[FESTIVAL REVIEW] Cultivating Passion: SXM Festival Is The Caribbean’s Musical Nirvana
//SPIRITUAL PARADISE IN THE HEART OF THE CARRIBEAN//
SXM Festival, in only its second year, exceeded expectations entirely and successfully fused breathtaking landscapes with some of the globes most renowned DJs. Such a fusion led to the formation of the Caribbean’s own techno nirvana. The festival oozes authenticity. From the festival’s organizers, to the musicians, and the attendees; everyone involved has successfully tapped into the transcendent nature of music and have cultivated their passion into something that is tangible and ethereal.
I recently traveled to the Festival, the experience was a fleeting journey through time and space that left me with more questions than answers. At the Sights and Sounds, we aim to uncover the hidden themes behind the music and events that inspire us. So, rather than simply recite the events of the festival I hope that you will spend some time reading my personal anecdote of the festival and consider the themes that I present to you as they relate to the events of the festival. If you wish to gain quick insight about the festival’s happenings without having to consider a nuanced appreciation of its hidden gems and unique aura, you may as well stop reading now.
For those that chose to delve deeper into the SXM Festival, I thank you for sticking with me and commend you for taking the time to foster a nuanced understanding of the festival itself.
Passion is a complex concept in the sense that it manifests itself in strange, and often confusing, ways. To some, passion is the burning sensation to move away and start a new life despite friends, family, or society urging them to remain still. To others, passion might find root in repetition and the rigid practice of daily habits. Passion could simply mean finding the energy to leave your bed in the morning during a state of deep depression.
Point being, passion means entirely different things from one person to the next. However, it is undeniable that there are certain elements to passion that remain consistent despite its ubiquitous interpretations. For instance, the art of cultivating passion is a unifying aspect of humanity. Cultivating passion requires a unique vision A vision is not simply a venture that one suddenly decides would be interesting. Rather, a true vision is something that the visionary is willing to spend their life cultivating. Indeed, passion is confusing, but there exists a universal consistency in the fact passion is only a mere feeling unless it is properly cultivated.
The ability to cultivate passion is something that immediately stood out with SXM Festival and its its founder Julian Prince. “At SXM Festival we value quality and intimacy. Quality of music and experience. Says Prince, “Intimacy with some of the most wonderful, enlightened, party people on the planet. Add to that the breathtaking beauty of Saint Martin and it’s a powerful mix.”
When the lineup was released it was clear to me that this festival didn’t play by the rule book that most traditional festivals do. The artists spanned genres while remaining entirely aesthetically consistent, a booking task that is easier said than done. Not to mention the choice to host the festival on the island of Saint Martin, in the heart of the Caribbean. A destination where time is virtually nonexistent and the serene ocean views beg festival goers to fully immerse themselves into a state of transcendence. Not to mention the wildly extravagant, yet tastefully tailored production of the festivals stages.
The production, the lineup curation, and the set and setting of the festival were a recipe not only for success, but for the success of the true curators of the festival, its attendees.
When I decided to cover SXM Festival I knew that it was highly unlikely that I could convince any of my friends to attend with me. After all, it’s an expensive, long flight away, and not all my friends are obsessed with DJs like Nina Kraviz and Richie Hawtin like myself. In fact, most people I know wouldn’t have a clue that any of the artists on the bill even existed.
////MAKING THE DECISION TO JOURNEY////
To attend SXM Festival, you should be the type of person that truly enjoys techno and traveling equally, because it’s quite a bit of both. Nevertheless, I decided to venture on this journey completely alone. This played to my benefit. Being alone frees up time to meet other travelers and completely immerse yourself in the experience of the festival. Not to mention it helps to keep clear head to recount the events. Without the company of others, you are quite literally forced to contemplate your own personal narrative of the trip, as opposed to that of your friends. Maybe I am trying to justify being a loner, but there is something interesting and exciting about traveling entirely alone.
Flying into the SXM airport is nearly akin to time travel or teleportation, it’s as if the construct of time doesn’t exist on the island and zooming down to land into such a world is quite a trip if you think about it that way. As I gazed out of the constricted airplane window I could barely see water, it was a deeper blue than I had ever seen, a true ocean blue. I was rather worried because it felt like the plane was simply going to land in the water, but right before we touched down multiple things began to flood into my vision. First came the light blue water, then the sand covered beach, then all the party people made their way into my line of sight. Hundreds of people must have been standing on the beach watching the planes fly in, a common trend for tourists visiting the island. I was entering a foreign landscape with no expectations and no obligations. It felt odd and admittedly I was a bit nervous.
I spent the week staying at the Crew House hostel, at $35 a night it was the cheapest option for my island getaway. I must say that, especially considering the price of the stay, it was rather exciting to stay in an eight-bed dormitory. On my stay, I befriended everyone at the quaint hostel: the owners, the bartenders, my roommates. It only added to the experience of traveling alone to attend this mysterious festival.
