When Music Leads The Way
The first time I walked into a HABITAS experience I felt like a child, seeing everything with fresh eyes. It was one of those moments when you know you are about to do something for the first time ever, and it’s a feeling we often don’t get enough of in our busy lives.
One remarkable aspect of that weekend, to me, was the music I heard. The sounds felt smooth and perfectly curated to take you on a journey. While there were other aspects of the experience that still remain close to my heart, such as the connections and people I met, I can say that the music we heard contributed to the synergy we all felt while moving around the grounds.
Eduardo Castillo is the musical storyteller and mastermind behind the journey we experience on the dance floor at HABITAS. What started as a pure love for experimenting with sounds evolved into something that touches people’s lives all over the world. I sat down with Eduardo at the breezy paradise HABITAS Tulum one afternoon to learn more about the musical core of every HABITAS experience.
Eduardo was sitting with a group of environmental activists that were testing the water quality at HABITAS to implement a more sustainable filtration system. Eduardo is sort of a multi talented multi-tasker, his passion for always evolving and changing the game is obvious. While we waited for the quality of our water to be tested, I discovered the depth of what really moves him – music, and with that, the magic that happens when music leads the way.
Music is very central to everything Habitas. I remember my first HABITAS experience, really enjoying the quality and curation of everything I heard. What’s your and Kfir’s relationship to music?
Kfir and I are lovers of all music and for us it’s an unspoken truth that music is our greatest tool in connecting people. He had some time playing in bands, of which he has trouble admitting. I try to bring those years back out of him whenever I can. I studied composition and vocal performance in university and set for to a career in opera after school, moving to nyc.
How did you transition from opera to where you are now, including hospitality and the programming of such beautiful experiences?
In order to pay my way through school, I accidentally built a beautiful career in hospitality. My first ever hospitality job was as an opera singer for an Italian food franchise. I had zero experience serving tables. My foot in the door was my voice. Very quickly I went from server to manager to bartender to beverage director of some of the most amazing hotels in NYC. My years in NYC were a great schooling not only in hospitality but also truly understanding the importance of detail driven event production and the power of curation.
I immersed myself in 8 years of NYC music worlds and took notes along the way. Despite having composed music for off broadway shows and having a hand in booking talent for hotels, I felt a distance from my own personal musical growth. The service industry in New York can be brutal and leave very little time for one own’s personal growth. By 1998 I had also fallen in love with vinyl and djing and eventually realized I had reached a crucial moment, whether to continue a life in hospitality or focus on my passion, music.
Where did you go?
I moved to LA to teach myself how to produce. I set up a studio and put all that together. I spent a year recording music and self-released an singer songwriter type album. Then during that process I was recruited to write music for NBC Universal for a new television show that they were launching.
During your time in LA your music career really flourished but you still had strong ties to hospitality right? Tell us how you managed to combine both.
Throughout this whole entire process of music, I did miss the hospitality industry. I missed the service flow side of what I used to do. I also missed the curation of events. The curation, the delegating and putting something together to showcase music. At which point I started producing events in LA. I had a successful pool party series, an incredible warehouse series, opened my own bar and launched the most influential and groundbreaking Park Series ever to happen in LA. I brought it all full circle in Los Angeles. Moving to LA turned out to be an important moment in my life.
How were your parties different from everything else that was going on at the time?
My idea always with music is to showcase music that hasn’t been heard. I don’t believe in headliners. I mean I respect it, obviously it’s an industry and it’s the world that we live in, but to me, it’s much more exciting to nurture a talent or to expose somebody to something that they haven’t heard before, on both the artist side and the patrons’ side.
I love the look in people’s eyes when they hear something that they haven’t heard before and simultaneously watching an artist create in a way they wouldn’t normally because they feel safe and appreciated.
I think this is crucial to why HABITAS is so special, and why musically, it is one of the most unique concepts today. But design also elevates the experience to new heights. How did you find the design and aesthetic side of HABITAS, the wonderful Kfir?
