Most everyone who’s traveled to Fiji loves Fiji. The white sand beaches, wild jungles, virgin reefs, and heaving surf breaks offer the promise of endless adventure. But it’s the Fijian culture that makes the biggest impression on travelers. Governed by a tribal system, with complex water and property rights, the island chain is vastly different from what most Westerners have grown up with.
The whole place is also exceptionally low-key. Which is why I find a massive, pulsing rave hosted on a Fijian island so damn fascinating.
Earlier this week, I had the chance to chat with Hadi J — one of four founders of Fiji’s YourParadise Festival — to ask him questions about pulling off a party of this scope on the tranquil island chain. I was also eager to know how the festival merges music with Fiji’s bountiful outdoor pursuits and, of course, his advice for first-time attendees.
I’ve been tracking YourParadise for a couple of years now. I’ve been following what you guys are up to. Obviously, it seems like a no-brainer — this idea of running a festival in a tropic place. On the other hand, there seems to be this aspect of … I know Fiji. I know Fijian culture, and there are obviously negotiations that have to go on when you’re going to throw a festival there, there’s some backend work there.
So, I guess, let’s start with: What’s the genesis for throwing a massive party in Fiji?
The concept originally was the whole idea was exactly pretty much what you said there. On the left-hand side it was like throwing a party, tropical destination, on the beach, etc., tick, tick, tick. Right? From an experiential perspective, you’re ticking all those boxes.
Throwing a festival in a developing nation is where you start coming across some challenges. There was about a year’s work behind the scenes that involved going out on recon trips, meeting resort owners, and we had to put together a concept and an event that — first of all — was reflective, I guess, of what the music industry represents, which is great artists, great music, good vibe, friendly atmosphere, safe zones, everybody is equal. What I mean by “everybody is equal,” is that unlike a festival where you’ve got like a VIP area and a Triple A pass, that doesn’t exist at Your Paradise. Everyone stays in the same resort. Everyone eats in the same places, whether you’re a high profile artist, or whether you’re a young 18-year-old from Western Australia. You’re all pretty much in the same space.
So the idea was, how do we create this equilibrium between what Fiji … Sorry I’ll take a step back. How do we create equilibrium between respecting the Fijian culture and creating something which is going to stand out from the music industry, or I guess the music scene?
The recon visits were very important because we had the limitations in terms of, this is what you can do on Fijian land because we have to respect their land. They’re very spiritual people. We had to make sure that we had a no trace left policy, which also involves us making sure we have the right staff at the event. Not only focusing on an event’s management perspective but also focusing on respecting their land. I’m not sure you’ve seen some of the photos where it’s like crystal blue waters. So even things as little … People throwing cups into the water. It’s our responsibility to ensure that that doesn’t happen. If it does happen, that we’re cleaning that up. So that’s part one.
I like that part one. That all feels really important.
Part two is the logistical element. Trying to set up a stage with production, with sound, with lighting, on a resort that’s in the middle of the ocean, is not easy. Not only have you got the challenges of getting the product and getting the equipment, but then you need to make sure that resort and the facility can actually support high voltage systems, decent production, and can support it continuously for long periods of time. The majority of electricity on the island we host the event at is generator run. Here you are trying to put a festival on in Fiji for five days, and you’re running your whole event on a generator.
With Fiji, we don’t have a party or festival infrastructure. All we have is a resort. There are no stages, there’s no production. There’s no business processes. There’s no standard operating procedures. We have to create all that with a key focus in mind, which is the Fijian culture. How do we get people into the country? So you get the gist of what I’m saying.
Of course. I’m also deeply interested in it. I mean, I think one of the things I like about your festival is it very much knows and seems to recognize — from all the footage I’ve seen, from the photos that come back every year — that it is a big wild party. Yet it seems like you have this very deep respect for Fiji, and the Fijian culture, and understand those aspects, too.
Is that hard work, marrying those parts together? Is part of it understanding that the kids on Molly are not going to do as well as you would, maybe as your team can, at keeping the place clean, and knowing that you’re going to have to clean up after them to some degree? What are the tricky parts there?
It’s an interesting point because in order for the event to go ahead, we need to kind of be led by the Fijian locals, and the on the ground Fijians who run the resort, who work in the country. I’ll give you an example that will show you what we have to do. In terms of organizing our logistics, boats, flights, transfers, add-ons, etc., we recruited and partnered up with someone who is based in Fiji. She runs an entire organization around travel and logistics. The reason why we did that is because we’re no experts in Fiji, and we’re no experts of how their transport, their logistics, and everything works. So we hired a specialist in that area, and then we let her lead us in terms of what works within that space.
