On the taxi journey from the airport everything remained just as it had appeared from above, the Andes providing an exquisite green backdrop to the city. There is one thing that I had expected to disappear below 4000 feet, however. The thick layer of fluffy clouds. But they remained, lingering above the city, now a mere 500 feet above ground level. As the taxi slowly maneuvered its way through Lima's standstill traffic I learned from the driver that the city suffers from the worst air pollution of any South American capital.
According to the Institute of Peruvian Studies, Lima's air pollution consists of a toxic mix of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and other particles at levels more lethal than Santiago de Chile, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The fluffy white cloud up close is, in fact, a heavy clog of grey pollution. Some 80% of the emissions come from the city's vehicles. Diesel fuel is used by 60% of these, and while cleaner diesel exists elsewhere, Peru is stuck with the world's most contaminated. It's an open question as to whether that will change. Half of the population of Peru live below the poverty line, and resources and education on environmental issues and sustainability are dangerously low. Yet, with an incredibly young 26 years old as the population average, Peru's youth has a remarkable chance to make a difference. Its economic, political and ecological future depends on them.
Andres and Camila Dyer understand this. In 2009, Camila decided to develop Ecobeats, a sub division within a larger promotional company called 4Beats, that focuses on spreading awareness of the environmental issues in Peru through their events. Starting small by incorporating environmental messages through VJing projections, viral marketing and promotional materials, in 2010 they decided to expand and create a one day annual festival called Inti Fest (Inti meaning Sun), fusing Peruvian cultural and environmental awareness with electronic music. Adopting a specific environmental and cultural theme each year rather than simply "The Environment," gives Inti Fest a precise annual focus, allowing clear messages and advice to surround the festival. This year's theme was Sustainability, following on from Footprint in 2011 and Climate Change in 2010.
Not only are the environmentalists on board, but the Ministry Of Culture is also an official partner of Inti Fest, pushing the festival's cultural theme. This year it was Paracas, an ancient Andean society thought to have been active between approximately 800 BCE and 100 BCE. Traditional Paracan images were projected throughout the festival, and The Chacana took place exactly in the centre—the heart of the festival site. The Chacana they explained, was their homage to the Incas, showcasing artists and musicians that have been inspired by Peruvian culture as well as displaying historic images and photographs that previously have only been available to view in museums. "For us to display them at this event gives the younger community a fun environment to view them in and hopefully understand and appreciate them more than they inevitably would in a museum." says Andres.
There was also an art installation competition, which runs as a campaign throughout the year in the run up to Inti Fest. "Throughout the year we encourage the public to collect plastic bottles," explains Camila. "We then run a competition where people create sculptures using them. The sculptures have to represent one aspect of the cultural theme of the festival and are displayed for public vote." They go on to explain further activities to me; a car pooling system to reduce the amount of traffic travelling to and from the festival, a bicycle stand where the crowds help power a small percentage of the festival's power source through pedaling. Stands, hosted by various environmental projects, where the public can sign up to volunteer to organisations such as LOOP—Life Out Of Plastic—a project that works towards keeping the beaches in Peru clean.
Giving thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth) with music and dance has been a Peruvian tradition for centuries. "Our ancestors used to thank the mountains for the rain, the ocean for the water and so on by making music and dancing as a thank you ritual to Pachamama," she continues. "We wanted to create a large-scale and modern interpretation of those traditional rituals with Inti Fest, for the younger generations to become more aware of being grateful to the earth and our environment and also to bring back one of our ancestors traditions which has been forgotten.
"The younger communities in Peru don't tend to be particularly proud to be Peruvian or know that much about their culture, but instead are drawn to other countries and cultures, aspiring to that instead. We realize that the one thing the younger generation is interested in and takes notice of is entertainment, music. So what we try to do is merge their interest in modern music with an environmental and cultural message. We hope that if we mix awareness with music then we can have an influence and make a difference."
The fusion of eco awareness and house and techno music isn't commonplace. Bar the odd sectioned recycling bins seen at the majority of festivals these days, the "save the planet" attitude has always been associated with hippies. Psy-trance ravers in Goa, Burning Man attendees or even the original Peace & Love Glastonbury image of the '70s. Skepticism quickly emerges when looking at a festival like Inti from the outside. Is the tech house generation of Peru actually listening? And are there any difficulties in convincing the Ministry Of Culture & Environment to work with a hedonistic dance festival?
They are refreshingly honest when I ask them about it. "Oh, for sure we've encountered problems. Electronic music is instinctively linked to rave, technology, alcohol and drugs—not saving the planet. Just last week a journalist wrote on Twitter that it is "very questionable how The Ministry Of Culture are partnered with an electronic music event that promotes young people taking drugs and listening to techno music." Luckily the Ministry Of Culture responded just as quickly, publicly explaining the reasons they support the event: "Because Inti Fest promote ecological awareness, recycling, the reduction of carbon emissions through transport and educating the youth about our heritage."
They know it's a tough sell to their audience. "Getting a message across to people who want to listen is one thing, getting that message across to the younger generation who might not be so inclined to listen is really hard, but we keep going and we want to people to see that we are doing something good. Tapping into a 21 year-old's brain is different from tapping into a 50 year-old. People have to realise that to reach the younger generations, we have to do it through what they are passionate about—music."
Entering into the festival, you're met with a pathway outlined with some of the aforementioned plastic bottle sculptures. Some reach four meters high, and become even more impressive as the sun sets and they're lit upwards from the sand to create huge, glowing light displays. The festival built a steady buzz as the first headliners began to fill the expanses of sand in front of them.
Market stalls selling jewellery, clothing and crafts line one edge, all strictly made from recyclable materials by local artists. People are enthusiastically cycling on the energy bicycles and returning empty water or beer bottles in batches of ten to a central point where, in return, they receive a full one back for free. Huge recycling points are scattered generously to dispose of rubbish and the Ministry Of Environment and LOOP stalls amongst others, collect volunteers for a beach clean of the festival area the following day and hand out information on how people can join their projects.
The central Chacana and museum attracted more visitors than I expected but, inevitably, the music created the most hype. Not without good reason: Soul Clap played energetic disco and funk while Anthony Collins followed with a brooding selection of powerful jams including Derrick Carter's "Where You At" and a memorable double drop of "Sleaze Dubbing" and "Like a Child." On the larger stage, Mathias Kaden's fat, heavy basslines neatly lined up with the melodic highs and vocals before the live set of Lima resident Jay Haze received screams of appreciation.
As the madness subsided to memory, the beach clean the next day had 450 volunteers removing any evidence of the 7,000 who had stomped their way through the night before. I asked Camila and Andres how they feel it went. "We had an opportunity to communicate to a big audience, an audience who are listening to the sounds we are making whether they be verbal, musical or within a message," they say.
"We did, and will continue to do, our best to take advantage of that and spread a cultural and environmental message through amazing music that we love in a positive way. You know, we're not trying to change the entire world, but we are aware of our voice within Lima and Peru. Every little helps and we're just trying to do what we can, making people conscious and aware. We can't force anyone, but we will always do our bit."