Elrow Grows Bigger, Better, and More Absurd
Over the past ten years, Barcelona-based party promoters elrow have grown into a global force in electronic music events. What started as a “slightly illegal” Sunday morning party at a club called Row 14, near the Barcelona Airport, has ballooned into an events company that now hosts 100+ parties a year and half a dozen festivals, from the Caribean to Egypt to Chicago to Peru. Gray Area caught up with the founder and leader of elrow, Juan Arnau, to talk about their upcoming US tour and some of the past parties that have put them on the map.
Juan Arnau was born into clubbing royalty. His family has run legendary nightclubs for seven generations in and around northern Spain. For decades, the family was famous for its nightclub Florida135 in Fraga, Aragon. First opened in the 1940s as a cinema, it became a dancehall, then a disco, then a club hosting the first proper house and techno parties in Spain in the late ’80s.
In 2009, the latest generation of Arnaus opened a new club called Row 14. Its Sunday Sessions parties became famous for elaborate decor, costumed dancers, stilt walkers, confetti, inflatables, props, performances, and other shenanigans. At an elrow party, the aim was to make the crowd the star attraction – a policy that’s resonated with clubbers across the world, though nowhere more than in Ibiza.
Starting in the early 2010s, elrow hosted two seasons at the Vista Club, followed by three seasons at Space, before a massive 2017 season at Amnesia. By 2019, elrow was throwing multiple massive parties every week across the world, hosting stages at festivals, and running festivals of its own. Then the pandemic hit, and everything ground to a halt.
“We were essentially stopped by the pandemic for two years,” says Juan Arnau. “But things are finally coming back. We recently did our largest post-pandemic show, elrow in Amsterdam, for 25,000 people back in September. Since then we’ve been rebuilding the team, going back into the party mood, especially in Europe but also in the USA.
"We also managed to get to the UK because they opened up a bit before the rest of Europe. We did a big show on New Year’s Eve in Madrid for 2,000 people. Finally we’re back to doing shows in Barcelona in our club, where we’re based. And as of today, we’re launching three or four festivals in the next few weeks, planning the summer, and looking forward to being back on the road – finally.”
So how do they manage to do everything when most promoters are pleased to put on one show a month? “If we are capable of putting on 110, 120 shows a year it’s because of the team. I consider them almost a family, and we work really well together. The base is here in Barcelona, but we have teams now in countries around the world. We have 30, 40 people in Ibiza because that’s a really important place for us. Our great team makes it possible – and then the audience makes the magic happen.”
Over the years, elrow has pushed the boundaries of what’s possible, hosting events in ever-more-unlikely venues. “We are a creative company,” Arnau laughs. “About five years ago we got sponsorship from Heineken and they challenged us to come up with the craziest event we could. The first idea was a hot air balloon festival. We put together 10 hot air balloons and invited 2,000 people for a party up in the sky, three hours outside Barcelona.”
The party worked, generating predictable amounts of attention on social media. A year later, Heineken returned to sponsor another one – if elrow could think of an ever more prodigious venue.
“So we found the deepest diving pool in the world, it’s in Italy, and we decided to do a party there. We convinced Peggy Gou to play and we invited about 300 people.”
So… how do you throw a party at the bottom of a diving pool?
“There was a small dancefloor outside the pool,” explains Arnau. “Peggy was playing in a transparent tube that ran through the middle of the pool. Partiers took turns going into the tube, 15 at a time, to dance and take pictures with Peggy underwater in the middle of the tube. It was challenging – the insurance, the security, all that – but it was very powerful on social media. We’re a creative company, and we were very happy with how it went.”
Does every party come off without a hitch? Of course not. “After the last seven years of touring we have many stories of things going wrong,” says Arnau. “Four years ago, we were supposed to do our first festival in Spain, in a town one hour from Barcelona. I met the mayor, the town council, and everything seemed fine. We had a press conference to announce it and I booked the DJs and the performers, and then one month before the show they told us they weren’t going to give us the permit and the whole event was canceled. That sort of thing happens and it’s very stressful. Finally, four years later, we’re putting on a festival in Spain this year, in Madrid next month, but that cancellation was a painful one. We lost a lot of money, but that’s all part of it.
"There are dozens of stories like that," he continues. "We’ve had containers of decorations blocked in Colombia, and we had to pay bribes to the police to get them out. We’ve had shipping containers of costumes and decorations lost forever in Dubai. We lost a container in Lebanon. Someone just took it from the harbor and we never saw it again.”
So, is elrow ever tempted to make things easier for itself and just put on regular parties in regular places?
“No,” says Arnau without hesitation. “That’s not who we are. We are here to stay and we love the industry. We don’t know what else to do, and our passion is to keep growing and making things bigger. We’re always learning and finding new ways to put on better parties. I love doing it, otherwise, it would be too boring. If the shows were copy-paste, I wouldn’t be here.”
elrow’s US tour is on now, taking them to Chicago, Las Vegas, and New York. As they build back from the forced hibernation during the pandemic, Juan says they will focus on Europe and the US before returning in force to South America and Asia next year. “The exciting part of the brand is that it keeps evolving. We keep adding new things, new music, new decorations, new collaborations with contemporary artists. We’re creative, and I’d never change that. I just want to make sure we deliver great things – better, crazier than ever before.”
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Words by: Nick Taylor