At the most recent edition of Rakastella, the 17-hour electronic music festival that's annually taken over Historic Virginia Key Beach Park during Miami Art Week for the past three years, everything you needed to find was within steps. You walked 20 paces southwest of the concession stand and found Eclair Fifi playing an eclectic set of stylish house and techno. Another 50 paces southeast, after passing the silent disco hosted by the local internet radio station Klangbox.FM, you came upon Marie Davidson playing a set of hard-hitting techno.
Rakastella's 2019 layout was vaster than in previous years, but with this iteration's compactness also came better production values, a new layout, and an increased emphasis on preserving the island's delicate ecosystem. Signs throughout the grounds included slogans such as "Keep her wild" and "Leave only footprints," while custodial staffers were active throughout the night, and single-use plastics were banned (hope you like your water in aluminum cans).
All of that seems great on paper. Although the execution was occasionally shaky — sound bleed was pervasive throughout the night, and the site could be a bit difficult to navigate at times in the dark — Rakastella ultimately succeeded on the strength of its carefree vibe, excellent location, and even better performances from a spectacular lineup. Marie Davidson's aforementioned blistering techno at the Julia stage was followed by the smooth disco and classic house peddled by Jayda G. Across the way, at the Where Are My Keys stage, Miami-born DJ and label head Danny Daze sent shock waves through the pavilion with his dark, sleazy electro. And at the Marjory stage, Kink demonstrated the power of live hardware with a set that began with throwback acid tunes and ended with soulful piano house.
There's just one problem: The festival takes place the Saturday of Miami Art Week, which means Rakastella lands at the tail end of days of partying, drinking, networking, and all-consuming stress for Miamians. When you get to the fest, you really want to enjoy yourself, and you fully anticipate you will. But, as many people New Times spoke with Saturday learned the hard way, another night of dancing, drinking, and mingling is the last thing your body bargained for, and fatigue ultimately wins.
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Another issue is something the festival shares with Miami Art Week: Everything is so packed together at Rakastella that you don't know whether to stay, for instance, at Ben UFO's set or to follow your ears to catch John Talabot mixing just a short walk away. Likewise, during Art Week, you might ask yourself whether there's some cooler, more exclusive party you could be attending instead of the event you're at now. You wonder if you bet on the right thing, and you end up disappointed no matter what. The abundance of things to see and do during Art Week renders them all so-so because you wind up consumed with the weight of your choices, and the double threat of FOMO and exhaustion follow shortly thereafter.
Both of those issues lead one to think that if Rakastella were placed on its own weekend away from Art Week, or maybe even the Saturday before, it would shine as one of the best dance music events on Miami's yearly calendar. But right now, it's just a really good Art Week party.
However, there is something at the festival that helps relieve the stressors of surviving Miami Art Week: Take 30 steps to the southeast from the Julia stage, and you run right into the Atlantic Ocean. There are no condos in sight, just unspoiled beach. You see the cars passing on the causeway in the distance. You see Orion in the sky. You see a couple of dudes pissing in the water, but you decide to ignore them. As the bass pounds behind you, you think of what it would be like to stay until the sun rises over the horizon, and maybe, if you can fight your own Art Week-induced exhaustion, you do. If it takes a star-stacked gathering such as Rakastella to remind us of the simple, natural pleasures of life, we're fully behind it.