All photos by Eric Voake, except for iPhone photos used in interviews which are courtesy of the author.
As I write this from perhaps the shadiest motel in Dade County, my insides are bubbling and my brain feels like it has been pickled in vinegar. There is a name for this condition: it's called BoatAIDS, and I find comfort in knowing that scattered around Miami are 4,000 other people in the same sorry state.
As festivals around the world compete to outdo one another in terms of grandiosity and scope, Holy Ship has pulled the rug out from under them all—offering all of the amenities and antics of your average Electric Daisy or Electric Zoo, but with less mud, more showers, and no exit! So what follows is the story of possibly the most lawless, unhinged party I have ever attended.
On Thursday afternoon, ravers from around the world poured into the Port of Miami and onto the MSC Divina, a brand-spanking-new behemoth of nautical revelry. The crew of the ship looked on in a state of bemused horror as the attendees emerged from their cabins dressed in ridiculous outfits: one dude stepped on deck pairing a fishnet bodysuit with a feathered parrot head—another girl was naked, except for pasties and a crying baby head mask. Shit got weird real quick.
Diplo kicked off the Sail Away Party as the lights of Miami faded into the background. It pains me to say, but in the past year or two Dip's lost some of his edge. He comes off more now as pastiche peddler than cultural curator, and I was surprised to hear him milking the standard festival trap repetoire—especially on a cruise ship where your audience isn't exactly going anywhere.
Another controversial opinion: Skrillex smashed it. The time off from solo performances has done him worlds of good. He opened up with a good twenty minutes of glitch-hop and his new stuff sounds fresh as a daisy. He didn't even drop any of the turnt up brostep he's known for until the very end of his set, and the spirit of the whole thing hit me when I saw a guy in a wheelchair crowdsurfing. It was then that I knew I wasn't going to be able to do this thing justice in a 1,500 word re-cap—but hey, that's how I got my ticket, so here goes nothing.
When you're on a ship in the middle of an ocean, nothing is real so anything is possible. The girls twerk a little harder, the dudes dressed up as penguins are a little more aggressive with their lecherous humping, and more and more people are inducted into the secret society known as Shipfam. To learn more about it I approached the matriarch and patriarch of the clan, The Buntings:
THUMP: Tell me about the community surrounding Holy Ship.
Stephanie: It's family. Everybody loves everybody. It's all about positivity for the whole and not just the individual. It's a place for the misfits and the perfectly-fits—everybody.
After the first year, nobody knew what to expect. After we got home, we connected on Facebook and we couldn't stop talking about it. Second year, we were all so excited to see these people again. The third year, we gelled as a family. We had a Secret Santa, everybody keeps in touch. And we all brought our own goods!
I heard your unofficial pre-party was better than the official one
We heard that, too, but no comment.
With Flosstradamus following Boys Noize, it was tough to wrench myself away from the main stage. When word began to spread that Tiesto was the secret guest, the rush to the Pantheon theater was a clusterfuck. Instead I headed over to the Galaxy Disco to get my tech-y house on with acts like Kill Frenzy, Justin Martin and Breach following one another. That room rounded out the night with a very, very pregnant Gina Turner going B2B with husband Laidback Luke until 6AM. On the way back to my room I stumbled upon a topless woman dancing in a jacuzzi surrounded by men with neckbeards who all, of course, had their iPhones out. A man wearing white pants and a topiary of chest hair—who we now refer to as "neanderthal David Guetta"—threatened to disrobe and join her in the jacuzzi, and by the time he had gotten the first sock off she was out of the pool and on her way to the locker room. A gaggle of cruise staff stood around filming her as she made her exit.
I was one of the few to get any sleep on the first night, and over breakfast I found out that my neighbor had recieved an unsolicited happy ending from a cruiseship masseuse. Some people get all the luck. Even though I got a head-start and ferried over to Holy Ship's private island early in the day, the party was already in full swing. As a beach ball the size of a New York apartment levelled people left and right, Destructo, the HARDfather himself, introduced his hero Armand Van Helden for a daytime set in the sand. Wading around in the shallow water was like watching B-roll from an episode of Planet Earth—all bizarre mating rituals and animalistic carnage included. Somewhere in the depths of Disclosure's long-awaited set, I ran into these carnivores:
THUMP: Tell me about your outfits.
Shark 1: So we got a bunch of sharks from Seattle. There's probably, like, 30 of us. We're circling people in the ocean, attacking inflatable orcas. We definitely don't like dolphins or orcas. That swan over there is looking pretty tasty.
Do you feel like these outfits make you more or less likely to get laid?
Shark 1: More likely, definitely.
Shark 2: I have a girlfriend!
Shark 3: I have a girlfriend too, but I'm having fun. Bitches love sharks.
What's the craziest shit you've seen this weekend?
Shark 1: Everything.
Shark 2: Yeah.
Shark 3: This whole weekend.
Shark 2: Yeah.
As usual, the party was overrun by Australians. I've figured something out: the reason why Australia has the lowest population density of any country in the first world is because all of their citizens between the ages of 18 and 30 spend their youths stumbling around the world from one festival to another. They bring the rage like no other nation.
