- The premise of Brazil's Mareh Festival is rather simple—soundtrack a midsummer Bahia paradise with Balearic tunes and disco edits. Easy as it may sound, this combination requires Herculean effort on the part of the festival's organizers. For the past two years, Mareh has taken place on Boipeba Island, a quiet enclave on the Atlantic only reachable by boat (meaning all sound and supplies must be shipped in). To complicate matters further, Boipeba only motored vehicles are aging tractors that tow Mareh's attendees to massive stages scattered across beaches throughout the island. Add on DJs traveling from Amsterdam (Young Marco), San Francisco (Solar), Dundee (Dicky Trisco) and Liverpool (Greg Wilson), as well as an arduous eight-day schedule, and Mareh's logistics amount to a hilariously complicated math equation. But 11 years in, the organizers have it down, nailing all the details to give Brazilians and foreigners a chance to loll on perfect beaches by day and party all night.
I arrived on Boipeba following a Christmas night flight from Miami, a single engine airplane ride from Salvador and brief boat ride from a small airport near the isle, accompanied part of the way by Beats In Space host Tim Sweeney, who would play Mareh's inaugural boat party on December 27th. Wading through shallow, warm water in brilliant sunlight towards a beach bustling with swimmers was a surreal scene, to say the least. We eventually made our way to the beach bar, which would host nightly parties ramping up to all-night events on December 28th and New Year's Eve. Many of Mareh's visitors travel in from São Paulo, where the promoters throw rooftop parties year-round, but the slack attitude of the island stands in stark comparison to that bustling metropolis. On Boipeba, everything runs a bit behind schedule. If this bothers you, you're doing it wrong.
The Beats In Space boat party got off to a rocky start, with Tim Sweeney and Eric Duncan acting as de facto captains out on some fairly choppy waters. The island's temporary residents swam out to a colorful, wooden boat for a four-hour journey. Sweeney and Duncan handled the sizable waves with aplomb, eschewing long mixes for perfect cruising selections. The duo rarely dipped into quantized territory, dropping Marcos Valle, Maurice Fulton's classic remix of Alice Smith and Wally Badarou's "Chief Inspector" (as dubbed by Pete Herbert, who danced the entire time and played a killer set the night before on the beach). Sweeney grinned ear-to-ear the entire time while Duncan, who has built up a Brazilian folk hero status thanks to a series of memorable sets at Mareh and in São Paulo, swayed with hands aloft, a man in his element. I ran into Young Marco after arriving back on the beach. He said he'd traveled two days to get to Boipeba and would soon be heading back to the Netherlands for a New Year's gig, but seemed absolutely ecstatic to be there.
The days on Mareh are easy, with attendees wandering around the beaches, spooning Moqueca (seafood soup) or hanging out in Boipeba tiny downtown. Afternoon sets at the beach bar could provide some beautiful chilled-out moments, such as Mans Ericson dropping a shuffling live version of Cheo Feliciano's "El Raton" during a pink-hued golden hour. That set would preface the first of two Mareh ragers, this one requiring a midnight tractor ride to Morere beach. The festival's founder, Guga Roselli, is an engineer at an architecture firm, and had overseen construction of a massive, volcano-like thatch structure full of LED lighting. The sound company brought in a system used for a David Gilmour concert the week before. Put simply, the production quality was ridiculous and Brazilian duo (and Beats In Space signees) Selvagem delivered the goods, dropping an amazing (and new to these ears) remix of Gottsching's "E2-E4" alongside what would become a Mareh anthem, Soulful Dynamics' "Jungle People." Eddie C began his set at 3 AM with a Roy Ayers' a cappella over a pulsing piano disco track—an on-the-fly edit worthy of Ron Hardy. By the time he ended with Loui$'s "Pink Footpath," it was broad daylight. SF veteran Solar, having received news of Lemmy's passing, rued the unavailability of "Ace Of Spades," but kept it heavy regardless, dropping Maurice Fulton before descending into an early morning mess of clattering polyrhythms.
The weekend warriors descended on the beach bar in force—on the 29th for edit heavy sets from Ray Mang and Dicky Trisco and on the 30th for Gop Tun, local heroes who dropped wild, island-ready house tracks like Jephté Guillaume's "Ibo lé lé." Of course, New Year's Eve would see the stops pulled out again, but simple, Brazilian traditions were what made the night feel special. As 2016 approached, we walked towards another elaborate stage setup, this one resembling nothing so much as a giant neon-lit jungle gym. The majority of partygoers were out on the beach before the year turned, wearing white as custom dictates. At midnight, Mareh launched a short and serious fireworks volley, and we jumped seven waves, making seven wishes as Liverpool legend Greg Wilson stepped up to the decks.
Greg Wilson kept it nostalgic. Edits of Sister Sledge and The Clash kept less headsy dancers engaged but sounded a bit like cosmic wedding DJing. The Revenge took us from pitch-black to dawn with some welcome, jacking house cuts, before Kurc stepped up to the decks, spinning Todd Terje and a bunch of tunes that defined 2015, such as Fatima Yamaha's "What's A Girl To Do" and VO's awesome "Mashisa." These are great tracks, but as the summer sun beat down and the bar served up tapioca and popsicles, I was in the mood for something more specific to Brazil, to Mareh. The DJ for the 9 AM set was TBA, but as Eric Duncan, the perma-tanned, honorary Brazilian, loomed around the stage, it was fairly clear what was going to happen.
Throughout the year, Brazilians love to hear imported music, but around the holidays, musical memory strengthens. Tropicalia, the beautiful psychedelic sound native to Bahia, hits this mnemonic sweet spot. Duncan started off with a slightly retouched version of Caetano Veloso's lovely "Queixa," the song's lilting chords easing the dance floor into a set that would run well past noon. A crew of staff and audience members lifted a parachute to shield dancers from the sun while others escaped into the glistening waves, just 50 feet away. A wicked smile crept onto Duncan's face, and it was easy to see why.
Photo credits: Felipe Gabriel