Every time I fly aboard an airplane, the same disastrous vision unfolds in my mind. Perhaps I created this as a coping mechanism for everything uncontrollable in life. Perhaps it is a reminder not to take simple things for granted. Nevertheless, when the plane touches down safely each time, I feel as if I have survived.
But this time, I had no vision of a fiery crash. Despite the January rainstorms, the Boeing jet landed simply and safely in Cancun, Mexico. Would having no premonition of disaster prove a welcome omen for the next five days? Or would this foray to the BPM Festival to experience one of the greatest dance music parties on Earth unfold as a real nightmare? Read on, ARNTRE devotees, and find out the answer.
The BPM Festival brings together electronic dance music acts each year during the first two weeks of January in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Founded in 2008, the festival was originally conceived as an industry party outside the usual music festival season. Accordingly, BPM stands for, “Bartenders, Promoters, Musicians.” This year, the event brought together 350 musical acts and approximately 40,000 partygoers to Playa Del Carmen, a beach town a 45-minute drive from Cancun along the beaches of the Mayan Riviera.
Spanning ten days and ten nights across 70 parties at nine distinct venues, the BPM Festival is a dream holiday for electronic dance music fans. While you will find barely a hint of mainstream EDM acts during the BPM Festival, what you find instead is perhaps the greatest lineup of house, techno, tech house, and deep house DJs and producers ever assembled. In this world, the superstars were named Tenaglia, not Tiesto. The most talked about labels were named Diynamic, not Dim Mak.
My first mishap came as soon as I had disembarked the plane and made it past customs. My carefully packed luggage had not made it onto the plane and instead sat at Los Angeles International Airport. So I took stock of the contents of my backpack, now my sole possession in Mexico: one rain slicker, one pair of swimming trunks, one pair of underwear, one cell phone charger, one pair sunglasses, one ticket to Day Zero: Year One.
Ready or not, here I come, BPM Festival.
I arrived on a Thursday afternoon for what was already the most rain-soaked BPM Festival ever. Spanning the first two weekends of January, the first 5 days and nights of the festival were already in the books as the final weekend lay ahead of me. Already come and gone from the festival’s first week included standouts such as John Digweed, Pleasurekraft, My Favorite Robot, Fedde Le Grand, Skream, Roger Sanchez, Dubfire, Brodinski, Chus + Ceballos, Felix da Housecat, Steve Lawler, Claude Vonstroke, Basement Jaxx, Luciano and Richie Hawtin. But the second half of the festival held no shortage of star power and brilliant music to come.
Each festival day is split into two halves: day parties at the beach venues that typically start between 10 am and noon and continue as late as 9 pm; and then night parties at the club venues which start at 10 pm with published end times of 6 am, but which could continue until the following day’s beach parties. First up was the Toolroom Knights Showcase at Kool Beach featuring label head and house titan Mark Knight. Each day, hundreds of partygoers forgo the confines of the party venue, an impressively glitzy and sizable entertainment venue half which sits upon the beach sands, and opt instead for bringing their own refreshments to the beach just outside the venue. All the better for a mid-song dive into the Caribbean Sea, gloomy weather be damned.
After dinner, I forayed into the heart of the Playa Del Carmen club scene along 12th Street. At another massive half-beach, half-Cancun style club called Coco Maya, the sounds of tech house were blasting off at the Planet E Meets This & That party featuring Carl Craig and David Squillace. Next door at Blue Parrot, I capped the night at the Diynamic Showcase headlined by Diynamic label boss and house giant Solomun. His unique visceral house sound kept the crowd moving in rhythm until sunrise. One standout track was “The Theme (Original Mix)” by Grum. With an eventful day in the books, I hit the hay hopeful that the morning might bring a change in fortune and weather.
Knock! Knock! Knock! The following morning, I opened the door to be blinded by the bright Mayan sun. A bellhop handed me my orphaned luggage with all of its contents intact. Fortune had smiled on me. I was ready to rave under the perfect blue skies. Perhaps we must experience the rain to truly appreciate the sun. Better yet, necessity would not require flipping my underwear inside out.
Renewed, Friday started at the Circoloco Day beach party presented by DC-10 Ibiza. Dyed Soundorom was spinning back-to-back with Dan Ghenacia. As two-thirds of house super group Apollonia, they pleased the bikini-clad crowd with their groovy blend of deep-house and techno sounds.
As the sun set on Friday, the festival was only kicking into high gear. The most talked about show during the week had been a surprise free show featuring Richie Hawtin and Dubfire spinning back-to-back. In genuine Playa Del Carmen fashion, the two legends played atop the roof of a taqueria in town known as El Fogon. This local dining experience beckoned. The tender, juicy slow-cooked al pastor was expertly shaved off a spit onto a tortilla and topped with a slice of pineapple. It was sublime.
Following dinner, I headed to the nightclub Lost Avenue on 10th Avenue for Hot Creations Presents The Modern Love Affair party. In the building were Hot Creations label heads Lee Foss and Jamie Jones, who joined forces last year, along with Infinity Ink, to form deep house super group Hot Natured. Soulful house and deep house were the order of the night. Greg Pidcock and HNQO were our house and deep house DJs, respectively. They warmed up for the legendary MK who went back-to-back with Lee Foss and were accompanied by Los Angeles native vocalist Anabel Englund.
