Four days and five wild nights partying at Your Paradise
All photos courtesy of My Media Sydney
Even arriving under the cover of darkness can’t help Skrillex slip under the radar.
It’s close to midnight when the boat carrying Sonny Moore, his girlfriend, label manager, photographer and an entourage of friends dock on the Fijian island of Malolo Lailai, but that doesn’t stop a pair of very excited 20-something girls spotting him, screaming and immediately bursting into tears.
“Oh my god! Skrillex just got here, we saw him arrive!” they later stop me, a complete stranger, to relay this very important information.
We’re at Your Paradise, a boutique festival that sells itself as one of the world’s most remote. To get here, punters first fly from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Nadi, where they then hop on a bus and a boat to reach their final destination. It’s an easy enough trip for Australians used to schlepping 24 hours to get to European summer festivals, but requires an extra level of dedication for the international punters – hailing everywhere from the U.S. to Japan – who are looking at an additional 12-hour leg.
But once you get here, it’s not hard to see why people are happy to travel all the way from Texas. As well as the music, those making the pilgrimage have the chance to swim, sun themselves and luxuriate. They can book add on trips to go surfing, snorkelling or skydiving, or party on floating barges and sandbanks that are only above water for a few hours each day. Your Paradise is more than just a festival (in fact, organisers shy away from using that very word) and more a week-long holiday that happens to include a bunch of first rate DJs.
As well as its hysteria-inducing headliner, this year’s line-up includes fellow OWSLA-mates What So Not, Anna Lunoe and LDRU, local heroes like Paces, Thomas Jack, Generik and Slumberjack, plus internationals like Justin Martin and Doorly.
The proximity to those artists is part of the thrill for those who come along. On the flight over – which was 90-percent full of YP-bound punters and quickly turned boozey, despite leaving Sydney at 8:30am – I heard one returning guest sell his mate on what was to come. “Last year I was having breakfast and Emoh [from What So Not] walks up like ‘is this seat taken?’ I was like –” he says, his mouth falling into an exaggerated O-shape.
“Last year I was having breakfast and Emoh walks up like ‘is this seat taken?'”
Those sorts of run-ins are par for the course at Your Paradise. Almost all of the artists stay at the same resort as guests, meaning you’re just as likely to hit the pool with Paces as you are to run into Cut Snake at the bar. If you’re What So Not, it means you’ll get roped into doing a reluctant shoey with a group of guys you walk past on the way to your hotel room.
But 2016’s true everywhere man was, of course, Skrillex. From the moment he got off that boat, Sonny Moore hit the ground running: he promptly jumped on the decks to go back-to-back with Justin Martin, Miguel Campbell and Doorly, closing out the first night of music. Early the next morning, he joined Destructo for his Sandbank Sermon – a spin-off of the HARD head’s popular Sunrise Sermon on Holy Ship – and that afternoon, took to the seas to lead the OWSLA cruise, playing again later that night. Hell, at one point he even officiated a marriage proposal.
Raving on the high seas
As you’d expect, putting a couple hundred Skrillex superfans on a boat with an open bar makes for quite the party.
Every label signee at Your Paradise came along for the big OWSLA cruise: Blaise James opened the party with Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, before L D R U and Anna Lunoe went back-to-back, giving way to What So Not and, eventually, Skrillex himself.
But while more DJs keep jumping behind the decks, none really leave. While What So Not and Skrillex go back-to-back, Anna Lunoe dances, while others swig from vodka bottles and throw up trap arms. The fact that the clouds look like they’re about to open up doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
Before the boat docks back at the Malolo Lailai wharf, Skrillex decides to tick something off his better-late-than-never bucket list: the mannequin challenge. While the final product (which boasts 2.2 million views and climbing) makes it look like a piece of piss, the reality is standing perfectly still on a rocking boat isn’t all too easy. “Fuck it up and I’ll throw you overboard,” Skrillex joked before the second attempt at getting the video right.
A million ways to get lit
That OWSLA cruise is one of the many add-ons guests can purchase to spruik up their Your Paradise experience with.
At other points across the festival’s five days, punters can head to Cloud 9 Day Club – a floating barge serving pizzas and cocktails that was built to be Instagrammed – and listen to tunes selected by tropical house head Thomas Jack, hit the Sandbank Sermon or set off on another cruise with Cut Snake. Activities you don’t have to leave the island for include a volleyball competition and hidden pop-up beach parties with the likes of Breakbot on the decks.
But the very best vibes are reserved for the mainstage, which is set up right on the beach.
With Your Paradise capped at 600 guests – promoters couldn’t fit more people on the island if they wanted to – the dancefloor is intimate and feels like a cross between a particularly loose 21st and a Thai full moon party. Except for when they’re asking Paces to do a shoey (an offer he declines), punters here don’t face the decks: the aim here isn’t fighting your way to the front of the crowd, it’s to kick back and enjoy the music. With just one stage and the bar right nearby, all the usual festival stresses – clashes, losing your friends, needing to pee but not wanting to sacrifice your spot in front of the stage – don’t exist here. And dancing never feels better than when you’re doing it with sand under your toes.
I can’t think of another event where punters get such a close proximity to such big names, something that’s never more obvious than when OWSLA lead the last night of music. From 6pm, Team Ezy, L D R U, Anna Lunoe and What So Not all play, before Skrillex jumps on shortly after midnight. He doesn’t get off until after 3:30am, and even shouts the entire crowd a drink by buying out the bar’s remaining 300 beers. Like I’ve been saying:
skrillex is the gold standard for humans
— Katie Cunningham (@katiecunning) May 24, 2016
The little things
Pulling off a festival of this scale doesn’t allow for organisational fuck-ups and to their credit, promoters deliver a remarkably headache-free experience.
From the moment your trip is booked, everything is taken care of for you: printed itineraries and information packs are mailed out weeks in advance, you’re met by Your Paradise staff as soon as you step off the plane and once you get to the island, you’re sat down for an introductory session explaining what to expect over the next few days.
All your meals are cooked for you at the daily buffet, the bar is right inside and instead of ending your night camping in a muddy field or having to deal with the stress of getting back from a festival site to your accommodation, guests just have to walk two minutes to their hotel room where they can sleep in a real bed and shower with actual hot water. It doesn’t hurt that the Fijian scenery is pretty as hell.
And the sense of community is strong: promoters tell me that when one American guest got to Fiji and found out her luggage had been lost in transit, all of the staff chipped in to lend her enough clothes to get through the week.
For everyone who comes, the atmosphere on ground is a lot like being on school camp. But that aside, no two Your Paradise experiences are the same – rather, the festival functions like a choose-your-own adventure. Want to drink shoeys in the pool every morning and party every night? You certainly can. But guests can also divide their time between the music and the add-on activities, with plenty of time to lounge around to spare. After all: it’s your paradise.
Katie Cunningham the Editor of inthemix. She is on Twitter.
Your Paradise is a media partner of inthemix and the author travelled at the expense of the festival.