Dance Festival BPM Offers a Sweeping Lineup, Cultural Alternative to Miami and Ibiza

Danilo Lewis
 Cassy performs during The BPM Festival in Mexico.

The festival's founders talk about how they built the annual underground EDM event as an alternative to Ibiza and Miami nightlife.

Electronic music fans, particularly those who have burned out on mega-festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival and Ultra, are flocking to Mexico this week for the eighth annual BPM Festival. The 10-day event, which runs through Jan. 18, features a loaded roster of more than 375 DJs who will perform at low-key beach parties and small music venues throughout Playa del Carmen. 

Since it was founded in 2008, BPM has grown from 5,000 attendees to more than 55,000 in 2014, with more expected this year. While there are many contributing factors to the festival's growth -- for one, it appeals to slightly older audiences who feel aged out of events like the Mad Decent Block Parties -- the real draw is its jam-packed roster of more than 375 DJs from around the world, many of whom are seen as the genre's rising stars. 

While the festival has drawn comparisons to Miami's inudstry-focused Winter Music Conference and features many of the same faces (Pete Tong, Carl Cox), it strives for a more casual atmosphere. Billboard spoke with co-founders Phil Pulitano and Craig Pettigrew about how they built a go-to dance music destination for fans who prefer an intimate concert experience over the club scene. 

Billboard: Tell us about the inspirations for the first festival in 2005. Why Playa del Carmen? 

Pettigrew: About 10 years ago, Phil and I were looking to throw an Ibiza-style festival on this side of the world. While Ibiza and Miami were thriving, they weren't necessarily doing things the way we would've done them. Miami was really expensive, hundreds of dollars a night for tables at clubs, and Ibiza was an expensive flight. We wanted something closer to North America and more focused on the music. Playa del Carmen was beautiful and beachfront, and it was also affordable. We started booking our friends from Canada, where we're from, and things took off. 

Pulitano: We planned the first festival in seven months and decided to try to make it a conference, too, but we bit off more than we could chew. The conference was too much, there were too many elements, so we kept the second installment strictly music and watched it grow from there. 

It has since become a pretty major event for the dance music industry. Do you worry about it becoming too big when a large draw is it's intimacy? 

Pettigrew: Absolutely. When something like this gets traction, especially in Playa, we can't just keep expanding. We try to keep the marketing and advertising really submitted to a certain crowd so it doesn't blow up into something massive or super trendy. 

Pulitano: This year, we've kind of hit that threshold where there is no more capacity. We also strategically moved our dates this year to be further away from the holidays in order to keep the crowd full of music lovers and industry folks. We didn't want the New Years Eve leftovers. 

What makes BPM different from other festivals? Is the comparison to WMC a fair one?

Pulitano: Yes and no. The vibe might be similar to WMC but there's no conference element here, and Playa del Carmen is not Miami. At BPM, we host events throughout the city but you only need to purchase one wristband to get into them all. And the venues and clubs are within walking distance, and the beach clubs are next door to each other, so you don't have to deal with taxis or buying tables at clubs, and so on. We make sure the arrangements are fair, we make sure the clubs don't overcharge, and we make sure things are convenient. 

What are the one or two standout parties fans should look for?

Pettigrew: It's hard to say, but the Innervisions event last year was incredible and people are excited about that again. Carl Cox is returning to the festival this year after taking last year off, and the party for Life and Death, an upcoming label, is exceptional. 

Pulitano: The Blue Venado Beach Club is our only offsite venue, and it's about 10 minutes away the city tucked away in the jungle. It's magical. We're using it five times this year for various parties. 

Can you explain the curation process behind the gigantic lineup? 

Pettigrew: We are very drawn to the underground music base. Phil and I both spent a lot of time in Ibiza, and basically tried to figure out who was successful in Europe and why. As a result, our lineup reflects an older, European style festival, not the commercial EDM you see in a lot of American festivals today. It's also an opportunity to hear new music before everyone else. Labels come down to host artist showcases and label parties so we get to be on the front end of all that.

Pulitano: In that way, it is a bit like WMC. It's a place for labels to break up-and-coming talent, and for artists to scout people they want to work with. We feel like we have a role in the industry in that sense. We helped break Adriatique in North America at last year's Culprit and Diynamic showcases, and Richie Hawtin usually comes down to meet some the newcomers. He's had a big presence here.