The deep house DJ, Golden Features, has just finished an 11 PM set, when he looks up, puts a fresh cigarette between his lips and begins flipping his thumb in the universal gesture smokers use when they’re looking for a light. The audience meets his intimate gesture, and the sudden appearance of another enormous name in the Australian electronic music world, What So Not, with a roar of delight. Curvy, neon letters trace the name of the event, Your Paradise, in flashing colorful italics behind the stage, backlighting the two DJs in a crisp, eerie glow.
It’s my first night in Fiji, a crowd of perhaps two hundred people is spread out on the sand in front a small, ramshackle DJ booth — dancing and swaying in a soft breeze while the sun sets against a line of palm trees. This is hour twelve of a day full of sun, drinking, and dancing, but most of these ecstatic twenty-somethings will continue partying into the dark, long past the wee hours of the morning. Then, it’s sleep till midday and do it all over again, rest and repeat, all week long.
Golden Features catches a chucked lighter and nods in thanks before sparking it up, and making his way down into the crowd. Next to me, an avid fan takes a long pull of her beer and begins dancing with abandon on the sand as What So Not hits his first banger.
Suddenly, I too really want a cigarette.
A party is a living organism. It moves, it sleeps, it grows. If you walk into a party that’s been evolving without you, it’s easy to feel out of step. But sticking with a party from beginning to end is sort of like a relationship. You build a foundation and commit to the experience. Like all the best commitments, it paid off. In this case, it was via a sense of shared community. A community that was joyful — even when that meant drawing lines in the sand.
Early on in the week, a young man was drinking himself silly and using that as an excuse to pester multiple women. The response was swift — he was promptly removed from the event. Your Paradise has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment of any kind, and the majority-female festival staff was friendly but firm when it came to enforcing bar policy and safety concerns. The presence of so many women in authority gave the event an entirely different feel from many of its stateside counterparts, fostering feeling of security that stands out in my history of going to shows, raves, and festivals.
Another key difference from other “destination fests” is that Your Paradise is upfront about their commitment to preserving and protecting the Fijian island where the party is hosted. Over the course of a week, I never saw any partygoers throw trash on the ground or into the water, despite consuming copious amounts of alcohol. The whole ethos presented by the festival staff is about preserving and celebrating Malo Lalmai island, which hosts the event every December.
“To our team, the experience is a sum of its environment and community,” one of the event’s founders, Hadi J told me over dinner one night. “This type of event attracts a specific type of music fan that is constantly searching for adventure and travel-experiences in addition to new artists to see. It’s these people, and the intimate nature of the event, that create the vibe of the festival.”
This week-long party is now entering its fifth year, and though the general layout may appear to mimic that state-side framework of a music festival, it’s all but impossible to call it that. First and foremost, Your Paradise is purposefully small. Only a couple hundred people fly out to Fiji for the week, a stark contrast with most mainstream festivals — which need to funnel thousands, often tens of thousands, of people into their events in order to deem them successful. Second, the satellite day parties that crop up throughout the week are, arguably, where the real action is at, offering a perfect excuse to travel all over Fiji.
Nevermind the evening main stage sets on Malo Lalmai island — where established stars like Skrillex, cult favorites like Dena Amy and Doorly have played ecstatic sets — what everyone really looks forward to are the trips to sets thrown during the day on floating boathouses, hidden, disappearing sandbanks, packed DJ sets on day-long cruises around the Fijian islands and secret, open bar parties at nearby resorts. That eagerness for and emphasis on adventure and discovery makes Your Paradise more about the travel experience than most far away fests.
My favorite of these off-site sets was a party thrown on a disappearing sandbank, dubbed Sandbank Sermon, where the length of the party was at the mercy of the tides. Only visible for a couple hours during a specific day, when the tides are lowest, the YP staff swoops in to set up a makeshift stage and bar on the sandbank, serving drinks out of reusable coconut shells and encouraging partygoers to make the most of the 2-3 hours they have to dance and without any other trace of land in sight.
It was at Sandbank Sermon where I was finally able to let go, indulging in drinks, dancing in the shallows, and even finding that cigarette I’d been fiending for. When I finished smoking it, I saved the butt to throw away back on the island, with a sense of conscientiousness that surprised even me.
“There is something utterly unique about standing on a sandbank in the middle of the ocean only visible for a few hours,” Huda told me, echoing my enthusiasm about that particular party.
If a party is a living thing, perhaps no DJ understands this better thank the quickly-rising Mija — one of the artists on the bill who caught my eye and was a deciding factor when I was considering the trip. On one of the festival’s last days, her set transformed a still sluggish group of yacht-goers from awkward and stiff to full-blown party animals in the span of an hour.
Unbothered by the initially unresponsive group, the tiny DJ in keds and a patterned romper — standing on a gearbox so she could reach the boards — carefully, confidently coaxed the party into being. By the time the boat docked, the crowd didn’t want to leave, and remained dancing on the boat for another full hour before disembarking, even though the bar had long since closed.
When a crowd gets so lost in the music that they’ve forgotten all about the need for booze, paradise is indeed within reach.
Uproxx was hosted for this story by YourParadise. You can learn more about the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.