On February 21, 2024

Tales: Riviera Maya: Finding Kolsch, EDM in the Tulum jungle

A bucket list victory

Kölsch is a Danish electronic dance musician and DJ from Copenhagen.

Editor’s note: Bruce Bouchard, former executive director of The Paramount Theatre, and his partner Maureen McKenna Padula have traveled from Rutland to the Riviera Maya for the past three years.  This series covers adventures, food, and testimonials from Vermont to the tropics. 

One month before I met Maureen McKenna Padula, the miracle woman with whom I spend my life, I was driving to work…and this electronic music popped onto my car radio. I pulled over to the side of the road to listen.

“What the hell is this mesmerizing music?” I asked myself.

It was Kolsch, a Belgian EDM deejay.

Later that day after work, I put a large swath of Kolsch on the JDL, danced away in my apartment and arrived at two conclusions: I will fall in love to this music and it’ll be in this Pittsford Vermont Carriage House. The rest is history. 

Maureen and I fell in love in early 2019 and we have listened to hundreds of hours of Kolsch body of work (check out Kolsch on You Tube “Tomorrowland, 2023” from Belgium and the subsequent concert for reference). He has become our muse, our touchstone. We often wondered where we could see him live: Amsterdam? The Top of the Eiffel Tower? Rio de Janeiro? Belgium? We were committed to pursuing this dream.  

Two nights before our annual departure to our haven in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, Maureen randomly googled Kolsch itinerary…She slowly turned her screen to me with wide eyes and a smile: “He will be performing in Tulum when we are in Mexico, 65 miles away!!” 

There were two options, the annual Tulum Rave — called ZAMNA (20,000-30,000 crazed young people expected to be in attendance) featuring Kolsch on Jan. 20 or to see him deejay at a club called Bonbonnaire, in the Hotel Zone of Tulum, two nights earlier.

Bruce Bouchard (back center) and Maureen McKenna (front center) partied into the early morning with Kolsch and fans.

After expert advice from Maureen’s Millennial son (steeped in Rave and festival experience) we quickly chose the more sane club option (three weeks hence) and acquired tickets to the venue (other Bonbonnaire locations are Majorca, London and The Philippines), tucked back into the jungle off the Hotel Zone road.

If price was any indication; table service was listed at $500 U.S., cocktails hovering at $20, we took general admission at $50 each. It was a good bet that they knew what they were doing.

We had some concerns and reservations about Tulum. We had read considerable negative press and reviews to the tune of: Billionaires and children of billionaires (“influencers”) proliferate, and their demands and grievances, show up all over the place. Additionally, the weird disparity between the sad, worn town called Tulum and its wealthy “second city” — the Hotel Zona (7 kilometers from the “town”) — seemed something of a turnoff and we had simply decided not to explore… until Kolsch.  

After an expensive cab ride from the town to the Hotel Zone, it took a bit of hunt-and-peck to find the place. The hotel zone looked pretty cool, not at all what we imagined (Vegas-y high rises along a beach, similar to Cancun). The Zone road, has kept much of the jungle and the structures seem to grow right up out of the flora and fauna. 

Finally we found a tiny red light “sign” announcing Bonbonnaire, illuminated above a nondescript door. After walking down a winding jungle path, we were welcomed by sleek, well-dressed greeters and handsome staff who escorted us into the venue.

I took the opportunity to tell both the key front person at the door and the hosts and hostesses who were to be taking care of us, how very much this evening meant to us, that we had fallen in love to Kolsch’s music and that being here tonight was the culmination of a five-year bucket list priority. They seems a bit shocked by our age… and they went out of their way to tell us that Kolsch would not be on until 1:30 a.m… and would play until after 4 a.m.

To say we were excited to be there was a massive understatement. The older, cute little couple in love were the first through the door. As was proved later, we were the oldest couple in the audience — by a lot.

