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Reflecting on The BPM Festival: A utopian techno paradise

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On January 8, 2016, the slow change in atmosphere enveloping Playa Del Carmen began to take physical form. Thousands of people from all over the world began filing into the picturesque beach town, drawn to the steady kick drums permeating the air like moths to a flame. BPM Festival, the techno and house mecca, had officially arrived.

We touched down on Wednesday evening just as the ten-day affair was preparing to enter its closing weekend. Rain had been pummeling the Playa for the past couple days, but the added moisture only intensified the infectious energy emulating from BPM’s 70,000+ attendees.We immediately headed straight to Blue Parrot where a sea of happy faces and moving feet filled the club to its brim for Adam Beyer’s beloved Drumcode party. What followed was four whirlwind days of pure ecstasy catalyzed by phenomenal music and the tropical paradise around us.

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ANTS at Blue Parrot

Blue Parrot

Blue Parrot was the undeniable heart of BPM. Having held events on its perpetually full, beachside dance floors since the festival’s early years, the club hosted many of this year’s biggest and most unforgettable events. Richie Hawtin Presents ENTER., Sci+Tec, and Bedrock were among some of the heavier showcases finding a home there, while Nicole Moudaber floored the crowd during her extended closing set on day 10. It’s safe to say the majority of revelers found their way to Blue Parrot at least once during their stay, and each DJ who entered the club’s legendary grounds performed in a manner worthy of the venue’s high expectations.

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Solomun ringing in the sunset at La Martina

New Venue Additions

In addition to its other stalwart clubs like Canibal Royal and La Santanera, BPM experienced somewhat of a makeover entering 2016 with the addition of several new venues. Thursday brought us to La Martina beach club for Art Department’s Social Experiment party just as former member Kenny Glasgow took over the stage for an immersive solo set. Built on the beach just feet away from the crystal-blue ocean and lined with cabanas, the spacious, open-air structure fostered an environment comparable to a luxury beach resort.

One of the most stunning moments at La Martina unfolded Friday, where a vividly colorful tropical sunset combined with Solomun and Mano Le Tough’s beach-y B2B performance to elevate everyone in the packed audience to nirvana.

“The Jungle” was BPM’s largest project of 2016. The bubble of space embedded directly in a nearby jungle roughly 15 minutes from town was a festival in itself with its 13-hour parties taking place across two stages. What made The Jungle truly special, however, was the raw, primal ethos spawned within its boundaries. Viewing horizons composed of lush greenery while stomping on the rocky terrain, we felt connected to nature in a temporal, carnal way. Skilled fire dancers adorned in indigenous costumes allowed observers to experience their surroundings as though they were the Mayans who occupied the area thousands of years prior. DJs at The Jungle such as Tale Of Us, Jamie Jones, and Steve Lawler tied together the vibe, assuming a shamanic role as their ceremonious 4/4 rhythms ushered us into a trance.

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Hidden cenote at The Jungle

Transition to the Commercial Side

2016 will likely be remembered as the year BPM exploded from “a little beast,” as co-director Alessandra Axelsson called it, into an unstoppable behemoth. Like many festivals before it, organizers have now been tasked with navigating BPM’s entrance into the mainstream. Naturally, a few rough areas presented themselves this year. Ticket prices drastically increased for one, possibly to help balance supply and demand. During the time we were there, parties often started an hour or two past the advertised time, yet ended promptly at closing. Meanwhile, the artists seemed to operate under the assumption that parties would be extended as they had in previous years. Opening DJs played past their set times, causing headliners to have to cut their sets off early. This subtle difference was not noticed by many, but was a little jarring to veterans and staunch music fans. Regardless of these slight organizational shortcomings, glowing reports from the majority of attendees indicate little impact on BPM’s appeal and will assist in preparing for next year.

The People Make the Festival

If there’s one thing that will never change about BPM, it’s the fans who gather each year out of pure love for the music. Their passion breeds a new kind of openness as they find commonalities with each other on the dance floor.  Bound together by the churning beats filling their house and techno sanctuary, everyone in attendance felt a renewed inspiration to be the best versions of themselves. The effect was almost religious in nature, transcending language barriers to communicate a message of unity.

Of course, the atmosphere of Playa Del Carmen plays a role in this as well. Even during spurts of rain, the city’s beauty glimmers relentlessly, with its tropical beaches and emerald landscapes promoting a sense of ease. Persistent sunlight guides the mind away from a negative place into a state of permanent joy. The cumulative effect is a dance music utopia, free from stress, pretentious attitudes, and artificiality.

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Standout Performances

Considering each of the ten days was packed at all hours with unfathomable amounts of top artists, one’s view on BPM’s best performances will inevitably be subjective. An early standout occurred on Thursday with Kenny Glasgow. As a standalone act, his selections were incredibly precise and smooth, yet intense enough to maintain solid momentum throughout.

Friday brought along two mind-blowing contenders. The chemistry during Solomun and Mano Le Tough’s early evening B2B set was palpable, bringing their dense, enraptured audience to dancefloor heaven. The Jungle was the background to possibly one of the best and introspectively beautiful Tale Of Us sets of the year. Sadness rippled through the crowd as Carmine struggled to play past his closing slot and continue to cultivate the magic he had created.

Though Guy Gerber played phenomenally as always, San Francisco talent Behrouz ruled the Rumors party on Saturday with an irresistible concoction of tech house tunes mixed with utter brilliance. Nighttime brought along a unanimous loved performance from Dubfire, while Sunday undoubtedly belonged to Nicole Moudaber, who closed out the festival with an intense set worthy of her “queen” status.

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Behrouz at Rumors. photo credit: Khris Cowley

Final Thoughts

When the world’s premier electronic musicians and most passionate fans are inserted into a dreamy paradise, then fantasy quite literally becomes reality. Stress and anxiety about daily life melt away, replaced with the sun’s warm embrace and a newfound sense of connection to nature and each other. Upon entering BPM’s realm, one is suddenly transported into an enchanting plane of existence filled with spiritual, transcendental music.

While the festival has had some obstacles to overcome in its explosion in popularity, these minor kinks have failed to dim the pristine atmosphere created by fans in attendance. Fueled by a perfect climate and their determination to dance away their troubles, those in attendance collectively fostered one of the most unique, profound experiences of any dance music event. Leaving the utopia of BPM was certainly difficult, but with full hearts, we look forward to returning home next year.

Photos by: aLive Coverage for TheBPMFestival.com

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