December 21st, 2012 is a date that was burned into our collective social paradigm by the media and our obsession with apocalyptic events. No matter where you were for the past couple years, there’s been no escaping people bringing up rumors surrounding the impending “end” of the Mayan calendar, though nearly nobody really knew what they were talking about. I figured the best way to understand this phenomenon would be to celebrate the event at the ancient Mayan pyramids in Mexico, but I was nowhere near prepared for what was in store.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Late last September, I was contacted by a representative from a PR company called This Is Mission about attending a “secret party” in Miami. I didn’t take him seriously at first and he wouldn’t tell me who was playing at the show, but I decided to play along anyway. Over the next couple weeks we exchanged a few emails, mostly the rep letting me know that the secret event had been postponed multiple times. Then as timing would have it I was not able to make it to the final set date, which turned out to be an exclusive and intimate, 50 person media-centric event with world renowned DJ, Sasha, as the headliner. Now This Is Mission had my attention. In response to my email apologizing for not making the Miami show, the representative asked me what I thought about the “Day Zero Stuff”. I checked our correspondence and didn’t see “Day Zero” mentioned anywhere, so I ran a search in my inbox that returned a .zip file attached to one of our emails matching the criteria. I opened the file and inside was a press invitation which (excerpts) read:
“From a pyramid site set between two lakes in Playa del Carmen, the centre of Mayan civilization, Day Zero will bring a magical mix of sound and music from the most forward-thinking electronic music artists as they count down 24 hours to the climax at 11 minutes past 6pm on December 21st 2012…
The occasion will mark the end-date of a 25,625-year-long cycle and fifth and final cycle of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Waves of transformative mystery, magic and expectation will wash across the blissful crowd ushering in the inauguration of a new reality, a second chance, a departure from the disappointments of the past.
The fresh start will be accompanied by high energy, absolute love, deep beats and a celebration of the new dawn. As the astronomical alignments and numerological formulae gather pace Day Zero will open its arms to the masses as transition takes place.”
The website for the event contains pictures showing beautiful emerald green lakes along with an impressive looking pyramid and temple with a caption reading: “This never been-seen-before site only few minutes drive outside Playa Del Carmen creates the perfect backdrop for this very rare event.” The website goes on to brag about their partnership with the Sila Sveta Company and their “video mapping shows, interactive shows, scenes for music artists, video installations for clubs and restaurants, the video effects for film and TV. Sila Sveta are right now working at creating a never seen before show for Day Zero.”
No words can describe the excitement and privilege I felt after reading that invitation. I mean, who doesn’t want to party at the Mayan pyramids during one of the most significant dates to their culture? I had heard about Skrillex and 12th Planet playing their show at an Aztec pyramid in Pueblo and the Space And Time Festival was in Tulum the same night, but Day Zero seemed to be the closest to an authentic Mayan celebration on paper. Plus, they’re the only ones who sent me an invite.
The lineup, put together by Damien Lazarus and his Crosstown Rebels didn’t really fit my taste, but I couldn’t think of a single reason to say “no” to the invite, so I showed the email to my travel buddy/ photographer and we booked tickets to Mexico the next day. Our anticipation was palpable. Though we knew that there were no legitimate celestial phenomena corresponding with December 21st, 2012, the idea of celebrating and covering this once in a lifetime (heck, once in 25 thousand years) event was something that we just couldn’t turn down.
GETTING TO MEXICO
Fast forward to December 18th. My travel buddy and I decided to fly out of Miami rather than Tampa because it was cheaper and we wanted to spend some time in the Florida Keys to recover after the journey. So we parked the car at a friend’s house, and hopped on the two-hour flight to Cancun. I must say that Cancun was everything it’s chalked up to be: perfect weather, beautiful single women at the bars, and a beach that is nothing short of amazing. It was a distraction that made us too comfortable. We played around in Cancun’s Walmart that night while gathering the supplies we couldn’t travel with, and besides the smells and raw, hanging meats in the produce section, we pretty much felt at home. The only really sketchy thing we encountered that night is the fact that there are speed-bumps on the main roads and even the highways in Mexico. So as a foreigner driving at night, that was pretty much traumatizing. I feel really bad for the suspension on our rental car, and even after we returned to the states I kept thinking that speed-bumps were jumping out at me when I saw discoloration or shadows of power lines in the road.
The next morning, my companion and I checked out of our beautiful hotel room on the beach and took the hour drive south to Playa Del Carmen, a city that compares to Cancun like a gas station bathroom does to the guest bathroom in your parents’ house. About ten miles away from our destination, we made a spontaneous stop at the Plaza Las Americas mall for last-minute supplies. Our credit cards didn’t read at the grocery store there, so we were forced to wait in line at the mall’s single ATM with about 15 other people. It wasn’t until we got back on the road when we realized that my buddy’s cell phone had been lifted off of him while we were in that line.
