THE BPM FESTIVAL
Playa del Carmen | QR, Mexico
Playa del Carmen is a pertinent host for the beach party maelstrom that is The BPM Festival. On the cusp of megasprawl, the once paradisal beaches welcome the crème de la crème of dance music’s jet-setting fraternity, and the city reverberates for 10 solid days to booms of the 4/4 sonic variety.
This 6th annual edition brought a wildly expansive roster of over 250 artists that embraced the bulk of the house music spectrum, with the extensive programming attracting an array of crowds and creating a range of atmospheres that reflected Playa’s typically hip, glossy and beautiful image.
A Jersey Shore-esque contingent bewildered the socks off of Crack’s innocent and unaccustomed English sensibilities. Never before had we been immersed in poolside dancefloors that heaved with near-naked brawny men puffing their chests and flexing their tree trunk arms, upon which hung buxom bimbos with bosoms and bottoms bulging with enough silicon to burst a dot-com bubble.
Crack’s arrival on the first Sunday meant we missed the first two days, squandering the chance to witness the likes of Ben Klock and Richie Hawtin introduce a tinge of techno to the musical proceedings, along with skipping the opportunity to hear the Wolf & Lamb/Soul Clap clan warm the tempos up slowly with their cool R&B-hip-hop-pop tones
Our inaugural dance took place as we dipped our toes in at the tail-end of a 4hr set by Art Department, whose faces seemed ever-present throughout the 10-day duration, at No.19’s Social Experiment showcase at Mamita’s – one of the three daytime beachside venues. The No.19 collective continued to demonstrate their slick repertoire at our first night event outing at the Coco Maya club, one of the three main night venues, this one located in a mingle of open-air platforms and covered terraces temptingly situated directly adjacent to La Playa.
As we crossed next door to sneak a peak at Carl Cox and Nic Fanciulli at the Blue Parrot superclub, with its similar mix of semi-alfresco dancefloors stretching back to the narrow strip of sand behind, we had our first sour taste of the aforementioned flesh bearing, which affronted us again the next day as we sought to check out the late evening pulse of the Kool Beach club, where the Cox/Fanciulli duo repeated their jockeying of heavy-hitting house anthems
Thankfully Monday’s late night antics cleansed Crack’s palate, with a stonking double header of Cocoon Heroes’ Sven Väth and Cassy entertaining the Blue Parrot, whilst next door in Coco Maya the mayhem was being mobilised in the form of a majestic Circo Loco line-up. Ellen Allien was heating up the ramjammed crowd with her sultry blend of techno, before Maceo Plex took the helm to shake up the still crammed dancefloor. The searing sunrise slot was then presided over by a cool, calm and collected back-to-back between the fledgling and fervent The Martinez Brothers and the ever-charismatic Seth Troxler, with the triplicate’s facial hair as exuberantly pruned and polished as their tunes.
A colossal collection of event flyers made up the BPM program, and provided an insight into the dualistic quality of the festival. The opposing graphic design of Tuesday’s parties, presented side by side in the booklet, hinted at the differing approaches and attitudes of the relevant promoters. Footloose’s Life & Death fun, quirky, humanistic imagery matched the daytime display put on by Tale of Us, Mano le Tough and Thugfucker, and was world’s apart from the bland, robotic style employed through both Sci+Tec’s Dubfire poster and set.
Jarring dissimilarities manifested themselves again in the Tuesday night events. Supplement Facts’ shindig with Guy Gerber and Heidi at La Santanera, the third official nightspot that boasted a delightfully decorated upper terrace overlooking the hullabaloo of Playa del Carmen’s main drag and an exquisitely mirrored basement room, was as idiosyncratic, subtly toned and meticulously handcrafted as their A6 advert suggested. A stark contrast to the looming, shiny mug of Sander van Doorn that adorned the Dutchman’s pamphlet which was sadly enough to ward Crack away from his no doubt glittering presentation to the Coco Maya faithful.
