Mixing it up at Masada

DJ Damian Lazarus embraces the New Year with his alfresco festival at Masada

Damien (photo credit: DAY ZERO)
(photo credit: DAY ZERO)
There has always been this undeniable magic to Masada. Perhaps it’s the stoic history buried in each and every ruin. Or perhaps it’s that mesmerizing aura it gives off just as the sun recedes behind the sand dunes of the Negev. Or perhaps it’s the fortress’s proximity to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth.
For popular English DJ Damian Lazarus, it’s all of these things. Famous for staging alfresco electronic concerts, Lazarus saw Masada’s untouched beauty as the perfect venue for Day Zero – an international outdoor sustainability festival that merges modern and ancient cultures. The Day Zero festival, produced by Tripping Live Nation Israel, takes place September 27-28 at Masada just before Rosh Hashanah. The Jerusalem Post asked Lazarus about his motives behind his newest installment.
You started your career as a music journalist. How did that help you gain insight into the music industry?
I started on the road to being a DJ when I was very young. I was 12 when I got hit by the bug of chasing records, following music and recording regular shows. At 14, I persuaded my parents to help me buy turntables and a mixer. I was going to clubs by 16, following DJs around and trying to learn how to mix.
At 19, my girlfriend and I decided to have a baby, which meant I had to find myself a proper job, so I put my headphones down to try and figure out what I was going to do. I left college and realized that I was pretty good at writing. I managed to get a job at a news agency. They took me on as a trainee and I excelled pretty quickly as a journalist. Within a couple of years, I was working at national newspapers.
After a little while, I figured the easiest way back to music was to try and become a music journalist. I became the assistant editor at Dazed And Confused. Obviously, while I was doing that, I was rubbing shoulders with a lot of people in the music industry: press departments of the major labels representing various artists that I was interested in writing about. So, I became immersed in the music industry. I landed a job at FFRR with London Records and that was my first proper job in the industry.
What prompted you to take your sounds outside the studio?
After playing all over the world in clubs and festivals, I established that my sounds and the music that I play really suited the outdoors, specifically places of real natural beauty, like deserts, mountains, forests, jungles and beaches – with a focus around sunrise and sunset. This helped me galvanize a new direction for both my DJ sets, but also for my parties and events. It meant that I could have a bit more of a focus on what I wanted to do, bring people together in a beautiful way in incredible places at special times of day and night.
Knowing that the ultimate thing for me was to play a beautiful sunrise set in a vast desert expanse or in the depths of the Mayan jungles or in an igloo on the top of a mountain in Austria allowed me to focus on creating the perfect party.
Masada fits nicely into this vast desert landscape then. Is that what drew you to Israel for your upcoming Day Zero party?
Day Zero was a party that I created in the Mayan jungle as a way of celebrating the 21st of December 2012, which was supposed to be the apocalypse. This was a new beginning, a new start for people. The world of music needed it. And the world around me needed a bit of a jumpstart. It was an opportunity to come together as a collective gathering of people who needed to find something special to celebrate life over.
This event has become one of the most loved parties in the world. It’s something very, very special and unique. For the past few years, I’ve been thinking, “Well, I’d really like to take this Day Zero identity to other places.” In Tulum, [Mexico,] we connected the cultures and traditions of the Mayan people with their ancient civilization. So, for Day Zero anywhere else in the world, I figured that it would have to be the same. I started thinking about ancient Greece or ancient Egypt and when I stumbled upon Masada, which was a place that I’d been to many, many years ago, I started to think about it as a prime location.
After that, things started to gently fall into place. I realized that the possibility of connecting Day Zero with all of the thousands of Bedouin tribes and wandering nomads that have been crossing the Dead Sea area for thousands of years could be a really interesting place to start, as a celebration of those people. We set about talking to a local Bedouin community there, and we’ve been talking a lot with the experts on the issues going on with the Dead Sea. We’re concentrating our energies around this party on those grounds.
In what ways is this an ‘international sustainability festival’?
In this case, we want to raise awareness about issues surrounding the Dead Sea, pollution and shore levels specifically. I think it’s very important for us to raise awareness about the fact that Israel has one of the poorest records on recycling. Apparently only 10% of all waste is recycled in Israel. We don’t want to preach, but we think it’s important that the younger generation takes some kind of example from us. We want to make sure that we leave absolutely no trace. Obviously, that’s something that we’ve all picked up from Burning Man. We’ve taken it into our everyday lives. I think it’s very important.
We’re going to be reducing the carbon emissions to zero by offsetting all flights of our team and the artists coming in and out of Israel for the show. Also, we’re reducing the carbon emissions of the buses traveling to the festival. There will also be a massive clean-up operation and a lot of information available at the party. It’s a fine line between preaching and actually doing something positive. I think we have a good balance. I think it’s now starting to become the norm at festivals and events around the world. Of course, we need a lot more of it over the course of the next few years, but just the fact that Glastonbury went plastic-free this year was a major turning point, showing that if a festival that hosts over 100 000 people a day can make it without plastic, then anybody can.
Any significance to scheduling the festival right before
the Jewish New Year?
To be perfectly honest, the venue came first, but once we started to look at possible dates for the event and came across Rosh Hashanah, we had a ‘Eureka!’ moment. Of course, it’s a really good opportunity to come together in this place of historical significance and share something very special at a moment of change, at the beginning of a new year.
I think it’s important to note that while this event is taking place in Israel, we open the invitation to all people. There are many different artists and performers and people involved in this event from all walks of life, religions and cultures. Locally, we’ve got artists like Magit Cacoon performing, as well as Bedouin musicians, but we also have artists from eight different countries.