Finally greeted by the reality of being a tourist in a foreign country, we pressed on to the venue, which was a total bitch to find, as it was tucked nicely behind this amazingly disgusting ghetto that had no street signs, let alone signs pointing to Day Zero. To be fair I should probably point out that we were about six hours early so the signs may have not been up yet. I can’t remember exactly how we found our way because in order to get there you have to drive off the end of this shady ass street onto a dirt road that leads into a jungle reminiscent of Jurassic Park.
We were warmly welcomed once we arrived at the venue, but you could tell the production team was scrambling to meet the impending deadline. There was construction debris everywhere and the supply trucks had arrived shortly after we did. As we received our press credentials, the production manager asked us to lend the team a hand, which we agreed to without hesitation. This got us assigned to a group lead by two locals who were responsible for collecting the firewood they had chopped down over the past few days in the surrounding jungle. Fabio and Angel were awesome dudes. Between the four of us we shared enough understanding of each other’s language to communicate in ways that were nothing short of hilarious while we spent the next few hours making trips back and forth from the jungle to the main fire pit with a wheelbarrow full of wood.
As we were transporting the fire wood, I felt overwhelmed by the beauty of the venue. Beyond the impeccable serenity of the jungle we were surrounded with, you could see that a lot of time was put into making the space comfortable for festival-goers. Hammocks hung everywhere along the paths meandering off in different directions through the jungle, leading past platforms built into the trees to support mattresses that invited you to soak up this paradise. There were Mayan relics everywhere along the pathways near the pyramid and temple situated between two lakes, but something seemed a bit off. It was surreal; it seemed too good to be true. I remember thinking out loud that it was hard for me to believe that the pyramid was thousands of years old, so once we returned to our campsite I asked Fabio and Angel about the authenticity of the pyramid and other structures inside the venue. The word they replied with was “replica”. As this fantasy I had fully bought into crumbled in front of me, I suddenly realized that my cell phone was now missing too. Somehow it came out of my pocket while tromping through the jungle to collect firewood earlier. The sun was setting and there was no hope of finding it.
Baffled by the compounded probability surrounding the situation where myself and my travel partner both lost our phones in a foreign country, along with the fact that we had no way of locating our ride from the airport due to them not having a Facebook account and us not knowing their phone number or address, we made an agreement to completely ignore these things until we returned to the airport so we could focus on experiencing the festival. After all, we still had our passports which provided the comfort of knowing we will at least be able to make it home to The States.
TALK ABOUT THE MUSIC ALREADY!
Despite the apparent lack of preparation when we arrived, Day Zero was fully primed and ready to go at their planned start time of 6:00 PM. The opening ceremony started with a guy called Metrika playing some smoothed out sounds on his electric sitar. I must say, it was a classy way to ease everyone into a mellow and psychedelic vibe that perfectly matched our surroundings.
I listened from a distance as Metrika’s sitar set came to a close, and noticed an acoustic sounding tribal drum pattern mixing in. After a moment I realized that there was no electronic accompaniment because the opening ceremony had evolved into an exposé of Mayan song and dance performed by the best, and most authentic, representatives remaining from the Mayan tribal culture, according to Angel and Fabio. Decked out in full ceremonial body paint and attire, the native performers expressed an energy matching that of the entire crowd combined. It was absolutely rad to see the Mayan culture present at this event, though I couldn’t help but consider their point of view about all these foreigners celebrating something most of whom knew nothing about.
The electronic music picked up where the Mayan ceremony left off, with DJs Matias Aguayo and Francesca Lombardo thickening the vibe with some deep minimal stylings. Continuing to build the mood was Fur Coat, until the midnight Mayan ritual began and they refused to get off the decks. This created a tension between the acoustic tribal drums as they clashed with the minimal techno playing nowhere near the same tempo. I felt that this was an extremely unprofessional move on the part of the DJ, and I’m still surprised that the sound booth didn’t just cut him off at the main mixer. The tension created by this dissonance resonates strongly in my mind as a perfect example of what separates the hollow and commercial end of EDM that put events like this together, from the humble and soulfully tribal roots they still pretend to be connected with.
After the midnight Mayan ritual, 3D from Massive Attack stepped up to the decks along with James Lavelle of UNKLE. Besides some technical difficulties causing the audio to completely cut out multiple times, the duo eventually took the party to the next level. The energy was indescribable. Electricity ran through the crowd and there were smiles everywhere, except on my travel buddy’s face as he was still having trouble dealing with the fact that we were standing in front of a fake Mayan temple. He pointed out that almost nobody was actually dancing. The energy was undeniable, but everyone was sort of just bobbing along to the beat, watching the incredibly talented fire performers and being careful not to spill their drink. I have been to minimal techno events before, so the phenomenon was nothing new to me.
