Writer Ana Monroy Yglesias looks into Tulum, the dark side of dance music culture and why we need to wait until the pandemic is over to dance together again.

We get it, COVID-19 is so 2020 and you’d like to get back to the dancefloor. Your best mate is turning 30 and he’s invited you and the gang to Tulum, Mexico for some R&R (raving and raving, of course). Technically, the parties there are legal. Flights are cheap. There are no requirements to quarantine or get tested before entering Mexico. Should you go?

Let’s be real: we all wish we could have a big, sweaty dance party right now. We all want to shake off the collective trauma we’ve been experiencing as death rates continue to rise, new virus strains emerge and we remain isolated from many of the people we love. But responding to death with activities that will almost certainly lead to illness and more death is not OK. 

Plague raves are hazardous and not what the dance community is truly about, so why are they still happening? 

Yes, tourism is an important part of the Mexican economy, but so is saving the lives of their citizens.

There are so many variables that make attending any event or traveling during this pandemic dangerous—not just for you, but everyone you come into contact with during and after. The risk of COVID-19 exposure while traveling in airports and on planes is high (although airlines assure us it’s safe). As USA Today reported in January, “Data from Canadian public health authorities show a near daily occurrence of flights where a passenger may have been infected while flying.” Unlike Canada, the United States does not to release data about specific flights’ exposure, although the CDC reported that over 4,000 flights traveling within and into the U.S. have been exposed. Yikes.

Tulum, as with much of Mexico’s other scenic tourist destinations, has remained more or less open throughout the pandemic as cases and deaths steadily rise, due to the highly criticised hands-off approach President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has taken. Tulum is an unfortunate case study against raving—outdoors or otherwise—during COVID. 

The five-day Art With Me festival, DJed by house favourites, gathered over 1,200 partiers in Tulum in November. It was widely cited as an irresponsible super-spreader event (attendees caused further outbreaks back home in New York and Miami), yet it was far from an outlier event. By that time, Tulum had already become a place where those with money to travel there can pretend COVID-19 doesn’t exist. Ironically, the 2020 event was co-sponsored by a AllThingsGood Co, a “new media company that only offers up positive news,” which is really a “good vibes only” Instagram account. 

After they caught heat, the organisers said they regretted going forward with the event. “We learned that we cannot control people from adhering to guidelines, or staying away from other venues in the area that did not adhere to our standards…We apologise for any strain this may have caused our already overtaxed healthcare system and front-line workers, and we hope others might learn from our experience.” Less than two months later, a massive New Year’s festival went on as planned in Tulum. 

As for the DJs who keep playing these parties and the organisers and venue owners who make them happen, they seem to have removed themselves from the true ethos of underground dance music culture

While all the parties almost make it seem like things are fine there, the situation is grave. The CDC currently rates Mexico at the highest level of coronavirus risk and recommends against traveling there. As of Feb. 8, over 1.9 million cases and over 166,200 deaths have been reported in Mexico, although incredibly limited tested has led to underreporting in both cases and deaths. In October, Mexican health officials acknowledged at least 50,000 more people than reported had died from COVID-19. The situation is only getting worse—on Jan. 15, Mexico saw a record level spike, with 21,366 newly confirmed infections. Additionally, the more-contagious U.K. virus variant was brought into the country by a vacationing Brit.

In both the U.K. and the U.S., COVID has hit communities of colour the hardest. The pandemic has made the racism and social inequities of our societies grossly evident, and the more that privileged people continue to act like this doesn’t affect them and engage in behavior that puts others at dire risk, the more we all suffer. Let me say it louder for the people in the back: White people, please stop traveling to Mexico until this is over and your presence is no longer a public health threat.

Yes, tourism is an important part of the Mexican economy, but so is saving the lives of their citizens. Let me be clear: the false narrative that (primarily White) international travelers are helping the “poor” locals is the same racist, selfish mentality of our colonizer ancestors. It is a tired excuse used to ease privileged people in search of escapism and the best Instagram backdrops around the globe, with no acknowledgement of whose land they’re stepping on and how it affects them. 

Of course, traveling is not inherently bad—you can learn a lot experiencing how other people live—but it is the way in which these people prefer to sojourn, detached from reality and consequences that is deeply problematic. And during a pandemic, it’s deadly.

As for the DJs who keep playing these parties and the organisers and venue owners who make them happen, they seem to have removed themselves from the true ethos of underground dance music culture.

We should be protecting our communities and our loved ones by any means necessary, which means staying home, staying apart from others, avoiding crowds and wearing masks. While I don’t believe that public shaming/cancel culture creates any real change (just better hiding), it is important for all of us to examine the motivation behind our decisions and how they impact others. No one has done everything perfectly during this hectic year, but some have allowed their wallet and/or ego rule and pretend the virus doesn’t apply to them. 

The reality is, whenever popular DJs play events, people will want to attend. By saying yes to in-person events, and by traveling to these events themselves, DJs are perpetuating the idea that the risk is worth the fun, or even that the risk is minimal. A few heavy-hitters, including BicepBushwacka! and Carl Cox, have spoken up against fellow big-name DJs playing plague raves. The @BusinessTeshno account has been dutifully tracking many of the dance events taking place. Yet the uproar from the dance community hasn’t felt loud enough. Perhaps the people who should be listening keep turning their phones to airplane mode as they skirt reality for the next party destination. 

This is not what the dance music is about. Yes, escapism was a core element of disco, house and techno, but in a very different context—its innovative creators sought solace from the harsh realities of racism, violence and poverty in New York, Chicago and Detroit, creating a new, safer world for Black, Brown and queer people. People eschewing the inconvenient parts of life to keep on enjoying themselves exactly as they were before the pandemic is pure privilege, and it cuts others down in the process. 

We can let dance music continue to get completely White-washed and watered down for the sake of money and ego, or we can be more mindful about the impacts on others of the entertainment we seek out. I know we will all dance together safely again. I believe in a disco where all are welcome, seen and celebrated. Let’s make that future possible again. 

Ana Monroy Yglesias is on Twitter and Instagram.

Want more on Plague Raves? See our pieces from last year:

Summer In The Hamptons

We Need To Talk About Plague Raves

Plague Raves: Watch Like Nobody’s Dancing

Through The Haunted Mirror

17th February, 2021

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