I have never been left on Read as many times as when I tried to talk to the DJs who have played at Mexico’s plague raves.
No ex has stood me up or muted me as often. No estranged business partner has ignored me as hard as the people who are playing the growing number of events — usually amped up with the spiritual gleam attractive to some Burning Man attendees with thousands of dollars of disposable income during an economic depression — that spread through the Global South during the pandemic lockdowns.
“Spreading” is the keyword here. With several events in the books, it’s now been documented that these shows acted as superspreader transmission events. DJs have been providing the music for people in the act of contagion, raising their arms to tech house and bad trance against beautiful backdrops before sending them home with good vibes and a side-order of coronavirus.
This isn’t theoretical. It’s not just bad optics. It’s real. At the time the plague raves were taking place, Mexico had the third highest death toll from COVID-19 in the world after the US and Brazil, but was compelled to slacken lockdowns and bend the rules to attract much-needed tourist dollars. Several outbreaks in both Mexico and the US have been traced back to American COVID tourists who attended music events in Mexico — most notoriously the Burner-adjacent “Art With Me” festival in Tulum.
“I would say that 60-70 percent of my positives in the last couple of weeks in New York City have been a direct result of either people coming back from Art With Me, or who have been directly exposed to someone who attended Art With Me,” Eleonora Walczak of New York COVID care and testing company Checkmate Health Strategies told the Daily Beast. Administrators at the local hospital claimed that most of their COVID-19 patients are foreigners, including “multiple people” who attended Art With Me.
“There are parties almost every night,” Maria Prusakova, a “French attorney, PR specialist for tech and start-ups and tech conferences,” told the Washington Post. Prusakova herself said she contracted COVID-19 but only tested positive after returning from Mexico to San Francisco. Twelve of her friends tested positive too. Nevertheless she told the Washington Post that she planned to return to Tulum for New Year’s Eve.
Two weeks after those New Year’s events, Mexico registered its “worst week yet of the pandemic,” according to Reuters, citing government data which showed a record number of new infections and 7,000 dead.
During a pandemic and a festival which became a super-spreader event, Art With Me’s hyper-aware organizers offered attendees a ‘Self-Love’ wellness program called ‘Breathe With Me.’
These aren’t speakeasies — they’re not back rooms or lofts where people in the claustrophobic environment of a city under lockdown blow off steam. I’m not excusing those at all, but there’s something qualitatively different about the neo-elite of America (and sometimes Europe) traveling thousands of miles to attend elaborate and expensive events in countries compelled to make deadly compromises over the economic devastation of the pandemic — and doing so while basking in an aura of “wellness” and “spiritual enlightenment.”
Festivals like Art With Me are a lure for these people. In the midst of a pandemic, Art With Me had more “wellness activities” on the bill (fifty) than actual musical acts (forty).
“Caring begins with self love,” the website for this year’s festival pontificates. “A full array of wellness programs are offered from drums circles to many different forms of yoga, from temazcals to plant medicine healing.
“Expand your awareness & take in all the possibilities as you stop the external noise and just Breathe With Me.”
We’re not making this shit up. It actually says that. Organizers for an “awareness” festival which became a superspreader event during a pandemic offered future carriers of COVID-19 a package of wellness programs called “Breathe With Me.”
Many of the DJs at Tulum are among the top paid DJs in the underground. These ‘awareness’ events may offer Free Hugs, but that’s the only thing that doesn’t have a barcode on it.
These are strange events. You’re not just buying a ticket to a music festival when you go to an event like Art With Me. To read their ad materials, you’re shifting the consciousness of the entire world. “We need more creative ways to share information,” David Graziano, founder of Art With Me, says in 72 point fonts on their website, “to cooperate among the different forces and to all work toward a common goal. Through the power of inspiration and art, we can open up that window and change the way things operate within this beautiful city, to protect it for generations to come.”
Admission to festivals like this is not selfish, nor is it a ticket to party and have a good time. It’s certainly not about escaping lockdowns. It’s all about “growth” — growth for the ticket buyer, the host country and even the rest of humanity that benefits from their deep awakening.
o o o
So we get to the DJs. We’d like to talk to them about their role in festivals held during the pandemic. That was the entire point of this. DJs may take second fiddle to the cornucopia of wellness events at these festivals, but their names still help promote the places where the rich come to party in a pandemic. Also: they get paid.
But we’re having a hard time finding any of them to talk about it. Why are they playing them? How much did they get paid? And is it just a gig, or do they buy all this bullshit about the healing of the Earth through the spiritual act of buying a ticket to a music festival?
It’s hard to imagine there is any rationale other than greed. But if they’re okay with what they’re doing, they certainly should be okay talking about it.
But they’re not.
Lee Burridge, who was listed as playing at Art With Me, left me on read on Facebook. Burridge is among the most interesting figures we’ve come across DJing in Tulum during the Autumn months, because he’s played plague raves before. After he was called out for the first one, the All Day I Dream founder released a statement that looked like it was written by a PR disaster team, apologizing profusely for his lapse in judgment.
“I wanted to address my poor judgment in agreeing to play a small private event last weekend,” Burridge wrote on social media in July 2020. “Simply put, you guys are right and I was wrong.”
Burridge even expressed gratitude for the criticism he received. “My sincerest apologies to everyone,” he added. “And, honestly, thanks to those who called me out.”
He must have learned his lesson — or a lesson, in this case a rather Trumpian lesson. Because this time he had no apologies and no gratitude for his critics. Just nothing to say at all.
Audiofly, a duo listed both collectively and individually on promotional materials for Art With Me, never replied to my email inquiries. I went down the list, focusing on DJs who were better known. Not one of them replied. I was left on read seven times.
Eventually I got mad and just started bullying them. Maceo Plex has a carefully curated persona on social media as a dank memester dude. Sadly, he didn’t have much to say about DJing plague raves in Tulum either.
Is this the going rate for plague raves in Tulum? https://t.co/qsLUv4XEtL
— 5 Mag Dot Net (@5Magazine) January 26, 2021
Unlike Burridge and the rest of the Namaste Bros, the organizers of Art With Me did actually address the issue and even apologized after a month of dissembling. In a statement, the organizers claimed that while they did set guidelines for safety, they learned they “cannot control people” from breaking them. They now “regret not canceling the event entirely. We apologize for any strain this may have caused our already overtaxed healthcare system [in Mexico] and front line workers.”
We focused on the better-known DJs who have played these events because these are people who, almost certainly, aren’t starving. These aren’t the folk our governments have dubbed “essential workers” — the low-paid people who bear the risk of illness without healthcare coverage. These DJs’ moral decisions would seem to be fairly clear-cut, free of the compromises of worrying about their financial survival. I would even wager that many of the DJs that headlined plague raves are among the top paid DJs in the underground — these “awareness” events may offer Free Hugs, but that’s the only thing at these places that doesn’t have a barcode on it.
It would be nice if they explained to us why their lifestyle necessitates DJing at superspreader events when thousands of (former) working DJs are playing tiny, socially distanced, limited capacity shows for a little cash or trying to go back to day jobs that often don’t exist anymore.
I would ask them what price was enough: why did they turn down other gigs but take these?
Was it their concern for humanity’s “growth”?
How do you hold a socially distanced drum circle?
What do they feel when they see sweaty bodies pushed together as they’re about to hit the break?
What songs do they pull out when they think about people on respirators?
If they had to play a set in the ICU, what tracks would they start and finish with?
But they probably don’t want to talk about that either.
Photo: Gurus Gone Wild: screenshot from the 2020 Art With Me promotional video.
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