Review: The BPM Festival 2014
The BPM Festival 2014As we drove to Playa del Carmen from Cancún airport, one of BPM's founders explained how he thought the festival had changed the Mexican town. When BPM started six years ago, Playa del Carmen was a small resort town. Now it was adding hotels, upscale shopping options, even an American-style mall. That seems like a lot of credit to heap on something that takes up just over a week of the calendar year, but after attending BPM, I wonder if he might be right. Playa del Carmen sits just south of Cancún on Mexico's Caribbean coast. It's not quite as developed as its bigger sister city, nor is it as plush as the all-inclusive resorts that dot the coastline near Tulum. It is blessed, however, with swathes of beautiful beach and a very welcoming local population. This makes for a more relaxing setting than the usual hustle-and-bustle of a music festival—at least until you step onto the main strip at night, where around ten nightclubs pump beats out into the street in an effort to drown each other out. More than 250 DJs played at BPM over its ten-day sprawl this year, including many of house music's most in-demand artists. Combined with the tropical weather, this makes the festival a winning proposition for many fans of electronic music. BPM lures in thousand of revellers from abroad, plus vacationers roped in by the call of the beach clubs and a growing contingent of locals.
The program is split into day and night events. All of the parties take place at beach clubs, which in some cases amounts to little more than a stage and a bar on the sand, and a heavy-duty soundsystem (one minor problem was sound bleed, thanks to the close proximity between clubs). Though I arrived halfway into the festival, by all accounts persistent rain had dampened the vibe early on. But once the final few days rolled around, the sun was shining at a baking 30°C. Even with some weather woes, the day-parties better suited BPM's vacationer vibe. At the Scissor + Thread showcase, Frank & Tony played a wonderful five-hour set of smooth house and deeper techno to a slowly growing crowd. This was at Fusion Beach Club, easily BPM's smallest venue, and the one that attracts the most clued-up crowd. The other clubs were gargantuan in comparison and packed mostly with scantily clad tourists, though the music didn't suffer for it. At Mamitas, Justin Martin played a set full of growling bass to soundtrack the encroaching clouds , while another night ex-Footprintz member Clarian serenaded the sunset with melodies borrowed from the early Sasha playbook. (That was followed by a back-to-back-to-back with DJ Three, Konrad Black and Bill Patrick.)
The nighttime parties felt even bigger. Clubs like Coco Maya are the sort of Herculean, bottle service venues you might see at an all-inclusive resort—shirtless bros, bottles of Belvedere, chintzy sparklers and all. Still,
the music was good. Blue Parrot had an excellent Diynamic showcase where David August played a surprisingly gung-ho live show, which included a cover of Madonna's "Frozen," and Adriatique delivered more trance-baiting sounds. Carl Craig's Planet E showcase and Jamie Jones' Paradise night both had Coco Maya uncomfortably packed, while Josh Wink played to a modest crowd in the more manageable Tabu. Some of the most memorable events took place away from the Playa Beach strip. Richie Hawtin and Dubfire took over El Fogon—one of the best cheap eateries in Playa—for a pop-up TacoTechnoTakeover that caused street closures as fans danced to basslines booming from inside the restaurant. Innervisions staged a showcase at Blue Venado, a beach club set deep in the jungle. The crowd were evidently awaiting Dixon, fresh from his number one position on RA's DJ poll, but Frank Wiedemann's Âme live show was perhaps most impressive. It was perfectly paced for the 3 AM slot and set the party up for a memorable run that featured Dixon, Kristian Beyer, David August and Mano Le Tough. Like Sónar and Movement, BPM has birthed an ecosystem of unrelated parties surrounding it. Every day seemed to bring news of some new pop-up party near Tulum—about an hour by cab—and then there was Crosstown Rebels' massive Day Zero shindig in an abandoned mayan cultural centre, which seemed to have most festivalgoers' attention on the final day. These side events offer a unique opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding area, and though they aren't officially part of BPM, it seemed generally accepted that they were part of the experience as a whole. Part of the BPM ethos seems to be that bigger is better. The festival leans heavily on big name artists—it's a bit like having last year's Ibiza season plopped down in Mexico, with all the pros and cons that come with that. BPM can be expensive, from the ticket price ($350 - $750 for a 10-day wristband, up to $40 for individual shows) to the food and drinks, which were often priced more than triple what they were off the main drag. And though I managed to have some sort of revelatory music experience every day I was there, if you're looking for boundary-pushing dance music, you might come back disappointed.
Speaking of musical revelations, the final Saturday featured DJ Harvey and Theo Parrish, who shared the stage at Coco Maya for three hours each. It was lightly attended (Loco Dice played next door), but by the time DJ Harvey dropped the momentum down to a trickle for hour three, he had the audience loving his every move. When Theo Parrish came on, going crazy on the filters and haphazardly mixing from one rousing track to the next, it was incredible. Every breeze that blew in from the beach to cut through the humidity was a reminder of BPM's incredible landscape. There's nothing else like BPM in North America.