“EV­ERY­ONE is de­voted to the to­tal hi­lar­ity and stu­pid­ity of it all,” Fat­boy Slim tells me.


it’s ei­ther the 10-foot waves, the four shots of tequila, or the shift­ing tem­pos of “Heart­break in Mo­tion” by Aus­tralian DJ Anna Lu­noe—or maybe it’s all of the above—but I’m feel­ing a lit­tle dizzy as the MSC Div­ina steams to­ward the Ba­hamas on an over­cast evening in late Fe­bru­ary. Make that very dizzy.

Adding to the ef­fect is the pres­ence of a guy in a Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tle cos­tume bounc­ing up and down next to me. He’s hold­ing a sign fea­tur­ing a pic­ture of Michelle Tanner, the Full House munchkin played by the Olsen twins. The Ninja Tur­tle has printed a word bub­ble by her mouth: i want to party, she’s say­ing, fol­lowed by some­thing else she sup­pos­edly wants to do, of which Un­cle Jesse def­i­nitely would not ap­prove.

As Lu­noe builds on the beat, the surg­ing mass of rev­el­ers dis­gorges two young women onto the stage. They be­gin to un­dress. A mo­ment later, one drops to her knees, places her head in her friend’s crotch, and goes to town.

I glance at the man on my left, who seems not to have no­ticed the half-naked women hav­ing sex with each other a few feet away. He’s dressed as a gi­ant pe­nis. His cos­tume ap­pears home­made, and the mas­sive head has de­flated so much it blocks his vi­sion.

As for me, I’m a long way from home. My nine-to-five desk job is but a dis­tant mem­ory. So are my lease, my beloved girl­friend, and my csa mem­ber­ship. At a mo­ment in my life when I’m sup­posed to be tak­ing on the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a ma­ture adult, I have in­stead run head­long in the op­po­site di­rec­tion: book­ing a ticket for a 60-hour party that takes me straight to the fre­net­i­cally pound­ing heart of the edm move­ment.

This is the fifth it­er­a­tion of Holy Ship!, a sea-borne party that brings to­gether the big­gest acts in elec­tronic dance mu­sic—the fastest grow­ing genre in the United States—packs them into a cruise ship with 4,000 of their most ar­dent fans, and looses them upon the Gulf Stream. Af­ter set­ting sail from the Port of Mi­ami, the ship is be­set by a storm, mak­ing for a clumsy and some­what nau­se­at­ing first evening as the gi­ant ves­sel pitches from side to side. Not that the weather is damp­en­ing any­one’s spir­its. Here, any­thing is pos­si­ble. You can drink all the booze you want and stum­ble back to your cabin with­out a care (just steer clear of the bal­conies). You can get stoned and sate your munchies with an end­less buf­fet. And you never, ever have to stop lis­ten­ing to dance mu­sic. In fact, it’s piped in through the ship’s pa sys­tem, so you don’t re­ally have a choice. En­ergy start­ing to fade? There’s a so­lu­tion for that, too, not that we’d ad­vise it. molly lives here! reads the none-too-sub­tle ad­ver­tise­ment taped to more than one berth door.

Con­ceived in 2012 by hard Events founder Gary Richards (who dee­jays un­der the name Destructo), Holy Ship! has gone from a con­cert at sea to a full-on float­ing cul­tural phe­nom­e­non, de­scribed as “Burn­ing Man on a boat.” In­stead of the diy struc­tures, tribes, and psychedelics of its desert coun­ter­part, Holy Ship! has a big-ass ocean liner, a hard­core group of devo­tees—known as “Ship­fam” —and, de­spite an of­fi­cial ban on drugs, seem­ingly enough stim­u­lants smug­gled aboard by guests to keep the 1986 Mets play­ing through De­cem­ber.

“It’s be­come sort of like a re­li­gious cult,” Fat­boy Slim, a.k.a. Nor­man Cook, tells me. He was on the first-ever Holy Ship! and is one of the head­lin­ers this time around. (The lineup also in­cludes Skrillex, Baauer, DJ Snake, and Ty Dolla $ign.) “Ev­ery­one is de­voted to the to­tal hi­lar­ity and stu­pid­ity of it all.”

“Holy shi­ippp!” a girl named Kat, who has the room next to mine and is wear­ing only a bikini top and cut­off jeans, screams into the brisk night. She leans over the rail­ing and takes in the dark sea. “We’re fi­nally fuck­ing here!”

