Now that the sand has settled on Duran Duran’s 'Touch The Sunrise' Ibiza Weekender, it’s time to consider whether it was worth all the travel, money and queuing for non-existent taxis. First announced by a company called Pollen back in 2020, the event promised to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our beloved band across three days and fuelled plenty of speculation about its itinerary and viability. Covid caused multiple postponements and no doubt plenty of logistical and scheduling nightmares for all involved, so the fact it went ahead at all has to be some kind of huge win, right? Well, that depends on whether the paying customers danced into the Fyre Festival: Duranie Edition…
Various lavish and not inexpensive packages were put on sale by Pollen, some including hotels given themed names such as ‘Medazzaland at the OD Talamanca’ and ‘Mediterranea at Hotel Riomar’. That definitely sounded more promising than ‘Violence Of Summer at Southend Travelodge’. VIP offerings were also available, but my group all opted for a ‘Party Pass’ package that only gave access to the standard events (sans hotel). It’s likely that individual perceptions of Touch The Sunrise will be strongly influenced by which packages people were on and how much was paid, so I can only stress that I’m covering things from this basic angle. One element was to affect everyone in attendance though - and that was the shifting nature of the promised itinerary once money had exchanged hands between customers and service provider.
Upon arrival in Ibiza a few days before Touch The Sunrise, my Duranspotting Radar went haywire. Every street seemed to have lovely looking DD posters emblazoned across shop windows promoting the band’s Ushuaia concert to tourists and locals. It became clear that the main event wasn’t going to be an exclusive fan show for those on the Pollen trip - nor do I believe it was ever marketed as such.
My main concern about the concert was that numbers might be a bit thin on the ground given covid-related travel uncertainty and the pandemic’s financial repercussions. I think I’m still scarred by my first experience of seeing DD in a half empty Birmingham NEC in December 2000, so this promotion was pleasing to see. However, the dwindling number of posters across the weekend did make one wonder if the odd fan may have discreetly nabbed a nice souvenir or ten to take home. And by discreetly, I mean yanking it off the wall and sprinting for dear life without looking back to see if the baton-wielding poster police were in pursuit. Some things in life are worth the risk.
The first gathering for the ‘Come Undone Welcome Party’ was at Destino, a lovely open air venue by the coast that boasts some very pretty views indeed. There was a buzz in the air given that Duran Duran had been interviewed at that very same location shortly before proceedings kicked off - and had stayed around for an exclusive Q&A for those who had chosen the VIP route. Surely there’d have to be some kind of band presence at their own welcome party, even if just to wave from a distance like the Royal Family on the Buckingham Palace balcony or appear in some pre-recorded videos to welcome those there? It would add that nice personal touch to make you feel connected and part of something special. But no, it was not to be.
The lack of the band’s representation in sound and vision was a recurring problem during the evening. The branding itself around the venue was impressive, such as a massive Duran Duran logo installation presenting wonderful photo opportunities that became hilariously inappropriate as the lights went down. But these were just letters. I’m not saying giant posters of the band should have been erected on flagpoles like they do with dictators in certain countries. There just needed to be more creative edge involved to harness and celebrate why all these people present embraced the band, their visual identity and their music.
Ben in the centre
This was compounded by the ‘Local DJ’ (as per the name on the impressively updated Pollen App) playing music of a more general Ibizan clubby vibe when the crowd would have been much happier to hear playback of the full Rio album instead for a fun singalong. Or even Pop Trash. I wondered if the band was trying to align itself with the coolness of the Ibizan music scene as a way of gaining more cultural kudos, not unlike when the decision was made to work with Timbaland on Red Carpet Massacre. It seems to betray an insecurity about how good the band are on their own merits. Sod everything else - we want Duran Duran, the whole Duran Duran and nothing but Duran Duran! If that means a massive DD-tox after the weekend, then so be it.
Later in the night, Future Past producer Erol Alkan entered the DJ booth (well, more of a wooden shack as the main stage annoyingly wasn’t used, leading to a bottlenecked dancefloor) and kicked off with a glorious extended remix of All Of You to delight a DD-starved crowd. Phew! The mixing maestro played a mostly 80s electro-themed set, with occasional forays back into DD territory.
When you take the night as a whole though, the Duran Duran related content amounted to the grand sum of roughly 25-30 mins of their music - and a lot of branding. This simply wasn’t enough to consistently please the masses in attendance. The USP of the event is a collective celebration of Duran Duran and its legacy, not the Ibiza club vibe. The canvas should not be the painting. It feels like various creative tricks were missed - why not have DD themed drinks/cocktails and snacks? I’ve seen that done at bars beside London’s O2 Arena before and it helps to make the experience feel more unique.
