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Crosstown Rebel: The Dance World According to Damian Lazarus

Damian Lazarus at Day Zero 2017 in Tulum, Mexico
Galen Oakes Photography

Damian Lazarus at Day Zero 2017 in Tulum, Mexico.

“I’m not a massively superstitious guy, but I do believe in magic.”

It’s 1 p.m. in Tulum, Mexico, and Damian Lazarus is rummaging through a bowl of chilaquiles with steak. There’s a warm, light drizzle in the background, and Damian’s words are alive with rumination.

“Maybe not everything we see is everything that’s there,” Damian muses. “I do my fair bit of research into magic and the power of illusion.”

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It’s hardly a surprising admission from a man who has spent the better part of two decades mystifying audiences with his DJ sets and world-class events. As the head of Crosstown Rebels, an international record label and music collective for the “rebellious and anarchic,” Lazarus has made it his mission to foster transcendent dancefloor experiences.

“I think through the power of the right music at the right time, there’s an electricity: an invisible force field that envelops people,” he says. “You feel a sense of belonging and being appreciated, respected, and loved -- which is something that’s very hard to achieve at the moment with what’s going on in the world.”

Anyone who’s been to one of Lazarus’s events, whether it be his 24-hour Get Lost party in Miami or his beachside Rebel Rave in Peru, knows precisely what he’s getting at. The pinnacle of this utopian dancefloor vision, however, is Day Zero: Crosstown Rebels’ mythical jungle party in Tulum. Taking place at the Ak-Tun-Ak in Dos Ojos Cenote Park, one of the largest underwater cave systems in Mexico, it’s easily one of the more extravagant locations to throw a house and techno festival.

Day Zero began in December 2012, coinciding with the end of the Mayan calendar and what many were hailing as the end of the world. Damian and crew, however, took a much more optimistic approach to the date. “If you look deeper into what the Mayans were actually saying, it was the closing of one chapter cycle and the opening of a new one,” he says. “I saw that as a great opportunity to gather all of our tribes together and connect them to the Mayan philosophy and the Mayan land and to bring everyone together for a joyous celebration of music, art, and performance.”

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Thus, Day Zero was born, finding a natural home in Tulum for the next 5 years. “I feel very centered here,” Damian says, scanning the Yucatan horizon as the light rain slows to a halt. “Something kind of runs through me. When I’m playing music, I tend to take my shoes off and feel the sand beneath my feet. I feel very connected,” he pauses, “...something happens, I can’t really describe it.”

Flash forward 20 hours: the sun is rising over Cenote Dos Ojos and Damian is at the controls of Day Zero’s massive wooden stage, the architecture of which appears almost like a natural extension of the forest itself. The dancefloor, unsurprisingly, is still packed with thousands of enthusiastic party-goers who have not only braved the entire night, but appear well-equipped to carry on dancing for several more hours.

Away from the booming stage, labyrinthine pathways guide guests through the heart of the jungle. “Every single area that you see has been considered,” Damian explains, proudly. “We don’t want to disrupt anything. There’s a lot of dangerous shrubs and trees. There’s certain trees that shoot acid out at you, other trees that have special spikes.”

Wandering around the venue, Damian and crew’s attention to detail becomes immediately clear (he isn’t kidding about those spike trees either). Every pathway, no matter how daunting or dimly lit, inevitably leads to a new surprise, whether it be a secret resting area or tripped-out art installation. It’s a little bit like being lost in the throngs of Lewis Caroll’s imagination, only if Alice had somehow stumbled into a 20 hour-long forest party.

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Back at lunch, it’s still three hours until the marathon begins, and Damian appear perfectly cool. As he sifts through his chilaquiles -- which he laments have gone cold -- various passersby spot him and ask logistical questions about the party. Damian responds, dutifully, though mildly perturbed.

“I never really expected to become this kind of big recognizable figure,” Damian admits. “I find it kind of odd. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with it, I just wasn’t expecting it. It wasn’t some big game plan to make that happen.”

As it goes, the only aspiration Damian ever did have was to become a DJ. The rest just fell into place.

“I bought Technics and a mixer when I was 12,” he says, “and that’s all my life has ever been about. I’ve had many opportunities to sell out, to make it more mainstream, take the new big sponsors, but I’ve always pretty much deflected that away from the true vision: to create something super unique, fresh, and real.”

It’s this kind of staunch, uncompromising loyalty to his brand that has made Damian Lazarus and his Crosstown Rebels imprint so iconic. While the mainstream dance world's tides shift and change, Lazarus and crew will undoubtedly continue to blaze their own path, fostering an alternative electronic music empire with each successive event.

As Day Zero 2017 comes to a close, thousands of weary attendees stream out of the Mexican jungle. There’s an immutable silence in the air, catalyzed by a mixture of sleep-deprivation and mutually understood awe at what has just occurred. It’s a surefire mark of a good party, and a resounding affirmation for Damian’s larger mission.

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“I want to create some kind of legacy for people, when they think back to their parties that they went to over their lives, the best ones that they can remember are ones that I was involved in in some way. Not for competitive reasons, not for financial reasons, but because this is what I do, this music thing. This is what I love.”

Damian Lazarus & the Ancient Moons will release a new album in 2017. Lazarus is currently on a 20-date North American tour

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