Serious fun: The business side of running a music festival

A flavour of the festival as two BPM directors talk business

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The sun beats down on palm trees, and the turquoise waves of the Caribbean Sea lap the white sands of Playa del Carman, Mexico, as honeymooners Graham and Marianne sip their drinks.

So far, so typical.

But this is no romantic retreat. The couple are surrounded by hundreds of people losing themselves in the techno beats blaring out from speakers around the beach bar.

They've come to the BPM Festival - an apt destination for the pair whose eyes first met across a busy dance floor - and the couple from England are part of a growing band of international travellers, prepared to travel halfway around the globe for the perfect party.

"We both love our music," says Graham, "and you can't beat dancing in the open air with the sand between your toes."

beach bar The festival uses existing beach clubs in the resort of Playa del Carmen
Organic but rapid growth

Two of BPM's directors, Canadians Craig Pettigrew and Phillip Anthony Pulitano, were first inspired to throw a seven-day music festival while drinking beer and tequila at Kool Beach Bar in the "very magical" resort.

While starting with a week-long event might seem ambitious, they were very experienced promoters, each already running several club nights a week in Toronto.

Graham, Marianne and Richard Graham (L) and Marianne partied with friends on their honeymoon

The first BPM in 2008 attracted people mostly from their hometown. Now in its seventh year, it draws crowds from as far afield as Japan, Australia and Europe.

"It's grown organically but rapidly," says Mr Pulitano. "In our first to third years, we actually tripled our numbers and we've been doing about 30-40% [more] every year since."

Now running for 10 days with up to four events per night, Mr Pulitano says it could get bigger yet but wonders if the town could actually handle any more people - 48,000 people are said to have attended the 2014 event.

He says the festival will expand into Europe, with the location to be announced later this year.

Another area of expansion sees the release this year of the festival's first album, mixed by Art Department - the Canadian producers who have become almost synonymous with the event.

"It's been a very reciprocal relationship," says Jonny White from Art Department, explaining how their success has mirrored the growth of the festival.

Art Department DJing Art Department's Kenny Glasgow and Jonny White (R) have a long association with BPM
'Mexicans love electronic music'

"I think BPM is a revolutionary festival," says local resident Luigi Cortez Alquicira.

BPM Festival in numbers

palm tree and balloon
  • BPM was first held in 2008
  • 2014 saw more than 60 events held over 10 days
  • About 48,000 attendees
  • 80% aged 21-35
  • Average daily spend $500-700
  • More than 250 DJs played this year, including Richie Hawtin, Sasha, Pete Tong and Jamie Jones

Source: BPM Festival

"The disc jockeys that come here for this huge gig - it's awesome. This was my fourth time and it was really amazing."

Director Craig Pettigrew says the ready audience in Mexico for a dance music festival was another factor in the choice of location.

"Mexicans really do love electronic music. There's obviously a big music culture here in Playa - it already had a base and we just expanded on that. It just worked out perfectly for us."

And while the EDM [electronic dance music] genre is now big box-office in the US, he has not been tempted to take a more commercial direction.

"All these big festivals... it's more of an arms race - who's got the biggest production. So we wanted to take it back - music is what we're here for," he says.

Art Department's Jonny White adds: "It's nice to see a festival realise that it's not necessary to go outside of what we all know to be good music to sell tickets, and really focus on quality."

People in nightclub Thousands of music fans attend the BPM Festival every year
'A wake-up call'

Working in Mexico is "challenging but rewarding", according to Mr Pulitano. Two of the six BPM directors have now moved to the resort full-time, he says, making it easier to build relationships with the authorities and local businesses.

Start Quote

We've learnt some lessons for next year”

End Quote Craig Pettigrew BPM director

And the festival benefits the town, extending its high season and, he says, giving the local economy "an injection of probably $8-10m" (£4.8-6m) in 2013.

Each festivalgoer spends in excess of $500 (£300) per day, it is estimated, and Mr Pulitano has not noticed any impact from the economic crisis, beyond a slightly reduced drinks spend.

Certainly attending the festival isn't cheap - a week-long pass can cost several hundred dollars and local Luigi admits "sometimes the price is absurd".

But he adds: "At the end the music is worth it."

Despite the growth the festival has enjoyed over the years, there have also been some bumps along the road.

This year the organisers were faced with torrential downpours for the first time and had to put up tents on the beach in order to cope.

"[It was] definitely a little bit of a wake-up call," says Mr Pettigrew. "We've learnt some lessons for next year."

Still, honeymooners Graham and Marianne, at least, were happy punters.

"The festival was great, very well-organised and the line-up was amazing," says Graham.

"Mexico has lots to offer - great people, great food and drink, and places to explore. We will definitely be back."

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