Elegant is the word that first springs to mind when reminiscing on SXM Festival. From the island the festival calls home—it’s actually split between a French side, St. Martin, and a Dutch side, St Maarten—to the venues, stage designs, crowd, and music schedule presented, SXM Festival is an event that revels in aesthetically-pleasing entertainment. Last week saw the conclusion of the festival’s second year and, barring a few hiccups that could be ironed out, it was a resounding success across the board.
Arriving at night, it was obviously hard to get a grasp of the sheer beauty of the island; however, the smoothness of entering the country—from the easygoing customs officials to the SXM Festival check-in booth directly outside the airport exit—made for a more-than-adequate start to the week’s festivities. Although the location of the festival is undoubtedly one of its best assets, the remote island location also proved to be quite a hurdle for festival organizers, most of whom were based in Canada. On more than one occasion, the late arrival of sound equipment delayed set times and parties sometimes by up to two hours—this may have been due to a limited amount of equipment available on the island and the rest having been shipped in. Given that these occurrences happened at afters and pre-parties, it wasn’t a huge issue, but something that might need to be addressed for the coming years.
The first event on the cards on the whopping 5-day musical calendar was Get Physical’s showcase at The Refuge, one of the festival’s three club venues. On arrival, there was already a charged energy throughout the crowd, a boiling anticipation for not only the coming week, but also for the return of M.A.N.D.Y. as a DJ duo—for a considerable amount of time now, Philipp Jung and Patrick Bodmer hadn’t played together on this side of the world. With the crowd now heaving, the enigmatic duo showed why they have been at the forefront of electronic music for over two decades with a three-hour selection of silky-smooth house, electro, breaks, and rolling, atmospheric techno. Up next to close out the night, label regulars BLOND:ISH played a set of hard-edged grooves with the soft, glistening Caribbean Sea as a backdrop—a rather beautiful juxtaposition for the dancers facing the stage.
Following BLOND:ISH’s set, it was over to Layla’s for the first of the after parties, Audiofly’s Flying Circus. Scheduled to start at 5 am on Thursday, the party was delayed due to the aforementioned sound issues, with Shaun Reeves finally stepping up to the decks closer to 8 am. A highlight throughout the week, Reeves was in form, playing trippy after-hours house to the swelling crowd. Later on, Audiofly, Bedouin, Guti, and Francesca Lombardo rotated on the decks laying down cut after cut of chunky tech-house.
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On Friday, XLR8R hosted two parties: a pre-party on the beach at the Mercure with John Wander, Luke Cheadle, and Shaun Reeves, and—alongside ReSolute, Paradigm Presents, überhaus, and SUNRISE—a showcase with The Other Side featuringRPR Soundsystem (Rhadoo, Raresh, and Petre Inspirescu), Shaun Reeves, and Maher Daniel at The Refuge. The beach party suffered the same slow-start as Layla's the day before, albeit only an hour this time, before turning into a pleasing affair and a fitting, sun-filled warm up for the night ahead. Back at The Refuge, after a standout warm-up set by Reeves and Daniel, the revered Romanians gave a four-hour master class in atmospheric, bass-heavy house and techno. Known for long, almost never-ending sets, the Romanian trio took to the four-hour allotment with understated ease, leaving the crowd begging for more at its end.
On the final two-day stretch, with a string of parties running across a range of venues throughout the island, the festival's transportation became somewhat of a problem. Taxis from venue to venue—the night and day parties were often on opposite sides of the island—could sometimes end up north of $50 and the shuttle services offered were few and far between, or running at a time that wasn't convenient. This, of course, isn't a huge issue or deal breaker, but definitely another kink in the armor to consider fixing for future editions.
From Saturday afternoon to Monday morning, the scheduled parties, villa parties, beach parties, and after parties seemed to meld together into one big, never-ending barrage of high-quality tuneage. Across the handful of parties we attended, highlights included: BLOND:ISH's lush house set at the awe-inspiring SXM villa party; DeWalta, Ion Ludwig, Raresh, and DJ W!LD's slamming, groove-led house and techno at W!LD's first Dailycid label party; Lee Burridge's always on-point sunrise selections at SXM's final scheduled after party at Happy Bay; and Richie Hawtin's clinical selection of techno bombs to close out the festival after a somewhat "flat" Ricardo Villalobos performance.
In only its second year, SXM Festival unquestionably delivered a high-quality experience, with big props to the musical curation, stage designs, organization, and general attitude of all involved in the process. With only a few small issues to work on, SXM is a festival that should be on any dance music fan's radar for the next few years.