Next up was perhaps the smallest festival venue, Tabu Nightclub, for the French Express Showcase. This served as an introduction to French house music by way of Isaac Tichauer’s melodic house that got the small but gleeful crowd dancing. Finally, the night concluded at Loco Dice and Friends at Blue Parrot. One of the most accomplished female DJs in the world, tINI, was throwing down tech house banger after banger in support of Desolat label head Loco Dice.
Sitting on a beach chair underneath the moon and stars as tech house hi-hats danced in my ears, I could only think, how could this experience get any better?
Well, if Friday was like the first time you rode the tea cup ride at Disneyland, then Saturday was like the first time you rode Goliath at Magic Mountain. The incredible day started off again at the beach club Kool Beach for Drumcode, which is one of the most respected labels for techno music worldwide led by label head Adam Beyer. Gorgeous Swedish DJ, Ida Engberg had the gorgeous-in-its-own-right crowd sweating to her vibrant, incessant groove. Choice techno music can make you move like few styles of music and one such track was “Jakbyeol” by Daniel Lyons. Joseph Capriatti built upon Ida’s groove and took the hard techno kicks up another rung. So impressive was his set that Adam Beyer opted to go back-to-back with Joe Capriatti instead of simply closing the show by himself.
Sweating from top to bottom, just next door at Mamita’s was an opportunity for chill-out house music at All Day I Dream of Day Parties. With the décor switched to flower bouquets, colorful tapestries and illuminated ball lanterns, Christian Loffler provided a melancholy dream-like soundtrack and a chance to catch our breath.
Next was a departure from the BPM Festival schedule for a wholly unique event. In December of 2012 on the day that the Mayan calendar ended, house superstar and Crosstown Rebels label head Damian Lazarus organized a dance music festival in the jungle outside Playa Del Carmen atop Mayan temples. He called it Day Zero. That event spawned a sequel, this time during the BPM Festival, entitled Day Zero: Year One. Day Zero began at 6 pm on Saturday and ended at noon the next day like a proper rave should. Just past midnight, my taxi crawled along the long, dusty roads to the event.
As I walked into what could only be described as a Mayan jungle park, I passed a Day Zero sign with useful tips:
“LOOK OUT FOR EACH OTHER, YOU ARE IN THE JUNGLE.”
As the Mayan temples came into sight and laser beams shot across the dark horizon, excitement surged through my body. Atop one of the temples, were two DJ booths, one being occupied by Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, or TEED for short, as he played a wonderfully appropriate and eclectic funky house set. One standout track was “Back To Back” by Trikk. Behind him, flames shot into the sky and lasers spread across the crowd of thousands creating a liquid sky of green and blue hues. In one section, a medicine man coached partygoers into walking barefoot across fire. Yes, people were fire walking. In another, make-up artists painted faces and bodies for partygoers to look the part during the sunrise ceremony. A sense of wonder and joy permeated. Mathew Jonson followed TEED and took the party one step deeper into the jungle with a wonderfully tribal sound. He was followed by the deep house and techno duo Infinity Ink who provided a show stopping soundtrack and live vocal performance that seemingly summoned the Mayan gods to rise up once more just to turn up.
At dawn’s apex, warriors and priestesses adorned in tribal garb gathered atop the main temple and around the fire pits throughout the crowd for the ceremony to commemorate Year One. As they danced through their ritual, Damian Lazarus, dressed like a tribal priest of the highest order, emerged at the DJ booth like a conductor for the ancient opera happening before my eyes. Night turned into day, the sunlight seeming only to reinvigorate the crowd. Surrounded by dance music lovers from every part of the world, Day Zero reminded me that electronic dance music has a unique power to bring people together.
Sunday marked the final day of the BPM Festival and I returned to enjoy the last beach parties. At Mamita’s, This Is the End featured the crowd pleasing melodic tech house and electronic pop of the American duo Benoit & Sergio. Their live vocals enriched their layered house sound with an example being “Principles” by Benoit & Sergio. Closing the party was Guy Gerber, who has skyrocketed in the house music world with his boundary pushing and emotive sound. His set was one of the biggest highlights of week and one standout track was “I Am Somebody (Original Mix)” by Technasia. Venturing next door to Kool Beach, the Yoshitoshi party was pumping bass through its massive sound system to the house sounds of Sharam such as his incendiary track “My Way (Original Mix).”
The BPM Festival was destined to end with a bang as the night parties were consolidated into a single closing night party featuring Art Department and an eight-hour closing mega set from the one and only Danny Tenaglia. Danny was a standout DJ from the New York disco scene on and has heard every iteration of dance music since then. His sets are musical journeys careening through dance genres new and old. Throughout Blue Parrot, a multitude of the BPM DJs could be found, having all come to see the legend close out the epic festival.
By Monday afternoon, the gentle voice of the flight stewardess revived me from my exhausted sleep. The plane was approaching Los Angeles for arrival. As it always did, my mind began to imagine disaster unfolding. But the experience of the last five days at the BPM Festival reassured me. Let go and never take the simple things in life for granted. Rainy days only make the sunny days seem that much warmer. Travel the world and meet incredible people while listening to incredible dance music. And always bring extra underwear in your carry-on luggage.
—- Le Privé