BPM Co-Founder Phillip Pulitano
Due to continuing COVID-19 safety protocols and precautions, Pulitano and the BPM Festival team have officially pushed the event's return until 2022. This interview pre-dates that decision, and the new dates are not reflected in the copy.
As we leave the toils of 2020 behind us, we find comfort in the little things; echoes of the past beaming at us from a roaring future. In a little glimpse of normalcy, globally-renowned electronic music festival BPM has revealed the artist lineup for their 2021 return.
The annual four-day tropical escape is planned for March 3 to 7, nearly one year after the global lockdown ignited by the pandemic. BPM will raise its flags once again in the jungles of Tamarindo, Costa Rica.
The event’s curators have chosen not to take the virtual route. It’s a bold undertaking, but rest assured, plans are moving forward with bullish optimism in hopes that a gathering of this sort can be done with the utmost safety.
We spoke with BPM co-founder Phillip Pulitano to hear how he’s handled the COVID crisis, as well as take a deep dive into his 22 years of experience in the business. Pulitano gave us insight on what it takes to build such a brand, reflecting on the history of BPM, how it started, where it’s going, and what to expect from BPM in the near future.
We are here with Phillip Pulitano, co-founder of BPM Festival. Phillip, how are you doing today?
Very good. Thank you for having me. I'm in Barcelona on partial lockdown.
What brings you to Barcelona?
My wife and I have been living here now for about five years. It’s close to Ibiza. She's European, so it's just a very good central place for me to be, especially in the business. Easy access to a lot of different parts of the world.
You're originally from Toronto, correct?
Yeah, originally from Toronto, born and raised. I started my events career there at a very early age. I’ve been in the business for 23 years now. I left there at 21, took a little pause from the business because at that point, from between [the ages of] 19 and 21, we were running five different nights out of the seven in the city. I needed a break, and I went to South America for what was supposed to be a three week vacation. I stayed seven and a half years.
From there, I came to Mexico. On my way out of South America into Central America, where one of our original partners [Vito Tomasicchio] had a place, I discovered Playa Del Carmen. I bought an apartment there shortly after. I think the apartment was bought in 2007 in January, just after New Year's, and I think it was April 2007 when me and [Tomasicchio] came up with the idea of bringing BPM to Mexico in Playa del Carmen.
Were living year-round in Mexico at the time?
Yeah. When we started with the concept, I was going back every other month to check up on the condo that I bought, as it was under construction, and then the idea came to mind. We were, at that point, still based out of Toronto, but every few months going back and forth to Mexico.
We had our first edition in 2008, which was called the BPM Conference, and it was seven days. By the second day, we quickly realized the conference aspect wasn't going to work for us. We finished that year and decided to switch it to a festival and add the extra weekend. It was mid-2008 when I moved to Playa del Carmen full time. I was still keeping the residence in Toronto, but I was [in Mexico] full time for 13 years.
You started BPM with co-founder Craig Pettigrew. How did you guys meet?
Craig and I, Vito [Tomasicchio] and Ralph [Madi], were the original four from Toronto. We working at the same clubs in Toronto, but on different nights. We were like competition, but not. There's only so many clubs in Toronto, and we were doing the same clubs, but different nights and different styles of music. It was actually Craig and I on the beach, with a lot of beer and tequila, when we were discussing doing something for the people in the business — the promoters, the bartenders, the managers — in January, after the big New Year's weekend.
Saint Martin was a discussion that Craig brought up, him being half French. I brought up Playa del Carmen because [Tomasicchio] and myself had a condominium there, so it made sense. Cancun being the busiest sun destination airport in the world. Water was poured into the soil, as they say. We added a partner from Montreal, Benoit [Lamy], and the five of us started working on the inception of BPM.
Are you still involved or working in the club scene?
We have BPM, obviously. We have a club in Toronto called Nest, which is a project with me and Vito, which now are the only [original] partners. The rest of the [BPM partners] have moved on to other things. I also have another thing we're doing called Bamboleo, which is another brand with Neverdogs. We're still involved in the club business, soon as it gets going again. We're doing a monthly residency in London and different parts of Europe. I’m also working on stuff with some of my Toronto boys RAWthentic, with Carlo [Lio] and Nathan [Barato], as well. But, 2020 has been on pause for everything at the moment.