Only hours be­fore, Kat and I had been drink­ing in my cabin, watch­ing the sun set over the Mi­ami sky­line while she took hit af­ter hit from her vape pen, which was filled with hash oil. Hail­ing from Philadel­phia, the 23-year-old works at her par­ents’ fur­ni­ture-liq­ui­da­tion busi­ness. She told me she had been look­ing for­ward to the cruise all year. “This is where I live, man.”

At the mo­ment, how­ever, Kat is look­ing a lit­tle green, hav­ing started the evening with mul­ti­ple shots of tequila. She shares a men­thol cig­a­rette with me as her friend Sam talks about his life back home as a DJ known as Alien Fuel. “But here, I’m not a DJ. I’m just a fan, y’know?”

I ex­cuse my­self, step­ping into the cor­ri­dor. A man dressed in full Mid­dle Eastern for­mal­wear, in­clud­ing a kaf­fiyeh, all of which hap­pens to be dyed neon green, is bang­ing on a cabin door, hav­ing got­ten locked out of his room. I ask him what in­spired his cos­tume, see­ing as how most of the get-ups—like the dozen sharks, Power Rangers, and gi­ant pen­guin I’ve seen in just the past half hour alone— have a much sil­lier vibe. “I’m from Dubai, mate,” he tells me. “This is how I nor­mally dress.” I head for the La Luna lounge on the ship’s Apollo deck. The space boasts a grand pi­ano and fea­tures an un­ob­structed view of a glass el­e­va­tor. As I sit drink­ing whiskey, I watch an im­promptu show as one el­e­va­tor pas­sen­ger af­ter another flashes the crowd: a breast here, a dick there, an ass or two. One per­son has metic­u­lously shaved all of her body hair, gen­er­at­ing awe and then ap­plause from the as­sem­bled. Mean­while, in front of the bar, a girl in a bathing suit is writhing on her back, her curly dark hair fanned out be­hind her, con­sid­er­ing whether to ac­cept her friends’ sug­ges­tion that she “butt-chug” a shot of tequila (which, for the unini­ti­ated, is ex­actly what it sounds like). I duck out be­fore the mat­ter is re­solved.

Out­side of the Black & White club, one of the four venues on the ship, a man dressed as a ba­nana is hav­ing a hard time stand­ing up. “I got this,” he says to no one in par­tic­u­lar, lean­ing against a pil­lar. The main event of the evening is the Skrillex show, which takes place in a mas­sive the­ater more typ­i­cally de­voted to Broad­waystyle spec­tac­u­lars.

At 4 a.m., a sound re­sem­bling that of a jack­ham­mer mat­ing with a disco ball blasts from the speak­ers: This is Skrillex. The the­ater is packed. Ev­ery­one from all the other stages has con­verged on this sin­gle space. Now 27, he still has the look of an an­gry ado­les­cent—and a petu­lant at­ti­tude to match, con­stantly be­rat­ing us for not mak­ing enough noise. Be­fore long, though, he gives us what ev­ery­one has come for—his patented “drop,” where he cuts off the bass and then turns the mu­sic up re­ally loud. The con­cus­sive force of the drop re­moves any re­sis­tance the lis­tener might have to danc­ing. In fact, the body in­stinc­tively be­gins to move, per­haps as a de­fense against the au­dio bar­rage it’s sus­tain­ing. Skrillex jumps up and down on the stage, un­sat­is­fied with the ef­fect.

“Make some moth­er­fuckin’ noise!” Skrillex screams, and ev­ery­one does—even the ba­nana, who has made a mirac­u­lous re­cov­ery. He’s not hard to spot, gy­rat­ing on the dance floor, thrust­ing his hips at noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar. Af­ter one fi­nal plea that we make some noise, Skrillex brings the set to a close, and ev­ery­one heads to break­fast.

Not me, though. In­stead, I at­tempt to get some fleet­ing sleep as the boat makes its way across a rocky sea, the con­stant thump of bass worm­ing its way into my un­easy dreams.


A FEW HOURS LATER, I my­self make the jour­ney to the buf­fet. To­day’s theme is Mardi Gras, and by the time I’ve got­ten my French toast and eggs, I am cov­ered in beads. Most ev­ery­one seems to be or­der­ing Cham­pagne bot­tle ser­vice to go along with break­fast—ev­ery­one ex­cept for a sin­gle cou­ple. They look a lit­tle out of place. For one thing, they’re over 30. Well over 30. For another, they’re wear­ing non­ironic fanny packs.

I later learn they are Ne­braskan—con­test win­ners who ar­rived to take a free cruise and wound up in what must have seemed like the sev­enth cir­cle of hell. The other rev­el­ers take pity on them, how­ever, ap­proach­ing the cou­ple with friendly smiles and do­ing their best to make them feel wel­come.

