In summertime, the Algarve gets crowded with tourists; Albufeira especially is known as a place for young people to let their hair down. But it isn’t a holiday for everyone. Enjoy the Algarve talks to bar owner and DJ Matt Moore about long hours, unicorn fancy dress outfits, dealing with drunks and why he blatantly refuses to play ‘Despacito’.
See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine August 2017
Although music is already blaring from the speakers in Matt’s bar, it’s still quiet on Albufeira’s so-called The Strip just before 3pm. In the bar, a couple of staff members are putting down cushions on the outside chairs and taking down the decorations from the circus-themed party that was held the night before. Apart from that, there’s nothing going on; you can still walk around without sticking to the floor and on the outside terrace, the inflatable bull lies deflated. The tourists walking along the Avenida Dr. Francisco Sá Carneiro are all dressed in beach wear and flip flops, a towel over their shoulders, and make their way down to Praia da Oura.
The party in Albufeira, it seems, doesn’t start until later. “This work makes you nocturnal,” explains owner of Matt’s Bar Matt Moore (35, pictured below), while eating a tostada for breakfast. “It doesn’t really take off until around midnight.” Same can’t be said for his job though. On Saturdays, Matt usually arrives at 4pm to meet his staff and stock up the boat. Then it’s DJ-ing at the boat party from 6 to 9pm, followed by quickly grabbing a bite to eat and a shower before playing music at Matt’s Bar until it closes at 4am. Cleaning and closing up done, he’ll get home at about 5am. The next day it all starts again, from the moment he wakes up around 1pm.
How does he keep this up for the entire season? “I don’t know actually,” he laughs. “You just keep going. I do take a day off now and then and let my manager Tiago take care of things.” Until a few years ago, Matt would work even longer hours; he’d start DJ-ing at Kiss Club after his work at the bar, not getting into bed until 9am. “It was crazy,” he remembers. “I’d be working all night, whereas my wife Jenni would be really busy in daytime so we’d only see each other over dinner. It was quite stressful.”
Originally from Essex, Matt moved to the Algarve aged 18, straight after college. “I was already DJ-ing and wanted to set up a bar together with a friend. In the UK, everything was too expensive, and Spain and Tenerife weren’t what I liked. My mate dropped out, but my parents backed me up and I stayed.” He’s owned several properties on The Strip since then. “When I got here in 2000, there were just five bars, playing only commercial music like Steps and Kylie Minogue,” he recalls. Apart from DJ, Matt is also the bar’s trouble shooter, dealing with anything from broken furniture and faulty electrics to getting more coins for the till. “The bar pretty much runs itself though. We try to keep it as simple as possible. For example we don’t serve any mojitos or daiquiris as they take a lot of time to make.”
Six years ago, Matt and his crew organised their first boat party. “It was terrible. The weather was horrible and the sea was really rough. Every single person of the 40 people we took along was seasick and we almost lost our music equipment overboard because of the waves,” Matt reveals. Still, they continued until it became a success; now, the weekly boat parties are almost always booked out well in advance. As it gets closer to 6pm, about 140 youngsters gather on the bar’s terrace. On average, they’re English and in their late twenties. There’re also a group of Swiss guys and of course some hen parties, mainly consisting of girls in high heels and dresses, with tiaras, pink ribbons and a lot of glitter on their faces. The bride to be is identifiable by an extra pink sash.
A group of guys is all wearing red lifeguard t-shirts with ‘Stevo’s Stag Dooo’ printed on it. ‘Stevo’ himself is dressed as a female lifeguard, with two wigs (a blonde one for his head, a brown one for his pubes) and a tight-fitting red bathing suit. “In Albufeira, it’s carnival every day,” laughs Matt. “Just last week, there was a group of 15 inflatable unicorns walking down the Strip, all with pink wigs. When it comes to fancy dress, some groups put in quite a lot of effort.” It soon becomes clear that it also takes quite an effort to arrange a boat party. While part of the crew is busy in Vilamoura, stocking up the boat’s bar (with 18 bottles of wodka, loads of mixers, a big crate of red bull and an insane amount of beer, cider and wine), the rest of the team makes sure the entire group gets onto the buses in one piece.
So what’s the most important thing when working with tourists on holiday? “Patience,” is the immediate answer. “It’s not so much that they’re annoying, but dealing with drunk people is quite hard work. Sometimes you’re like a babysitter.”
On the boat, Matt is setting up his equipment. “I haven’t got a fixed plan yet, but I know what works. This lot is mainly from the London area, and they’re a bit older with a lot of stag and hen do’s, so I’ll play some old school and garage stuff.” As we leave Vilamoura marine, the party people are still sitting on the benches. Not even 15 minutes after Matt starts playing, they’re all dancing on those same seats – ‘Stevo’ loses his blonde wig before we’ve even left the harbour. Because of the strong westerly winds, the boat heads east for a bit along the coast in order to find a quieter spot. Not the best view; instead of Falesia’s red rocks we’d have gotten if we’d have gone west, here it’s high-rise hotels and crowded beaches. The group doesn’t seem to mind: they’re not here to see a lot of the Algarve; they want to have fun.
And that’s exactly what they do. Although some are struggling to keep their balance on the rocky boat, all are happy and easy going, apologising when bumping into each other and not minding getting soaked in beer by accident. There’s a Dutch camera team on board as well, looking for ‘really crazy party scenes’ to film. They’re satisfied with the amazing light of the Algarvian sunset, but not so much with the lack of craziness. When after one hour a guy is sick overboard, they get interested and instantly go for the money shot. People jumping off the boat are filmed as well, but it isn’t until shots are poured directly into girls’ mouths that the TV-team is truly happy. Somehow we don’t think it’s because they want to show how environmental friendly the parties in the Algarve are without the need for plastic cups or straws… For Matt’s cousin, crew member Rob Carter (30) who pours the shots, the boat parties are the highlight of the week. “What’s not to love about it? Lovely ladies and alcohol; it’s amazing!”
