The genius of destination festivals
Only two things excite me to get out of bed before a full night’s sleep: flights and sunrise parties. When the two erupt as the product of a brilliant idea had by a St Martin adoptee named Julian Prince, you can’t help but feel lucky to be part of it. SX Music Festival, which debuted this past week in the island of St Martin, may just have hit the nail on the head in terms of giving people reasons for not sleeping while simultaneously experiencing the magic of island life. Our culture of skepticism has ingrained suspicion in our brains, to the point that hearing the word festival may be the main source of discouragement for actually taking that flight to paradise. In this case, conforming to the idea paid off and I can say that SX was the epitome of what a destination festival should be.
Landing over a beach full of swimmers waving hello was a good sight from my window seat, but the better sight was really on land as we drove past casinos, nightclubs, dilapidated colonial homes, and shipwrecks. Locals seemed to be alarmed by the sudden traffic influx but I could not complain. I was getting to see this place in slow motion. The Dutch and French dichotomy could not be more evident; the island is divided in half and the scenery changes by the mile, as if you really were in two different worlds. An eclectic mix of Brits, Kiwis, South Africans, French, and Italians added flair to this traffic jam, each plugging in their own USB cords to the taxis soundsystem to show the other their DJ knowledge.
Locals stood cross-armed on the side of the road, as if watching a parade go by. You can’t help but wonder the impact foreign investment has on small communities such as this, I am sure they were waiting on their own piece of the cake. The first day did see a small wave of protests and road blockings but after conversing with one of the lead activists I understood that their frustration came from infrastructural issues, rooted in the local politics. They were happy to have us.
Upon arriving to our first venue, the Mercure Hotel, music was already flowing and the sight of many familiar faces reassured me that I was in good hands. With uninterrupted views of the sea from my room and a supply of costumes to last all week, this felt like the playa during a mirage. The burner-like energy only increased as the days went by, we all endured the weather like warriors on a mayan art car even as torrential rain forced everyone to dance under a communal tarp at the beach. No bad weather was going to stop a sea of party professionals. Group effort towards shelter Improvisation only made the bonding experience more special and I can say many of us left as good friends.
As we hopped from one venue to the other on shuttles running on island time, arriving was a big part of the experience. St Martin is small but still quite spread out, making getting out of bed for Lee Burridge and Yokoo’s sunrise a mandatory group effort. After my 5th wake up call I managed to get up, joining the party people on a walk in the dark for the a breakfast cocktail on the beach, as the beats became one with the sounds of the ocean and we all looked around to say our thanks to life.
First year festivals take many risks, including staying in the once upon a time category. Yet, SX Music did more than just throw a party, it made clever use of the island’s resources and natural beauty to enhance every single person’s experience. I am a firm believer that many of us will be coming back for more and that St Martin may just have become the perfect alternative to over saturated festival destinations.