VAN LIFE: A DJ’s Journey to Ibiza and Sustainable Creativity
This is a personal account of leaving the U.K and continuing a creative lifestyle on the road with my family!
I had been collecting digital music for many years and became a fan of Pioneer CDJ’s, no more record bags, and in a van let me be honest where the hell do you put a vinyl collection. I have my MacBook Pro, iPhone, Ableton Live, Push 2, Rekord box, Pioneer DDJ controller and Affinity Designer a collection of mobile friendly tools for van life creativity. I have built a sound system in the van and it all runs on solar power, off-grid productions and creative pursuits on the move. I’m a sustainable DJ, blogger and music producer who lives and works in a camper van full time, a digital nomad in the true sense of the terminology. Rose my partner makes clothing and accessories in the van with solar power using an Elna sewing machine and surplus quality fabrics from Yorkshire England. We are both full-time parents and work in the camper van while entertaining and road schooling our little girl, it has been nearly two years now since we moved into our mobile home and I thought it was time to share our story.
We had been toying with the idea of living in a van for years but it never seemed possible for us to make the leap and change. Everything we had read online was about couples who had sold their houses and bought a van and had enough saving to embark on a #vanlife journey through Europe, this seemed like the most idyllic life and Instagram and Facebook were alive with the stories of these travellers who made a change in life and hit the road. We had watched many a documentary on life in a small space, worked festivals, lived off-grid in Wales and were advocates of a healthy well-balanced diet, sustainable living, conscious creativity, and meditation. We attended an Entrepreneurial course in Leeds to help us with our focus in life, a step towards the digital nomadic lifestyle.
We decided to have our baby at home and she was finally born in the house we were renting after a five-day labour. Our midwife Amanda and college Debbie came from One to One midwifery and helped us through the birth and have become our friends, both now are owners of campervans and we keep in touch regularly. A home birth is truly a gift; you have the comfort of your surroundings and water birth is so beautiful it’s almost impossible to put the experience in words. Both Rose and I knew this was our time to make changes in our lives and for the next 6 months, we planned our escape from the city. Changes necessary for both of us to remain in the creative realm: books on psychology, life coaching, and spirituality, creativity and music were essential reading material for this journey.
We looked at all the challenges of living in a van and we turned them into positives and looked at what we could afford, how to do this with limited funds and as a family of three. Our budget was tight and would mean selling our worldly possessions including my record collection, car and music equipment to buy a van and convert it for travelling in Europe. We had been living a frugal lifestyle (the life creative can be like a rollercoaster so elegantly put by Bill Hicks, it’s just a ride) so this was just another step closer to our goals of sustainable off-grid living. Rose had been making clothing and accessories from surplus fabrics under the name of The Colour Circus, using social media as a platform to showcase her wares and remain in the realm of slow fashion zero waste.
The house we shared was beautiful and we loved the area we were living in, I was DJ-ing, making music and working on graphics for a few independents. Rose was tailoring for friends and family working on new innovate ideas with waste fabrics. Our housemates were understanding of our situation of having a baby but we could sense tension over time and we realized it was time to leave, if you don’t have kids then you don’t know trust me. We found a van on Facebook and went to see it in a field in Wales, the Ford Dormobile was part converted but had been stood for nearly 2 years. We fell in love with the van from first sight; it had been an ambulance and mobility bus and was approaching 30 years of age and was in our budget. I love old vehicles and when she was fired up for the first time in a while she purred like a lion. So we bought her from a musician who was expecting his second child and was happy for us to take her off his hands, Laura was her name and we have become great friends, man and machine.
