Your Paradise Fiji | Pre-Party Poolside Dispatches

FLAUNT sits down with Your Paradise co-founder Ignacio Garcia

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All photos provided by MY Media Sydney

The sunset encroaches on a boozy, warm afternoon on Malolo Lailai island, part of the Mamanuca archipelago off the coast of Fiji. It’s 5pm. I’m sprawled across a wicker armchair on a patio, adjacent to an infinity pool that overlooks a gentle white beach. The ocean is offensively lurid. Crystalline blue. I’m reeling from a conversation with a group of bubbly Australian girls, who chat in that endearingly Australian way, vowels curdling towards consonance at the ends, swapping stories from days previous and plans for the night to come. We’re at the Musket Cove Island Resort, one of the two resorts on Malolo Lailai that host yearly electronic music festival Your Paradise. Teams of black-shirted Your Paradise employees weave between bronzed women in glitzy bikinis, putting final touches on tonight’s beachfront stage. There’s speakers– large ones, blasting thunderous bass that has served as an omnipresent metronome throughout the five days of the fest, so much so that I will experience auditory illusions after I depart (Am I hearing the birds chirp at 130 BPM?). Tonight, I’ll bounce alongside 700 other electronic music lovers to sets by Bonobo, TSHA, and Partiboi69, but in this middling hour, basking in rays of the ebbing Fijian sunlight, I surveil loopy stragglers from the day parties and eager early birds milling about the delectable dinner buffet.  I’m here to meet with Ignacio Garcia, co-founder of Your Paradise. 

This year is the 8th iteration of Your Paradise, one of the most unique destination music festivals in the world. With a capacity of around 800, Your Paradise does more than just offer guests an intimate place to enjoy and interact with some of the most lauded DJs on the planet (past headliners are those among the likes of Skrillex, Ben Böhmer, and A-Track, to name a few). The festival, whose ticket includes round-trip flights from major cities around the globe and accommodations across Musket Cove and nearby resort, Plantation Island, ensures that Fijian land and culture holds equal weight with the nearly-weeklong celebration. In conjunction with the (numerous!) opportunities for debauchery, Your Paradise actively encourages guests to engage with the locale: water excursions, yoga/mediation sessions, tree-planting activities, and medicinal walks are just as much a part of the daily schedule as raucous boat parties and trips to local floating bar, Cloud 9. Garcia attests to the way the festival integrates culture with frivolity: When the music festival started in 2014, it manifested around Fiji– not around the music itself: “There weren’t many frontiers left to explore in the world of electronic music,” he tells me of Your Paradise’s inception. “Fiji seemed like the perfect place to bring people from around the world together. The place makes the festival.”

Indeed, togetherness between people and place is a central tenet of Your Paradise: from the beginning, the organizers have worked tirelessly to foster a community between the island and festivaliers: the crew is in close corroboration with the Mamanuca Environment society, ensuring that the festival instills standards of respect for the island and the culture of the South Pacific: “It's important that we let people that are attending engage directly with the culture, then hopefully they can take that knowledge to their homes, and they can advocate for Fiji, the Pacific, or just create a little bit more consciousness,” Garcia says. Unlike the multitude of other festivals I’ve seen, this particular one ensures that its collectivist ethos is instilled into the guests. Festival goers from years past greet the organizers and the employees of the hotel by name, and most guests take great care to explore the island’s offerings and local markets outside of the hours spent on the dance floor.

If the heart of the festival is its throbbing, ever-present bass, its musculature is the sinewy bonds forged between community members, forged over days and even years. As Garcia and I talk in a small cabana off the side of the pool, the buffet opens. Influencers and DJs, toasty and freshly showered, trickle in and hug the servers hello. A couple kisses on a beach chair. New friends embrace and head to the bar. Festival regulars devour plates of fresh fruit. The sun tips dangerously close to the horizon. The party stretches its arms; rears its head. It’s going to be a long night.

How has Your Paradise evolved since its inception?

In terms of infrastructure, the amount of stages, the amount of artists playing as well, the caliber of the artist playing and also the music, you know, when we started– it’s all leveled up. At first, it was a lot more trap. 

Trap, really? 

Yeah, trap. A lot of trap. I mean, just kind of mad right now. But I remember there was a lot of luck, a lot of What So Not. He was a resident for many years, an act from Australia called Carmada as well. So it was a lot of electronic Australian, sort of LA trap. NGHTMRE, you know, he has been coming for many years as well. So trap was a big part of it, basically, music has always been a big part of it, Drum and Bass is still a big part of it. But it's evolved a lot more: melodic electronic, techno, new wave, techno– that sort of stuff. So it's, you know, there's some vocalists like Kah-Lo this year. So there's a live element as well. Ruby Fields is an Aussie in the artists, yeah, musically, is involved as well. And now we have two resorts. Now, the artists, you know, still interact with fans, but they have their own space. And then we have the mainstage, which moves from one side [of the island] to the other, which is really special.