“See, this is what Ship­fam is all about,” Emily Morin later tells me earnestly. “Once you’re on the boat, you’re all con­nected, no mat­ter what.” Morin is the un­of­fi­cial leader of Ship­fam, the cadre of Holy Ship! devo­tees who at­tend the cruise ev­ery year. “I had to bor­row money from my dad for that first cruise,” she con­fides. “I might have told him a few white lies about ex­actly what the money was for, though.” In or­der to make time for this year’s cruise, Morin quit her job as a phle­botomist.

She’s not the only med­i­cal pro­fes­sional on board. In a hot tub on the pool deck, a man in sun­glasses tells me that he brought along more than 30 IV bags to help his bud­dies stay hy­drated. “I’m an emt, so I can just get them back in work­ing con­di­tion, no prob­lem.”

It hasn’t done much good for the friend sit­ting be­side him, though, who sports a black eye.

“Yeah, man,” the friend ex­plains. “The sec­ond he put the nee­dle into my arm, I com­pletely passed out. I bashed my head right into the wall.”

He’s not alone. The num­ber of in­jured pas­sen­gers is climb­ing. I start to spot casts I hadn’t no­ticed be­fore, and arms dan­gling limply in slings. The un­stop­pable force of par­ty­ing has ev­i­dently met a few im­mov­able ob­jects. At one point, a girl loses con­scious­ness in the pool and slips un­der wa­ter. She’s quickly plucked onto the deck by Holy Ship! em­ploy­ees, placed in a wheel­chair, and taken to the in­fir­mary.

Even­tu­ally I make my way to the artists’ deck up­stairs, where the DJS have ac­cess to a vip buf­fet, a pool, and a hot tub. The area is calm, or­derly, and se­date. This is where the beau­ti­ful peo­ple are.

Sit­ting there sip­ping a fruit cock­tail, I gaze out onto the pool deck be­low, where the rab­ble stretch their bat­tered bod­ies in re­pose, their ill-con­sid­ered tat­toos glis­ten­ing in the sun. I won­der about the life de­ci­sions I’ve made. How hard would it be to earn mil­lions mak­ing mu­sic— or, to be tech­ni­cal, cu­ing up other peo­ple’s mu­sic and press­ing play? Of course, it would help to be six feet tall and Swedish, but you can’t win ’em all.

I re­luc­tantly leave the artists’ deck. It’s time for the “robe cer­e­mony,” where the true re­li­gious na­ture of the Holy Ship! ex­pe­ri­ence is man­i­fest. In a lounge stocked with beer and pizza, I find a col­lec­tion of

“I WOULD THINK this was all strange if the peo­ple sucked, but the peo­ple don’t suck.”

pas­sen­gers all wear­ing large blue bathrobes. This is the “OG Ship­fam,” a group of true diehards who have been on ev­ery sin­gle cruise, now wel­com­ing new ad­her­ents to their ranks (af­ter re­lax­ing the en­try re­quire­ments).

I pull aside a man with bushy hair and sun­glasses. He calls him­self Broshi. “I will never miss one,” he vows. I ask him how he pays for the an­nual trip, which sets him back a few grand each year. “I’m a process server,” he says, “like the dude from Pineap­ple Ex­press.”

Another OG Ship­fam mem­ber, Alli Meers, met her boyfriend on a pre­vi­ous cruise. “We con­nected from the start,” she says. “This is our first Holy Ship! as an of­fi­cial cou­ple, so we’re pretty ex­cited.” The OGS gather on­stage for a photo, their blue robes flut­ter­ing. Ev­ery Ship­fam mem­ber I speak with tes­ti­fies to how much they owe to the cruise, and just how amaz­ing Destructo is. Their eyes seem to light up when dis­cussing him. He’s shown up at fans’ birth­day par­ties on the main­land, signed ev­ery body part imag­in­able, and gen­er­ally gone out of his way to make ev­ery­one feel wel­come. As odd as it sounds, given the drunk Power Rangers walk­ing around, the spirit of the event is very heart­felt and gen­uine. “I would think this was all strange if the peo­ple sucked, but the peo­ple don’t suck,” Vanessa Gio­vac­chini, one half of the fe­male DJ group Posso, tells me in the ship’s cafe­te­ria. “So I’m down with the cult. Peo­ple are pos­i­tive here—they’re open, happy, and grate­ful.”

