Next week in Tulum, Day Zero Festival 2020 will take place in the city’s Areological Zone. Surrounded by the Mayan Port City Ruins, music and art lovers from around the world will join for an unforgettable night of experiences. Over 120 performers of all sorts—including DJs, acrobats, puppeteers, tight rope walkers, magicians, astronomers, and ballet dancers—will perform for the one-night-only happening.
Whitewall caught up with the festival’s founder, Damian Lazarus, to hear more about the evolution of the festival, how “conscious partying” helps the festival stay sustainable, and who he’s listening to right now.
WHITEWALL: Let’s start from the beginning. Growing up, what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
DAMIAN LAZARUS: I was heavily influenced by my family, especially my grandfather who was a big fan of Hollywood musicals and the old songs and the camaraderie of the East End of London and also from my cousin, who I basically wanted to be like because he was so cool. He got me into Hip Hop, Soul, Jazz, and Funk when I was very young. By the age of 12 I was buying records and at 13 I was working in a record store in Soho. At 14, I got my first Technics turntables and a mixer and by 16 I was playing in a local club. At 18, I was writing about music for magazines. At 21 I was assistant editor at Dazed & Confused and by my mid-twenties I had my first job at the FFRR record label.
WW: Can you tell us about Day Zero and how it started? What was your original inspiration behind the event?
DL: It’s all a bit cosmic, really. I had something of an intergalactic epiphany beneath a full moon some time ago, and following a few years of refusing to play electronic music in Tulum I came to be aware that the time had come and that I should create Day Zero to coincide with the end of the Mayan calendar in December 2012.
The general belief at that time was that the end of the world was upon us, that Armageddon was coming, but I saw it more as a chance for a new beginning and the idea was to bring the best party people from around the world to gather together and celebrate life, nature and music as we open this new chapter in our lives.
WW: Tell us a bit about this year’s lineup. What is your relationship with some of the bigger acts? Who are the artists we might not know that you are currently championing?
DL: I have strong relationships with all the artists that I admire, and I personally invite these people to play at my events. I want these friends to understand the importance of each event and more specifically to understand what we will be planning around the time that each of them play. Day Zero is a very well-crafted journey that ebbs and flows with magic and wonder at all times so it’s important that the artists have an awareness of how I see the day turn into night and the night turn into morning. For example, Luciano and I have been friends for many years but recently he has been going through some changes in his life and his work. We met for some drinks at Art Basel in Miami Beach a few weeks back and I explained to him the importance of his set time and why I felt it should be myself and him to close the party playing together.
Then, there is a brand-new artist called Tibi Dabo who is an incredible young artist with a great future, he will be playing for the first time at the event and he and I have discussed the best way to approach his set. Artists like Black Coffee and Bedouin, who are both good friends and work associates, are very professional and experienced so they do not need much guidance. One of the best things about my parties, Day Zero and Get Lost, is the connections that are made between all the artists. One of my teams’ main duties on the day is to make sure that everyone is looked after impeccably and by the end of the event it feels that we have all contributed together to make something mind-blowing and magical.
WW: How has the festival evolved since its inception as it pertains to more experience-based art and installations?
DL: Day Zero is an experience that connects our music and culture with the stories, traditions and spiritual beliefs of ancient civilizations and peoples. Our creative team is always looking to outdo itself from the previous event and with this in mind we spend a lot of hours and a lot of funds on creating a show that is unique to us and will be fresh and exciting for the audience.
Our cast of performers is over 120 people at the Tulum event and includes acrobats, puppeteers, tight rope walkers, magicians, astronomers, ballet dancers, and more. We fly in the best lighting designers from different parts of the world and we have engineers and builders who help us create crazy installations and immersive art pieces. I want the party to be a complete 360-degree experience that hits all the senses and for people to literally have the time of their life as they step inside our portal to other dimensions.
WW: Can you tell us about the efforts Day Zero is making to be more sustainable?
DL: Day Zero is a sustainable event focusing on waste control and recycling. We refuse, reduce, and replace plastic. For example, zip ties are replaced by steel wire and there are no plastic bottles or straws. We use corn starch cups and we use packaging with a high recycling value. We also produce and hand out pocket ashtrays made of natural resources at the entrance.
WW: What is the deeper ethos behind these efforts and what specific actions have you put in place to protect the land?
DL: We have seen the impact of the music industry on our planet—not only in Tulum. Our goal is to take action to avoid any harm being done as well as to inspire our crowd to do the same.
WW: What is different this year?
DL: For some years we have been off setting the carbon emissions of all the traveling artists and staff but this year we will also reduce the emissions of our generators and of all the cars, buses and shuttles that ferry people in and out of the location. We are also working with an organization working to save coral in the affected oceans and this year we have created a “green” area in the marketplace where people can find out more about our mission and be invited to help us.
WW: You also have launched Day Zero Masada. Can you tell us about this experience and why you chose this location?
DL: I wanted to take a look at the Bedouin tribes and the lifestyles of the wandering nomads that have travelled across the Dead Sea region for thousands of years and to create an experience at the World Heritage site of the Masada mountain where we could combine our music with the backdrop of the desert dwellers and their customs. We will be back at Masada for the second time on September 25 and we are currently looking at some other incredible locations for the future.
WW: What can we expect to see in the future?
DL: We are working toward a fully sustainable event—free of all plastic and waste, but we need help from the party people who must remember to take care of the environment when with us. I like to call it “conscious partying.” Yes, let your hair down, lose yourself in the sound, but please don’t drop your shit on the floor and be aware of your surroundings, especially if we are out in a natural place of beauty.
WW: How would you describe your personal style? What sparked your interest in fashion?
DL: Strangely, I went through many years not being very fashionable at all. I was simply more interested in music and found the whole fashion scene kind of bitchy and superficial in comparison. At one point I started wearing oversized black clothing, capes and hats and the look just kind of stuck.
Once I started DJing at more outdoor places like deserts and mountains and sound tracking eclipses and things like this, the black armor had to give way to a slightly more colorful expression of flowing robes and accessories. Fortunately, these days my partner, designer Elisa Ciolli of Liase Jewellery, knows me well enough to create looks for me that work just as well on stage as they do when I’m out and about in general.
WW: You travel all over the world and have had near-decade long stints playing in locations like Ibiza. Where have you been recently that has inspired you?
DL: I am loving playing in Mykonos where I have a weekly residency called Enter the Void at the Void Club during July and August. I am also a resident at Circoloco in Ibiza. As this sound of house and techno has developed over the years it has now taken over EDM as the dance music of choice in most clubs in most cities around the world, but there are still some underground places to play in, like in Asia and some places in Eastern Europe. Mexico, Argentina, Beirut, and Tel Aviv have really happening scenes right now. I like to play at Burning Man as I find the festival inspiring and rewarding.
WW: Who are you listening to right now?
DL: I’m loving the new Floating Points album and I’ve been listening a lot to Kelsey Lu’s album, “Blood.” I’ve also been checking a lot of music from Max Richter and Brian Eno.