We returned to our camp site to refresh and rehydrate. The space around our camping area had filled in with tents and as we met our neighbors, I realized that we were blessed with the company of some of the most beautiful and spiritually advanced people I have ever met. Representing all corners of the world, in this highly diverse crowd we met folks from Australia, Canada and from all over Europe, who were all attracted there with the same energy.
As with any other New Years Eve, or rebirth oriented event, there is a lot of talk about self improvement. People want to discuss their problems and talk about how they‘re going to make their lives better. Day zero was no exception. As people walked through our campsite, a magnetic energy drew us together in a sort of spontaneous group therapy session. Nearly every conversation took place on depths not normally reached with strangers. It may sound unbelievable, but the connection we shared felt like we had known each other our entire lives. Many people we engaged with, including myself, admitted to saying things that we had never said out loud before. Where emotional walls broken down, deeper communication opened up, and I was floored by some of the words I heard from these beautiful festival-goers. I can’t express how amazingly reaffirming it is to hear someone else express your deepest thoughts with words you have not yet been able to find.
By this time the festival was at its apex, and you could feel the love in the air. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs took the stage, almost immediately living up to his name with a larger-than-life stage rig and a live performance to match. I was impressed by how smooth his performance went, and that it included a few tracks containing breakbeat drum patterns. I’m not normally a fan of male vocals in dance music tracks, but TEED pulled it off quite nicely.
Jamie Jones finished off the early morning hours, then when the sun broke the horizon and the sky started to illuminate, Metrika stepped back on stage to serenade the audience with more of his sick sitar skills. I never would have put it together on my own, but listening to a sunrise sitar set is kind of like getting a massage while you’re in a hot tub. It’s soothing and beautiful in a fairly sensual way.
Taking us back down the EDM rabbit hole, Trentemoller came up next, followed by Thugfucker and Shaun Reeves. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t have the ear to be able to pick apart their different styles, but the sets all sort of blended together for me. When it comes to deep house, minimal and techno, I can barely tell when one track ends and the next one begins. Based on the crowd reactions, all of those DJs did a great job of keeping the vibe alive and the bodies moving. That was until Art Department came on. I don’t know enough about them to make any personal judgments, but I noticed the energy dissipate as I watched many people walk away from the stage and overheard a few complaints about their set inside the campground, though I cannot offer up any specifics.
Closing out the festival was the man himself, Damian Lazarus. The crowd filled back in around the temple stage and the festival energy returned as Lazarus dished out his token style of deep, energetic beats, transitioning from tribal to dark and funky. The energy and excitement in the crowd proved that he is a master of his craft.
Truth be told, I didn’t make it to the end of Damian Lazarus’ set. The anxiety of not knowing how we were going to get home from the airport mixed with the fear of falling asleep and missing our flight finally became inescapable. We said our goodbyes and made our way north, relying on road signs to find the Cancun airport, since neither of us had our phones.
IN THE END
If I were going to be blunt about it, I would have to say that this event was falsely advertized. I can’t believe that I bought into the hype considering there was so little information offered in the beginning. In hindsight it seems obvious. The name of the venue wasn’t announced until a few days before the festival in order to maintain a vale of authenticity, and somehow I accepted that this “never seen before site” was just that, and not some sort of hoax. The website also originally said that the Crosstown Rebels were working with Secret Production, one of the most respectable production companies on the planet, to projection map the pyramid before replacing that post with Sila Sveta. In the end there was no projection mapping whatsoever, and the light show bordered on pathetic.
Another major announcement on the site was the addition of a second stage featuring about fifteen local DJs, which didn’t happen. There was no second stage. However, I found out later that the local DJ roster was added to an off-site after party. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been for the locals to help promote this event, bringing as many of their fans as possible only to be shafted like that.
The final thing that bothered me was how very few people seemed to care about the “leave no trace” aspect of this event. It goes without saying that every festival has those certain people who like to ruin nice things for everyone else, and Day Zero was no exception. There was trash everywhere, including on the pyramid. We even found the “leave no trace” sign lying on the ground.
Despite feeling mislead by the promoters, I had a righteously good time at the Day Zero Festival. I’ve said before that it’s the people who attend these shows that make it special, more so than the promoters, and this event was a perfect example. My travel companion and I would have most likely left to go the Space and Time Festival, or to an actual pyramid site like Chichen Itza if it weren’t for the amazing friends we made at Day Zero. I will be eternally grateful for the insight shared by these special people, and would not trade the experience for the world.