I catch up with Destructo him­self as he fin­ishes up his first set of the evening. Fans swarm him as he leaves the stage, show­er­ing him with gifts: shoes with his name em­broi­dered on the heels, a shirt, paint­ings. “Peo­ple ask my of­fice for my shoe size,” he says. “It’s crazy.” Now on the wrong side of 40, Destructo has been in the game long enough to see elec­tronic dance mu­sic go from a ridiculed niche to one of the most pop­u­lar gen­res in the world. Up in his room, the Sophia Loren suite, there are pic­tures of Loren ev­ery­where. In fact, the Div­ina is ded­i­cated to the Ital­ian ac­tress. Destructo co­zies up to one of the pho­tos and pre­tends to tickle Loren’s boun­ti­ful armpit hair.

In a few hours, he will as­cend to the stage again as dawn breaks over the At­lantic, do­ing a set he calls “the Sun­rise Ser­mon,” a tra­di­tion dat­ing back to his early years as a DJ in Los An­ge­les in the ’90s. Notic­ing that peo­ple danc­ing at week­end ware­house par­ties seemed ea­ger to keep the party go­ing af­ter the mu­sic stopped at four, he se­cured a space near some of the larger venues. “My two bud­dies and I dressed up like priests, and pretty soon we had a line around the block at six in the morn­ing.”

As another night of mu­sic and con­sump­tion gets un­der way, I no­tice that while the at­ten­dees look in­creas­ingly fraz­zled, the ship it­self has re­mained im­mac­u­late. A small army of work­ers is con­stantly tend­ing to it, clean­ing the soiled pools, mend­ing the ru­ined handrails, and dis­in­fect­ing the var­i­ous reek­ing pud­dles of un­known ori­gin with which guests have dec­o­rated the hall­ways. I ask a crew mem­ber if this is his least fa­vorite voy­age of the year. “Not re­ally,” he tells me. “I love the en­ergy. The main prob­lem is that no­body ever wants to get off the ship when it’s all over. We have to pretty much kick them off.”

The sky is light­en­ing as Destructo launches into the sec­ond hour of his marathon ser­mon set. I find my­self stand­ing with around 30 of the guest DJS, who have crowded the stage be­hind him. For them, it’s just another stop on a whirl­wind cir­cuit of never-end­ing par­ties. For me, it’s be­gin­ning to feel like some­thing more. Though not a big EDM fan, I’m start­ing to un­der­stand why no one ever wants to leave. It’s not that I re­ally want to quit my job. And I do miss my girl­friend. But I am be­gin­ning to see the beauty of the thing. A good EDM set feels like it should last for­ever. A per­pet­ual pound­ing, rac­ing along with one’s own heart­beat. A few days on the Holy Ship! feel like a glimpse of a brave new eter­nity—fright­en­ing but per­fect—in which our ro­bot over­lords keep the beat go­ing long af­ter our worn-out bod­ies have reached their lonely mor­tal ports.

Or maybe I’m over­think­ing it. “I’m not try­ing to have any kind of mes­sage or state­ment,” Destructo tells me. “I’m just try­ing to get peo­ple to es­cape the real world and be able to have a good time for those three days, or what­ever, and just for­get about all the bull­shit in the world.”


THE SUN RISES on yet another tur­bu­lent morn­ing at sea. In the din­ing hall, I spot the cou­ple from Ne­braska, de­ject­edly pick­ing at their ce­real and fruit. The day’s planned beach ex­cur­sion has been can­celed on ac­count of rough surf, and we’ll be con­fined to the ship.

Most of the voy­agers look ex­hausted, al­beit still in­cred­i­bly en­er­getic—per­haps due to a “use it or lose it” men­tal­ity among those who’ve brought along var­i­ous sub­stances that can’t legally be brought back through cus­toms.

As the Mi­ami sky­line comes into view, I find my­self long­ing for land. No doubt some of my fel­low ship­go­ers feel the same. In the half-light of a win­ter morn­ing, the world will re­turn to them with an alarm­ing clar­ity. Their heads will be throb­bing and filled with strange vi­sions. Their bod­ies will ache for a sur­face that isn’t shift­ing be­neath them. And their wal­lets will be lighter—in some cases, much lighter, de­pend­ing on the size of the bar tabs they’ll reckon with be­fore dis­em­bark­ing.

And so we find our­selves, like ship­wrecked sailors, step­ping onto terra firma, gasp­ing for air, our ben­ders com­plete, our hang­overs just be­gin­ning. I sit on the curb and take a last look at the other weary and dis­tressed par­ty­ers, in turn doz­ing off, dry heav­ing, or just star­ing at cell phones now blink­ing back to life. One by one, they stum­ble off, seem­ing rud­der­less. Even­tu­ally, I stand up and hail a cab. It’s time to go home. ■

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