During the first day of the festival I immediately took notice of the intricate production. It was well thought out but was not ostentatious like the production you might find at massive festival like Ultra or Coachella. It just made sense. The production felt as if you took a giant festival like Burning Man, Movement, or Time Warp and condensed it into an intimate, heartwarming space on the beach. The fact that the festival spanned five different venues worked to the benefit of festival goers. Various venues were open in the evenings and ran around the clock 24/7 until the festival’s closing party on Sunday. This helped alleviate some of the crowding that happens at festivals with stages near each other.
Before delving into the production picture the atmosphere during the ride to the festival’s main site, Happy Bay. SXM Festival requires you to ride a shuttle bus to and from venue to venue. I must admit, traversing the island with twenty other eager festival goers was one of the best parts about SXM. As the bus circles the islands rolling hills and navigates through the jungle scenery and local neighborhoods festival goers meet and exchange info, talk about who they are most excited to see, and hype each other up; this is the perfect opportunity to meet potential lifelong friends, especially when traveling solo, or possibly to discover and act that you hadn’t heard of but is the favorite DJ of the person sitting next to you. The shuttle busses were like pods transporting little eager souls from one experience to the next, and the drivers could not have been more gracious.
Getting off the bus at Happy Bay is an experience in and of itself. Imagine getting dropped off at summer camp, but for adults. The bus lets you out at about a two-minute walk from the festival site, up in the rolling hills. Nature surrounds you entirely and each of your sense is invaded with an earthy aura. From the drop off point you can see homes scattered among the hills tucked behind hundreds of trees, it looked as if we had been dropped off in a small jungle combined with a Hawaiian farm. The small of trees and shrubbery enters your nostrils and far away you can hear the distant kick of a techno beat. Dozens of festival goers walk down the dirt road towards the festival and the sound grows louder with each step. As I make my descent to the festival I breathe in slowly and take in the landscape, the superb air quality on the island even make me feel like I could breathe more deeply than ever before. Even though this land was foreign to me it felt as though I had been there before.
Coming into the festival site must have looked a bit like kids rushing into a candy store. Hardcore techno fans were eager to move through security into the festival grounds. As I walk into the sight I notice that the ground is full of authentic white sand, the type that massages your feet gently as you walk along the beach. The sand covers the entire venue. Gone are the days of dancing in sneakers, at SXM you dance barefoot.
The only thing that outmatches the sites situation directly on a beach is the Festival’s stage production. The main stage looks like a giant cornucopia: complete with palm trees, various plants, bamboo stalks, and lighting fixtures hung from every end of the setup. Lights flash in every which way. When it’s dark out hidden features of the stage become illuminated by the colored lights, only to retreat again in a moment’s notice. The fleeting nature of the stages interior give it a sense of life, like a living organism. Indeed, the stage took on the form of a living breathing entity, one with a beating heart, membrane, and a solid bone structure. The stages rods and foundation are the bone structure of the organism, the plants that cover the ceiling and exterior are the skin, the beating heart is the beat resonating from the speakers – thump, thump, thump; the DJ is the membrane controlling the organism’s functions. The output.
It is from said organism that consciousness stems, an elevated level of consciousness. Every self aware DJ set understands that the art of the “set” is merely a vehicle to elevating consciousness, and that is exactly what the DJs at SXM aimed and succeeded in doing. I make my way around the festival and explore its surroundings, I notice a giant Buddha head to the right of the stage and it piques my interest, so I go stare at it for a bit. It is quite a massive structure. I don’t think too much of it. Night begins to fall, or should I say “the absence of light.” The construct of night is truly a confusing one because night, much like darkness, simply doesn’t exist. Consider that darkness is not a physical entity at all but rather the absence of light itself. It is actually the absence of light that many refer to as “darkness.” As this darkness falls over the island the temperature cools and the tides continue to crash over the shore.
Dark shadowy figures sit on the beach gazing out towards the thousands of miles of ocean. They remain still, eclipsed in thought. Despite barely being visible, these figures are conscious beings just as the festival’s stage is a conscious being, but they lack luminance. I sit idly on the beach, just another shadowy figure. As the ocean waves crash and the darkness surrounds me some of my sense become more prominent. As my vision becomes dissipated my hearing perks up, like that of a vigilant watch dog. The kick drum fills my ears; it is all too familiar to me. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Like the waves crashing to the shore, it is constant. The highly meticulous drum patterns of DJ Nu are picked up by my ears. I feel as if I am hearing the music in a new light. The combination of the festival’s tranquil setting, the lack of commotion, and a clear head allow me to soak in the music and hear every individual hi hat and snare with ease. Such a sense of clarity is new to me.
I look across the ocean and see lights, or shall I say, more luminescent organisms, all glowing with either a dim yellow light or a bright white light. Interesting, I wonder what is happening across the way in Anguilla. Surely it isn’t as spectacular as what is happening around me, but I guess I’ll never truly know. The kick drum remains consistent and I pick up on the primal nature of it. Kick, snare, kick, snare. Techno. As a genre, it truly is deeply rooted within the primal desire to dance, to let one’s body loose, to bang on a drum. Techno is the primal urge to do these things, but is simply manifested in an increasingly sophisticated fashion as humans evolve musically.
