The Story of elrow and The Arnau Dynasty

Jun 23, 2021

11 min read

Juan Arnau, founder of iconic event brand Elrow, values fan experience over everything. Flamboyant decorations, Cirque Du Soleil meets warehouse rave vibes, and a stream of immersive interactive experiences plunge Elrow fans into a world of childlike delight. Other brands rely on impressive lineups to carry the show. Elrow sells out tickets weeks before the lineup drops solely based on the vibe. Their lineups are incredible, but Elrow is about the people on the dancefloor being the center of the worlds they build.

Arnau says, “It’s more about balancing the experience of the customer. So, it's not all about the music. The experience, meeting people, decorations, actors, you know, all of that.”

His Baz Lurman like approach to experiential events has propelled Elrow from its start in a Barcelona warehouse in 2010 to one of the top entertainment brands in the world today.

The Arnau family helped shape the entertainment industry for 140 years. His great-great-grandfather Jose Satorres ditched the family farming business to open Café Josepet, a social club in Fraga, a small desert town in Spain.

The family business evolved with each era in entertainment. Under various names, it’s been a social club, cinema, and saloon. In the '60s and '70s, it flourished as one of the first discotheques in Spain. That’s when it took on the name that's become synonymous with techno, Florida 135.

Florida 135 InteriorFlorida 135 Interior

Florida 135

Arnau effortlessly explains the secret sauce, “What the family has been doing is trying to be always on the cutting edge, and one step ahead of everyone else in the region. To make sure we were the first one bringing something new into the market.”

In the 80s, his parents envisioned Florida 135 as a leader in electronic music long before anyone else recognized house music existed. The transition began when they moved from rock music to Ruta Bacalao, a regional sound that originated in Valencia two hours away. “It sounded like kind of cheesy electronic music, but let's say it was the first proper electronic music that anyone was listening to.”

But as Arnau explains, a revolutionary sound took shape in Western Europe. “We had people coming from the South of France, bringing the first electronic flyers with DJs like Sven Väth, Francesco Farfa, John Aquaviva, and Carl Cox.” His father was shocked that these unknowns could command headliner status.

It was enough to inspire the couple to embark on a summer of love. He says, “[My dad] took my mom and they drove around Europe for three months going from rave to rave meeting all these DJs."

They formed early relationships with artists who would become legends. "This is when they met Laurent Garnier when he was 19 years old in Paris at Rex. This is how they met Sven Väth playing illegal raves in Germany. This is how they met Francesco Farfa playing the most-crazy raves in Italy.”

“They came back to Fraga. And he told my grandfather [that we] needed to move from Ruta de Bacalaou. And we have to really introduce electronic music to Spain, because this is the future. The sound is gonna’ be huge in Europe. So, we have to be the first ones in Spain to support.”

This was the elder Juan's first step to becoming the Godfather of Techno in Spain, an alias he wore proudly until he died in 2012. Florida was the first to book many of the legendary figures they had met on their three-month journey.

And they introduced him to the North American scene as well. John Aquaviva connected the young couple to Richie Hawtin. His first in Spain was at Florida 135. They paid for a flight and 700 Euro.

In the early 90s, Arnau’s father was techno’s most fervent champion in Spain. He created the first electronic music dictionary for Spain, its first website for dance music, and introduced Spain to techno pioneers like Dereck May, Stacey Pullen, Juan Atkins, and Danny Tenaglia.

These foundational friendships transformed Florida 135 from a regional powerhouse into the epicenter of the emerging Spanish techno scene.

It's a time Arnau recalls fondly. “It was really powerful. I was probably 10 years. And we had a flat above the club. I used to open the window and I could see the parking full of people with the sound systems going crazy for 24 hours. And that was one of the things that really inspired me to be in the business.”

His parents didn’t want him to carry on the family legacy though. “Since I was a kid. They were always pushing me out of the business and telling me ‘We will sell the club. And then you can start your own thing. But don't think about nightlife as a way of living.’ "

"But at the same time, I was going to all these after parties with them. I was going to Ibiza since I was 14 years old, going to all the nightclubs like Amnesia. And I used to go to illegal raves with them. I remember when I was 10 years old, going to Monegros Festival, which is a festival that my father did in the desert 15 kilometers away from Fraga.”

Ironicaly, his parents were the ones who convinced him to dive into the family business head-on.

“I did one year in Cape Town in South Africa. One day out of the blue, I was on the beach. And he called me, and he told me one I have got the best place in Barcelona ever, next to the airport.” The only catch was they’d need to build it themselves.

Arnau goes on, “So I need you to fly from Cape Town in the next three days. And I have to show you the place.” He immediately hopped a plane and within minutes of landing stood on the future site of Row 14.

It was an empty lot in the middle of nowhere he says. “You could see the planes arriving kind of like DC-10 in Ibiza. He was in the middle of the space full of grass with trees and [says to me], ‘This is the perfect place. This is gonna’ be the best location in Spain.”

