SXM: the Festival Against the Odds!

Written by Theodoros Stamatiou
Photos by James Bridle @festivalphotographer

While waves of festivals were getting postponed and being cancelled around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, on the island of Saint Martin a smaller festival had just begun for their fourth year in a row. 

With an impressive line up that included and not limited to Audiofly, Bedouin, BLOND:ISH, Bonobo (DJ Set), Cassy, Chaim, Danny Tenaglia, DJ Tennis, DJ W!ld, Dyed Soundorom, Joeski, John Acquaviva, Loco Dice, M.A.N.D.Y., Marco Carola, Raresh, Ricardo Villalobos, Sonja Moonear, wAFF, and YokoO; the SXM organizers were betting it all and hoping that some brave travelers and music lovers wouldn’t cancel their journey to SXM 2020.

The venues looked quite unique as the island of Saint Martin is divided into two sections. The Dutch side – which is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewelry, drinks made with native rum-based liquors and casinos. And the French side – which is known for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping and the multicultural cuisine. Unfortunately, the island got hit and mostly destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017, causing SXM that year to be cancelled. Instead, organizers shifted their focus to rebuilding the island.

Landing in Saint Martin, a day late, our main concern was the transportation, as events were spread out through the island and the shuttles only ran between the venues. So we ended up renting a car and driving straight to Happy Bay, the beach which hosted the Arc and Ocean stages. It was shocking to see only a handful of attendees, during the sunset, on a very beautiful organized stage. Right before we lost hope and minutes away from the BLOND:ISH set, hundreds of people stormed in to give life to the stage and dance throughout the night. BLOND:ISH finished her dynamic set with a remix of Bob Marley “Is this Love” while she shared a bottle of hand sanitizer with Enzo Siragusa. The night went on with Enzo who passed the decks, but not the sanitizer, to Loco Dice at the Arc stage. Meanwhile Audiofly attracted much attention and closed out the Ocean stage.

Day two we found ourselves driving around the island trying to explore as many venues as we could. All the boat parties were cancelled and so we wanted to explore as much of the island as we could. We started with Roxxy Bar at Simpson Bay, which is a new hip and crisply designed beach bar-meets-beach lounge where you can spend all day under the sounds of deep house. After a bit of sun, music and talk of how Miami Music Week was pretty much cancelled, we left for Happy Beach where our temperature was taken again at the entrance. While Ivan de la Ganesherie was at the Arc and Master Gee at the Ocean stage, the audience was nowhere around. But it didn’t take long to be sitting in a busy parking lot, as it seemed like we all arrived together for the Jungle party. It was advertised as eco-tourism meets house and techno. A poolside party with daybeds and cabanas that looked like a Las Vegas pool party in the jungle. The DJ booth was incredibly located on a tree house with 360 degrees view of the venue, and it had everyone dancing around it. Oxia was the last set and it was well worth it. Back at Happy Beach where DJ Tennis had just begun, the festival looked much livelier. Tactlessly, 20 minutes into the set; rain came down hard, so everyone sought shelter. It took a toll on the set plus the ground got a bit muddy, but we all forget easily and continued per the festival and bracelet slogan “BE HAPPY”. Bonobo took over with an energizing set that sadly we had to leave in the middle as we also wanted to check one of the club venues, “Lotus” and listen to Thugfucker. We ended up very disappointed as Thugfucker was not there and the club was pretty empty. Luckily enough our night was not over as one of the beautiful villas organized an after-party and we got an early taste of Saturday.

Day three felt like everyone was saving their energy for the infamous Villa Party, which is one of the main highlights of the festival, and always takes place at the exclusive Sandyline Villa in Terres Basses on Saturday. I noticed for once; everyone was drinking and dancing, but nobody was talking about the pandemic. Finally, even for few hours this festival provided the escape that people looked for. In addition to the weather and the views being fantastic, Serge Devant was delivering an uplifting set that made it impossible to stop dancing. MAGA stepped in and through his melodic, organic and minimalistic patterns and kept the party going even harder. As the music stopped at the Villa, we all raced to Happy Beach to be surrounded by speculations and rumors that big names like Ricardo Villalobos were not even on the schedule anymore. According to employees, the French side of the island was terminating the festival and it would have to be relocated to the Dutch side for the last day. A few minutes later I found myself on the hybrid set of WhoMadeWho with a lot of vocals and unique sounds that made those hours entertaining to say the least. Jenia Tarsol followed with a very exciting set that even touched techno and left a lot of music fans dancing in the drizzling rain.

Finally, the common dilemma of all festivals, which set and which stage do I choose? I left Ocean for Arc stage, to see Sonja Moonear and I found, for me, the best set of the festival! Her lean house and techno had everyone smiling and dancing nonstop. Half an hour over her set hours, 5.30am, organizers had to put a stop to it as she kept going but the fans didn’t stop asking for more. Especially when around 5am we got informed that the sunrise party would not take place. On the drive home we all got notified that the festival will not be moving forward with the Sunday program as per request from the authorities and instead just a big thank you from the organizers for all the memories. 

We witnessed people not being upset as much as grateful. Grateful to be away of the fear and reality and that they have lived and enjoyed a great musical weekend in a warm beautiful island of the Caribbean. Immediately everyone’s mission became how to get home as soon as possible because the travel ban that was announced.  All in all, even with the many difficulties SXM Festival had to face it was great time and we hope to return soon. 

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