It started off as a normal Saturday afternoon at The Zoo – as normal as an old abandoned Zoo in the heart of the Benimussa hills of Ibiza can get of course. We'd been tipped off that a special guest was due to appear on the main stage, but as we arrived around 7pm the unicyle-riding gorilla and hand-holding hippies in the drum circle near the entrance were giving nothing away.
The Zoo Project has been occupying the most unusual venue on the island for nearly 10 years now and every year seems to reveal another corner or undiscovered parcel of space to play in. Now compromised of at least 4 distinct arenas of sound, the most notably recognised Seal Pit has been joined by an equally heavyweight Treehouse stage for the full-on party massive to dance their socks off.
A bull-ring style area near the front gates has been decorated and converted into a Mandala Garden, complete with artfully stenciled tree outlines, and tarot and massage tents. Here the theme for the day is acoustic, ethnic, mantra-chanting and indian sitar playing, whilst a sushi stall, and a Caravan of Crepes provide sustenance for those in need of a break from the main stages.
There's a swimming pool that is skant use to us in the blazing heat, but shade is sought and found in the Family Garden, a tucked-away corner backstage of the Seal Pit, where bicycles hang amongst the trees, DJs can be spotted playing casual fuseball between sets, and a make-shift pallet table is set out with free and healthy vegan food to be eaten whilst perched on the vintage sofas dotted around the bar.
Mark Farina can be heard blowing up a gale in the Seal Pit to the delight of the house-loving step stacked revellers, whilst through the trees across on the other stage, we spot Thomas Melchoir take over from a smiling Umho, who had also been added to the line up last minute.
The general festival vibe of the event is enhanced by the numerous party heads and island faces that have come out to the woods for what has been tipped on the Ibiza grapevine to be a night way beyond normal.
In the garden the rumour mill is confused – Luciano or Ricardo – both names have been hinted at, and then finally at around 9pm, a particularly tall and familiar figure can be spotted making his way across the dancefloor to the Treehouse, and its not long after that the crowd spot him, signaled by a wave of cheers and whistles and an increased intensity in the overall atmosphere.
Villalobos had not had such a good week, since the social media trolling he endured post-Cocoon in the Park, but there was no sign of that stress as he settled down in the booth with a big smile surrounded by promoters and fellow DJs that had probably also found themselves on that stage for the first time.
Thomas Melchoir played an excellent set building and anticipating the perfect ambient for Ricardo's opener just as the sun dipped below the back of the stage and cast welcome dusky shadows across the gently cooling crowds.
And then for the next 2 hours – Magic. When one of those nights comes together combining just the right amount of truly mental up-for-it punters – whose minds were being blown away by the surprise appearance in the first place – with a generous splash of promoters, DJs and island heads properly getting down to one of the most accessible sets we've ever heard Villalobos play at a club.
Yes, he dropped Giorgio Moroder/Donna Summer's “I Feel Love”. Yes he threw in Xpress 2 “Muzik Xpress”, but he also somehow fit them in amongst some trademark dark and twisted diversions. It was like being at a private house party for Ricardo's and his mates, whilst he plays a special birthday set – except the booth was up a tree and there was a giant panda in it sometimes.
A huge grin never left his face for the whole set, and was more than equally matched by those around and in front on him. If ever a musical set summed up the very definition of fun, then this was it.
Of course, it's just quite possible that putting your DJs up a tree, and filling their audience with unicycle riding gorillas may be the key to getting the best possible performance out of them, and who are we to argue if that's the case. In fact we'd recommend it. A true authentic Ibiza experience all round – just Zoo it.