Arnau returned to Cape Town at his parent’s request. They wanted hand crafted decorations to transform their new space into an African-themed club. By the time he returned home one month later, he had filled four shipping containers.

It was amazing how quickly his parent’s tune had changed. He says, “My parents told me it's time for you to start working properly. And I think you have been studying a lot already. So, you have to take over the business. And if you if you love what you do, you have to take over this club.”

They quickly realized that the model that they conceived for Florida 135 was already being copied in Barcelona. The market was saturated. And because dance music was now global, Arnau says, “You're not competing with a club, around the corner. You are competing with clubs all over the world.”

They needed to reimagine the entire idea of a nightclub. “I [had] the feeling that [we] had been thinking only about the DJs. We forgot how important the customer experience [is]. And this is key. This is what our grandfather and my great grandfather taught us. We are in this industry, because we want them to have fun. And the experience should be around them. And in that moment. This is when Elrow started.”

Arnau, his sister Cruz, and their small team (most of whom are still with him today) imagined what the perfect fan experience looked like. They constructed it around brightly colored décor, interactive games, and roving performers. They created an immersive world of stilt walkers, steelworkers, and inflatable toys.

After six months of observing the effect on their audience, he realized, “We were creating community. Elrow was started as a huge community in Barcelona, where everyone could come every Sunday morning. No one was judging anyone. We had people from nightlife there after they [finished working] in the normal nightclubs, they were coming to Elrow just to have fun.”

He spent the early morning hours with his team distributing free wristbands at Barcelona’s nightclubs to bartenders, go-go dancers, and punters. He offered free buses from the clubs to Elrow’s location 17 miles from the center of Barcelona. He was never sure how it would turn out, “I got to the club at six o'clock in the morning, and there was maybe a queue of 1000 people waiting at the door, in the middle of nowhere with their jackets in winter. I realized that we had something really special in our hands.”

To be certain they were completely authentic, Elrow didn't book any international talent for the first six months. “I didn't want them because I wanted people to understand that we [cared more] about their experience.”

After six months of doing Elrow for free, the funds were tapped. So, the family went to the banks for a loan. They continued to reinvest everything back into Elrow for five years. And then they were asked to take over a side room at Privilege in Ibiza. A momentous invitation that cost them 500,000 Euros. Money that they didn’t see again until two years after they started throwing parties there. Then when offers began to roll in from all over Europe, they went fully legit with a factory to create deco and a larger team. Which once again meant they needed a loan.

“We did some shows in the south of France for 2000, 3000 people. Obviously I was losing money every time I was doing the show because had to sell the show for 15,000 euros. But I was bringing containers (for deco), actors, and steel workers. So, every time I was putting a show out, I was losing 20, 30, 40,000 euros.”

His expansion across Europe continued until he reached the UK, one of Europe’s stiffest markets. After a few shows in London, he announced Elrow Town their first full-scale festival experience in Olympic Park. With two million euros invested in the project and a sense of cautious optimism, Arnau dipped to Vegas to further the worldwide expansion of Elrow.

“I remember being in Vegas. I was visiting because I really believed that Elrow could have a residency. I was meeting all these promoters from every single nightclub. I went to sleep. And when I woke up, I have a text message from Nick Sabine the owner of Resident Advisor telling me congratulations. I wrote him back like, congratulations for what? I am in Vegas brother, no one is listening to me. They don't even know Elrow. And I am trying to convince them and to have an Elrow brand here. And he told me ‘Jaun, you sold 18,000 tickets through a Resident Advisor in five hours.’ And that's when I realized that the brand was huge in Europe.”

Elrow had conquered Europe and hopes were high for the US next. But Arnau was hesitant to go back to the banks again. He was on the verge of selling shares in Elrow to a private investor in China when he was approached by James Barton, former head of Live Nation and current CEO of Superstruct Entertainment, owners of Hideout Festival in Croatia and Sonar in Spain.

Barton was the right fit for Elrow, “I believe in James and Roderick because they both have passion about electronic music. And for me, it was important to have someone involved in the company that really believed in what we were doing.”

And with that Elrow became a global institution. With an average of 100 shows in 40 countries and 80 cities around the world each year. He remains confident that Elrow will continue to be at the forefront of dance music.

But that still begs the question. What exactly is the key to a family dynasty that has lasted 140 years. The answer is almost blissfully simple. “One of the reasons why we have been doing this for a long time is because ultimately, we are the fans. When we create an experience, we already know we're gonna like it. And so if we are the fans, and we're gonna’ like it, then we know that the audience that we're seeking to serve [is] gonna’ like it too. And as long as there's no disconnect, and the promoters are transparent [in] communicating what the brand is about, we will always grow. Ultimately you know exactly who you are creating this experience for because you are that person. And I don't think there's a successful promoter who doesn't party with the fans together.”