In the meantime, Matt is happily bouncing around behind his spin table. “DJ-ing is like chess. You have to think three moves in advance,” he explains. “I’m not thinking about which song I’m going to play next; I’m already thinking about two after that. This is especially important if you mix difference music genres, like I do, or if you have to keep people entertained for three hours in a confined space, like here on the boat.” He does a good job as none of the guys and girls jumping off into the ocean are trying to swim to the beach. Instead, they climb back on board and behave quite well.
Matt: “Last week, we’ve had some guys jumping off before we’d stopped the boat to swim, but that’s the first time it’s ever happened in six years. I like working with tourists on holiday. There are new challenges every week, but most of the time it’s really good. Only one in a thousand causes a problem.” What about the Portugal Invasion group that caused trouble and fights in Albufeira back in June? “That was an exception; a big group who came here together and took their own problems with them to the Algarve. Most people though are genuinely happy on holiday and up for a good time.”
Over the last decades, tourism in Albufeira has changed. Matt explains: “When I just got here, we’d get families coming with their children for the entire school holidays. Now, no-one is staying here for two weeks anymore. Many don’t even stay for an entire week. Nowadays it’s all about short three day breaks; take an extended weekend and there’s no need to take time off work. Leave early on Friday afternoon and you’re in Portugal in time for dinner. Hen and stag parties are also getting more popular, especially in the last two or three years. Those are mainly people in their early 30s who want a couple of good nights out somewhere. The Algarve ticks all the boxes; it’s nice, safe, not expensive and only a two-hour flight away. We now organise the whole package for them; from dinner reservations to a stripper.”
Coming back into Albufeira, there’s a hen-group in fancy dress in the bar; all aliens and astronauts, with a girl dressed in an Avatar costume dancing on the table. A member of staff attaches fireworks to bottles of liquor and lights them before bringing the tray into their VIP area. Other crew members are busy mixing cocktails and collecting empty glasses. Matt: “A lot of people apply for bar work, especially just after they’ve been on holiday here. Most of them don’t realise it’s such hard work though. It’s hot, people yell at you when you’re behind the bar and get stressed when they aren’t served fast enough. Some 18-year-olds come here only for a month and are completely knackered afterwards.”
Matt himself seems unstoppable, head phone squeezed between his ear and shoulders, his fingers moving the little dials on the board as his head moves to the beat. His eyes scan the crowd, satisfied with what he sees, he takes a sip of his drink, turns around and makes a goofy face before concentrating on the next mix.
“When people walk in the door, I have to sum them up in 10 seconds, and guess what they want to hear. It usually works in 70-80% of the time, but if I play three wrong songs in a row, they leave the bar again,” he explains. With a smile: “It’s easier on the boat party; they can’t go anywhere.” Serious again: “When people go into a club in London or Madrid, they usually stay there for the entire night. Here on The Strip, it doesn’t work like that. There’s a lot of competition; if they don’t like it in your place, they go next door.” However, that doesn’t mean he only plays crowd-pleasers.
‘Despacito’, for example, a global hit with 2.5bn views on YouTube and currently the most streamed song in the world, is not played by Matt. Not on the boat party, not in the bar. “I hate that song. It doesn’t do anything for me. It plays everywhere all day long and people just get brainwashed. You know, the original version of this song came out already in January, but nobody picked it up until Justin Bieber sung a little bit on it in April. The only reason everyone loves it is because Bieber’s now in it. For me, it’s a principle thing.” Also on the no-play list: ‘Wild Thoughts’ from Rihanna. “It’s nice, but not a dancefloor song. It just doesn’t work in the club. And everything from Shakira is banned as well.”
Matt’s changes are fast, he sometimes just plays the chorus or a little bit of the song, not allowing people to get bored. “I try to cater for everyone, but sometimes that isn’t possible. At Matt’s bar we don’t play 80s music like The Beatles or ABBA. We don’t even have it. Sometimes people want me to download and play these songs and get annoyed when I refuse.” Whereas some people would hate the thought of having to deal with drunk youngsters day in day out in what’s the Algarve’s answer to Vegas or Disneyland, for Matt, this is just part of a job he loves. “I’ve made a job out of my hobby. This is all born out of my interest in bars and my passion for music; it’s a work of love. Stressful, but fun.”
So, is it still nice to be paid to party if you have to do it day in, day out, for the entire summer season? “Yes, it’s fun, but it’s also just work.” DJ-ing on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean when the sun sets is enjoyable, but just like a tour guide hardly notices the beauty of the Benagil cave after coming there for the 694th time, Matt isn’t in awe of the spectacular sunsets anymore. “What makes it so nice isn’t the environment, but the fact that everyone is in a great mood. The worst part of this job? Definitely the hours. I don’t think people realise that I’m working such long hours. And it’s full-on all the time: you have to be in a party mood every night.”
“A few nights a season I stay at home because I can’t take it. However, we’re lucky to be so busy in the summer, as this means we hardly have to work in winter. There aren’t many jobs that allow you to take off so much time.” His wife Jenni Moore (31) agrees. “Everyone is happy and in a good mood, which makes it nice, but it’s also tiring and long hours. In winter we close the bar and go on our own holidays.” To some part of the Algarve that isn’t yet crowded by tourism perhaps? “No, probably to Mexico or Dubai.”
See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine August 2017