To make matters worse, there was a MAXIMUM BIG SURPRISE awaiting the revellers leaving - a taxi queue so long it made the Rock Rod look like an acorn. We’re talking many, many hundreds of people in a queue in the middle of nowhere and one cab turning up every ten minutes. Why did the organisers not consider this and lay on a couple of shuttle buses into town at the very least, especially for those poor souls who had booked the hotel packages in areas quite some distance away? One cannot help but think that if this was a task on The Apprentice, whoever was responsible for ignoring transport planning would have been fired.
At least the taxi queue - several hours worth of it - was populated by plenty of lovely people, some of whom blasted out DD classics on their phones and had a singalong. It’s a pity there wasn’t more of that inside the actual event. Imagine what fun could have been had with a Duran Duran Karaoke activation?
Our favourite drummer boy Roger Taylor spinning the decks at the iconic Pacha nightclub lay ahead, but what was on offer beforehand? A trip to an immersive DD experience at some ‘Hangar’ place that Pollen initially promised would offer “documentary screenings and an exciting curated gallery collection” and “Duran Duran films and concerts through the years” sounded intriguing, but not when the sun was out and defying the grim forecasts for the weekend. Duranies of all people should know that the sun doesn’t shine forever.
Also on offer for the day was a £50 three-hour ‘Add On’ experience by Pollen referred to as a ‘Treasure Hunt’. Could this entail a scavenge through the jungles of Ibiza to recover the master tapes of Reportage from an outbuilding on Andy Taylor’s property? No idea, as very little information about what exactly this event would entail was forthcoming. It felt wise to give this a pass. I hope there were some regular DD elements in the jaunt to keep the folks interested.
After soaking up the sun and doing the typical Brit touristy thing of turning lobster coloured, we hit Pacha just in time for RT’s set after the taxi drought necessitated an hour long walk to the venue. Oh boy, was that walk worth it - what a joyous, frenzied treat it was! Starting off by carefully rationing DD tracks like My Own Way and Nice amidst cracking remixes of classics like Depeche Mode’s Enjoy The Silence and Insomnia by Faithless, RT kept upping the DD measures culminating in a final half hour dedicated to his band. It was the feast we craved the previous night and a wonderful escape from the previous two years of isolations and lockdowns. It felt simply magical to be part of this wonderful shared experience.
After RT escaped into the night, the club quickly turned into a generic Pacha club night open to the public and we were all welcome to stay, which was cool. An opportunity was taken to explore the Touch The Sunrise merchandise on sale at the venue. I was hoping there’d be a commemorative t-shirt along the lines of the beautifully designed posters adorning Ibiza’s streets. Wrong. There was a special event T-shirt on sale, but it had a colour scheme that evoked painful memories of scooping up my dog’s diarrhea from a new white carpet. What a wasted opportunity. Does ‘art’ have to be the enemy of clarity? Needless to say, I still bought the bloody t-shirt in what can only be described as an act of self loathing. I also bought a predominantly black Touch The Sunrise towel that looks more suited to a funeral than a beach. Why do I do this to myself?
"all that's missing is the sea." Oops, wrong band.
A curious feeling soon emerged when we left the now half empty Pacha around midnight. Hordes of properly young people were queuing to get in, watching the last dregs of us Duranies shuffle out. It had been a night of hedonistic exertion for an hour or so and my limbs started to creak in self conscious agony. I have never felt so old. Morbidity issues aside, the evening’s entertainment absolutely delivered. It arguably lacked a themed afterparty option, as finishing around 11pm is very, very early for Ibiza. Even for us oldies (and I’m 41 ffs).
Onto the day of the main event! This Area 51-style ‘Hangar’ was finally visited, where one could devour self-reflective artwork by John Taylor and photographs of dying peonies by Nick Rhodes (below). These were genuinely interesting to see and well displayed, using the space of the structure well - but couldn’t there also have been some visual exhibits to celebrate the band’s collected history and legacy? A gallery of chronological photos through the years perhaps, with a drool bucket adjacent to any JoSi moments. Even a wall full of record album covers from the first album to the latest would have been something.
Elsewhere, in a dimly lit room, David Lynch’s Unstaged concert film was in repeat rotation throughout the day - magnificent for those who have yearned for the big screen experience of watching sausages sizzling on a barbecue to the sounds of Come Undone being performed live. None of the promised documentary screenings were on offer.