The venue itself is gorgeous, smaller than we thought (I estimated 250 standing to be its capacity) and beautifully turned out, bathed in deep red, immaculate design features, something of a marriage of Deco and Bauhaus. Additionally, the room was perfectly lit.

We were ushered to a key table and when we informed them that we had not ordered table service ($500, before drinks) we were told that it was not a problem and we could make ourselves comfortable… they were happy to seat us there as their guests. The hosts, Habib and Gondilla, were interested in our story and wanted to know more — this important detail was to play out later. 

The deejay stage was set, the amps were blaring. The exquisite lighting was doing its thing. Accelerants in place and underway, and we were ready to go!! 

The opening deejays were terrific, the sound system showing great power. We did some dancing and tightly held one another, eyes locked at the thrill of realizing our dream.

A group of young women took a table to our left, decked out and ready to party. One of them, bejeweled in a form-fitting dress, approached and threw her arms around us and said, “You guys are fantastic! I want to become you. How great that you are here!!”

These acknowledgements continued throughout the night — something akin to the joy of young parents awestruck by very young children delighted at play: “Ah look, they’re so cute!!” Except in reverse. We were delighted and flattered.

1:30 a.m. Kolsch takes the stage

There he was, Kolsch, silhouetted back behind the controls…his signature black hat framing the man behind the deejay. We were a good distance back on the dance floor, at least 100 feet deep into the room. I was not going to wait this long and want this so much to experience it from the back of the venue. Taking Maureen by hand, we wormed our way to near the front of the stage. We were about 5 feet back. There was an empty couch between the stage and the audience with about 4 feet of space between the front of the couch and the five-foot high stage. 

Our initial hostess, Gondolina, swooped in and took the two of us to the front of the couch! We were the only people directly in front of our music shaman!! He was 6 feet away on a 30-degree angle and we began to make regular eye contact! I pumped my fist, showed five fingers and mouthed “five years!!” He beamed right back at us.

Maureen McKenna (left), Bruce Bouchard (center) and Kolsch (right) smile together back stage in Tulum.

More connections

We were in heavy delirium as we danced and danced some more. Later when we turned around to face the crowd, to our shock and amazement, there were about 50 young people focused totally on us, loving us up, fist bumping, taking our hands and dancing with us from the back to the front of the couch. A particular striking young man named Derrick in flat top afro and a distinctive beard kept making contact and shouting love and encouragement. All that energy flowed between us, the rest of the audience, to Kolsch and from Kolsch back to all of us —  around again and again!!  

To say that all of this was divinely surreal would severely undercut divine surreality. 

Derrick approached us shortly thereafter and asked, “Do you want to go backstage?” 

“Say what?”

As we made our way back, the hostesses kept coming up and hugging and kissing us, one was in tears. They remembered our story and they were so very kind. 

Backstage with Kolsch

We were behind the control panels and after a bit of time, Kolsch let the tech guys run the show for a few moments and made a beeline directly for us! We got a couple of pics, and he was beyond attentive.

“Thank you guys so much for your energy,” he said. 

I got to shout my story into his ear. 

“I LOVE IT!” he shouted back, grinning from one side of his face to the other.

He played an additional hour from that point and we just sucked up every drop of the experience. 

Later, Derrick invited us to a small after-party at his modern home deep in the Tulum jungle. His rooftop was above the trees. A few of the young people who had been dancing at the club showed up: a Spanish entrepreneur named Carlos; Alex, a single Polish mother on a brief respite from Eastern Europe; Micaela, a clothing designer and wannabe deejay (as is Derrick) and an enthusiastic young German who works placing refugees out of Denmark.

The party mellowed down; on his rooftop we were thrilled to see yet another Caribbean sunrise, high above the jungle, clouds flying, color wheel spinning… the sun beginning its ascent.

Later, Derrick arranged a cab to take us to the bus station in Tulum “City” for our ride back to our home to Playa.

Exhaustion, joy, rapture — bucket list one page lighter.

It was one of the all-time most unforgettable nights of our lives!

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