- January is a hectic month for Tulum, a coastal paradise on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. Hectic is a relative term, though, when you're surrounded by the pristine beaches, open-air bars and restaurants, and sun-baked relaxation of the Mayan Riviera. Casually described to me as the "winter Ibiza," the district south of Cancun hosts a seemingly endless number of festivals and one-off events at the start of each year, bringing scores of popular house and techno DJs to its jungle environs for a period of several weeks. The likes of BPM Festival and Damian Lazarus's Day Zero celebration transform hotels, beaches, lagoons, caves and other scenic locales into raves. And the afterparties and surprise appearances spill out from there: a friendly bartender at Mur Mur showed me a video of Richie Hawtin in the thick of an unannounced DJ set at his outdoor restaurant, and there were whispers of Nina Kraviz playing a secret party near where I stayed on Carretera Costera. Suffice it to say, Tulum becomes a bustling hotbed for dance music.
For the first time this year, Comunitē, a two-stage festival run by the team behind Boiler Room Mexico City, snatched a piece of Tulum's packed January schedule. The eco-conscious event brought an incredible lineup to the Villa Pescadores hotel, which included a healthy spread of international and Latin American artists. Across the two days, Detroit luminaries Andrés and Moodymann would share a stage with Berlin's Portable, ZZK cumbia specialist El Buho and Dial records boss Lawrence. The mix of talent was strong, and the decided focus on niche artists—relative to neighboring festivals, anyway—gave Comunitē an edge.
Unfortunately, that niched curation may have affected the turnout. The daytime crowd was sparse for many performances, including Miami artist Uchi and her excellent live set of patient and quietly emotive techno. There wasn't even a crowd for the "show that has never been seen before," a back-to-back between Traumprinz and his own DJ Metatron alias. In the end, instead of performing, the Giegling mysterioso streamed his new album live on Boiler Room from Comunitē's Moon stage. Had anyone taken the last-minute announcement as the impetus to fly into Tulum for such a one-of-a-kind occurrence, they would have been sorely disappointed, regardless of how lovely the new record sounded. Still, the rest of the Giegling crew in attendance—Edward, Leafar Legov and Kettenkarussel—would've more than made up for it.
Dudley Strangeways and Michael McLardy's back-to-back also started out with only a handful of onlookers. But as the wind picked up and the sky darkened, their deep, groovy minimal seemed to gain intensity as the nighttime partiers filled the beach dance floor. It was nice to saunter between Moon's big, steady thumps and the Sun stage's brighter and often slower sounds during the day, but it didn't feel quite like a proper music festival until the sun had almost set.
Crowd numbers aside, the daytime programme was also hampered by serious delays and hasty lineup rescheduling. Andrés, for example, was meant to play at 4 PM, but he didn't start until 8 PM. (While anxious fans sat and waited around, the Sun stage blasted a Nosaj Thing live set, strangely enough.)
The later sets delivered some of Comunitē's best moments, and altogether seemed to encapsulate what the young festival had hoped to accomplish. Chilean ZZK band Matanza wove together synths, flutes, percussion and live electronics as seabirds coasted overhead, treating listeners to an entrancing taste of Latin dance floor mysticism. Guitar in hand and mic before him, the always excellent Portable put on a striking solo show that mixed his rich voice with touching, upbeat house. On the Moon stage, a crew of Russian and Romanian DJs finished the night with a roughly ten-hour minimal masterclass. Dasha Redkina, Barac, Petre Inspirescu and Rhadoo kept the diehards stuck in their small sections of the sand as they swayed, jumped and whooped along with the slick, groovy music. The vibe was infectious. One festival goer remarked to me how the Romanians were the main reason they came to Comunitē, while others admitted to having been won over by their flawless technique, sly mixes and precise sound design.
It rained during Comunitē, a lot. Mostly there were scatters of droplets blown in off the water by the blustery gulf winds, but one particularly bad shower appeared during Andrés's set, sending a sizable portion of the audience running for what little cover was available. Those more adventurous, or at least better prepared, stayed on the sand, reveling in the tropical rainstorm and dancing to the DJ's brilliant house, disco and soul selections (not to mention a few well-placed salsa and samba tunes).
It says a lot that one of the best sets was also the most problematic. Comunité felt like a lightning rod for unique experiences—like the time you bought a Moodymann t-shirt from the man himself and then he poured you a shot of mezcal during his set, or when you caught some of the Giegling guys at 8 AM at an afterparty in a massive compound once owned by Pablo Escobar. In a chat I had with Magda—who was simply enjoying Comunitē with her Cornerbred collaborator, Baby Vulture, Mike Servito and others—she lovingly nicknamed it "anti-BPM." To me, Comunitē stood as a thoughtful and promising start for what could become an important fixture in Tulum's busy festival season.
Photo credit: Billy Danger