On returning to Leeds it was a difficult journey back and the cracks began to show, no power, overheating and the interior smelt of dampness, our new home needed a transformation. The next morning I got inside and ripped out the interior of the van back to the metal work, it felt great to start working on her and there was so much potential with space. She certainly was a character and I knew this would be an exciting project to build a home on wheels. We had 10 days to convert Laura ready to live in and this was an almighty challenge, we had experience in festival décor but this was a new challenge. I am not a carpenter or mechanic but ask me about music I’m your man! Fortunately, I have great friends who came to the rescue and helped with the conversion, Gwil and Josh got their hands dirty, we spend 3 days in B&Q car park building the frame and within 10 days she was ready for the road. We packed up and fortunately I managed to sell my record collection, car and music equipment in a week, this gave us some money to do the work on the van and have some spending money for the road. The day we set off from Leeds was like a miracle had happened a true sense of achievement, both Rose and I were giddy at the thought of this new life on the road, a chance to give our little girl an alternative lifestyle and for both of us to remain in the creative realm. Road schooling Jhonah and we would also be learning more about life, love and creativity. Some thought we were mad others naïve but most encouraged us to take the plunge and travel, the van life was upon us and 6 years of dreaming finally became a reality.
Our first month in the van was spent in a campsite in the Yorkshire Dales and a perfect opportunity to see if what we had built with friends was a suitable home, this is a must before setting off as you work out very quickly what you need and really don’t need. I bumped into an old friend near the campsite by chance a great bass player and he was a dab hand at welding so he helped us fix a few problems before the MOT, she sailed through it. Rowan (Roses brother) came to the rescue, as the build wasn’t quite right and the solar system needed adjusting, he visited us in the campsite and immediately told us what we needed to change, Rowan is a genius with vans, electronics and great percussionist.
So we headed to Wales and spent a further two weeks in his driveway working on the van interior with Nick, Rowan and myself fixing the engine and making the final repairs. We visited friends who were living in a bus called Bluebell and a little boy Felix it was his second birthday, Danny and Cristyn are great friends I knew from the club I was the director in Leeds. Early mornings at many an after party we had discussed living in vans, off-grid and living off the land, this became a reality for both of us and when we reunited at the party it was a great time to reminisce.
Danny introduced us to Mike Vandog traveller who runs a great blog and he interviewed us about the 10-day transformation of Laura our home on wheels (link below) Danny runs Igloo disco, Filth and has been on Dragons Den and he has been a great inspiration to us and we have stayed in contact throughout the journey, our kids now play together on the beaches of Ibiza and we are both working on new innovative projects.
We finally bought a ticket from Newhaven to Dieppe in France and this was the start of our European journey, we had packed Laura with all the essentials for our creative endeavours and it was amazing to fit everything we needed into such a small space. Shedding the old life is a liberating experience and as you get rid of your possessions an overwhelming feeling of positive consciousness occurs, you finally realise what you actually need to live and work on the road. For me, Ableton Live is the best music DAW for creative music production and what you can do with this software has infinite possibilities. The analogue vs. digital argument is soon to become a myth and as someone who is a futurist when it comes to music I believe the future has finally arrived and is accessible to everyone; not just those with a bank account the size of a small villa.
Sustainability is key and we have manufactured so many products with a disastrous effect on our planet, even this revival of vinyl has me shivering at the thought of charity shops becoming loaded with plastic waiting to be purchased for 99p in the hope they don’t become another landfill product. As new ways to become independent arise it still baffles me why artists are so keen to get signed to record labels when you can do this very easily as a cooperative of friends who all share the same ambition, locally or who you meet online. I still love to DJ and make music after 26 years and the equipment you can buy now on a budget take up very little room, it’s important to remember some of the best tunes were made on very little equipment and were made in the poorest suburbs of cities across the world.
A digital lifestyle combined with a life on the road has so many benefits for those who challenge the status quo and just do it!
We spend our first month in France by the book, we stayed at a campsite at least once a week to get a shower and do the washing, have a safe place to park and get on WIFI. It takes a little time to move away from the conditioning of living in a house and it’s definitely worth doing this in small steps. We broke down on a few occasions, locked ourselves out of the van and thankfully we had the Haynes manual to help diagnose the fault, fortunately, Laura is a very mechanical engine and can be fixed on the roadside if need be (this is a long story itself).
We finally arrived in Ariege a beautiful Provence in France where a lot of vanners, travelers and musicians had moved because it was cheap to buy land, beautiful, creative, full of markets and sustainable to grow your own produce. This is where our journey really began and we met an old friend here who was a great percussionist in a band I had played with in Leeds many years earlier. Justin was playing in a band and making fresh pasta at the market, homeschooling his two girls, Jess and Justin are doing a wonderful job and truly remarkable people.