From a sound and lighting perspective, and production, we then hired Fijian locals and experts in that space who also understand their world, and what is needed in their world. Then from a resort perspective, we work very closely with the general managers and the owners of the resort to make sure that whatever we’re building in terms of product, so to your point the world partying, is within parameters of what they would expect in Fiji. We let them guide that conversation.
In terms of some of the tricky bits, you’re 100% right. Some kids will pay a couple of thousand dollars, if they’ve got a beachfront bure, to go and party for five days straight. What you tend to find is that, if we’ve trained our staff well, if we do inductions when people arrive to the island, we take them for a 30 minute induction. We talk to them about the rules. We talk to them about the land. We talk to them about the respect. We pretty much give them a 30 minute, I guess, training lesson on what the next few days entail.
What we also — to ensure that people can party as loose as they want, but not in any way disrespect the Fijian culture — we also hire local Fijian police who we actually bring from mainland. They stay with us at the island, and they’re there as a presence perspective. What we’ve done is we’ve brought in bits and pieces from different part of Fiji to make sure that it’s an all-inclusive environment, and that’s what sets that perfect foundation, I guess, for a safe, fun festival.
As someone who loves Fiji, I love that approach. What island are you on, by the way?
Plantation Resort. So it’s Plantation Island.
So what you’re essentially doing is renting out a resort? Like completely buying it out?
Correct, for five days.
Then there’s some outdoor aspect to the festival, too. Describe the lifestyle aspect outside of the music for me.
When we first came up with the concept for YourParadise, we wanted to stay away from the word festival because festivals you automatically pigeonholed in 20 thousand people, huge production, pyro, etc. We wanted to make sure that Your Paradise was known as a cultural and musical event. The reason why we say that is because the festival only runs on three nights, so the five days that you’re in Fiji. Sorry, it’s a five nights, six day event, and the actual festival only runs for three nights. The reason why the festival only runs for three nights is because the way we communicated to guests is a can choose your own adventure style holiday.
During the day, you can go jet skiing. You can go sky diving. You can go snorkeling at some of the best reefs in the world. If you’re a surfer, one of the most famous world breaks is in Fiji. It’s called Cloudbreak. People go there to surf.
Wait, so you bring people to Cloudbreak?
Exactly. Guests can get boats in the morning at 6:00 AM, surfers, and they go out to Cloudbreak. They’ll surf all morning, and then they come back to shore. Then they can have lunch, sit down, and then the partying starts at night. This is the message that we really try and get across when talking to people from a marketing perspective or a media perspective. That it’s far greater than just a music festival because it literally is an open canvas for you to paint whatever you want to create your own journey. That’s why we called it YourParadise, because it’s your interpretation of paradise. For some, it might be just partying five days straight. For some it might be surfing every morning. For some it might be sitting on the beach having cocktails.
We didn’t want to curate what your experience looks like. What we wanted to do is enable what your experience looks like. We enable by putting on the event, booking the DJs. Then we work the add-ons, that full outside of this festival, like Cloud 9, and Sandbank, and Malamala Beach Club. They’re all different add-ons that we do. In essence what we’re trying to say is, “Here’s the framework. You make it your own.”
What would you say to a young person who was headed to the festival? What would your encouragement be for them in order to really maximize the experience they had?
Leave your personal problems at home. Come in with an open mind. Leave your stresses of work, family, whatever it might be, on the mainland, and just approach the event with an open mind, free spirit. Let the event, I guess, shape your experience. That’s probably words of advice that I would give them.
Okay. What would you say to people who are looking forward to next year? They see the photos on Uproxx. They read our recaps. They have tracked what you guys are doing on Instagram, and they tell their friends they want to go. What would you encourage them about planning the trip, or to push them over the edge? What would you tell them to expect?
I’d say, “Look, you really need to go check out Your Paradise because what you see in terms of marketing content, what you see on Instagram, is only the tip of the iceberg because what it deliveries in terms of experience, friendship, family, and happiness is something that cannot be portrayed in a Insta Story or picture.”
Every artist that has come to Your Paradise, what they see before they come, and what they experience, blows them away. When Skrillex came a couple of years ago, he came with his crew, and he had the most amazing time. There was a marriage proposal during his set. He was supposed to play one hour, ended up playing for four hours. Then at the end of the party, just to put it into perspective for you, he went back to his room, opened up the front doors, put the decks out of the front. Then all the DJs where jumping back to back while everyone sat on the lawn at the front of his beachfront bure watching the sun rise. Now that, tell me where in the world you can experience something like that.