It can be exhausting hopping from one festival to the next when they all seem to bank on being bigger, brighter, and better. There's only so many LED panels and jumping DJs one can see before they all start to run into each other. It's the festivals with a point of view that now win, the ones that have a story to tell. And, on April 1, the sunny, rocky shores of the Dominican Republic told the story of the sounds of the island at Isle of Light.
Held in Santo Domingo, Isle of Light is a showcase that not only pays homage to their history's biggest names (like headliner Rita Indiana), but upcoming artists defining the DR's modern musical footprint. Showing it's both possible to lean into your heritage while looking beyond borders, Isle of Light oozed Dominican culture through every layer of the fest. When we weren't rocking out in the crowd, we found groups playing with oversized dominoes (a game taken quite seriously in the DR), bunches of locally grown bananas hanging from trees for patrons to grab, and fresh quipes, a fried, small football-shaped Dominican staple made of bulgur and seasoned beef to snack on. And it was all on a compact, beautifully grassy strip surrounded by crashing azure waters.
In years past, festivals and events here were only friendly to artists in "traditional" Latin-focused genres, but tastes have evolved and changed. There's a new charge of musicians, and they dot the musical map from vaporwave to dance-rock, breaking all notions about what it means to be an artist from these shores. Though some festivals view locals-centric lineups as risky business, Isle of Light embraces it. In the process, they demonstrate that paying attention to what's going on in your backyard can pay off big time. Below, get to know five of our favorite performers from the festival, who kept us dancing and showed us how they redefine Dominican music.
Stereoptico crew member Bacayne brought an intricate DJ set to Isle of Light that strung together everything from hip-hop to minimal house to trap. Though he's an impressively diverse DJ, it's his original productions that really catch our ear. Gennaro De Santis has a tidy catalog under his belt, and his last EP, 2016’s impressive Azure Magic, is a journey into what he's truly capable of. Bacayne's touch includes a bit of everything: hip-hop nostalgia, but also lo-fi, trap and, ambient overtones. It's all tied neatly together; beats don't wander here, but instead, breathe within the constraints of impeccably tight rhythms. His sound lies within the warm zone of both feeling like faint remembrance and encountering something new. Of particular favorite is "Crying," a piece of longing that's grounded with trap-inspired percussion.