Photos by Sydney Jones.
Imagine a world where laws are suggestions, wardrobes are bought in toy boxes, and perfect strangers start conversations like age-old friends. Now imagine that world is on a 3,959-capacity boat, and you're sailing through the Bahamas with A-Trak, Flume, Pretty Lights, Annie Mac, Boys Noize, and Guy Lawrence from Disclosure.
Now imagine someone takes a poop in an elevator. You're starting to get the picture of Holy Ship! 2015.
Having participated in every Holy Ship! for the past three years, I've experienced one ship less than those who can claim every mind-melting voyage on their rave resumés. Given my experience, I feel it's safe to say last weekend's Holy Ship, from Miami, January 3-6, 2015 on the MSC Divina cruise ship, was the gnarliest, most ape-shit and totally fucking insane HARD party to ever sail the Caribbean Sea.
Think of the Holy Ship! community—known universally as #ShipFam—as a physical game of telephone. Every year, fans come home to tell tales of the freedom, the costumes, the partying, and the music. Every year, people get the idea that Holy Ship! is this everything-goes free-for-all, and every year, the shippers return to sea to top themselves. By this fourth time around, the atmosphere became so aggrandized, I felt I was tripping without even having a taken a dose.
Once aboard, people wasted no time in letting loose. There's something about the hours spent in line at the Port of Miami that really lights a fire in a shipper's belly. To say they "let their freak flags fly" would be an understatement. They strapped that shit to a rocket and sent it to outer space.
Before the music even started, I was treated to a free round of shots from a random bartender who led a group of ladies in a toast that went: "Life is like a dick. When it gets hard, just fuck it." Classy, right? I kept running into some girl who looked exactly like Iggy Azalea, and every thirty minutes, I saw Justin Martin. It's true that you'll walk past every DJ aboard before the trip is over, and in various states of inebriation. We're all in the same boat, literally and figuratively.
After a safety drill-turned-pillow-fight and a 7pm sail away, Flume kicked off the festivities on the pool deck stage. Almost immediately, my vagina started tingling. Flume may not be a great DJ, but his productions are some of the best around. He curiously left Emoh Instead to handle the following What So Not set on his own. "Is Flume even in What So Not anymore?" I wondered as a man dressed as Jesus walked on the water-colored tiles of the drained pool.
Without cell service or Internet, keeping track of your friends is impossible. A Holy Ship! schedule is imperative if you hope to have any clue what's going on, and surely, some folks wandered in and out of parties without the slightest sense of what they were listening to. The Galaxy Disco was a clear favorite no matter what, never less than packed, and always booming grown-and-sexy deep house. That first night, Alex Metric, Oliver, Cyril Hahn and Shiba San stole the show.
Saturday saw a lot of action in the Black and White lounge as well due to the special "Brits Aboard" program, headlined by Annie Mac. Hannah Wants in particular had me grooving, despite an ever-bloating ankle I can't remember twisting. Craze was supposed to play elsewhere but even (my Ship bff) Justin Martin didn't know where the Miamian could be found. Salva was steady-rockin' some of the funkiest shit I've ever heard, but the wind was too heavy for the three-time DMC champ to do his thing, so the pool deck programming ended early.
After a few magical hours of sleep, we were back up and ready for Sunday's Private Island Party. This is the quintessential Holy Ship! experience. You wait at least an hour in some godforsaken line, but your patience is handsomely rewarded. For the first time since the maiden voyage, shippers were treated to Half Moon Cay on Little San Salvador Island, otherwise known as "the island with the pirate ship." I've never seen such candy-colored water or played on more comfortable sand.
Things started a little late, so we were able to catch yoga with Gina Turner (a Ship tradition) and Busy P's opening set. In case you didn't know, the Ed Banger leader cut off all his hair; he was hardly recognizable. After Duke Dumont and later Flume hit the decks, the island was fully poppin'. I twerked off in the sand and drank straight from a bottle of stolen rum. Everyone was looking incredibly sexy in his or her bikinis and swim trunks (man thongs are not uncommon on Holy Ship! either). I swam out past the Fluzzle islands and had a moment of reflection. I looked back at the setting sun and the looming MSC Divina while Armand Van Helden went back to back with special guest Disclosure's Guy Lawrence. For those of us in the crowd, there may never be a more perfect moment in our lives.
Later was the official "Prom Night," and though many shippers wore non-prom costumes, people go all out for this shit; the turn up was real. By now, everyone figured out who was pushing the best pills, doses, coke or whatever. Some people had yet to come down, let alone had any sleep in the past 48 hours. I was exhausted and still running around on a twisted ankle (you just drink until it stops hurting), so I obliged myself with a nap while Knife Party wrecked the pool deck and Rustie tore up the traditional Fool's Gold Rap Party. I heard later that Teki Latex, DJ Falcon, and the rest of the Boys Noize Records party crew were also legendary. At some point, Boys Noize walked by and some dude called after him, "Hey A-Trak."
The next morning I tried to find the Holy Flip Cup tournament but got lost in the frat party that surrounded the Zen Pool/Mini Bar. It was supposed to be a hip-hop party, but it was a lot more college-white-kid-ratchet than the time-tested Fool's Gold one. The pool looked like something out of a 2 Live Crew video, except for all the white people.
News of someone shattering a window in the Galaxy Disco spread fast. Those panes of glass are inches thick and nearly indestructible, prompting post-Ship rumors on a Facebook group conversation that it was done intentionally with a Lifehammer keychain. Undeterred, organizers just roped off the crime scene and let the room's Destructo and Friends party continue.
Some guy with an artist badge passed me a giant bottle of Grey Goose, explaining simply "German techno lifestyle." There was magic in the air as Boys Noize and Djedjotronic closed out the cruise, sampling Sgt. Buzzkill and leading the crowd in a sing-along to "Sweet Dreams" and iLoveMakonnen's "Tuesday." At one point, someone got on the mic to say "It's all about the music," but that's only half-true, because Holy Ship! is really all about the #ShipFam. Without their crazy costumes, bass faces, and apparent lack of self-control, Holy Ship! is just another floating music festival.
It must be said: this year definitely got out of hand. Besides the broken window, rumors flew that someone took a shit in an elevator as well as on the dance floor of the Black and White Lounge. Whether or not that sort of behavior is a drug-induced or not, that's fucked up. Not to be party poopers (ha!), but maybe it's time to turn down for human feces. During a walk through of the ship around 6am, I found plates of bacon and fruit turning sour on every floor, and dirty glitter and garbage at every turn. Is it possible to rave while still maintaining some respect for the human beings whose job it is to keep a clean ship for ravers? Some guy was begging people to sell him "one more pill" at 6:30am before his girlfriend pushed him out of the elevator. It was kind of a sad state of affairs.
Holy Ship! 2015 was one of the greatest weekends of my life. I still can't get David Zowie's "House Every Weekend" out of my head, and I'll never forget that perfect moment on the beach, but we wonder how MSC can invite shippers back in 2016 (or six weeks from now for Holy Ship! 2015 part two) when someone intentionally breaks a window. It's cool to let loose and be freaky, but it's not cool to forget that cruising with your favorite DJs is a privilege. It's like Sgt. Buzzkill says, you've got to respect the ship. Let's hope next month's batch of shippers learns from our mistakes and brings the friendly, conscious ideals of #ShipFam back to life.
Kat Bein is recovering at home in Miami, far from breakable windows and toilet/elevators.