Feature: I was a Manumission Robot! Plus ’98 club anthems soundtrack

It was May, 1998. I was 34 and jobless, my girlfriend had left me, and my band of twelve years was imploding before my eyes. The dry-rot on the bedroom walls of my rented flat had reached a state where it was hazardous to sleep in there. Rock bottom had begun to sound like an upgrade, so when a friend in the pub spoke about going to Ibiza to work in a bar, I was tempted by his offer to join him. An acquaintance of his had done it the year before and had all the contacts. We agreed to speak again in a few days and the idea started to take root. When it came down to it though, my friend had changed his mind, but passed me on to the man in the know.
A few days later, I’d spoken to “Juan” the bar owner in San Antonio (name changed to protect the kneecaps), given notice on the flat, and booked a fortnightly return flight to the white island. We had a plan to meet in person on the first of June. The next weeks were spent throwing or giving away furniture, and storing stuff with parents and friends. It felt like I was binning my old, disappointing life and trading it in for an exciting new one.
On arrival I searched for a bus from the airport, as carefree holidaymakers all around me boarded their transfer coaches. It was early morning and I didn’t know a soul, the creeping dread of a fool’s fate slowly engulfing me. My meeting later that day with Juan, after a few hours’ kip in a cheap hotel only confirmed this. He obviously had no idea who I was nor any recollection of our phone conversation, but told me to come back in a week’s time.
I spent that week checking things out. I was directed to a Brit pub where the workers hung out, and tried to get a handle on how things worked. It had a noticeboard for villa-sharing and such, and a pool table for starting conversations. Most folk said that my bar was a good place to work, but come Monday I was given the same speech by Juan about too early in the season, come back in a week.
To save money, I answered a notice to share a room in a Spanish boarding house with a guy called Mark, and having decided to surrender to my fate, I sat uneasily on the beach Sunday evening and watched my return flight depart without me. The morning after, Juan yet again gave me the same bullshit verbatim, confirming my gut feeling that I was screwed.
Mark was a clown (in most senses of the word), he was due to start work for Manumission as an entertainer in the cavernous Privilege nightclub in the hills, juggling with a red nose on and falling in the pool. After some reluctance, he gave me a description of the Entertainments Team boss Dorian, and where he could usually be found. I approached the guy at a bar the next day, he was younger than me (most people were) and quite sure of himself, but I had the upper hand – I was desperate. He told me to come to bar ‘M’ on Sunday evening, for their first parade, the night before the opening party. Oh, and to come in costume, and he’d see what he thought. No problem I said, I’d be there…
Shit! I had a few days to throw something together. Sunstroke, desperation and my years spent in Poisoned Electrick Head all conspired and the silver man was born. I bought some silver make up from a fancy dress store, a toy ray-gun and some cheap silver shades. My ex-girlfriend had bought me a Star Trek tunic, which I’d taken along, figuring Ibiza was a fun flamboyant place and it might come in, so that was swiftly pressed into service. On Sunday, I shaved my head and painted the whole of it, with Mark’s help, and we rolled up to the bar together, where I was an instant hit. I was in.
The next night we did another parade of San Antonio, then boarded a coach to the mythical superclub in the hills. There were about fifty of us, dancing girls, stilt-walking transvestites, snake charmers, fire eaters, and our only brief was to entertain. We had our own free bar in the basement of the 10,000 capacity club, and a small team of managers kept an eye out for freeloaders or people taking the piss, but as long as we went out amongst the crowds causing mayhem, we had free rein.
We were expected to go at it until six in the morning in one of the world’s most hedonistic environments, so things did get messy. My first night, due to the no-show of some professional dancers, we had to fill in on any empty podiums if asked. One of the managers spotted me lurking in a corner, thinking machine-like thoughts, and said “Get on the bridge!” The podium at the middle of the bridge over the swimming pool was the epicentre of the club and the focal point for ten-thousand loved-up clubbers. I didn’t wanna go but I figured it was a test. I can remember standing there, frozen (I’m no dancer!), thinking “How did I get myself into this situation?” But it worked with my look, then two of the guys ran on pretending to be technicians, bound me in masking tape and carried me off like a broken appliance.
During the rest of the week we did bits of work to supplement the meager pay, like flyering or putting up club posters, but we lived for Manumission. As the weeks went by, the silver man evolved and became more cyborg. I would raid the scrapyard for bits of old washing machine, and usually had a food-blender for a hand. Every now and again Dorian would have a cull, due to people getting too wasted and not doing anything. People came and went, but I was one of a hardcore of regulars who always survived the axe.
A Spanish transsexual named Terri ran a small bar in Privilege that opened at 4am and sold only one drink, a cocktail called ‘Coco-Loco’. Nobody knew exactly what was in it but the general consensus was it was heavily laced with liquid MDMA, and rumour had it that Terri always put a little bit of himself into the mix. What the hell, it was a big container, and every cloud… If you were a worker they were free, but only if Terri liked you. Luckily he adored me for some reason!

I never got too wasted I recall, but one time I woke up back in bed in San Antonio, still in full costume, with no memory of leaving the club. That usually involved a 30 minute bus-ride and a walk through a town centre full of regular early morning tourists and Spanish locals. I once also passed out in a chair in the club, and woke up some time later in the car park. The security guys had carried me out and put me there. I had to do a walk of shame back inside as all the door crew pissed themselves.
After a while, I moved out of the guesthouse and into a vacated bed in an apartment above the Café del Mar. (Things had got a little hairy with Mark and his rent contributions, and his habit of painting mini mints with nail varnish and selling them as ecstasy to tourists was getting out of hand.) One afternoon one of the girls came in and said, “Uugh, there’s a seedy man sat on the wall outside, he was leering at me!” I went down to send him packing and it was Sean Ryder!
One night we were given a pep-talk saying the drugs squad would be in the club, and that we should all be careful…and that anyone collared for anything was on their own. A few hours later I was leaning on a balcony when I felt and heard the handcuff click deftly onto my wrist. As I turned to protest, I was faced with a girl all in leather, who was attached to the other end. “You’re with me now Mr Robot” she said, and I was. She would release me to go to the toilets but wait for me outside. Manager Dorian spotted this a before long, and came over to utter the inevitable words:”You’ve got the rest of the night off”.
Mike and Claire Manumission were our ever-present but unapproachable hosts, (hell, they had sex in front of 10,000 people every week, they weren’t shy) but those of us who made it to the end of the season were treated by them to the closing party to end ‘em all, at the Pink Pussy Motel, a converted brothel they bought to house their guest DJs. It was a night I’ll never forget, for reasons I can’t begin to put into words and you can’t begin to imagine.

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