Playa del Carmen, QR | Mexico
December 20th – 21st
As D:Ream keyboardist Professor Brian Cox points out in one of his colourful tirades against pseudoscienific drivel, the counting system used to determine the recent end-date of the 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar is based on the number of fingers and toes we humans happen to have: 5+5+5+5 = ‘base 20’ … “How can that have cosmic significance?” he asks, “it just depends entirely on how many dextrose protrusions the organism that invented the civilisation has got!”
Coxy has no qualms with the Maya and their “beautiful civilisation”, recognising that they lived in an age where it was believed that “people were actually required to keep time passing”, but he understandably takes issue with the 2012 internet “morons” who spun this human-centric calculation into a host of scaremongering doomsday scenarios.
But while these naysayers forecast widespread catastrophe, other more positive-minded individuals took heed of the more accepted interpretation that last December 21st simply marked the beginning of a new era, entitled ‘b’ak’tun 14’, and shared the opinion of reputable Mayan scholars that “for the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle.”
Damian Lazarus, ringleader of the dance music label/platform Crosstown Rebels, was one such broad-minded character. Receptive to the mythologies surrounding the Maya Long Count and responsive to the uplifting potential of transcending the prophesied threshold with a global get-together in the heartland of Mayan territory, he set about tailoring a party worthy of such sweeping significance and era-defining proportions: he called it Day Zero.
Located in the rapidly urbanising jungle on the outskirts of Playa del Carmen on the Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico, and conceived as a “once in a lifetime event [that] will bring together party people for 24 hours to celebrate the most powerful and momentous moment of our generation, ending at the exact moment the Mayans decreed as the end of this world cycle”, Day Zero certainly held grand ambitions and did not disappoint.
Combining Crosstown’s preeminent selection of cutting edge electronic music with some healthy doses of traditional Mayan rhythms’n'rituals, all mindfully accompanied by a plethora of weird and wonderful workshops, games and activities (‘Arsetrology’, anyone?), spiritual awareness classes, discussions with Mayan elders, shamans and other special ceremonies, Lazarus’s programming exemplified his standing as a seasoned party promoter. The festival upheld reputable regard for time, place and setting, and one who gives admirable consideration to the non-musical elements required to pull off a festival of this magnitude, especially the visual spectacular provided by Sila Sveta‘s live 3D light-mapping show.
Speaking with Crack in the depths of the main pyramid, shortly after proceedings were ignited by Sidartha Siliceo‘s sitar and Mexico’s Metrika soundtracking a set of tribal dances on the site’s decorated central circular-plinth, Lazarus – dressed in long shimmering silver-thread tunic and mini-turban – expressed his slight regret that more people did not “get here a bit earlier for the opening ceremony”, but acknowledged that the unusual “24-hour thing” probably meant that people would pace themselves accordingly and arrive in good time. Which they duly did, easily filling the main area within the next few hours.
With such emphasis placed on the temporal aspects, both symbolical and musical, of the occasion, Crack felt pressed to glean more information on the specifics of the place in which we and the other hordes of revelers now found ourselves, and what was Lazarus’s link to the area.
“I’ve lived in LA for the last four years,” Crosstown Rebels’ head honcho tells us. “I love it there, it’s a very, very cool place to live … but I’ve been coming to this part of the world for about seven or eight years, and I’ve really enjoyed returning here, in particular Tulum [a more low-key coastal village an hour south of Playa del Carmen, with spectacular cliff-top Mayan ruins], as a place to recharge my batteries.”
“I’ve been checking out the ruins here over the years,” he continues, “swimming in the cenotes [naturally sunken lagoons] and getting in touch with the Mayan culture. I had a former girlfriend who was from Mexico, so I got ingratiated into a Mexican family vibe! I’ve been travelling to and from here for many years, and have got a lot of friends all around Mexico and a really strong fanbase … so it just felt like a great opportunity to bring these people together, and make something fresh.”
And what about the site? It appeared from Crack’s earlier explore that, far from being a crisply minted development primed to open its doors to the public, the setting (named Chanolandia according to some of the online ticket outlets) was more a slightly crumbly and dusty assemblage of three limestone pyramid re-creations, two deep-turquoise cenotes, four pools and an abundance of Mayan-inspired sculpture and pavilions.
It was as if the physical completion of this supposed ‘Mayan cultural learning’ theme park had occurred some time before, and without the foresight of what it would become. The primitive road infrastructure surrounding the site and the realisation that it was off-radar to Playa’s taxi drivers only added to the charm.
Our assumptions were confirmed by Lazarus. “It’s never been opened to the public, this is the first time that anyone’s been in here, and I think they’re still unclear as to what’s going to be happening with this place afterwards. But the people who organise it are quite happy that we’ve done this!”
Crack’s remarks on the strange qualities of the Day Zero environs are not to be read as negative, quite the opposite. The recently-new, never-opened but nearly-decaying contemporary ruins were a particularly fitting backdrop and prompt for the merrymakers to contemplate the passing of time and the impermanent nature of life, and were a more than appropriate location for the earthy hedonism that prevailed.
Also worthy of note was the supreme lack of any corporate-sponsor presence blotting the scenery, a tricky thing to pull off in this day and age, as Lazarus attests. “We didn’t really want to have anything with any branding or logos, and I think putting this sort of event on in this setting doesn’t really lend itself to that kind of thing. But it did make the creation of the event pretty difficult, and I had to find some other investment from elsewhere, but I’m obviously very happy that we’ve got it together!”
Lazarus and his co-production team (Sacbe, a Mexican collective that operate a nearby eco community, and Secret Productions, the team behind Secret Garden Party) collaborated to concoct a spellbinding stage set for the musical maestros to work their magic, with vocal sculptress Francesca Lombardo following the aforementioned inaugural performers with a pulsating set that joined the melodic dots between house and electronica. The dark psychedelic synths of Venezuelan duo Fur Coat and the subtle, sophisticated grooves of Berlin’s Maayan Nidam filled the next slots on the chock-a-block line-up, before the idiosyncratic Matias Aguayo, resplendent in one of his insurmountable shirts, donned the top steps of the pyramid for his bewildering live/DJ showcase.
The second Mayan ritual of the evening set ablaze the pivotal plinth at the stroke of midnight, just as 3D (Massive Attack) and James Lavelle (UNKLE) took charge of the decks at the apex. The top-billing duo’s initially cool start soon sparked into life with their melodic/melancholic tech blend winding its way deeper into the sounds for which these two made their name. The ‘vs’ element to the pairing soon petered out though, with Lavelle left to marshal the dynamic transitions towards a swaggering climax of Sasha’s understated rework of Hot Chip’s Flutes.
Crack’s choice set of the night went to wonderboy Subb-an, who delivered an assured selection of taut and tasty techno-leaning house, with his dench remix of Tiga’s Pleasure From The Bass particularly pleasing. The Birmingham-based producer’s dark, driving rhythms were perfectly matched by minimal lighting and a coruscation of fire-dancers setting the pyramidal backdrop aglow. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs‘ bright and brash live show and Jamie Jones‘ highest order machine-funk brought the darkness to a close ahead of the dawn chorus provided by Trentemøller‘s seriously ‘special’ sunrise set, where the great Dane’s audio offerings ran the crowd’s emotions ragged.
At this point in proceedings, Crack felt compelled to find a quiet nook among the surrounding undergrowth for a quick 40 winks, so can only speculate that the morning’s backbone of Acid Pauli, Thugfucker and Shaun Reeves must have kept the proceedings bubbling nicely along, as once awake again it took no time to be re-immersed in the grooving throng amid the gravel at the foot of the pyramid. With our bleary eyes cleared by the sight of birds swooping about the soundscape of Iranian/Canadian Amirali‘s live show, we were fully re-charged to trip the light fantastic upon the colourful centre circle to a raw, mind-bending sonic assortment from Art Department.
With the final dust settling and dusk setting, and everyone’s sensory receptors in hyperdrive, it was time for señor Damian Lazarus to take the helm. After fulfilling his promise in the programme “to deliver the best music possible to soundtrack these days and to create an opportunity to dance and play under the sun and stars with like-minded souls”, and presiding over a virgin event that was incredibly smooth and sleek in both production and operation, the moment (and soundsystem, replete with shimmering bass) was primed for the tour-de-force which Lazarus duly delivered. Jamie Woon’s Night Air and Holden/Fake’s The Sky Was Pink caught the mood particularly poignantly before the curve-ball closer of Phil Collins’s In The Air Tonight drew the curtain on a sublime 24 hours.
The history-heeding, but always forward-thinking, Lazarus had been feeling this special moment coming in the air ever since he had an arresting cosmic experience further down the Caribbean coast in Tulum last January. It was there and then that he decided to embark on his Day Zero adventure to present a unique opportunity for people to come dance, play and check themselves.
His 10 digits always on the pulse, and always keeping people on their 10 toes, Lazarus succeeded splendidly in utilising ancient numerological formulae to exhibit the finest in future bass music.
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Damian Lazarus plays Eastern Electrics Festival at Knebworth, Hertfordshire between August 2nd and 4th.
Words: Jack Clemoes
Photos: Valentina Abalzati and Vincent Thiempont