I met Fergus and Gaia who were a couple with 2 boys who grew vegetables, had animals and a recording studio in their house, they travelled all over playing gigs and were teaching the kids English, French and Italian. Something clicked in this wonderful experience in France and helped us realise this was creative living at it’s best, everyone we met was a creative and had amazing histories including Duncan from One Giant Leap who frequented the area.
Justin introduced me to Bart who had purchased a church near St Girons and had invested in classic music equipment including the kick drum microphone Martin Hannett used for Joy Division and New Order, a BBC reel to reel and various outboard gear. I worked with Bart in the studio on the Adamski remix in ¾ for Bullet Dodge records and found him an investor to help him build the studio in the Church, my good friend and musician Chris Bishop and now it’s looking like Abbey Road Studios. It feels great to unite and work together bringing different elements of skills to the table to make something unique.
Rose would face paint kids in exchange for food at the market and I would help with Facebook live performances to park and use electric in the winter months when we were lacking solar power. I would DJ at events for a few drinks on an evening and this exchange was fun and liberating, the views of the mountains were spectacular and so inspiring creatively. We were immersed in this part of France and truly loved the people and scenery, but the cold set in and the camper van even though we had a wood burner became difficult for us to continue in the region. We decided reluctantly to move on and chase the sun, it was a March morning and the snow had melted for the first time in weeks so we packed up and headed south. We will return to France and continue working with our friends in the future but for now, it was time to explore and see new places and meet new people.
The journey over the mountains was out of this world and we would clench our teeth in the van, as we would turn every bend on a sheer cliff edge overwhelmed by the landscape and views. After a few weeks of travelling up and down mountain ranges we finally crossed the French/Spanish border and the weather changed dramatically, accents and culture shifted phase and we knew we were finally in Catalonia. I like to think of myself as a romantic so when I viewed Roses on the map it was a great place to take Rose, so we headed in that direction, we stopped at a roundabout and the sign said (left Cadaques or right Roses) we looked at each other and for some unknown reason we turned left.
As we descended on Cadaques we instantly knew this was a special place, the whitewash buildings on the hillside and the view of the sea were stunning, we found a place to park next to other vans and settled for the night. The next day we explored Cadaques and met our van neighbour who ran a dance school and her partner, who was a promoter and DJ in Hamburg, we instantly hit it off and talked about music for hours and why van life is so appealing to creative people. After a beer or two I was asked if I had played in Cadaques yet and my response was “not yet” we had just arrived and never been here before, Moshen told me I should try and play here, it has a very unique energy and was the home of Salvador Dali many years ago. So I asked in a bar and was directed to another to speak to Victor about possible work as a DJ, we met and I was asked to come and meet the owner Chris.
Directed to Cap De Creus a restaurant on a cliff edge where the Tramontana wind blows and shapes the rocks that inspired the paintings we know and love by Dali himself. They made a movie here (Lighthouse at the end of the world) and the view is stunning. Chris greeted us and we chatted about music and the free party movement in the late 80’s and early 90’s he had helped with the funding of the DIY parties in Nottingham, a punk/squatter at heart and you could feel this in his energy. He agreed to feed my family and look after us and find a place to park for us park the van without harassment from the local police in the summer months, so we moved into a community of caravans with a family house where the son was a DJ in Cadaques. We all hit it off and here began a six-month relationship with Cadaques and the local community.
I was given the responsibility of booking bands, designing posters and looking after Facebook pages. I met Toby Connor, a singer-songwriter and we worked together on booking bands and re-designing the bar logo and menu. I would DJ at Cap De Creus and Toby would play live while customers indulged in some of the finest cuisines, drinks, and views this part of Catalonia has to offer, a truly multi-sensory experience. We met some great people and had a lot of fun in Cadaques, I used Ableton to record Toby’s live performance in a theatre and worked with guitarist Stefan May on a Balearic track on a balcony near the sea. I would get up with Jhonah and Rose and go to the beach it was amazing, to say the least, this was the dream.
