Drunk on the beach in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, several years ago, a small group of friends from Toronto with a background in promotion decided to start a festival. In 2008 BPM was born. Their initial idea was to have industry figures visit the resort for a conference-style holiday, with a single supporting party taking place each day. It didn't work. Although reasonably well attended, it became clear that no one wanted to talk business in a formal setting straight after New Year while the sun was shining. The parties, however, were a different story.
Five years on and BPM has at least doubled in attendance each time out. This year's festival offered 200 artists and 50 events (excluding afterparties and "off-BPM" events) spread across ten days. Following suit from last year's program, there were a minimum of two beach parties during the day, and two club-style events at night. Roughly speaking, this lead to a division between bigger (and often more commercial) sounds, and the type of house music favoured by labels like Crosstown Rebels, Wolf + Lamb, Hot Natured, et al. Most parties are centrally located, taking place within a 3km radius.
Arriving at night on January 4th after a 45 minute taxi journey from Cancun, BPM had already staged six days of parties, which included a Circo Loco New Year's Eve bash with Danny Tenaglia. Unlike other multi-day festivals, with the emphasis on seeing and hearing absolutely everything, BPM envisage that visitors attend parties as part of their wider holiday plans—and to this end, being able to dip in and out of gigs at will is one of its key appeals. At $550 for a full pass this luxury doesn't come cheap, but tickets for individual shows can be grabbed for $30 - $45.
There are also free entrance beach parties, such as those helmed by Lee Burridge's All Day I Dream, and Art Department's No.19 label. In the case of the former, Burridge's back-to-back set with studio partner Matthew Dekay proved to be one of the weekend's highlights. Drapes and lanterns had been brought in to evoke the vibe of the highly successful Brooklyn rooftop events he began in 2011. Their delicate brand of house was reduced to a mere pinprick around sunset then expertly rebuilt over the remaining few hours.
Photo credit: Bennett Sell-Kline
Soul Clap and Wolf + Lamb's house party jams were also particularly fit for purpose. The rather lovely roof of the long-running La Santanera hosted an all-night session from the four, with Tanner Ross filling in for Soul Clap's Charlie Levine. Afrobeat, disco and R&B was equally as effective as the house they pushed (an edit of Donald Byrd's "Love Has Come Around" being a nice example of this) while the peak of the party saw San Fran's Pillowtalk perform an impromptu rendition of "Weekend Girl." Just down the way at Blue Parrot, one of BPM's largest and most prominent outdoor nightspots, Loco Dice and his Desolat imprint attracted a sizable crowd, moving freely to his and tINI's tough and rolling house-cum-techno.
Kool Beach, another of the festival's key venues, was nothing short of fevered throughout. The daytime parties—set partially on an outdoor terrace, partially in the sand—were the place to drink cocktails and dance in your swimwear. Richie Hawtin and Dubfire wired their Traktor set-ups together to form a wall of monochrome techno (a little disappointing given the setting in the afternoon sun) on the Thursday; Nic Fanciulli and Stacey Pullen pulled no punches with their big room sets on the Friday; and Mark Knight stacked pop-laced electro house on Saturday.
The shows on the beach were certainly easy on the eye, although Crosstown Rebels secured the most visually arresting space for their highly anticipated "cave party." Functioning ordinarily as a restaurant, Alux isn't quite as DIY as you'd imagine—but that didn't detract from the overall spectacle, or indeed make the intense heat inside any more bearable. Imprint boss Damian Lazarus had everyone in just the right headspace by 3:00 AM, but Jamie Jones was unfortunately unable to capitalize. Technical issues affected his early flow (the heat may have been a factor) although his choice of music—solid but ultimately uninspiring house—did little to ignite the large and expectant crowd.
Photo credit: Bennett Sell-Kline
The following day's Hot Natured vs Crosstown Rebels party at Mamitas went some way to redeeming things. Jones joined Lee Foss for the closing set after label stalwarts Richy Ahmed, Russ Yallop and Robert James had navigated funk and electro-influenced house from afternoon to evening. The stage erected on the beach hampered the atmosphere a little (Art Department's proximity to the crowd at their equivalent party made people go nuts) but the Hot Natured heads displayed some of the flair that lined their massive 2011.
As a host, Playa Del Carmen lends itself elegantly to BPM. The 150k population town is one of the fastest growing in Latin America, and seems to easily accommodate the influx of techno tourists. With a little research you can eat at decent quality restaurants which are reasonably priced. There are nice options for shopping along the main drag, Fifth Avenue, and the overall vibe is relaxed—a far cry from some of its more trashy European counterparts. Highly recommended is a visit to Coba and Tullum, both a reasonably short car journey to the south, that attract tourists from all over the world for their wonderfully preserved Mayan ruins. For this and many other reasons, BPM should definitely be considered as one of the key stop-offs on the international festival circuit.