A tropical bastion of fabulous paradise lovers has a new sub-set of visitors: fabulous electronic music lovers. The deep and soulful sounds of the world have finally become a staple in Barbados—and the island is listening.
By Jeff Kirkwood | March 09, 2021
When I first travelled to Barbados in 2013, I was expecting big things. “Big things” is a bar I rarely set for tropical destinations because I grew up in Bermuda. How can any other place compete with pink sand, hibiscus and frangipani, some of the most heartbreaking sunsets on earth, and water that is not just turquoise, but fluorescent turquoise?
What an absolute joy to find that Barbados can, and does.
This jewel of the Caribbean has another characteristic which makes my spirit soar: The roots of Bajan culture are not just visible, but front and centre. This is evidenced by the ladies walking down the road with baskets of sugar cane on their heads, the rum punch on every menu, and the blaring dub reggae found on the public transit system.
Despite this most excellent attachment to its time-honoured traditions, Barbados is also not afraid to evolve. And there is no clearer example of this openness than with the island’s exploding electronic music scene. And to be clear, I am not talking about loud, thumping, doof doof technotronic rave music—I am referring to the beautiful, melodic, beach club and poolside electronica that you find at the chic beach bars and pool clubs of the Mediterranean.
Barbados might be on a mild pause, but it is certainly ready to press play.
Spin Around the World
Over the course of Jeff Kirkwood's last 15 years DJing around the world, he's had the good fortune to play in some exceptional locations—Malta, Bali, Paris, Sydney, Barcelona, the Burning Man Festival. Barbados is now also on his top-tier list.
When I first came to Barbados in 2013, there was not much electronic music to be found. Over the years, there was a sprinkling of special events: the Space Ibiza 25th Anniversary Party with Riva Starr and Camilo Franco, The Ministry of Sound and Hed Kandi parties with the Music Factory Festival, a Buddha Bar official event. Local resident and pioneer Joe Santoro’s monthly The Alchemists event had been going since 2017, which has been the main house music event on the island. Before that, Craig Corrie (probably the true pioneer of electronic music here) had other regular events like Groove Beach, Chasing Sunset. But over the years these events have been relatively few and far between. In 2013, The Cliff, a famous high-end restaurant, beach club and bar, and the monthly The Alchemists event were the only well-known places to have house DJs sharing their passionate sounds, and the vast majority of attendees would be the more discerning local and international visitors.
I landed a few gigs at smaller venues around the island over the next few years, but each time it was a struggle to engage the dancefloor with my soulful and funky house music. The Bajans, and fair enough, weren’t really into it. Barbados is a dancehall, soca and reggae culture. Electronic music just fell too far outside of their familiar realms. There was one memorable night on my first trip at a now-closed nightclub called Priva, when I managed to break through with my music to the dancefloor. I had a group of several Bajan ladies (but like, the hottest-to-trottest, bomb-ass sexiest ladies, Bajan or otherwise) leaning into my DJ booth, clamouring to get a look at this “white boy from Canada mashin’ up the decks.”
I wear that particular moment on my DJ sleeve as one of my biggest badges of honour.
In the years that followed, my experience Djing in Barbados was an uphill climb; I always had to work proper hard to be appreciated by the dancefloor with my vocal deep and tech house. But when the Vujaday Music Festival launched in 2018, all of that changed. The festival brought such great international artists (Sasha, DJ Tennis, Lee Foss, Green Velvet, Danny Tenaglia), that the locals who attended were exposed to not only some of the best electronic music in the world, but also some of the most excellent electronic-music-loving tourists in the world. This is when the island’s music scene began to adopt a new aspect.
The timing for this couldn’t have been better as it became an “if you build it, they will come” situation. In sync with the festival, Nikki Beach, an international beach club with locations in Ibiza, Spain and Monte Carlo, to name a few, came to Barbados. Its international music program and roster of DJs were quick to make a mark on the island. Although the club has closed very recently, newer kids on the block are taking over.
Today, you can find local talent like my pal DJ Dluxe sharing soulful electronic offerings all over the island, and the sophisticated sounds of island staple Joe Santoro at the gorgeous new beachfront bar/resto Sea Shed. Beach club La Cabane is an especially stunning example of how a rustic space can provide a modern electronic music experience while seamlessly fitting into the natural beauty of the landscape, and also where you can find yours truly DJing the sunset session every Saturday night. Places like Red Door Lounge and Blue Pineapple continue to promote and present electronic music events, and the Vujaday Music Festival (with its die-hard audiophiles) eagerly awaits the resurrection of the island’s tourism. This is not to say the scene is on pause. Finally, a larger percentage of locals than ever has finally begun to really appreciate this alien genre, and they are carrying the torch but admirably. Barbados might be on a mild pause, but it is certainly ready to press play.
In whichever ways the island changes in 2021 and beyond, there are many things of which you can be certain: Cuzz’s Fish Shack will still be selling the best fish cutter on the island (along with a Frutee, if you can handle the sugar content), Oistins will still be doing its live music fish fry extravaganza, and the island will still be honouring its heritage while embracing its newfound passion for electronic music.
And the sunsets.
The sunsets will still be heartbreaking.