Ibiza is an island filled with every fantasy imaginable: The sun shines year round and the beaches are always welcoming; luscious greenery sprouts from the most fertile soil on earth; people party beyond Vegas proportions; clubs known the world over are spinning tunes twenty-four hours a day. Here on this beautiful island, a revolution was born.
Home-away-from-home for mega-star DJs and dance lovers alike for over a quarter century, the glorious Spanish island is the kind of place legends are created and myths are unraveled.
Such a myth is Frankie Wilde, “Deaf DJ” and subject of dance “biopic” It’s All Gone Pete Tong
With its interviews of dance leaders Carl Cox, Paul Van Dyk, newcomer Sarah Main and, of course, a special appearance by legendary British DJ Pete Tong, himself, the film moves so naturally—and the acting is so casual—you’d swear you were watching a documentary. The movie claims it’s based on a true story, yet the name Frankie Wilde and the details of his story are not familiar to even the most fervent dance-music enthusiasts. This leads to the audience’s obvious question at the film’s New York premiere: Fact or fiction?
Getting the answer from charismatic Brit Paul Kaye (Wilde) and amiable Canadian Michael Dowse (writer/director) proves messier than an Ibiza foam party. “It’s a true story,” says Dowse, totally deadpan, over coffee in the bustling lobby of the Grand Central Hyatt, just prior to the premiere. I’m asking about the meticulous publicity campaign portraying character Frankie Wilde as a real person.
Pushed a little more, the co-conspirators hesitantly glance at each other then start laughing.
“It’s a true story,” repeats Dowse, this time through a grin and a chuckle.
“Someone told us it was a true story,” Kaye chimes in before inclining, “it’s an urban myth. A lot of it’s built in, sort of built up around it. It’s just kind of tales of hedonism. ‘The Frankie Wilde Story,’ you know?”
The Frankie Wilde Story. A gritty and humorous look at the sleazy, drug-fueled world of dance, with a mythical DJ epitomizing the entire culture.
Tong positions the character best. “I don’t know anyone like Frankie Wilde,” he says initially, sipping Earl Grey on the roof of the posh Soho House, a day after DJing the premiere’s after party. “There’s every cliché and every eccentricity I suppose you’ve ever seen or heard about in DJing all rolled into that one character.”
He pauses, reflecting on all the DJs he knows, and says, “There’s a little bit of a lot of people in him.”
The film’s title comes from a phrase well-known in the U.K.—it’s cockney rhyming slang for something’s gone wrong. Tong essentially brought dance music to the masses in the mid ’80s, inspired by the thundering beat from clubs in Chicago, New York and Ibiza, and was a household name in the U.K. when the phrase was coined by a dance fanzine about 15 years ago. His weekly show on BBC Radio 1 is still preaching what’s good and new in dance music today—as it has been for over a decade.
“If the show helps, I’d never stand there and take credit,” he says, shrugging off the burden of helping create a mega-industry. “All I did is reflect and play what’s there. I think I sped up the process—I’ll take credit for that.”
The film stands in contrast to such modesty. Excess and self-promotion are the norm from the opening scene with thousands chanting “Frankie!” while Kaye, in Christ-like pose and garb, is lowered on wires from the rafters of famed club Manumission into a pool below.
“It’s the opulence which I wanted to take the piss out of,” says Dowse of the lifestyle that many a superstar (DJ, rock star or sports hero, he points out) lives today. “Not so much the fact that they DJ—it’s what gets presented to them because they are DJs. It’s a one-man show, and they get paid obscene amounts of money for two to three hours of work—they’re mixing other people’s records!”
“People like me because of what I play and people like me the most when I play what I like,” Tong explains. “Over the years it’s always been picking other people’s music, putting it in the right order to make people happy I suppose.”
These hordes are made so happy they declare DJs gods, close to the heavens for “setting the mood,” as Tong puts it. In such a situation, believing your own hype means there’s no way but down.
And in It’s All Gone Pete Tong, that’s precisely where Wilde must go, with no one to console him but the freakishly scary persona the DJ’s cocaine addiction takes: A man-size, snorting, growling, buzzing, frothing-at-the-mouth, apron-wearing badger. Because, as Dowse says, cocaine is a “badgering drug.”
The film’s first half is fueled by a hilariously honest take on the music industry and the clubbing world in general. As momentum builds, the extravagance increases and so does the music’s volume, until a persistent buzz begins afflicting Wilde. As he goes completely deaf, the DJ is abandoned by his wife, manager and everyone he thought cared, leaving him with nothing but the drug-induced badger and the silence to taunt him.
The music reflects the mood throughout the film’s many twists. The soundtrack, helmed by famed DJ Lol Hammond, comes in two parts, “Day” and “Night.” Songs—from Shwab’s “DJs in a Row” to Orbital’s “Frenetic”—portray the madness of life in Ibiza. Sobering tunes from The Beta Band and Depeche Mode serve as the backdrop for Wilde’s descent, with Penguin Café Orchestra’s “Music For A Found Harmonium” and The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” setting the tone for Wilde’s ascent back.
“We always thought that it was more of a rock ’n’ roll movie,” says Dowse, who has shot videos for groups like The New Pornographers. “I always loved films that were music-driven, like Danny Boyle or Wes Anderson. They really push the narrative with the twist that they make with the music in the film.”
“That’s the difference,” adds Kaye, “when it’s used constructively as opposed to 38 f---ing promos glued together to make a movie.”
It’s All Gone Pete Tong’s tale of celebrity excess, implosion and redemption is one told countless times in the world of music, film and sport. But in Ibiza, under Dowse’s direction, it’s retold in gargantuan proportions with visual, sonic and narrative pizzazz.