BPM Festival Recap in Beautiful Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
Techno haven for the far, few and in between
This isn’t electro, trap, dub, trance or any of the main stream EDM that heavily occupies the space in electronic dance music. This is techno. An unadulterated, well aged form of music appreciated by connoisseurs. Think tastemakers and innovators like Carl Cox, Nic Fanciulli, Marco Corola and Richie Hawtin. While young millennial EDM fans are saving for their next hit of Electric Daisy Carnival, Ultra or the like, a small group (in comparison to trendy EDM fans) have scrounged to get away from the rain and snow to sunny, beautiful Playa Del Carmen, Mexico (45 min. south of Cancun). Techno heads from around the world have flocked to this gorgeous Caribbean getaway for 10 blissful days of nothing but pure techno and deep house from the best names in the industry.
I was fortunate to attend BPM Festival 2017-celebrating its 10th year-as a last minute excursion thanks to my friend Ben. The 10-Day festival went from Jan 6th-15th and offered around the clock events in venues from the beach to the club and even some in the more scenic and far flung reaches of Quintana Roo. As a 90s ‘old skool’ house head from the San Francisco warehouse days, I needed to get back to my roots. And the music and vibe of BPM was without a doubt up to the challenge. I felt myself becoming jaded from the onslaught of commercial garbage back home and BPM was just the rest that I needed to remind myself why I fell in love with dance music in the first place. With over 375 artists in a span of 10 days, it was important to map out which events to attend. If the mission was to do everything and see every DJ that we came for than we clearly failed but when in the history of music festivals has that ever happened?
Our journey started on Jan. 7th with an early AM flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles then off to Cancun, Mexico. While all of the sad saps at home were left to deal with shit weather and minor flooding in Northern California, we were escaping to sunnier skies. According to one of the local bartender, this time of the year has been one of the coolest in years with temperatures in the 70’s to low 80’s Fahrenheit.
We landed at 5PM local time and after a 45-minute trek to the Grand Hyatt, we finally started our first evening with finger food and enough Mezcal to put a donkey down. There were over 10 shows to choose from but we were looking for something to transport us back in time. To the bygone days of the legendary Funky Tekno Tribe. For this only, the Ya’ah Muuli Jungle Party presented by Mixmag featuring Carl Cox, Victor Calderone and Steve Lawler would do. When you go to BPM and “Jungle” is in the name of the party, you best believe that this event took place in the middle of fucking nowhere. In proper old school fashion, we were ushered on to a shuttle that took on a 15-minute ride out-of-town after waiting with our friend Vince and his girlfriend; as well Ben’s friend Nigel and company from So-Cal. As we left the hustle and bustle of Playa Del Carmen behind, we soon found ourselves secluded and surrounded by trees.
For most, the ridiculously long line would have put a damper on the night but fortunately for us, we walked right past the crowd and were inside in less than 10 minutes. Though BPM Festival attracts many party-goers from Europe and North America, The Jungle Party seemed to bring out mostly locals and domestic travelers. Ya’ah Muuli Jungle Party was an outdoor event surrounded by trees with two tent stages and 5000+ attendees. Unlike big EDM festivals, techno parties aren’t about eye candy. The fun is in the music, the dancing, the people and the vibe. The place was decked out in an exotic tribal ambiance reminiscent of the FTT parties of my youth.
Back at our hotel in the early morning, our plan for the Toolroom Live day party at Wah Wah Beach Bar party featuring Mark Knight and Umek was completely off the table. We were wrecked from a full day of traveling and a full night of partying. I’m a pro and after a disco nap I rallied for an afternoon on the beach. A Cocktail de Camarones was exactly what I needed to shake off the hangover and Mamitas Beach Club was only 50 yards away from the Hyatt. To my delight, Mamitas is a chic beach club. I got comfortable while the sound of deep hypnotic tech house flowed from the DJ booth that faced the deep blue ocean. A couple of hours later I was ready for round two.