By far the best party of the week was Dirtybird and Pets Recordings’ bash down at the splendid Canibal Royal club. Located further away from the hectic hustle of the town’s main seafront, this proper beachside venue sparkled into life thanks to a giant disco ball hovering midair between the swaying palm trees and curvaceous triple terraces. Eats Everything‘s refreshing afternoon broadcast was the talk of many a-punter that appreciated his jolly sly nods to the strains of underground bass music that rarely get a look in at BPM. Catz ‘N Dogz and special guest Danny Daze kept things ticking along nicely, before the closing array of auditory delight was offered by main man Justin Martin.
With a much needed disco nap back in our hostel dorm under our belts, Hot Creations Paradise party at Coco Maya came a-calling. Benoit & Sergio were up, animating the intimate stage upon Crack’s arrival, followed by the strident Lee Foss contorting the masses in a woozy, housey haze. The verdant and velvety melodies continued with Cajmere, then master crowd-pleaser Jamie Jones, briefly wielding a sparkly sombrero, assuredly navigated the laid-back housekeeping through some off-kilter classics to a dawn-drenched close.
The onslaught of four full days of gently shifting sand on Playa’s dancefloors left most of the Crack crew in need of some suspension in BPM activity, so it was with mixed emotions that we received news that Thursday’s RA boat party had been cancelled due to the pesky winds curving up the cloud-covered coastline. Despite missing the opportunity to be up on deck with Art Department, Ben Klock and Justin Martin, the respite stood us in good stead for a tasty dash of disco from the Sarcastic supremo DJ Harvey, who was spinning at length in the bouncy basement for the Smoke’n’Mirrors event at La Santanera.
Our dancing maintained a subterranean flavour as we moved next to the Cave Party at the Alux restaurant-cum-club where the surprising lack of attendees meant that after The Junkies and Halo had rumbled the soundsystems into action, Subb-an and Hector joined forces in the main cavern to shake the stalactites’n’mites with their chunky and deep swinging rhythms.
After another assortment of late night, early morning antics, Friday became a much-deserved day off to enjoy the winter sunshine on the fine sands of Playa’s southern stretch of seaside, before a very brief delve into Sasha‘s set at the Kool Beach club, where the overabundance of skin’n’muscle posing was still in full effect. A recharge of the batteries was completed by a night in and early rise for a spellbinding dip and snorkel in one of the many crystal clear cenotes (naturally sunken lagoons complete with schools of tropical fish) that dot the region.
Freshly invigorated by some of Mexico’s natural splendour, the Crack team were suitably rejuvenated for a small dose of the Akbal Music event at the Canibal Royal club, where DJ T stoked our Saturday night into action and lubricated our ears with some otherworldly soundscapes before we set off out of town to the only gathering away from Playa del Carmen in the uber-exotic ambiance of the remote Blue Venado beachclub – Crosstown Rebels’ Rebel Rave.
The outfit behind the recent unique Day Zero festival, the irreverent Crosstown had assembled a similar mix of Rebel Rave mainstays by way of Francesca Lombardo, Fur Coat and Infinity Ink, alongside more marquee names, this time with a North American (rather than European) flavour.
By the time the lynch-pin Damian Lazarus had found his groove the thatched longhouse was oscillating mildly to the entrancing, crisp, deep house filtering through the speakers, and the music seemingly coalesced with the bright Sunday morning sunshine into one shimmering body of warm sandy saltwater. The US bigwig Danny Tenaglia took the mid-morning reins, but by that time Crack was spent. A lengthy taxi ride back to some afterhours at the hostel was a tempt too far by that stage of the beats per minute marathon.
A final wind-down dance did occur a couple of days later, during our spell of recovery further down the coast in Tulum. Whilst we were soothing our ears, feet and minds on the tranquil white beaches, we got word of a free 72-hour, non-stop BPM afterparty in the environs of a neat little beach club nearby. So it was down to the likes of jozif, Richy Ahmed, Russ Yallop, Wildkats and Holosound to soundtrack the closing credits of a walloping week and weekend of relentless electronic pulsations.
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Words and Photos: Jack Clemoes