On the other side of the island in San Antonio - a significant trek away - a Themed Boat Party ‘Add On’ event was skipped - partly due to concerns over whether it was exclusive to the DD fans or whether we’d be lumped in with random rowdy members of the public barfing overboard and demanding Justin Bieber tunes. Would the theme even be DD related? You’d think so, but after Friday night and various elements not being delivered (what happened to the promised outdoor cinema screening of ‘As The Lights Go Down’?) it was best to make no assumptions when Pollen are on an upselling mission to maximise profits. Ambiguous messaging again proved to be a deterrent.
And so to the ‘Last Night In The City’ concert we’d all been waiting for. I’d been to Ushuaia a couple of times in recent years, seeing big name DJs who play the kind of loud, repetitive music that makes you question whether the cacophonous sounds are a nearby car alarm going off. A live band taking to that stage is a whole different beast, especially in a venue with a big swimming pool in the middle. Bust the wrong move and you’re skin diving in a non-creepy, non-euphemistic sense.
After another taxi debacle was encountered following a very relaxing session at Pikes (scene of Wham’s Club Tropicana video), it was time for us to grab a beer and nab a good spot for the main event. Or it would have been if Ushuaia’s main bar area at the back of the arena’s ground floor wasn’t completely shut off. A very stressful 30 minutes or so wait to get served at a crazily busy smaller Ushuaia bar ensued, all for the pleasure of buying bottled beer that cost 15 EUROS EACH. Last night in the city? More like last night before relying on a food bank.
By this stage, the general standing area was not navigable thanks to the layout and an impressive crowd - far, far in excess of the fans who had previously been present at Destino and Pacha. This number was large due to all of the intrigued locals/tourists who had bought a ticket purely for the concert, plus the fact that anyone staying at the Ushuaia hotel and many more attending an international music conference on the island were allowed free entry.
My fears of a low attendance were allayed, but the downside was that the remaining views on offer were very poor - not helped by bar huts on the arena floor in the way. This is not a good seeing venue if you’re not at the front, especially for those barely over five foot like one of my friends. Not a problem for the big name DJs and their beeps, but not great for a live band whose artistry you want to watch. Serves us right for not arriving much, much earlier I suppose - which in fairness I did try to gently encourage with only minimal use of blackmail threats.
Ben's late entrants into CL's previously long-running Crap Concert Photos Competition
Duran Duran soon took to the stage as Velvet Newton played over the speakers. As the cheers died down, the band were left standing on stage awkwardly for what felt like an eternity while the pre-recorded track played out. It might feel atmospheric in an enclosed indoor arena, but this intro approach in an open air arena full of distractions like planes flying low overhead caused the excitement to dissipate before the band even launched into their all important first song of the night - Invisible.
Perhaps my favourite DD song since Ordinary World and a production masterpiece by Erol Alkan, Invisible sounded muddy as hell - possibly the fault of a sound system not ideal for live bands. All the nuanced melodies were lost, the vocals were indecipherable and large swathes of people around me started to break into chat. Unfamiliarity can breed disinterest - and that shouldn’t deter the band from carefully positioning new songs in the setlist - but they need to sound strong enough live to win over new ears. I can only imagine how much more effective Sunrise would have been as an opener here, especially for an event called Touch The Sunrise.
All Of You followed and sounded much clearer, with Mr Le Bon in energetic mode. Notorious and The Reflex then helped to engage the many non-Duranies in the audience, but something sounded strained and rough around the edges with some of the vocals - which was to become more noticeable for several subsequent songs. It’s at this time you need to choose empathy and understanding over entitlement and criticism.
I remembered hearing that SLB was unwell recently, which may explain why a London Q&A event was postponed a few days before the concert. What a weight there must be on the shoulders (and vocal chords) of performers at such times, with whole multi-million pound ventures dependent on them being able to deliver on tap to a pre-arranged schedule. Us normal non-rockstar folk? Well, many of us are in a position to call in sick and take the day off work if unwell. Not so here. Huge credit to SLB and the band for giving it their very best in the circumstances as always - that’s all one can ask for. It also may explain why the likes of Wild Boys, Anniversary and Pressure Off - with their higher vocal ranges - were not played.
As soon as the band gained momentum with Notorious and Reflex, it was squandered with a version of Give It All Up that buried the vocals too deep in the sound mix, partially regained by a welcome return for Union Of The Snake and then it flew out the windows, cross the cliff tops, ran away with a very unexpected performance of instrumental Tiger Tiger (which conspiracy theorists may believe was designed to give SLB a vocal break). The atmosphere felt so odd, which several fans would comment on during a post-gig debrief.
