island, including some competitors, and things got “a little bit complicated,” he admits. However, a fortuitous meeting with the owners of a nearby hotel resulted in a VIP upgrade for the Ushuaïa brand, and they went into partnership.
An Amusement Park For Adults
With the newly convened Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel as his canvas, it was time to revisit some creative dreams. “When I was 23 and just started my first bar, my brother Romain was already talking about creating an ‘electronic Cirque du Soleil,’ a special show mixing electronic music with art. There was a big stage in the hotel, so I told him, ‘Now we can do this, we can create a proper electronic theater.’ He came with his ideas and his notes, and we created the stage and launched the experience. It was a game-changer.”
With the new venue and a new team, Pissenem was free to realize another longstanding ambition, creating an amusement park for adults. “You know that feeling when you are 12 years old, going down a water slide with your arms up, it’s the same feeling when you are in front of your favorite DJ. You don’t think about the problems in your house, your family, whatever kind of problem. In that moment you forget them all.”
Creating that feeling of abandon, that alchemy of chaos, takes a lot of meticulous planning. Pissenem’s focus is redolent of the world’s best-known amusement park designer, Walt Disney. His attention to detail is similarly obsessive and empathetic, and it reached a new level with his next project on the white island.
Space is The Place
Following the success of the hotel, and the innovative touring “underground colony” of the ANTS brand, an opportunity arose to revitalize the nearby site of Ibiza’s legendary Space nightclub, which closed in 2016 after 30 years. Pissenem confides that this was not taken lightly. “It was a big bet, a big responsibility for us. This club was the kingdom of Carl Cox. It was also about the work of Pepe Rosello who did so much for the island.”
The venue was renovated with respect to its heritage, but every aspect of Hï Ibiza is the state of the art of nightclub experience design, from the sound system to the lighting prototypes supplied by keen manufacturers. The layout of the main room allows the elaborate scenography to be changed every night. “Like an Italian theatre it is very kinetic; you have this atom of energy in front of the DJ which grows exponentially to the exits.” The VIP areas have magnificent views of the stage and the dancefloor, and a dedicated waiter is assigned to every table. The main restrooms even have guest DJ sets from some massive names. A lot of work goes into delivering the best possible customer experience.
“Meditation Saved My Life”
Pissenem’s schedule is demanding. Following some daytime office work there are events at Ushuaïa from 5 pm to 11 pm, and then at Hï from midnight to 7 am. Last year he did 110 days like this in season. The team managed the booking and logistics for over 2,000 artists last year, and organised 280 events. “It’s a bit tiring!” he admits, “I had four days of holiday last winter.” Despite this, there are no apparent signs of tiredness. In addition to being profoundly energized by his work, he maintains a rigorously healthy lifestyle. He doesn’t touch alcohol or drugs; he trains daily and also practices Transcendental Meditation, which he confides saved his life. Pissenem is also candid about the importance of working with the best people. “My team is supporting me every day, and I’m not always easy. I’m proud of them, I’m surrounded by super good people. We’re working as a family.”
The family feeling is genuine amongst The Night League team. From urbane marketing director Tom Jenkins to the serenely professional head of press Ana Isabel Moreno, from vivacious Elisa Martini in the hospitality team to stoic Paul Harris the pyrotechnics and SFX wizard, from Leslee Clarke Tatman the booking manager who has worked there for more than seven years to Raul Rodríguez, the DJ and sound engineer who has worked with Pissenem for 20, the feeling is one of people from all walks of life finding a home.
The Best Show Possible
One superstar DJ who has been a long-time associate of Pissenem’s is David Guetta, one of the most successful music producers of the past 20 years. Guetta explains why he has been playing both of Pissenem’s venues every week this summer season. “Yann, Romain and the rest of the team are super innovative when it comes to design, whether it’s the show concepts or the clubs. I moved my F*** Me I’m Famous! party to Hï Ibiza this year because I’ve always had the dream to create a show that’s super-advanced in terms of technology and the set-up there was just perfect for it. Ushuaïa also offers so many opportunities to create the best show possible.”
When the season finishes Pissenem gets a little more sleep, but the winter is also busy. The team go into strategy mode, booking the hottest new DJs, and working with the biggest stars to realize a shared creative vision. New concepts are invented, branding is designed, scenographies are constructed, marketing and PR campaigns are launched, tickets are sold, and ultimately, people are happy.
And this is what it’s all about for Pissenem and his team, he concludes. “I want to see people happy and forgetting all their problems here as they join their new friends. When you have many thousands of people smiling, arms up and screaming and enjoying that moment, it’s goosebumps. It’s the moment you realize your job is well done. There’s nothing better than that for me and for my brother. Their happiness is our goal.”
With an innovative partnership with Apple Music underway, and discussions happening across Asia, the Middle East and America, it looks like The Night League will soon be bringing many more exquisitely designed moments of sweet abandon to the world.
Originally published in Forbes.
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