Remembering "Heaven" by DJ Sammy, the Soundtrack to Every Forgotten Holiday Romance
The story of a Eurodance smasher, from lost love and Hungarian porn stars, to weird 9/11 tributes.
Nobody on the roadNobody on the beachI feel it in the airThe summer's out of reach
August 1991. Palma, Mallorca. 2AM. The midsummer heat moves enticingly amongst the bodies crowded on the dancefloor of Zorba's tropical discotheque. Bronzed men with open white collars sit comfortably in their own sweat at the bar, watching the dancers move beneath the lights with just their long, elegant white cigarettes for company.
Samuel Bouriah, a twenty-two year old lifelong islander, smiles to himself in the DJ booth, feeling the club slowly effervesce beneath his fingertips. He pulls Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer" from its cardboard sleeve, just as a young woman catches his eye. It's Marie-José van der Kolk, a few months away from her home in the small Dutch port of Ijmuiden, working her summer holiday job in the bars and clubs of Mallorca. They share a quick, shy smile with one another.
Four years later, Bouriah and van der Kolk would become a couple, performing together as DJ Sammy and Carisma, the Eurodance super-duo pumping in every club from Arenal to Magaluf, their names echoing across the azure waters of Badia de Palma and beyond into Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, having become circuit staples.
In the UK, DJ Sammy is indivisible from his 2001 rework of Bryan Adams' "Heaven" the ultimate dance track for-all-seasons; equally at home in the CD player of your mum's Ford Ka; peak time at your school disco; an ill-advised but well-meaning first dance at your cousin's wedding; or as the default mp3 rip that every Kazaa search would yield without fail, regardless of the search terms.
Before all that, he and Carisma had already put together "Life is Just a Game," the title track of their 1998 album, and a prototype for the happy-hardcore sounds Sammy would become infamous for. Whether you're a fan of Eurotrance or not, there's no denying how much fun this music is, and as the product of the ultimate holiday romance, the chemistry between Sammy and Carisma both as lovers and performers is electrifying. It is a record of unbound joy, of Balearic fantasy, of young love, of hearts racing at 140 beats per minute, and if you don't believe me, just take a look at the album artwork.
It's unfair to dismiss DJ Sammy's oeuvre as purely happy-hardcore grist. Under his one time alias Porno DJ, 1999 single "The Judgment" on German dance stalwart Kontor gives us a glimpse of his genuine production genius. The note on the sleeve—"Use this funky shit to make yourself horny until you come out of your ears!"—is less of an instruction and more of a pure premonition. The track, sadly, has largely vanished into total obscurity, like a discarded Fanta can left punctured and alone on a Spanish beach. Luckily for us, an obscure vinyl rip survives on YouTube like a shed snake-skin, a souvenir sliver of Sammy's once inhabited alter-ego. Listen for yourself: the venomous big room house banger still stands on its own today, the sampled moans of ecstasy dripping over a thundering kick-drum.
Adopted as the unofficial anthem to that year's Berlin Love Parade, "The Judgement" is a lesson in the primal joys of thumping hedonistic house. Sammy didn't stop there. Releasing records before the millennium as Le Petit Sam with Eurohouse heavyweights Adrenalin—the label responsible for introducing York's seminal trance rework of Chris Rea's "On The Beach" to Germany—the party continued with Lovestern Galaktika Project, a stunningly bizarre dance outfit headed by Hungarian porn stars Joe Balogh and Ricky Feher. Collaborating with Sammy, their track "Lovestern Galaktika" blends all the debauchery of Love Parade with a queer sci-fi aesthetic. In what must have been a high-budget production for its time, the video sees Sammy at the controls of a spaceship, a chrome pleasure-seeker cruising around an imagined universe of holographic club scenes, CGI explosions and tight buns.
The incessant heat of the Mediterranean pulled Sammy back from the cold vacuum of space. He soon ditched the uncertainty of the future and began to look further backwards, beyond even Chris Rea, all the way to 1984 and guitar-toting Canadian chart-botherer Bryan Adams. Building upon the elemental happy hardcore sounds which were bread and olive-oil for veteran Sammy, in the true Balearic spirit of revival and reinvention he sensed unexplored potential in Adams' syrupy ballad, a pleasant dissonance between his patent euphoric trance and Adams' cloying lyricism. With his producer Yanou—the future architect of Cascada's multi-platinum Eurodance behemoth, "Everytime We Touch"—and Dutch vocalist Do—van der Kolk having seemingly been left in the recesses of the cosmos—DJ Sammy created "Heaven."
