At Rakastella, the 17-hour electronic music festival that’s annually taken over Virginia Key Beach during Art Basel for the last three years, everything you need to find is within steps of each other. You walk 20 paces southwest from the concession stand and Eclair Fifi is playing an eclectic set of stylish house and techno. Another 50 paces southeast, passing by the silent disco hosted by Miami internet radio station Klangbox.FM, Marie Davidson is playing a set of hard-hitting techno.
Rakastella was more spread out in previous years, but with 2019’s compactness also comes better production values, a new layout, and an increased emphasis on preserving the island’s delicate ecosystem. Signs all over the grounds featured slogans like “Keep Her Wild” and “Leave Only Footprints,” while custodial staff were active throughout the night and single-use plastics were banned (Hope you like your water via aluminum cans.)
All of this seems great on paper. Although the execution was occasionally shaky — sound bleed was pervasive throughout the night and the site could be a bit hard to navigate at times in the dark — Rakastella ultimately succeeded on the strength of its carefree vibe, excellent location, and even better performances from a spectacular lineup. Marie Davidson’s aforementioned blistering techno at the Julia stage was followed by the smooth disco and classic house peddled by Jayda G. Across the way at the Where Are My Keys stage, Miami-born DJ and label head Danny Daze sent shock waves through the pavilion with dark, sleazy electro. And at the Marjory stage, Kink demonstrated the power of live hardware with a set that began with throwback acid tunes and ended with soulful piano house.
Kink at Rakastella 2019’s Marjory stage.
Photo by Christian Villareal
There’s just one problem, one I’ll freely admit is a mostly personal thing. The festival takes place on the Saturday of Miami Art Week, which means it lands at the tail end of days and days of partying, drinking, networking, and all-consuming stress for Miami locals. When you get there, you really want to enjoy yourself, and you fully anticipate that you will. But, as many people New Times spoke to on Saturday found out the hard way, another night of dancing, drinking, and mingling is the last thing your body bargained for, and the fatigue ultimately wins out.
Another issue is something the festival shares in common with Basel in general. Everything is so packed together at Rakastella that you don’t know whether to stay, for instance, at Ben UFO’s set or to follow your ears to catch John Talabot mixing just a short walk away. Likewise, during Basel, you may ask yourself whether there’s some cooler, more exclusive party you could be attending instead of the event you’re currently at. You wonder if you bet on the right thing, and you end up disappointed no matter what. The abundance of things to see and do during Basel renders them all so-so because you wind up consumed with the weight of your choices, and the double threat of FOMO and exhaustion follow shortly thereafter.
Both of these issues lead one to think that if Rakastella were placed on its own weekend away from Basel, or maybe even on the Saturday before, it would shine as one of the best dance music events on Miami’s yearly calendar. But right now, it’s just a really good Art Basel party.
The sun rises over Rakastella 2019.
Photo by Christian Villareal
However, there is something at the festival that helps relieve the stressors of surviving Miami Art Week: Take 30 steps to the southeast from the Julia stage, and you run right into the Atlantic Ocean. There are no condos in sight, just unspoiled beach. You see the cars passing on the causeway in the distance. You see Orion in the sky. You see a couple of dudes pissing in the water, but you decide to ignore them. As the bass pounds behind you, you think of what it would be like to stay until the sun rises over the horizon, and maybe, if you can fight your own Basel-induced exhaustion, you do. If it takes a star-stacked gathering like Rakastella to remind us of the simple, natural pleasures of life, we’re fully behind it.