Pete Tong staging an Ibiza rave at the BBC Proms…? In the hallowed Royal Albert Hall…!? This was one of the most hotly anticipated – and certainly most controversial – concerts of the summer.
A BBC Radio 1/Radio 3/red button/South Ken mash-up, it was a resounding success – the sort of classy, grand-scale entertainment only the BBC knows how to lay on properly. And the organisers had the nerve and wisdom to invite Tory culture secretary John Whittingdale to the party. The potential Beeb nobbler was moved to tweet: “Pete Tong @bbcproms Radio One at its best #R1Ibiza20”
One day later and I still feel fairly ecstatic. A similarly euphoric Tong, Radio 1’s second longest-serving DJ, declared on the night, “We’re celebrating Radio 1’s 20-year association with Ibiza, performing unique versions of over 20 classic tracks indelibly linked with the White Island.” That meant pulsating dance tracks augmented by the aural wizardry of Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra.
It proved that the Proms really is a very broad church, that the Albert Hall crowd isn’t all fusty farts flicking through programmes notes, coughing and barking “Bravo!” It can also be home to strobing lasers, clouds of dry ice, euphoric wailing and stomping. It also demonstrated to many superannuated ravers such as myself, who spent far too much of the 1990s in nightclubs, that our dancing days aren’t quite over yet.
To start, the punters settled into their seats with plastic beakers of beer and champers, but within a few seconds of Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now pumping out from Tong’s sound system and the Heritage Orchestra’s string section, everybody in the building was on their feet grooving and flailing like it was 1999. Then came track after delirious track, greeted by a dedicated crowd who seemed able to name that tune in one.
I never quite made it to Ibiza. The furthest south I ever got was Brixton – although I had a searing flashback to Brighton’s Zap Club, circa 1991, when Moby’s majestically eerie Go (based on Laura’s Theme from Twin Peaks) surged through the auditorium at around the 15-minute mark.
I was also transported back in time by Children (by Robert Miles), Insomnia (by Faithless) and Porcelain (Moby again). Then star vocalist Elle Eyre (right) tottered on stage, in perilous stilettos and under a vast shaggy mane that Aslan would envy, to purr sexily though Inner City’s Good Life.
For Tong’s grand finale, chart-topper John Newman (pictured below) walked on with admirable solemnity, before breaking into a prancing shtick that left me cold but induced euphoria among his arm-waving disciples in the arena.
A brilliantly packaged show, the Ibiza Prom energised and shook the sturdy old hall with a joyous, tribal vibe for a full 90 minutes. And then, abruptly, it was all over. At a quarter to midnight. Terribly civilised.
(Photos copyright BBC/Chris Christodoulou)