After a long KLM flight from Amsterdam, we arrive at Guayaquil Airport and immediately catch up with Mr C and his partner Xo Chic. It was Mr C who had suggested a DJ Mag party at Lost Beach in Ecuador — and it would’ve been rude not to have taken up the offer really.
We’re driven out of the city towards the bohemian resort of Montañita, a small coastal town 180 kilometres north-west of Guayaquil, right on the west coast of the top part of the continent. On the way Mr C regales us with tales of the South American electronic music scene, and how one of the ramshackle villages we drive past is populated mainly by transvestites. Anyone who’s ever come across the former Shamen man and co-owner of seminal London nightclub The End knows that Mr C can talk for England. His wife, meanwhile, kips in the back. “We didn’t have much sleep last night,” Mr C grins through his famous gappy smile, explaining how the pair played in the capital Quito last night as we nearly run over a goat.
After a couple of hours drive we arrive at the gorgeous hotel in Montanita — overlooking some lush mountains. Your hack is DJing at 9.30pm and then again at 3am, so we stroll a couple of hundred metres along the gorgeous sandy beach to the Lost Beach club where we meet owner Kami, a force of nature who’s built Lost Beach from the ground up. He also built our fantastic hotel, a restaurant, and the pizza bar adjoining the club where we grab a quick snack before heading off for a quick tour.
The club is vast. Joe, an English friend of Kami’s, shows us the new raised terrace area with a great view out to sea. At ground level there’s a vast space with a firing Funktion One soundsystem and a wooden raised area behind the decks. We’re then shown The Cave, a purpose-built amphitheatre-style club space made of brick with artificial creepers hanging down the walls and wooden balconies overlooking a big fuck-off dancefloor.
The upstairs terrace has only just been built and is open for the first time this weekend. Your hack is soon coaxed onto the decks to drop some warm-up house tracks from the likes of Josh Butler and Tom Bulwer. Xo Chic takes over, taking the sound deep tech as the terrace floor gets its groove on.
We hang behind the decks on the terrace for a while with Mr C before taking a trip over to the ground level system where Frank and Tony have a large crowd eating out of the palms of their hands. One of them, Frank, used to be US techno act Adultnapper, but decided he wanted to be more in the proper deep house scene, so teamed with his pal Tony to form the Scissor & Thread label and their DJ partnership. Their name may sound like they run a pizza parlour together, but these two — known to authorities as Francis Harris and Anthony Collins — can spin like their supper depends upon it.
The local residents are no slouches either. We catch a bit of Melissa Santa Maria and then her boyfriend Slurm —given his nickname when he had green hair that a pal thought resembled slime, apparently — and then George Levi, rocking the Cave with some exquisite techno — some of it his own. As with a lot of emerging countries for electronic music, the international guests take the limelight but the residents can more than hold their own. Often in awe of the ‘internationals’, it’d be nice to see some of them break out onto the global scene too.
Asia is widely spoken about as the new frontier for electronic music, but South America is perhaps the most fascinating global territory at present. Mr C tells us that he’s played in Ecuador alone at least 80 times in the past 12 years, putting a lot of work into touring the region for comparatively low fees. Truly, the man is a pioneer in more ways than one.
Your hack takes over from George Levi in the Cave and decides to bang it out. Newies from the Rhythm Masters and D.Ramirez are followed up with some electro-breaks bangers before a wall of Aphex-style white noise feedback sends the crowd crazy. A bit refreshed, your correspondent has accidentally leant on a delay button on the mixer, and can’t turn it off. The crowd think it’s part of the act! A sound engineer eventually comes to our assistance.
Mr C, playing downstairs at the same time, had asked us to go back to back with him for the last part of his set, but we’re too traumatised by the technical mishap in the Cave to accept. C has got his metaphorical acid hat on, weaving out fantastic wiggly 303 tracks with driving kick-drums. Behind the decks is the sexiest VIP area we’ve seen for many years. There are no tables, no bottle service, no people checking their mobile phones or doing selfies. It’s just wall-to-wall sexy young Ecuadorians getting down — dancing like nobody’s watching.
At 4am the ground level system turns off and those with wristbands head into the Cave for a lock-in. Frank & Tony are back on the decks as a few hundred of the friendliest, most gorgeous clubbers in the world party on in style. This is our new favourite club in the world — and we’ve danced our socks off.
As dawn breaks, Mr C and Xo Chic take over and start dropping some filthy sexy techno. Even though he’s stayed completely sober duo to a blood test for his US Green Card in a few days time, C is welded to those decks for the duration. He goes into an old skool classic acid house segment, then drops a Shamen remix, some early ‘80s electro and even New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’. He then heads into disco territory, and even plays some Michael Jackson that has the whole crowd singing along. It’s a great electronic music history lesson, taking the whole crowd with him until mid-morning. “I think I can safely say that I smashed the granny out of that,” he says afterwards, and he’s not wrong.
With the sun beating down, a couple of hundred diehard party people adjourn to the upstairs terrace where Kami himself, the bossman, has taken to the decks. Another wicked DJ, he tells us later that he doesn’t get to play that often these days but still likes to remain current.
