Day Zero Festival 2020 took place last week in Tulum, amid the city’s ancient Mayan Port City Ruins. Founded by Damian Lazarus, the one-night-only event welcomed an international guest list of music and art lovers, and more than 120 performers—like DJs, ballet dancers, acrobats, magicians, and more—for a sustainable evening of “conscious partying.”
To learn more about the 2020 iteration of Day Zero, its special destination, and the festival’s evolution, Whitewall caught up with Lazarus and some of the performers, including first-timers Tibi Dabo, Dubfire, and Yulia Niko.
WHITEWALL: After all these years of hosting Day Zero, how do you feel? How has the festival evolved?
DAMIAN LAZARUS: You know, it still has the same ethos as I had at the very beginning, but every year, we upgrade, and we assess how things have been in the previous experience. We discuss, “How can we make this a better and much more impactful experience for people?” We want to leave no stone left unturned in terms of all the senses.
Wherever you walk, whatever you see, the journeys you make from A to B should be lined with something so that you can see we’ve gone the extra mile to create something very special.
WW: Many people say Day Zero is a life changing experience. Would you agree?
DL: A lot of people say this to me. I find it really difficult to talk about that because I think it can come off as a bit pretentious. It really excites me, and I feel very rewarded when I hear that people have life changing experiences at the event. That, for me, is a phenomenal achievement.
But from my perspective, my mission is to bring like-minded people together to really celebrate life and music, and laugh together in this beautiful, natural environment.
WW: How does sustainability come into play during the festival?
DL: I think it’s always my intention to make people aware that you’re not just responsible for yourself at an event like this. The central idea is for us to be very conscious of the environment and, to not only protect the nature around us, but also protect each other—because at parties with thousands of people, things happen.
This is a unique event where you play as important of a part in the process and result as we are in the creation of it. So, we just ask people to be responsible and to be conscious, and I think that this adds to the experience.
When I think of this moment in time, we can’t ignore climate change and what’s happening in the world. When you have an event like this, and it’s recognized now at such a global level, it’s important for us to have a voice and to be responsible. By being very ecologically friendly and forward-thinking, that gives us an opportunity to really set ourselves from a lot of other parties.
WW: Can you tell us about how Day Zero began?
DL: The concept began in December 21, 2012 with the closing of the Mayan calendar, which I took to be an opening of a new chapter.
I’ve been coming here for many years, and for a few years, there have been a lot of parties here. I could sense this kind of feeling in this part of the world where people were coming from all over and abandoning all egos and preconceptions, just coming to party, to experience this beautiful place, and to dance and have fun.
There was a lot of pushback in the beginning because this is a very sacred land, but sometimes you just have to accept that you have to go with the flow. So, when December 21, 2012 came around, I saw that as my opportunity to create something.
I put the hours in, I put the time in, and I was shown a couple of signs here—kind of magical and spiritual moments. I felt I was being given the opportunity to be allowed to create something here. You know, seven years on, I think my mission and my ideals have remained the same, and that’s why it’s still continued success.
WW: You also organize Day Zero in Masada. Can you tell us about that, and any other plans for expanding the festival?
DL: When you have a party that is this good, you have to start looking at other options. I always thought from the very beginning that Day Zero was an opportunity to connect with other ancient civilizations and indigenous people from all around the world.
The opportunity to throw a party at Masada at the Dead Sea came about and it just hit me that it was a great location for a second event. So that was a big success, and now we have two Day Zeros. Of course, I’m looking at other places, but there’s only so many Day Zeros I want to do in one year.
These parties take a lot of work and effort. My team is here for two months in advance… and in those two months, they can’t really be focusing on anything else. We’re in a nice position and I’m happy with where we are now, and I’m looking forward to the next Masada and what comes after that.
WW: How do you work with artisans to set up the event?
DL: I’ve built an amazing team of people. I have a head of decor, head of performance, sustainability director, manager of this, manager of that—and it’s very much a team effort. We discuss what directions we want to go in and what kind of things we’d like to show and create, and then we just get to work.
We rarely use people outside of our inner circle. We are very fortunate here in Tulum because we have a Mayan workforce of about 50 or 60 local people that live in the jungle. We’re not really hiring artists to come and bring something in. In Masada, we can do that, but here in the jungle, we kind of feel that everything we create in the jungle should connect closely to the environment.
WW: Tell us about this year’s musical lineup and how you choose your performers.
DL: I’ve invited some new people this year. I think it’s important to keep the music evolving. My mantra generally is to keep it deep and trippy.