When I first checked in, I heard that you’re normally not easily able to move between the two resorts; that the two don’t interact at all. Is the freedom of movement something that just occurs during Your Paradise?

Traditionally, the resorts are owned by different families. There are different products with different sorts of markets. So you typically wouldn't be able to ride a bike from one resort to the other. You can access the two, but only by foot. There are barriers and security checks. Whereas with Your Paradise, we take over the whole island. It's kind of nice to bring the two resorts together for the event. It's really special. It took many years of convincing to do so.

Speaking of the island community, can you talk a little bit about your work with local environmental groups? 

Yeah, we work very closely with the Mamanuca Environment Society. Obviously, we have activities like mangrove planting at the festival itself, but a lot of our work is about advocacy. A lot of it has to do with imparting the understanding upon people, in real life, that the Pacific and the whole world has been impacted by global change, global warming, climate change, whatever you want to call it. For them, It is real. It's not like a political thing. It's something that's actually happening. It's important that we let people that are attending know that that is happening, and then hopefully they can take that knowledge to their homes, and they can advocate for Fiji or the Pacific or just create a little bit more consciousness around the issue.

There's a phrase when you're camping: leave no trace. I'm curious, what do you hope that people– not physically, but mentally– bring to/take from Your Paradise?

Everyone's coming for a different reason, from a different place. Some are single. Some are in relationships. Some are looking for friends. Some are solo traveling. Some are on their honeymoon, some are about to propose. Everyone is coming on their own as they are, and hopefully leaving with a bit more of an open mind, or with a new friend, partner, or favorite artist. Being able to interact, face-to-face with an artist, changes people’s perspectives a lot. And on the artist’s side, it’s nice to be able to directly interact with fans, to showcase their real personality, which is really cool. So yeah, I think coming as they are and leaving with shared experiences, whoever, whatever, that might be.

But how do you measure a successful festival? What are you taking away from Your Paradise personally, as a founder and not as a guest– what's your payoff?

Making sure everyone makes it home is my payoff. Number one. It's a simple one, but more challenging than it might seem, you know? We're on an island off the coast of another island in the middle of the Pacific. That's a challenge in itself. I think if we can get them here and get them home, I think the rest works itself. 

After eight years, what keeps you coming back?,

Same thing. Seeing the production, the stages look better, the sound being better. I think, post COVID, there is a new sort of crowd with an interest in electronic music that's different. It has less baggage. And they're much more open to ideas, I guess. Pre-COVID, in every scene or industry, you knew who you were gonna get. Everything was established, and it was very fixed. Post COVID, the gap has allowed a new outlook on sounds on artists, on attitudes, on all sorts of things. We've got a vastly new team post-COVID. They're learning, and they're also giving us feedback. We're learning from them. So I think that that's really exciting, and will remain exciting for the next 5 or 10 years. 

What will Your Paradise look like in the next 5 to 10 years?  Do you think it'll be very different? Are you trying to keep the intimate size, the intimate core? 

Actually, we’re looking at other locations that can fill the calendar. I think that it would be really interesting to have  something in July, maybe in Europe, so the festivals can feed off each other. And people have another place to go once they've been here for the first time. That way, if someone goes to one in Europe or one in South America, they can then travel to Fiji one day, after meeting the crew and seeing how it all works out.

I think there's a bunch of things that we can absolutely do better, but for the most part, I think it's just about trying to stay true to the vibe, trying to communicate the vibe, through that through social media, which is always very difficult. Because until you get here, you don't really understand you're actually getting yourself into. So I think improving the way we tell our story is always going to be a challenge.

You guys are the architects of some of the top parties in the world. What do you think makes a good party? 

The people make the party. At the end of the day, the humanity of a space is what makes it good or bad. You can have lighting or sound or whatever, but if the people there are not gelling, it won’t work. Also, a lot of it is about ensuring people have the right expectations. I think if you promise too much and you don't deliver, you're always going to have a gap in between. The people, the expectation, a decent sound for the size of the crowd, and good weather. That helps.

Here’s my final question: what part of the body do you think good music comes from?  

I think good music happens when you don't know why it's good. I think that when it's hard to describe it’s “goodness,” that's why you know, it's special, because you can't pick it. So if you can pick it straight away, you can find a technical element of music that you like, that's why it's good, then it's not as good. It’s a common example, but like, fred again was an artist that got a lot of people excited because nobody could understand what was happening with the way that the music was sounding. That’s when you know it’s good.

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Your Paradise, Music, Ignacio Garcia, Annie Bush