We were now eight songs in (including Velvet Newton) and so many folks around us were just standing around chatting apart and not even facing the stage. What is happening to them? Crazy some’d say. Quite a few were streaming out of the side gates. It dawned on me what a Frankenstein’s Monster of a concert this was, with different audiences and different expectations lumped together. The Ushuaia hotel guests were there because it’s free, others were random tourists and locals keen to hear the big hits, while a chunk (mostly at the front) were dedicated Duranies who paid and travelled a lot in the hope of something more special than a standard setlist. Duran Duran simply can’t please everyone in such a scenario. It’s a question of compromise.
L-R phone, phone, phone, phone, phone, JT, phone, phone, phone, SLB, phone, phone, phone, phone, NR, another fucking phone, phone
But hang on, isn’t this the kind of hit-light setlist that many hardcore fans including myself have been clamouring for? Yes, but it’s not so much a matter of feeling as a matter of context. Intimate, smaller shows like the O2 Academy concerts in Birmingham and Leicester are perfect for more inventive setlists, as tickets for those events will be mostly snapped up by fans within minutes of going on sale and sell out quickly. When you have to attract plenty of casuals to ensure a gig is financially viable, you have to cater for them too.
However, a convergence of considerations and mixed marketing messages haven’t helped. They’re trying to belatedly celebrate their 40th anniversary while concurrently pushing their excellent new album, and now - oh my god what’s this? - the 40th anniversary of Rio has rocked up too! I can imagine/hope that the atmosphere was much better at the front, but from my group’s perspective the audience around us wasn’t engaged and the corresponding chatter can spoil enjoyment. Should the band have used more hits early on in the set to get the party started and then, in true Trojan Horse style, sneak out a bit of new material once inside the gates? I think so. On the plus side, a mini exodus allowed us to nab a better viewing position.
Subsequently, a one-two ballad battery of Come Undone and Ordinary World didn't quite hit the mark as one would expect from these magical songs. Ordinary World works so well as a tonal contrast to an up tempo, engaging crowd pleaser beforehand - and its placement after a similarly introspective song has lessened its impact. Fair play to the band for trying new things though.
From then on, the chatterers were triumphantly silenced as a procession of crowdpleasing classics finally ignited Ushuaia with A View To A Kill, Sunrise and Girls On Film - followed by an atmospheric rendition of The Chauffeur to begin the Rio-centric encore with. This track wasn’t a single of course, but it earned attention from the wider crowd because of the momentum built up and sustained just beforehand. They were now in the zone and in the palm of the band’s well manicured hands.
The night ended with Save A Prayer, Hungry Like The Wolf and Rio, all great crowd singalongs where any vocal or sound mix issues were dispelled with the band and audience becoming one.
The burden of expectation can be an impossible beast to satisfy. I’ve enjoyed many Duran Duran concerts far more than the Ushuaia one, which has left me with conflicting and competing thoughts in its aftermath. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ comes to mind on the setlist front - and where I was in the audience - has made me understand more about what the casual fan wants from a concert and how the band must cater for them. I’m loyal to the core with DD, but something deep inside me yearns for others to be won over by the band too. There isn’t a ‘please all’ setlist, but I don’t think the composition of this one was the band’s finest hour. Trojan Horse methodology for the win.
As for the whole Pollen experience, it’s also a mix of positives and negatives. The easy thing to overlook is how amazingly great it was that the event went ahead at all despite so many obstacles - and much unseen hard work behind the scenes by various teams will have taken place. It also gave many the chance to discover new places having spent so long stuck indoors in recent times due to covid restrictions. If it brought more joy to people’s lives and gave them an excuse to get away without burning too much of a hole in their wallets, then brilliant. Job done.
There were missed opportunities from the Pollen front - and plenty of easy wins squandered through a lack of creative planning and themed interactive content to engage the core audience of Duranies. Yet that can be a huge positive if learnings are taken on board and used to improve similar events in the future. Music has the power to bring people together - and in such a fractious, divided world, we need that more than ever now. Here’s hoping for another Duran Duran Weekender, in an improved form, before too long.
Time to go home.
All photos © Ben Rawson-Jones
The new double issue of Cherry Lipstick - all about Rio's 40 anniversary is OUT NOW. Available from the CL store along with other print and digital issues, including our Unseen 1981 Photos edition, and all about Future Past.
"The oldest and greatest Duran fanzine"
Below: The five print issues published by Cherry Lipstick in 2021