What I try to do is select artists that I know have a particular magical quality about them and have the ability to work in various different ways. But essentially, I leave people to their own devices. There is a magic in the jungle. I don’t think I have ever heard one track that didn’t feel like it should have been played.
This year we have Tibi Dabo, Ae:ther, Yulia Niko, Priku from Romania… There are a lot of people who haven’t played before, but there are a lot of old friendly faces, too.
WW: Tibi, how were you first introduced to Damian and Day Zero?
TIBI DABO: I was making music for a while, and I first released an EP on Sasha’s label Last Night on Earth. After that, I think I evolved a little bit with my music and for some reason, after finishing a couple of tracks, I immediately thought Damian Lazarus would like them. I don’t know why he just popped into my mind. I tried to get in touch and he immediately liked what I was making. From the start he was very supportive of everything I’ve been doing.
WW: Can you tell us a bit about your music performance tonight?
TD: It’s definitely a special one. It’s about the journey, so even though I’m quite early tonight, I really want it to be very consistent. I want to make a really nice blend so they can get in a mood for what’s to come. I’m mostly focusing on the fact that I’m welcoming the people tonight, so it’s a very interesting kind of set time for me. I’m really looking forward to it.
WW: How would you describe your musical style?
TD: Ooh, that’s a tricky one. I think it’s still evolving; I’m just a baby still. I’m absorbing everything like a sponge, in a way. I get inspired by everything I see, and I get new experiences every time I travel. So, I feel like every time I go back to the studio, I evolve with my music.
It gets more and more specific towards something, but I still don’t know what it is.
WW: Dubfire, can you tell us why Tulum is a special place for you?
DUBFIRE: Tulum is a really spiritual magical place that I first discovered when I started coming out here for the BPM festival. I have friends from around the world here, and it’s just really interesting to see how many people are descending to this little place.
WW: Would you say Tulum’s influence is impacting artists worldwide?
D: I think there’s been a perfect storm of what’s been happening on a musical landscape—the sound that Tale of Us represented; the sound that Damian has always represented; the Art Basel community… It seems like everything has come together and collided in a very positive way.
WW: This is your first time at Day Zero. How are you preparing and how do you feel about your upcoming performance?
D: Everybody I talk to, I’ve kind of grilled about their past experiences at Day Zero, so my playlist has constantly been evolving throughout the week. I love the vibe of the Day Zero community, Damian, the music he releases, and everything to do with his whole world. I’m looking forward to it and I think for me, it’s going to be pretty natural just plug in to the experience.
WW: Yulia, what does Tulum represent for you?
YULIA NIKO: It represents freedom. Also, I was born in Russia in the South by the sea, so when I go the party and it’s by the beach, I think it’s so special and it cannot compare to anything. Here, every party I go to is always such a great vibe and it’s so magical.
WW: It’s your first time with Day Zero. How did you get connected to the festival and Damian?
YN: I saw Damian Lazarus at the club, and I couldn’t believe it. I went straight to him and was super cool and I said, “I have some music I’m releasing on Get Physical and I think you’ll like it. Can I get your email?”
He gave me his email and I sent him music, and in two months he replied to me and signed right away two tracks for Rebellion [Rave]. He also got Livio & Roby to mix. Then right after, I did a track for the compilation. Then, I signed my first full EP called Paradise.
WW: Tell us a bit about your performance.
YN: I played 100 percent only my tracks. 80 percent of music is not released; no one has ever heard it before.
The Club stage had a great sound system, and the light show made it so special. I got a bit scared when I was playing, probably because I wanted to make sure I do my job perfectly. But the people reacted so well to my music, and after 30 minutes, I was feeling cozy.
The art installations and the performances were so beautiful; there was just not enough time for me to see all and process. I wish it could run longer. But that’s what makes it so unique—exclusivity and the place where it is not that easy to get.
In the end, for me, it was like an orgy between music and the crowd in the jungle. When the sun came up, and it was so hot and humid, and everyone was wet after several showers of rain during the night. The vibe was so high, and everyone danced and looked extremely happy. Massive! It’s hard to forget, and I would like to see and feel it again.
WW: Will you be retuning to Day Zero?
YN: Day Zero will definitely turn into a yearly tradition, even if I am not playing. I saw many prominent artists come to support the event and for proper fun. I think things which you can see not comparable to anything.
It was an incredible jungle experience. Finally, when journalists ask me, “What is your favorite party to play or to go?” I can name one and be sure it’s a perfect suggestion.