Upon return to the ship, Griz delivered one of my favorite sets of the weekend. Over the past decade, Colorado has established itself as an essential hub for electronic music, and even though Griz is from Detroit, he brings that funky Colorado sound in spades. He was followed by Flume and Emoh's new collaborative project, What So Not. These dudes have the slickest and shiniest sound in the game right now, and there's a reason they've rocketed to pop-star status down in Oz. I'm assuming that the Flume/Skrillex collaboration rumors are true because our Aussie homeboy was in a celebratory mood. He was so shitfaced all weekend that we couldn't even finagle our scheduled interview at the breakfast buffet, even after three attempts.
Later on, Dillon Francis went apeshit when one of Diplo's twerk girls (allegedly) spilled a drink on his computer as he was performing. And I quote, "Some fucking retarded girl just poured all her fuckin' vodka on my computer and broke it. So I really thank you, whoever the retarded ass stupid bitch is that did that…Yeah, my computer's broken and I hate myself." His entourage—a member of Flosstradamus included—had to keep him from destroying his own laptop afterwards. That shit is all over Youtube. Look it up.
One of the most beautiful aspects of raves is that so many people unite in one place for a common cause. On Holy Ship, the grand unifier was that we were all having the same weird poops after chowing down on cafeteria buffet pizza. TMI alert: that shit was like a foamy smoothie. My bumhole still hasn't recovered.
On morning three a look of desperation and panic began to settle on ravers' faces as they realized that, yes, there was only one night left. All weekend, a guy named Sgt. Buzzkill had been warning folks not to bring any illicit substances back to America. Partygoers seemed to take heed because people were handing out free drugs like they were business cards. On the fifth offer I finally acquiesced and dropped acid. Call it peer pressure, call it the tail end of #YOLO, but everybody from the revelers to the artists was tripping balls on the beach. I'm not dropping names, but looking at the dilated pupils and thousand-yard stares of some of the DJs backstage, I'm surprised they kept it together enough to get through their sets. The only sober people on the island were Filipino cruise employees clustered in small groups under palm trees looking on in disbelief as mostly-naked white girls twerked away their student loans in front of them.
I watched in a half-dazed state of incredulity as Pharrell's helicopter descended upon the island (three hours late, of course) and his entourage bustled their way to the stage so he could lip-sync his way through some hits. He seemed to be the only person on the ship unaware of the boatswag vibe and the shipfam was not appreciative of his attitude.
One of the most interesting aspects of Holy Ship is the disintegration of the divide between artist and fan, as perhaps best explained by this pastied 'lil minx:
THUMP: Tell me what just happened.
Pastied minx: So I'm just chilling at the bar and my boyfriend is getting me drinks and all of a sudden, this guy, I had no idea who it was, came up to me and asked me where I was from and said he was from Toronto and whatever. I gave him a business card that had our instagram names on it. He said, "Can I buy you a drink?" and I said, "Actually, my boyfriend is buying me a drink" and he said "Oh, well you can have this businesss card back, then." I said, "It's all good, we'll just be friends" and he said, "No thanks, I'm good." and left. Afterwards some girl came up to me and was like, "Holy shit, that guy is in Zeds Dead!"
Do you think he's an asshole now?
No, he's chill. If I was him, I'd do the same thing.
By the third night, life aboard the ship had taken its toll. Shlohmo kicked things off on the main stage with his brand of wonky, post-trap minimalism (did I just write that phrase?), but most people were too fried to get it. One of the Disclosure brothers tried to hype up the crowd with a typically British "It's the last night—are any of you up for it?!" and the response was tepid at best. Half the boat had lost their voices by this point and the other half were so drained that they could barely muster a "woo" or a raised arm.
Although the evening got off to a slow start, things had ramped up by midnight. Claude VonStroke was on such a good one that he nearly hijacked Tiesto's second surprise set by dancing his way up there like a go-go girl and causing a ruckus. After a number of attempts, Zeds Dead finally fulfilled their promise as genre-spanning heavy bass party starters. Their sound translated to the intimate setting of the Black and White Lounge a lot more than it has at festival main stages in the past.
Crookers closed out the lounge with some of the darkest 4x4 tunes i've ever heard. He dubbed it his "drug music" set. That shit was brutal. Griz spent the remaining twilight hours on board walking around with his saxophone and serenading people with George Michael's "Careless Whisper." I borrowed a magnum bottle of Grey Goose from behind one of the stages and stumbled around looking like a badass rudeboy until I eventually passed out in my cabin, only to be startled awake by a cranky Indonesian cruise staffer yelling in my face two hours later about how I had to get off the boat. I have never known a sense of shock like the moment she pulled me out of that vortex of exhaustion.
And then it was over. The girl in front of me in line threatened to vomit on homeland security on the way out. When it was my turn, the guy asked me if I was alright because my arm was twitching. That's Holy Ship for you: I walked in an erudite journalist and stumbled out a spastic miscreant. I used to think that EDC was the end-all-be-all of electronic parties, and in terms of budget, nothing will ever match it. But Holy Ship was one of the most absurd experiences of my life, and I have the nerve damage (and a boatload of shameful memories) to prove it. Get your ass on that waiting list.