It was seasonal work and we knew it would finally come to an end and we would be moving on again. It’s amazing what you find when you are in a van and how you can survive by exchanges through your journey. I have been DJ-ing for 26 years and that was the best summer I can remember truly in your element. Rose worked with Elena a photographer from France and body painted the staff of Cap De Creus for a photography exhibition at Cap De Creus. The staff and the musicians worked together through the summer months in Cadaques making this unique experience more like time with the family. I played a 12-hour set at Cap De Creus for Sa Mon Santa Rose and Meri (Restaurant manager) performed with LED, Flag and Fire Poi. The staff and clientele danced and into the early hours celebrating this event in style. Just ask bar staff in Spain what else they do and you will be surprised at how creative and multitalented they are, funding their ambitions through the summer months working and serving the public. Never take the staff for granted as a friend in a bar in Cadaques was studying a Ph.D. in philosophy and the owner was a microbiologist.
We decided early in September to make a move south and visit a friend who was a DJ, stage manager and label owner who now lived with his wife in the mountains near Tortosa Spain. Amanda was studying her Ph.D. in sustainable-fashion and Moose concentrated on his art (reverse graffiti) a sustainable concept based on removing dirt and grime to unfold beauty with a pressure washer. Sadly we broke down and the brakes failed on the van and we were delayed by a week waiting for new parts to arrive; Spanish garages are expensive and parts don’t come cheap so be aware travellers this can hit you hard. Our savings were now dwindling and panic set in as we travelled to see our friends in the Catalonian mountains. After a hard working summer both Rose and I needed a rest and to re-center our thoughts. We stayed with Moose and Amanda for two months and had a unique experience staying out of sight and mind and helping with olive picking and some gardening. The land was beautiful and the olive trees bloomed and the oranges grew and the views were spectacular.
Our hearts are in creativity, van life and travel and we tried to think of ways to remain but the road was calling us once more, we wish them all the best inspired by their efforts and achievements. Invited by Moose to DJ at a small festival Riberola, playing music with my daughter by my side in a setting by old railway tracks was awe-inspiring. The organisers had recycled everything from the stage to the toilets and charged a minimal fee to enter, working as a community to create a unique experience in the mountains with no advertising or big name DJ’s it was organic and musicians had come from all over Europe to play.
We had an issue with the brake piston on the driver side leaving Tortosa and we had to find a garage to do the repair, with a van the age of Laura you have to expect to fix the old components eventually while travelling. Once again the part had to come from the U.K and we spent 4 nights in the garage waiting eagerly to move on, the mechanic was sound and loved festivals and DJ’s and was so helpful. He had a tattoo “Karma” and we laughed and shared our Karmatic stories in life and both agreed traveling was a great way to meet like-minded individuals and groups people with the same mindset but you have to go find them. Laura was fixed we thanked our trusty mechanic and set off towards the Delta D’Ebra where pink flamingo’s settle and you can drive 18km with the sea on both sides.
Every part of this journey has been fuel for our creativity and Rose and I have been storing it up ready to make new and personal projects come to light. When parked in the delta for the night we messaged Danny and Cristyn about coming to Ibiza (their new home) and how we thought it would be great to travel to the White Isle and reunite, within a few days we had booked a ticket and headed for Valencia to catch the boat. The crossing was special and I would recommend getting a cabin if you have a family as we realised the seating deck is no place for a 2-year-old who needs her sleep LOL.
We have been on the Island for a few months and made some great friends as well as reconnecting with some buddies who live here and we have decided to settle on the Island and give Jhonah a chance to live a Mediterranean life. Rose is making some great products in the van and Jhonah is playing on the beach every day. We have made this journey sustainably, with a budget and now we are excited about what the future holds. I make music in the van with solar power, work on DJ sets and write the blog with a view of the sea, we recommend travelling in a van to unleash your creative potential and if you need any information or help please don’t hesitate to message me. Whatever your journey in music remember you are unique and follow your passion where ever it may take you, it’s those who step outside the box that truly succeeds in their endeavors and become masters of their game.