Little can really be said about "Heaven." To understand how ubiquitous a tune it was, and still is, you just have to be quiet for a moment, and listen to the infinite loop of it that's been relentlessly playing inside your head, every moment of your life since 2001. Baby you're all that I want/ When you're lying here in my arms... There it is. Maybe sparks are cascading from the electrified dodgem net above you. Maybe you're in a wooded area behind a ring road, Ray Mears-ing a bong from a two litre bottle with freezing hands and the light from your mate's phone. Or maybe, just maybe, you're between the speaker stacks of a small town club grinning with your eyes closed. We each have our own place in Heaven.
Bathing in the heavenly afterglow of a hit single, Sammy once again found himself beaming back into the Balearic past, alighting, yet again, in 1984. This time around, it was former Eagles' wizard Don Henley who caught the Mallorcan's eye and it Henley's suffocatingly elegiac yacht-rock stomper "Boys of Summer" was his transformational target. Already sun-drenched in burnt-out boomer for poetry—"A little voice Inside my head said, "Don't look back. You can never look back."—Sammy didn't need to do much more than send a shuttle up into the stratosphere to bring van der Kolk back, and rent a vintage convertible for the video. The stage was set for global dominance. Or so it seemed. In reality, sadly, unfortunately, "Boys of Summer" signalled the beginning of the end of DJ Sammy's career at the forefront of summer holiday soundtracks.
Reflecting on "The Boys of Summer", we can't help but see it as sadly prophetic. Sammy winding the Benz down the coastal roads, alone. Van der Kolk already seeming distant, not featured as Sammy's love interest in the video, instead popping up in a series of cutaway shots. Her career and her voice, climbing and rising like a coastal albatross above and beyond Sammy. Then on a yacht, staring bleakly out towards the Mallorcan sunset, his ponytail draped in an immaculate braid over his shaved head and secured with a small gold medallion. It was a look—like his career in the mainstream—that would never be seen again.
Searching for DJ Sammy today is like leafing through old photographs of a holiday romance: any pleasure to be derived from the activity is outweighed by the crushing sadness of time's unstoppable passing, and yet, and yet, you can't stop yourself when the opportunity arises. At best you might hear him crackling from the tinny speakers of a battered Dance Dance Revolution arcade machine in the corner of a defunct bowling alley. Zorba's tropical discotheque is long closed, and the Magaluf clubs where Sammy cut his teeth are now just foam party fodder, celebrity appearances, the blue LED lights of Grey Goose sponsorship. Abandoned MySpace pages and unfinished websites, their page view counters frozen in time like the mileage clock of a scrapyard Saxo. He and Loona separated in 2008.
I rediscovered DJ Sammy through an unlikely encounter. Apparently, Do's acoustic Candlelight Mix of "Heaven" had become so popular in the US after 9/11, that a radio DJ for the obscure KKXX-FM in Bakersfield, California, made his own unauthorized '9/11 Mix.' Bizarrely, he chose to overdub a little girl's voice over the track, the daughter of one of the station's programmers, with a script that makes it sound like her dad had been killed on September 11th. This one, "i miss you daddy," is someone's GCSE project.
Though the video is a complete fabrication, and inexplicably creepy, there is an entire internet mythology of the little girl and her dead dad, with countless spinoff and reaction videos. It may seem an odd place to find the influence of DJ Sammy, but somehow it seems fitting.
With our consumption of dance music so networked into a world of daily updates, Soundcloud pages, sleek bios and press releases, unsurprising tour dates and collaborations, finding DJ Sammy at the centre of this mythological, nostalgic Web 1.0 world of creepy viral videos and Piczo glitter is quite comforting. He belongs to a dance music archeology that we are still unearthing, and like a lost civilisation, barely makes any sense to us. Perhaps DJ Sammy and Carisma were right—life is just a game.
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone