OK, so perhaps partying at a 10-day electronic music festival in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in January may sound like a piece of cake, but take it from me, there is only so much a body (and liver) can take. This year’s BPM Festival (Jan. 1-10, 2010), in its third year running, boasted a somewhat grueling schedule of around-the-clock events: beach parties by day, various club locales by night, and an afterhours venue open daily from 6 to 10 a.m. for the hardest core (or, feasibly, those who slept through the previous night’s festivities). Picture a much longer CMJ Music Marathon with more bikinis, DJs, and people speaking español.
As an avid music festival attendee, electronic music aficionado, and current Playa del Carmen resident (I know, it’s a tough life …), I was very excited for the BPM Festival. But as the event approached, I was a little sad to see that the lineup included none of my favorite 50 or so DJs. Though there were indeed good times to be had at BPM, a lower expectation bar might have led to more enjoyment. With the days bleeding together a bit, it seems easiest to break down BPM by category rather than day. (For a look at who played when, check out thebpmfestival.com.) The accompanying photos here should also give you a good idea of what went down.
As with any music festival, the music is, of course, king. To attend BPM, you need at least a cursory affection for electronic music and dancing, or you will have a very bad time for sure, as the entire event comprises solely of DJs. As I mentioned above, I felt there could have been a bit more diversity in lineup, as a lot of the sets started to sound the same after a few days (there are only so many times one needs to hear Robin S’s “Show Me Love” out in one week). Many DJs also played more than once over the festival. Some live sets could also have spiced things up a bit, though I realize this is logistically more difficult. Aside from that, the crowd at almost all of the events seemed to dig what they were hearing, so the DJs certainly did their jobs. Standouts included sets by Guy Gerber and Detroit legend Stacey Pullen, Dubfire, HedKandi’s Andy Warburton, and Addy/Uppercut/ Manzone & Strong at the cave party.
Having already been down here in Playa a little while, I had prior knowledge of (and my own biases about) the venues, but I have to admit that even the clubs I am not a big fan of (due to their usual music) are pretty aesthetically pleasing spots with great dance floors. Hands down, the best venue had to be Alux, a restaurant/lounge set in an actual underground cave. Though a bit warm down there, having a rager in a cave was kinda unforgettable. Kool Beach Club also did a nice job with the daytime parties, with its Miami-esque ambiance and sweet ocean view.
Generally recognized as the top (in music, style, people, atmosphere) club in Playa, La Santanera’s two floors hosted several BPM events, as did Blue Parrot (the sand dance floor was not ideal, in my opinion, but it’s a nice-looking place), Brahma, and InFashion (which scores extra points for the ridiculously swank rooftop – but then loses them for having to shut down one of the afternoon parties due to noise complaints). The festival overall benefited from having all the venues within walking distance of each other (when there were simultaneous events) and pretty much everything in town (the cave party was an exception, but a well-worth-the-taxi-fare exception).
Mexico’s Riviera Maya is famous for its beautiful beaches and gorgeous weather during the winter months. Sadly, this January has seen some below-average temperatures and cloudy/rainy days, putting a slightly damper on the outdoor BPM festivities. (The final day’s chilly HedKandi beach party hosted an interesting mix of swimsuit-clad tourists and locals in scarves and jackets, yet attire had no bearing whatsoever on level of fun being had.) Though not ideal for tanning, at least the weather beat the far chillier (and probably snowy) climes most of the attendees had flown in from.
Because The BPM Festival was originated by Canadians, the majority of attendees were, in fact, Canadian. (Though held in Mexico, most locals avoided paying the nightly ticket prices for events held in venues that normally have no cover.) I would hate to generalize, since I met a lot of really nice and cool people, but there was a large contingent of flashy, overtanned, exhibitionist, surgically enhanced (female)/steroid-popping (male) festivalgoers way hopped up on coke and champagne. Had the crowd been a little more mixed with different kind of folk, the overall experience could have been more enjoyable. But, c’est la vie …
General organization: B+
Things appeared to go pretty smoothly, with the exception of a few places where the door was an enormous clusterfuck of people clamoring to get in (wristbands or no, there was no rhyme or reason). Other than that, things flowed easily, and crowds for the most part were well-controlled. Daytime events were free – a nice bonus for locals. Also great to have options to hear music and dance at virtually any hour of the day: The afterhours club, Bang, was pretty much, er, banging every day into the mid-morning hours.
A fun reason to visit Mexico in winter, I think most attendees who traveled from afar had a great vacation. Still, it would be nice to see some more diversity in the line-up next year, a bit closer to New York’s Electric Zoo Festival. Hasta 2011, BPM.
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