Sunburned and full of beer and rum, thousands of Britons cheer as their national treasure Elton John takes the stage in a glittery purple jacket under a Spanish sunset.
On Ibiza, island of parties, this is the biggest of the summer: a festival of top singers and DJs aiming to draw more foreign fun-seekers than ever to fuel its tourism industry — one of the few economic motors still turning in Spain.
Outside the open-air concert site in Sant Antoni, ground zero for the British clubbing scene on the north of the island, the discos are packed by night and the beaches by day, with little outward sign of Spain’s crippling recession.
However, along with the millions of German, British, Italian and French tourists for whom the island is Spain’s best-known brand, there are other newcomers: Spaniards themselves, heading to Ibiza and the other Balearic Islands in search of work.
Bryce, a Spanish engineer of 26, came to Ibiza in February from the northern industrial city of A Coruna after he was made redundant.
“A friend told me, come to Ibiza, you’ll find a job as a waiter no problem. Where is there no crisis? In Ibiza,” he says, standing on the terrace of the bar where he landed a summer job in Ibiza City, the island’s capital.
“But I was very lucky. We have a stack of CVs here this high,” from other job-hunters, he says, holding his hands apart several inches. “And if you have work here, you have to work longer hours because they won’t hire more people.”
Driven by a soaring jobless rate across Spain, the new arrivals must compete with foreign night club touts and others who for years have funded their summers of clubbing and sunshine through temporary jobs.
“I’ve been here the past four years. It’s a lot harder this year” to find work, says Kirstie Patterson, 22, from northeast England, standing deeply tanned in a red and white bikini by Sant Antoni’s baking seafront.
“Because of how bad things are financially here, there’s double the amount of workers looking this year,” adds Patterson, who has got a summer job scouting on the beaches for a London-based model agency. “And there’s only a certain amount of work.”
For all the strengths of the tourism sector, it cannot generate enough jobs to meet demand in the recession, brought on by the collapse of a building boom that has driven national unemployment above 24 percent.
“The number of jobs available here is staying more or less level,” says Roberto Hortensius, president of the Sant Antoni hotel-owners’ federation, whose own establishment caters mainly to Germans. “During the building boom, workers from the hotel sector left to find jobs in construction, which was better paid. So there are a lot of people now looking for work. There isn’t much left for people from outside.”
“Perhaps they think there is more of a job market here, but there isn’t,” adds his friend Juanjo Planells, manager of a 100-bed hotel in Sant Antoni. “It’s spectacular: In one week, we received 500 CVs in our business.”
Meanwhile, businesses on Ibiza are worried about other side-effects of the crisis, such as a mooted rise in value-added tax that they say would choke them.
On top of this, a surplus of unsold properties built during the boom, they say, has spawned a market in cheap, unregulated holiday home rentals that is undercutting them.
“We are very worried,” Hortensius said. “Apart from the fact that they offer no guarantees and aren’t subject to health controls or other regulations, it is a big black market. It doesn’t create jobs and destroys legal business.”