Our choice for the night was between going back to The Jungle Party for Marco Corola or experiencing something new at Eric Morillo’s 20-year Subliminal party at The Blue Parrot. The short walk to the Blue Parrot made it an easy choice which is located in the night club district away from the tourist trap attractions. The club also offers a day time beach club, not that we ever made it there. The club district is about two to three blocks with bars and clubs while the scene on the street is madness with the sounds of each club’s music blasting out front and bleeding into each other. Those on a budget were seen with 6-packs dancing in the streets in front of their desired choice of music from merengue, electro, techno or hip-hop.
The Blue Parrot felt enclosed but it was an outdoor facility with hut-like roof top covering the dance floors, DJ booth and club lighting. As spacious as the club was, the place was packed and everyone was on one grooving to Eric Morillo’s set. My reconnection continued as he threw down classic tunes like “French Kiss” and “Plastic Dreams.” Before we knew it was closing time and night two was over just as quickly as it had begun.
Day 3 Recap courtesy of BPM Festival
With just one more day (for me) of lounging and loafing on the beach, we soaked up as much sun as we could. We had another long night of dancing ahead of us. And night three was big with a highly anticipated set by the legend Carl Cox at the The Blue Parrot for the Intec party. Carl Cox wasn’t schedule to play till 4AM which provided us ample time for some pre-game debauchery at Tribeca (across the street from The Blue Parrot). But if you are going to party hard, you can’t do it on an empty stomach. We took a stroll down the tourist avenues and settled on lobster with an assortment of crustaceans and fish.
The perks of being “industry” generally mean guests lists and hassle free entry. Not so much on that night. To be completely honest, it felt the venue was denying guest list entry to cash in on that $100 door. But once again fortune had smiled upon us. Earlier we met an Australian couple named Billy & Nilou. They were some of the nicest people and kind enough to donate their tickets to us for the Intec party. The couple
purchased tickets to the show, but when they realized their multi-day all access wristbands included the Intec show, they tried to sell their tickets. Ben and I even tried to find buyers for their tickets but we ended up benefiting from them. Fortunately, their generosity saved us from the crazy door price.
Just when I thought the previous night couldn’t be beat, night three swooped in and was my personal highlight of the trip. Carl Cox took us in a 3.5-hour journey of pure techy, funky, deep and hard techno until the sun rose above the soft sand, blue ocean and palm trees of Playa Del Carmen. The venue was outrageously packed to the brim. I honestly do not remember the very last time I had danced so hard for so long surrounded by the kind of vibe that brought me back to The Gathering days. In the joyous company of Billy, Nilou and Ben, my attempt to rekindle my love for dance music felt complete. The Mexican candies were good and the place was lit. I honestly felt like I was raving for the first time all over again. We partied until the very last beat and accompanied our new found friends back to their lodge, early morning debauchery and finally off to sleep.
With about 15 hours of sleep over four days, my body was dusted. I tried taking it easy on my last day. In the early evening, I decided to do the tourist thing and stumbled on a crowd of several hundred deep dancing in front of this little outdoor eatery. True to the spirit of BPM, this tiny cantina was hosting a famous techno DJ. The music was loud and could be heard from blocks away. It created a complete gridlock for vehicles. The crowd was so dense that I didn’t even try finding out who was playing but people were really into it. Later finding out Solomon was the culprit. I made the walk through the crowd back to my hotel all the while hearing whispers of ‘coca’.
Despite the fact that night three was the pinnacle of my trip, night four was a proper send off home to the States. We wanted to go to The Jungle but due to my early AM flight we settled for one more round at The Blue Parrot for a back-2-back set by Nic Fanciulli and Carl Cox. Third time being the charm, Ben guest-list was legit which put the cherry on top and we got to party in the DJ booth watching the legend at his best.
It was such an honor for me to make this trip with Ben and it couldn’t have ended any better. The 10th annual BPM Festival was a celebration for everyone who loves good music, good people, good vibes, good food, the beach and sand over the Caribbean Sea. The festival isn’t just for techno lovers. Everyone is welcome at BPM but just keep you kandi, glowsticks, tutus and what not at home.
On the closing day of BPM festival, a tragic turn of events left five people dead and 12 wounded at the Blue Parrot. It pains me to think of this tragedy and how it will now overshadow everyone’s memorable experience at BPM. The future of BPM is now uncertain with the local government calling for a ban on all dance music festivals going forward. This kind of tragedy reminds us all of how fragile life is and how important it to stay strong and let the music heal us.