Soft, tan sand squishes beneath our feet as Mixmag wanders the lush atmosphere of St. Martin’s Happy Bay, a small, secluded cove on the outskirts of the Caribbean island surrounded by crystal clear blue water. It’s 7:00PM on the final day of SXM Festival and a minimal house beat takes over the atmosphere as hoards of revelers gravitate to the main stage, which is adorned in layers of palms and hanging orbs made of wood. Ricardo Villalobos just stepped up and he’s easing into his two hour set, radiating with his infectious energy as he so often does. With another acclaimed artist in Richie Hawtin up next, attendees know they are in for an exquisite evening of dance music. Being in such an atmosphere, with the most engaging dance music on earth, has Mixmag wondering, does it get any better than this?
Paradise, defined as a place or state of utter perfection, is often regarded as unattainable or imaginary. That said, in recent years destination festivals have become synonymous with the term due to the extrasensory environments that allow patrons to escape to a world where flaws are absent and freedom of expression is exponentially intensified.
In just its second year, SXM is fast approaching the upper echelon of this festival category, quickly establishing itself as an oasis unlike any other, and for good reason. Witnessing top acts like those previously mentioned along with Jamie Jones, Nina Kraviz, The Martinez Brothers, RPR Soundsystem, Skream, Behrouz, Bob Moses and andhim, just to name a few, on a beautiful island in an intimate setting is enough to make any dance music fan buzz with excitement. Sure other festivals have similar music, but island life greatly enhances the experience.
A unique aspect of SXM is the journey between the various locations hosting music. Whether spending the day at Happy Bay or exploring the island while the sun is shining, once the afternoon hours hit the beats start pouring out and seem to never stop. Happy Bay finishes at midnight, but after that the crowd either takes a short break or heads straight to The Refuge, an open air club reminiscent of Ibiza venues, where the music continues until 5:00AM. After that, those of us who still thirst for the dance will head to Layla’s for sunrise sets from the likes of Audiofly, Guti, Chaim, Moscoman, Yokoo and others. The sessions at Layla’s moved to Happy Bay once the weekend hit, which allowed many to simply stay there for upwards of 20 hours, continuously engulfed in music while the waves crashed on the beach and the sun traversed through the sky.
Top sets of the week came from a group of DJs supplying a variety of musical styles. Soul Clap playing Danny Krivit's version of the legendary track 'Strings Of Life' by Derrick May was a clear standout moment during sunset, while Ricardo Villalobos hypnotized the crowd with a few tracks from the mysterious Digwah record label. Late night would not have been the same without RPR Soundsystem, the trio of Raresh, Petre Inspirescu and Rhadoo, plus DJ W!LD's jacking house set was unmatched. Then there was Richie Hawtin's expansive techno performance, teasing the crowd with a conclusion before capping off the night with an encore. But when the founder of the festival closed out the weekend with 'The Whistle Song' by Frankie Knuckles, no moment could have been more perfect.
In short, it shouldn’t take much convincing to add SXM Festival to your personal festival schedule on a yearly basis. It takes place at a time when an escape from urban life is necessary. Paradise is not easily found, but when it is, it’s best to experience the rare energy found at such a place and soak it all in. The event is still in its infancy, but the future looks brighter than the sun that continuously brought energy to the crowd of revellers who, like Mixmag, did not want to leave. Trust in one thing, we’ll see you on the island next year.
View select photos from SXM Festival 2017 above.
[Photo credit: SXM Festival, Ded Agency, Patricia Brochu, Geoffrey Hubbel]
Harrison is Mixmag's East Coast Editor. Follow him on Twitter here