Damian Lazarus isn't a new-age dude, but the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico is his spiritual home. He's a frequent visitor to Tulum, a bohemian beach town sprouted from the ruins of imperial Maya. On a recent trip there, he found himself in the throes of metaphysical revelation.
"I just had this amazing connection with the universe," recalls Lazarus, 42, of the late-night aftereffects of a session with a local healer. "I realized that there was a moment for members of our dance community to shift our perceptions and understandings of our lives."
From his spacious home in Elysian Park, he spells out the agenda for Day Zero, a 24-hour dance music festival he's throwing to celebrate the last day of the ancient Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, which is also the shortest day of the year.
The origin of the myth of 12/21 bears repeating. Thousands of years ago, an advanced Mayan civilization led by master architects, pretelescopic astronomers and superstitious blood-letters predicted with startling accuracy when Earth and the sun would align with the dark rift, a deep and gnarly cluster of solar plasma tucked into the center of the galaxy. On that day — which marked the final era, or bakhtun, of their calendar — mankind would pass through an apocalyptic death to emerge with a higher state of consciousness.
It's the most appealing metaphor for the transformative powers of rave and trance since Y2K.
To his chagrin, Lazarus is just one of a handful of promoters throwing a big party that night. There are easily a half-dozen other American productions crowding the Yucatán's ruins, beaches and resorts, not to mention a few other shows at popular pyramid sites outside Mexico City and in continental Africa, including an epic Skrillex gig and a career-minting celebration thrown by L.A.'s the Do Lab.
That this new era is kicking off on a Friday is a cosmic synchronicity that's damn near impossible for producers to resist.
In the recent documentary Electronic Awakening, which surveys an array of new age–influenced electronic dance festivals, author Daniel Pinchbeck notes the "resonance between the culture that grows around electronic music, and a sense of prophecy and transformation." A former culture journalist, Pinchbeck's a reformed skeptic who has been a fixture of techno-hippie festivals since his first Burning Man more than a decade ago. He agreed to speak at the Great Convergence — the party thrown by the Do Lab at the foot of the Great Pyramid in Giza — after a televised spectacle he was planning fell through.
"I think there's a natural psychic magnetism, that people are wanting to reconnect with these ancient sites," he says by phone from New York. Pinchbeck, like most of these promoters, doesn't actually believe anything cosmic is going down at the proverbial stroke of midnight.
In Egypt, he'll suggest that participating in esoteric shamanic rituals — like all-night dance parties marking the winter solstice — helps man to progress as a species. "This date is a great opportunity for us to synch up," he says, "and show that there is an alternative to civilization's negative feedback loops of climate change and chaos."
And what alternative is that? Cooperation, collective support, free water bottles, empathy among a group of like-minded strangers — the hallmark behaviors of ravers experiencing physical euphoria. Consider it the flip side of millennial angst.
Instead of an opportunity to party like it's the end of the world, folks like Pinchbeck consider 12/21 to be the proverbial sunrise set, the right time to fly the freak flag of PLUR in broad daylight.
Among other things, they consider the ubiquity of trance beats on pop radio as evidence of their underground culture's pre-ordained ascendance. After the crackdowns in the '90s, did anyone ever think rave would come back so strong?
Lazarus is a big dude, nervy and fidgety. You can find him at afterparties in the hills and invite-only supper clubs in the garment district wearing a cape and a strange black sombrero. As the head of an internationally repped dance label called Crosstown Rebels, he's accustomed to booking gigs for his DJs in and around L.A. clubland, and spinning white-label and rare disco for professional partiers at annual industry festivals in Berlin, Detroit and Miami.
Day Zero is bigger — 30 DJs and live acts, including members of Massive Attack and Unkle, on a 15-acre Mayan theme park outside Playa del Carmen. He boasts that it's his dream show.
He's fortunate that the Yucatán, once an archaeological backwater, now welcomes celebration. As regional governments have purchased historically resonant properties on beaches and in tropical jungles, they've contracted operators to build entertainment infrastructures and laser-activated light shows, and rent the sites to producers.
Synthesis, a four-day extravaganza whose team had a hand in Jean Michel Jarre's decadent millennium concert at the Great Pyramid in Giza, will be held at the sprawling Chichen Itzá, with acts including a few Do Lab regulars.
Others have tapped into the pyramid-for-hire market. Phil Reyneri, a visual tech who recently toured with Skrillex, says the prince of EDM wanted an interstellar coronation after his fall stadium tour, aptly named the Mothership. Specifically, he considered flying 100 partiers to the moon, or at least rocking Mesoamerican pyramids, which are believed to be architectural representations of man's mathematically harmonious relationship with the cosmos. For the solstice party, his team found a popular venue adjacent to Tlachihualtepetl, the Great Pyramid of Cholula. The enormous Aztec structure previously hosted David Guetta.
"We feel pretty confident that if the aliens do in fact fly down and destroy us all, we'll be on the front lines," says Corey Johnson, Skrillex's stage designer, in an email from Paris. (The DJ's manager declined to comment on the shoot-the-moon attempt described by Reyneri.)
Lazarus insists his intentions are spiritual, that Day Zero will be more than a party. But he's no fool, and he knows the "never-before-seen site" (per its website), with three limestone pyramid re-creations, two cenotes, four swimming pools and an abundance of Mayan-inspired sculpture, is a more appropriate location for uninhibited hedonism, should it transpire, than the actual ruins of 1,000-year-old walled city Coba.
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He doesn't want to talk numbers, but his team is preparing for upward of 3,000 guests. And if there are Mayan elders leading all-night peyote ceremonies, well, he doesn't know anything about that.
Imagine a scene like Ibiza's DC10, where a throng of the toned and tanned bob to house music under translucent sun canopies, spiked with the psychedelic unruliness of Burning Man.
It's all too risky to host in public, which is probably why Lazarus didn't procure a permit for the beach. Or because it's too hard: Just ask the organizers behind Time and Space, a semi-annual, new-age party previously thrown in rural towns outside Mexico City. At press time, they were unable to announce the exact location for their party with Do Lab favorite Shpongle, saying only that it would be in Tulum.
One thing's for sure: An epic night awaits, and beyond that perhaps even a lesson or two learned. Our apocalyptic future, it seems, is bright.