Kami’s personal story — and the story of Lost Beach — is quite remarkable. Kami started out selling bottles of water at raves in LA in the early ‘90s. He’d had a taste of acid house at high school and then through going to an 808 State gig he ended up at a weekly party called Happy Wednesdays. “There was these two promoters there handing out their flyers for a Halloween party, and I don’t know how it came to me but when they gave me the flyer I said, ‘I’m the guy that does the bar at all the raves. I have all the machines, everything you need’,” he recalls. “They hired me, and I did the bar at the Pumpkin Patch party in 1991. It was such a success and I did such a good job that I got hired again, and again and again and again and again.”
He gave Mr C his first ever laughing gas balloon at one of these parties in 1991, and they’ve remained friends ever since. Soon Kami realised that he should be doing the parties himself, so put on his own first party — Looney Tunes — on February 29th 1992. “It was a complete success, and from then onwards I’ve just been doing party after party after party,” he tells DJ Mag.
After a while, Kami moved to South America to help his father with the family business. “I quickly realised there was not much to do,” he says, “so I brought all my music equipment over and bought a soundsystem at the same time. And I started doing parties in El Salvador. I did the first raves in El Salvador, and then for a few years I did all the parties in Guatemala — always at exotic, memorable places.
“Eventually I travelled down to Ecuador, and I came to this beach – Montañita,” Kami continues. “People always told me, ‘Don’t go there, don’t go there’ — so I went, ha ha ha! I came here and I walked down to the beach to the point, and there was this one place where the owners used to live in Goa, and they liked electronic music. They were doing a party, but they didn’t have any DJs. I just grabbed their music and started DJing. It was a successful night, and I said to myself, ‘I want to be here in Montañita, this is going to be my new project, my new baby’.”
He built his first club in 2001, doing parties with national and Latin American DJs until he brought Mr C over in 2004. “We were always losing money because this was new — none of these hotels or bars existed in this town,” says Kami.
At first Kami's club was called the Centro de Art de Montañita, because “I wanted everybody to feel a part of it, I wanted the whole town to feel like it was their centre of art. ‘Who is this guy coming in and taking over and putting a club there?’ I wanted them to feel like this was their place.”
When Kami was living in Ibiza for a while in the mid-noughties, some squatters came in and occupied the property in Montañita. It took him five years to get them out. Meanwhile, he did parties up the beach and in other places in Ecuador — slowly helping to build a scene here. There are now five cities in Ecuador where international artists can play, he says, and many young people who live off the electronic music scene — DJs, promoters, sound and lighting guys, VJs. “This is something you won’t find in many other countries in Latin America,” he states.
During this time in the late noughties, just like the protracted TV series after which it is named, the location of Lost Beach changed all the time — and could not be reached by ordinary means. In 2009, he did big parties on the beach with Damian Lazarus and Jamie Jones and Layo & Bushwacka! “We did the first 500 people in for free at both, I had to regain the confidence of everybody and show people what we were all about,” he tells DJ Mag.
While he was waiting to get his club-space back, Kami built the beautiful Dharma Beach Hotel — named after the fictional research project featured in the Lost TV series. “DJs used to demand internet, room service, gym, safety, clean, and before, Montañita was very rustic and didn’t have any of those choices,” Kami explains. “That’s why I built the hotel – I designed it myself.”
When Kami finally got the club-space back in 2010, he tore everything down and just did parties in the yard space with his soundsystem. “As we made money, we made a bamboo roof here, a platform there,” he says. “When they started shutting us down at four o’clock in the morning, cos that’s the law in this country, I decided to build a bunker. That’s what the Cave is, where the walls are a metre thick.”
As well as the upstairs terrace too, Kami has built dorms for out-of-town clubbers in the five-storey property and a fourth dancefloor — more of a chill-out zone — above the terrace. “If it’s not construction we’re doing, it’s painting,” he says, pointing towards an amazing mural that apparently took four people eleven weeks to paint, working eighteen hours a day.
Other DJs who have played Lost Beach include Lee Foss (who Kami has partnered with to bring out a brand of bottled water), Hunter/Game, Soul Clap, Tanner Ross, Francesca Lombardo, Tale Of Us, DJ Tennis... “Villalobos is coming soon,” says Kami. “We’re bringing in the best. We have a no EDM policy, and a policy to bring in people who are doing it from their soul.”
Kami is telling us all this up on the terrace while the party continues for the rest of the day. As Slurm drops some particularly wonky tech, we muck about with some of our new friends — the man who drives the boat that tows a parachute across the sea; Marco, a promoter from Lost Beach who we christen 'Irish' due to the O'Neills baseball cap he's wearing; a couple of Native American Indian-looking guys (half the population of Ecuador has Native American DNA genealogy). Like in the Lost series, there are disruptions in the normal flow of time — but that is more down to the amazing hospitality that your DJ Mag hack is subjected to than anything. Eventually we see sense and stumble back along the beach to the hotel.
Ecuador feels like it's in the same place — in terms of the development of an electronic music culture — as Ibiza was 20 years ago, or Brazil ten years ago. Kami has played no small part in the scene's growth — he even built street lights along the beach — and the resort of Montañita is now a destination location for young Ecuadorian converts to our scene. It's a brilliant place to party, and the people are amazing. We could get 'Lost' here for weeks.