What other projects have you worked on during lockdown? You have the upcoming BPM Festivals in Costa Rica and Tel Aviv.
Funny, because for the first little while, it was canceling all the shows we had. We had a very busy start to 2020. Our first edition in Costa Rica went really, really well. Better than we expected. It was a very challenging project, and it was a passion project. After losing the momentum we had in Mexico and our original flagship event, we went on to do Portugal in 2017 and continued in 2018 and 2019 - even adding Tel Aviv and Bali. But 2020 should have been a really big year for BPM. We did Costa Rica. As I said, it went amazing.
We had to cancel about 17 different shows, multiple-day festivals. In my time here in lockdown, other than trying to become more healthy, which I’ve achieved, we've been really brainstorming.
For 2021, if things start to open up soon, we have four [festivals] already locked in and potentially five multiple-day festivals lined up, and then a few pop-up shows. This is all if everything opens up, starting with what we just announced in Costa Rica, March 3rd to the 7th. For 2022, we have seven multiple-day festivals lined up. We have a lot of good stuff lined up in the next 12 to 24 months. We're just hoping the world turns with us.
Seems like you're actually moving forward, expanding the brand internationally the way you’ve been talking about doing for so many years.
Yes. We're not stopping now. It's easier for us to cancel and refund or postpone. Postponing is not what we want, but it's easier for us to be prepared. If we have to cancel or move the dates, that's a lot easier than last-minute trying to put it together. We've been continuing with the 2021 one as if it is going to open. We would have opened with our January edition, but [after] speaking with the governments in Costa Rica and [seeing] their reopening plan, which has been moving a lot more aggressively than I thought it would. They gave us the option to do January, just at a 50 to 75 percent capacity. We decided to be safe and give a couple more months.
We're hoping that Ibiza will get off [lockdown] at the end of April. If not, that will be pushed to an October date, after speaking to the guys at IMS (International Music Summit). That one we’re being a little flexible on. We have Malta lined up as well, and we're working on something for Canada. We're looking to bring it home.
What makes BPM unique compared to other festivals?
The challenge of what we do, in the sense that we're not just going into a location, taking a piece of land, putting up a fence and a few stages and [calling it] our festival. We pick very exotic locations, but at the same time, very challenging locations.
The town becomes your festival grounds, and clubs and locations within the town become your stages. It's not just a music festival. We're injecting money into the economies and we're bringing tourism. We're letting people experience the beauty of these beach towns or cities like Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was absolutely amazing. Our concept is not just music. It's music and arts. We’re also a tourism company.
After these 22 years, what are some of the biggest takeaways?
Expect the unexpected, [especially] in some of the harsh environments and countries that we work in. The jungle in Costa Rica was literally just a jungle. It started with myself and Jez, who's been with us for 13 years now; and my production manager, a Costa Rican with a machete. There was a little trail that we built to find the oldest tree in this piece of land. Working in those types of environments, there's no rulebook for it. You have to just be ready for anything. You’ve got to be prepared for it all. The number one thing on the checklist is there is no checklist.
What advice would you give to those looking to pursue a similar career?
It depends what aspect of this hospitality business or entertainment business they want to get in. It's not an easy one, that's for sure. For the people with the most creative type of minds and if you have the right passion for it, it's a beautiful thing. One of my two favorite things, when I look back to some of the events that we've had or some of the events that we're planning now, is you're taking this idea that's in your mind and you're building it from nothing.
At some point, when everything is operating at the same time, you get to sit back and look at it all. You see people on the dance floor smiling, dancing, enjoying themselves. The gratification there is something that is priceless. You get to create that and show people your vision. It's an ecosystem, because you have the right artists playing the right music and the right people around you. In our instance, I don't say that they’re staff. They’re family. We have our own BPM family, and we all do this together.
One piece of advice, if you have the passion for it, you have to do it, and you have to do it with the right people. That's one important thing. Nothing can be achieved just on your own or by itself.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.