Scene rising: Ocaso Music Festival is a testament to the searing underground potential of Costa Rica
Tamarindo, Costa Rica’s Ocaso Music Festival is already finding its sweet spot.
Such a feat is not an easy one to accomplish — especially in an increasingly saturated festival market where success rides a fine line of talent booking, production, and risk-taking. Nailing a major festival production can take years, even with a strong team and a prime location. However, Ocaso only took two editions to get its footing in the contemporary event-organizing arena.
What originally began in 2017 in Tamarindo as a free event has since transformed into an unparalleled, explorative venture diving deep into the realms of underground house and techno. This year, Ocaso Festival focused on delivering a more concise lineup of house and techno artists than it had last year. 2017’s lineup boasted artists like Hot Since 82, Art Department, Lee Burridge, DJ Tennis, Doc Martin, Cristoph, Anthony Attalla, Dance Spirit, Edu Imbernon, and Andreas Henneberg. Though similar in artistic assemblage, the main shift for 2018’s edition was allowing extended DJ sets from a plethora of acts throughout the weekend.
Found on the 2018 lineup were underground house and techno pioneers like Doc Martin, Hector, Claptone, and Carlo Lio, plus live sets from Rodriguez Jr and Tone Of Arc, as well as a local takeover from Costa Rican DJs like Javee, Oneiro, Maria Wabe, Samu, and more. The rambunctious, SoCal Desert Hearts party crew featuring Mikey Lion, Lee Reynolds, MARBS, Porkchop, and RYBO also held it down for two surprise nights of the festival.
Tamarindo, Costa Rica’s appeal lies in a multitude of offerings: great weather year-round, a party atmosphere near the beaches, and ease of air travel. Aside from the music, the Tamarindo Playa can be explored in a number of ways — from snorkeling the coral reef and scuba diving, to zip lining through nearby jungles. Those looking to err on the side of relaxation can enjoy the local cuisine, as well as a superfluous number of bars and spas.
What Tamarindo’s nightlife lacks, one could argue, are the gargantuan dance venues similar to those of Ibiza. Though Costa Rica’s San José does bolster an array of nightlife institutions and party organizations, the city is significantly less developed than much of the leading destination festival world. In this regard, one could argue that Costa Rica is ripe for its growth in the scene.
It’s important to understand, though: Costa Rica’s not aiming to be “the new Ibiza.”
Unlike other destination festivals, Tamarindo’s Ocaso Festival points to a budding underground and a scene whose deserving musical and cultural celebration is deeply embedded in the country’s very livelihood.
Costa Rica will likely not in two lifetimes approach what Ibiza has done for the dance music — it’s unlikely any new “hotspot” will, for that matter. Providing a niche destination and unique attraction between that of a boutique and underground festival experience for the scene, though, is growing increasingly appetizing. To this effect, the country is well-positioned, and Tamarindo’s Ocaso Festival is leading the front.
Tamarindo is the biggest beachfront city in the area on the Pacific side, and is also within an hour drive of the new international airport in Liberia — making the ease of travel to Ocaso Festival a major attraction. Being on the Pacific side of the country is also incredibly important, the festival’s founder Devin Ellis has articulated to DA: Costa Rica’s dry season occurs only on the Pacific side of the country from mid-December to May, making the destination a key player in attendees’ delight.
Having organized underground warehouse style shows in the early nineties, “We have always had house and techno as our main attractions but added genres like hip-hop, drum & bass, and jungle at some of the bigger events,” the sonically well-rounded founder of Ocaso Festival is unequivocally rinsed in the underground scene.
After traveling to Acapulco Mexico in 2001 for an event called the ACA Soundfest, Ellis became drawn to the hedonistic and ground-breaking open-air possibilities a music festival could offer, and so he incorporated these elements into Ocaso.
“We just wanted to throw a destination festival to give people the opportunity to listen to world-class techno and house music in some of the most amazing locations on the planet.” – Ellis
To pull off a world-class party, Ellis and the Ocaso organizers capitalized on a threefold relationship with the natural environment.
Beginning with the beach, the lifeblood of Ocaso festival was the relationship cultivated between the attendee and musical setting. Named after the Spanish word for “sunset,” it was incredibly apt that Ocaso’s second incorporation of an environmental element was a driving force of the its ethos: its sunsets. Organizers’ decision to move from the opening party on the beach to a rooftop of a hotel for its days and final evening was a masterful one. In doing so, they displayed an understanding of the need to entertain, but also to delight with the country’s natural beauty, and aid in attendees’ cultivation of a memorable experience with one another.
The most integral piece of Ocaso’s environmental planning, however, was its descent into the Costa Rican jungle for two nights. A sublime union between guests and their environment, Ocaso’s underground roots were elongated with the use of the “La Senda” venue. Ocaso’s organizers paved the road leading from Tamarindo to La Senda, which was previously a dirt path, and quite literally allowed attendees to descend into the festival’s jungle accolade.
Citing natural beauty as one of the number one attractions of Costa Rica, Ellis’ move of Ocaso to a natural amphitheater and next to an open Labrinyth structure for two evenings was immensely felicitous.
Besides the musical venue lied the Tamarindo Labyrinth, which according to both its website and locals, serves as “a maze you get lost [in] and have to find your way out, a labyrinth has only one path which symbolizes our life’s journey and takes us inward guiding us to find out who we really are. ”
Photo Credit: La Senda Costa Rica
Translated into the design of a labyrinth by Ronald Esquivel, the jungle’s labyrinth uses sacred geometry and the number three, uniting two opposing centers — the feminine and the masculine into a third center, the Vesica Piscis — which is believed to be the point of creation.
Respectively, Ocaso didn’t disrupt the landscape of La Senda, instead, they laced the jungle stage beside it, but the natural labyrinth’s proximity to the music and the natural amphitheater where it instead took place still beckoned an embracement of the country’s holistic energies — indeed propitious to the festival’s spiritual ideology.
Other than Ocaso’s optimal choice of venues, and its oneness with its destination, the festival soared in its palpable energy, although such a feat is rendered impossible without a diverse booking of world-class acts like Doc Martin, Claptone, Kenny Glasgow, Desert Hearts, and more.
Ocaso’s not looking to make any drastic changes in its programming in the years to come, though Ellis hopes to continue to build on the vibes that have exploded since they began.
Ellis’ and Ocaso’s investments in the Costa Rican scene have fostered an electric underground energy that will keep people coming back for more. Their dedication to creating goosebump-inducing moments, and allowing the spaces to do the rest ensure the gathering will be returning to Tamarindo next year with the same devotion to its natural environment, and most importantly, with the same love for the music that keeps it going.
All Photos Courtesy of Pablo Murillo