In 2017, the Beats Per Minute (BPM) electronic music festival was banned from Playa del Carmen following a horrific shooting that left five dead and fifteen injured. The city’s response was to crack down on electronic music, arguing the scene posed a unique danger to the safety of the city and that electronic music was not part of Playa’s cultural identity. Those in the scene argued something else was underway, suggesting that the scene was being pushed out of the city to make room for higher end, luxury tourism development. The ousting of electronic music from the city raised important questions about the city’s cultural identity and the direction of tourism development the city would take. This essay takes a critical look at these events, tracing the way Playa’s particular electronic music scene grew to global notoriety as both a cause and consequence of the Maya Riviera’s impressive tourism expansion over the last two decades and how those in the scene believed themselves to be an essential part of the city’s heritage. The city government’s decision to oust BPM reveals how struggles over cultural heritage are at the very heart of how urban space is organized in tourism zones. Using the concept of “contestation”, this ethnographic account demonstrates how disputes over heritage and culture frame important questions of neoliberal, political-economy and can lead to counterintuitive outcomes.
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