As my events grew and there was more recognition of what I was doing in LA, people kept telling me… “You need to talk to Kfir. You know, he does these really cool things in terms of structures and he was building these beautiful tents and spaces”. On his side people were saying, “you need to meet Eduardo. He can compliment what you do… you guys have to just meet. This has to happen.” When we met, within 30 minutes we were business partners and brothers. Our values aligned instantly and there was an instant respect for each other’s opinions. Trust was automatic and when this happens you just let each other create freely.
HABITAS started as a small gathering of friends getting together to share music, conversation, and create the space they dreamed of being in. How did it become what it is today?
I had been producing events at that point for maybe eight years before HABITAS, so I had a built a wonderful following of genuine trust. Kfir and I knew we had to experiment and create an unforgettable experience as best we each knew how and unlike anything we had experienced ourselves, outside of Burning Man. It turned out that the 24 musical experiences we created had a very serious effect on all who came and even more on those who didn’t. HABITAS became viral within our community and the human connecting portal came wide open. The essence of what we began remained the same. We set out to connect amazing humans by asking for their trust, open hearts and minds. We would take of everything else.
The idea of an experience-based gathering that revolved around music but wasn’t limited to it was very new at the time as well. I remember going to HABITAS 3 years ago without having any idea of what to expect and was mind-blown.
At one point we were considered a mini festival because we would bring in five, six artists for an entire weekend to play music, to showcase their work in an incredible and inspiring setting. Then there were other elements that came into play. The food element was important but it wasn’t necessarily the focus. The wellness element was important but it wasn’t necessarily the focus either … but it was important to really create an a well rounded experience. Because of the curation around these other elements, we immediately can transport people to a place musically. So that evolved, obviously. The first event was just a 24 hour event. That turned into weekend-long events. Then into a week-long New Years. In the end, however, the people that joined us allowed for risks to be taken and they never felt like risks.
And still, music remained front and center to everything HABITAS. Why do you think that is?
Because it’s no secret that music is the most powerful human connector. In the right safe setting, with the right tools and with an open mind, the melding of souls that take place in a musical environment is like no other. People let their guards down. You communicate through movement and the music becomes the language. There are no expectations, no judgements, just musical and self exploration. People allow themselves to be vulnerable.
At the same time HABITAS evolved, you also evolved musically. Mardeleva is wonderful, and is a project you started simultaneously while running HABITAS. How did that come about?
Just like I enjoy sharing new talent I feel the same way about my own music. How do I take a guitar and not have it sound like a guitar but have it sound like a distorted violin? How do you push the instrument to the next level? How do you extract all its textures and sensibilities? Anybody who I work with and anybody who I want to collaborate with has this approach to music. How do we push the limits of our instruments, our expressiveness, our musical connections? These are some of the most important elements of a project like Mardeleva. This project is a representation of life. We are sincere, we love one another, we enjoy listening, we enjoy providing space to experiment our collective musical journeys, we look out for each other. Our performances are a glimpse into a utopian existence.
It’s about creating a different energy, and does every artists that come to HABITAS get that?
Yes! I always remind them. Once they have accepted my invitation, I write, “We wanna take a moment to tell you we are excited to have you with us in paradise. The stage is set and we will have an open-hearted and open-minded audience for you. We ask with respect, that you think of HABITAS as a place to inspire. HABITAS is a place worthy of a musical journey. In preparation, please consider preparing a set that doesn’t just fill time but actually tells a story. We have chosen you to share your talents because we trust that you think outside the box and you’ll leave our mark on our home. The setting is spectacular, providing the right soundtrack will elevate the music experience that much more. Thank you so much. See you in paradise”.
I like to incentivize artists to bring their own voice. If you’re coming from Paris, bring that to your set. If you’re coming from Berlin, bring that energy. Don’t perform for what you expect will be well received. HABITAS is a very different environment. I’m grateful the environment we build allows me to push artists to do something different and think outside the box. So in that sense, we will always evolve. Music can’t just fill time.