The sound is powerful enough to feel from the beach, so I enjoy laying down there for a rest every now and then or to stretch whilst still getting my fix of the thunderous music emanating from the sound system. It’s interesting how a production like this can bring about primal urges such as stretching, dancing, and interacting. I feel the need to stretch my body to prepare it for work. More importantly I feel the need to mentally prepare for the workout that is a complex techno rhythm.
In any case, night had already fallen upon the festival and everyone suddenly became eclipsed in darkness. As I dance among the crowd, I take notice of the luminescent, alien like stage. It is like a creature with radiant, glowing skin. Interesting, isn’t it? How the absence of light can allow a living organism such as the festival stage shine so brightly. The features of the stage grow increasingly prominent at night and I begin to truly appreciate what lays before my eyes. The shape of the structure is such that it converges at a tip at the front, almost like a Viking ship. The interiors plants glow a different color when each unique light shine onto it. None of this incredible illuminance would be possible to witness during the presence of daylight, which is why the absence of light is sometimes a wonderful blessing.
As I drift into the deep sounds of Behrouz I begin to feel myself lose control. Not in a bad way, but in a primal sort of way. Something is building inside of me, but I don’t fight it. It’s important to recognize such urges for what they are. Such urges may manifest as anxiety or stress from being around such a large group of people, which is common for festival attendees. However, if you can tap into this instinct, it can be highly gratifying. For some, this sense of uneasiness can be discomforting. For others, it is thrilling. At that moment, I knew that something unique was being cultivated here at SXM. As I danced and let my body loosen up, I felt every pound of the computer-generated drum. It all began to build momentum. Something incredible was starting. It felt like something was in the air.
The weekend was complete with a variety of diverse techno, tech house, and house performances. SXM certainly provides a niche for all lovers of deep sounds. Certainly some DJs stood out over others but as a whole the festival itself was extremely diverse in their bookings.
Wednesday featured the sounds of Behrouz, Nu, Atish, and Audiofly. Each DJ moved flawlessly to and fro from the holy decks and transition was, simply put, always smooth. Each and every act had something to bring to the table. If the main stage was a cornucopia the festival’s DJs were the filling.
/A HEIGHTENED SENSE OF AWARENESS/
Heightened states of being can be achieved through sound in special cases. When Nina Kraviz took the stage at the Refuge venue on Thursday at 3:30 am the crowd was primed for an experience that transcended music itself. When rhythm and music fuse are introduced to each other in a crucible, and combined through the use of heat, out comes passion.
See, for two elements to fuse together heat must be present. At a festival, this heat lies within the heart beats of the festival attendees. This is where passion lies. As I stand and watch hundreds of fans clap and dance to Nina Kraviz their screams can be heard all around me, the energy overtakes me and I begin to think of this powerful force as an identity in and of itself. Nina’s tendency to push the envelope of experimentally and rhythm was like a burner on a stove and the crowd was a pot of boiling water. This pot of boiling water is representative of the transcendent effect techno music can have on a crowd over a long period of time. It must be considered on a grander scale, from set to set. Nina Kraviz set the tone for SXM Festival’s ultimate transcendence.
From there, sets from Bob Moses, Jamie Jones, Skream, Lee Burrdige and more led us down a journey through music and time that split hundreds of times down various unique paths. The multiverse (or meta-universe) is defined as the hypothetical set of possible universes, including the universe in which we live. Together, these universes comprise everything that exists: the entirety of space, time, matter, energy, and the physical laws and constants that describe them. The strings of matter, of vibrating energy can be felt through music.
As Bob Moses neared the end of their DJ set one half of the DJ duo broke out in a fleeting guitar solo while singing the lines “Time, time, time, it’s a poison, ‘Cause you and I have forgotten, That love, love, love is a put on, And time, time, time only goes on. Love, love, love, it’s a poison, When you and I turn to nothing. And time, time, time only goes on, When love, love, love is forgotten. We are all wanting of the eyes that would show us, We are all wasted on the words that console us, We are all waiting for the hands that will hold us.”
When Jamie Jones closed the main stage at Happy Bay on Thursday just about the entire crowd was shaking what their mama gave them. There likely wasn’t a single person in attendance who didn’t dance in an extremely questionable manner at some point. The set was the pinnacle of all things fun, robust bass lines and powerful kicks that could get even the most stoic character out of their seat. Having fun is the most important aspect of transcendence, there is something to be said for not taking oneself too seriously. Jamie Jones primed SXM fans for the religious experience that was the Lee Burridge sunrise set.
As the sun broke through the darkness the thematic concept of the absence of light returns to our tired minds. The pervasion of light out of darkness gives the festivals stage a truly spiritual glow as Lee Burridge plays the pinnacle of transcendent techno from the decks. The set was hours away from Richie Hawtin’s closing set but the two are very much a yin and yang. The vibrant, metaphysical nature of Lee Burridge’s set compared to Richie Hawtin’s thumping, dark journey is representative of the duality of life itself. Richie Hawtin is like a mad scientist on the decks, nit picking at each high, mid, and low like he is conducting an experiment. In the final moments of the festival, my mind is clear and I understand. Cultivating passion is a conscious decision but such an ability exists within all of us.