January is a tough month as far as entertainment goes. After the excesses of Christmas and New Year, most of us are happy to stick with the comforts of jogging bottoms and the sofa. But there’s one group of people bucking the trend.
“BPM is a festival for jet-setters – young people who work hard all year so they can come here for 10 days in January,” says Phillip Pulitano, one of the founders and directors of this Mexican event. The soundtrack here is strictly for music lovers – the crème de la crème of electronic dance music. And the set-up is no more predictable. “There’s no big area with lots of different stages,” he says. “BPM takes place all over the city of Playa del Carmen. Our stages are the dancefloors, clubs and beach clubs.”
Beats on the beach
“I don’t think of it as a job,” says Pulitano. “When you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.” During the planning stages, he and the other founders consider every aspect of the festival, which takes over the Riviera Maya. But it’s also the partygoers who make BPM what it is, and people come in their droves. It’s more difficult to find accommodation here during the festival than it is at New Year. Some bars sell more vodka and beer at BPM than during the other 355 days of the year.
BPM started out as an industry event for people in the nightlife business, but after seeing all the partying at the first one, Pulitano spotted its potential. When a new music event really works, people start talking about it. By word of mouth alone, BPM went from being a party held over seven days in 2007, with 21 events and 5,000 tickets sold, to a 15,000-strong festival the next year. “It tripled!” says Pulitano at the Blue Parrot, one of the local beach clubs that’s been adapted for the festival.
Generally, beach clubs are designed with the type of sand, size of area and range of watersports in mind; music is rarely a priority. But at the Blue Parrot it’s the main attraction, even when there’s no BPM. This is just one example of the lasting effect the festival has had on Playa del Carmen.
In 2015, around 63,000 tickets were sold, and in 2016 that figure is expected to increase to 70,000. “It’s not as if we want to grow for the sake of it,” says Pulitano. “It’s just that more people come every year.” BPM now has a new location in the jungle next to Playa del Carmen, with interesting venues, pools, art and plenty of local delicacies. He’s personally taken care of every last detail.
The sound of the police
“If you can get me a photo with the DJ, I’ll let you play for longer,” a police officer once told Pulitano when a set had reached its curfew. That night, the police ended up doing tequila shots with the headline DJ. It was a longer session than expected.
And that wasn’t the only time the police got into the party spirit. One day, Pulitano was having lunch with Canadian superstar DJ Richie Hawtin at the festival organiser’s favourite taco restaurant. The place has large metal shutters instead of doors, with tables looking out onto one of the city’s main avenues. What a perfect location, they both thought, for a surprise set. A year later, thousands of people filled the restaurant – some to eat, but most to listen to Hawtin and Dubfire.
The owner carved the meat and danced, losing count of the number of tacos he’d served. Tables were banished to create a makeshift dancefloor, and traffic outside was blocked by crowds of dancing people. “It’s one of the main thoroughfares, so the police arrived,” says Pulitano. “But after a while even they were dancing.” Today, evidence of the night when those old gringos had to wait ages for their tacos al pastor can be found in the form
of a screensaver on the cash register. In 2016, they’ll be doing it all again, though the time and day will be kept a secret.
How did underground music become so big? The question keeps Pulitano awake at night. Literally. His parties are so popular, he only gets three hours’ sleep a day when the festival is in full swing. And as BPM continues to grow, this will soon seem a luxury. “For me, the best thing to do is to party a little during the day and then a little at night,” he says. “Go to the beach at about 6pm, listen to two or three artists. Enjoy them. Have dinner, take a nap, wake up at two to carry on into the night. That’s how the professionals do it.”
Expecting the unexpected
The idea behind BPM is to be able to walk around the streets of Playa del Carmen, from one club to another, listening to your favourite DJ. And while you’re strolling, you’ll meet other DJs doing the same. “Here, the DJs don’t show up, play and then leave,” says Pulitano. “We’re always having to postpone their flights because they don’t want to go home. You won’t believe how many times we’ve had to do that.”
For 10 days, Playa del Carmen and BPM become one and the same. The festival may involve a year’s worth of detailed planning, but some of Pulitano’s favourite moments are completely unexpected. For instance, Seth Troxler, one of the most popular DJs at BPM, always brings his mother and, Pulitano recalls, “I suddenly caught sight of him with her, buying souvenir hats from a shop.” That night, the mostly Mexican crowd in front of Troxler’s booth went wild when they saw him put on one of the hats in Mamita’s Beach Club. You can’t plan those moments.
There’s only one thing that Pulitano wishes he could control: the weather. But he’s not about to lose sleep over it. “That’s the way it is,” he says. “You win some, you lose some.” This is the philosophy of a person who wants to create a community in Playa del Carmen for electronic music fans, his friends and the founding partners; they’re definitely not the words of a ruthless businessman.
One time at Mamita’s Beach Club, the wind and rain blew over an entire tent and top-quality sound equipment was destroyed. Within a couple of hours, they had rebuilt both the tent and the equipment, so that the party could go on. “Despite the rain and everything else, people keep coming and having fun,” he says. It turned out that 2015’s BPM was one of the wettest on record.
The festival looks set to continue its meteoric rise. There’s a launch event in a yet-to-be-announced South American country. Plus there’s already a club night in Europe, and tour dates in Mexico and beyond. “But nothing compares to Playa del Carmen,” says Pulitano, “where we have 10 whole days.”
Though the event attracts thousands of people from all over the world – from South America to Australia and Zimbabwe – the majority of revellers still come from Mexico. “They’re underground music connoisseurs,” says Pulitano. Perhaps, thanks to the influence of BPM, that’s truer now than ever before.