Jun 1, 2021
6 min read
Whether Matt Caines is laying down one of his deep, sexy, and sophisticated DJ sets or building an immersive world of lights, sound, and art he’s always a storyteller first. Even his musical taste as a teenager was focused on it, “Something that kind of brought you out of body and took you somewhere.” The co-founder of experiential event brand Art With Me says, “I like storytelling, I think it is really important for musicians and DJs and artists.”
He started his journey when he attended the first Electric Zoo festival. Stunned by the sense of community and fully immersive atmosphere he followed the path of the young raver. He fell through the rabbit hole and began to explore the New York club scene.
He became a fan of Richie Hawtin after going to a few of his shows. A failed attempt at seeing his favorite DJ brought him down a path that would eventually turn into a career.
“I remember going to a couple Richie Hawtin shows and I was like, Okay, this stuff is awesome. And I remember wanting to see him one day at a club in New York. And they were very strict on the door policy and didn't really want a 23-year-old kid there. Not enough money to get into that one. But I walked into an event off the street, which really brought me to where I am today. And that event was Cityfox, it was the first Cityfox pop up in SoHo."
Cityfox’s fully immersive event experience was a revelation to Caines. “Between the lighting and the sound, it had something special about it. "Ironically, by going to that party, I ended up helping launch the Cityfox experience in New York”
That night was transcendent. And he set an intention to involve himself in dance music. Call it a coincidence, call it the law of attraction in action. But his subsequent move into a DJ house would bring things full circle.
He moved in with Rishi Patel. The co-founder of Plus8 Equity (owned by Richie Hawtin and John Aquaviva), Rishi was heavily plugged into the NY underground dance scene. Their home was the spot for the afters.
Late one night after a Cityfox event, Caines walked into his kitchen to find his roommate chatting with Cityfox’s promotional partner, Gunita Nagpaul, from Listed Bookings.
“Rishi turns around and was like, ‘Matt, you need to talk to this woman’ and Nita spoke to me for about four hours.” She let him know that he had barely scratched the surface on dance music. And that his most life-changing moments were yet to come. “[She said] ‘You want dance music, I'm gonna’ give you dance music. You're gonna’ work our next event. I didn't know what I was getting into.”
Living in that home taught him an important lesson about community, he says. “We've got to be flexible in life. And we gotta be open to being vulnerable and relying on people or asking for help. Everyone inside this community really does like to help each other. They want to see everyone do well. I think as a scene we want to see everyone be successful. And there's plenty to go around.”
He quickly learned the back end of event production, and his fledgling DJ career blossomed. Caines played a pivotal role in the development of the Cityfox brand. And he went on to help build Brooklyn Mirage.
After a stint in Utah working for Summit Series – an organization that holds conferences for young entrepreneurs, artists, and activists – he moved to Tulum. He knew it was a risk, but he wanted to create something of his own.
Art With Me is the culmination of his work in the industry. A unified vision that gathers music, art, wellness, food, family, and ecology into a dynamic festival experience. It was co-founded by Caines, David Graziano a longtime burner and Tulum hotel owner, and Jorge Mondragon owner of one of the largest talent agencies in Mexico, Celebrity Management.
“David Graziano, a longtime burner really wants to create an event that was like a Burning Man on the beach [and] celebrates the creative arts. So, we want to take all creativity and use it as inspiration to make positive change and impact in the world.”
An ideal day includes yoga, a workshop, hanging with your kids, checking out big art on the beach, delicious delectables, and a night capped off with dancing.
Caines spent years in nightlife and he understands that his audience has matured. Art With Me is about balance. It can’t always be about warehouse raves and all-nighters.
His demographic is reflective of his friend group. It's come to include parents, unattached adults, and younger festival addicts in search of experiences with purpose. Art With Me aims for balance through cultural experiences he says, “We want to highlight the most artistic things per industry, per pillar as we call it. And bring it all together to share with the world.”
The cultural hurdles aren’t lost on him though. Bringing a largely international audience to a country that struggles with poverty comes with responsibilities. The organization takes them seriously.
Art With Me carves out 20-30% of the budget to give back to the local community. They also insist that locals never feel priced out. Caines says they offer free programming to the local community. “We've invested a lot of money to offer programming for free for people that can't afford the ticket. So, by charging a ticket to international people who come to the event, it actually subsidizes programming for the local community.”
He also points to a waste management awareness program the festival ran in 2019. In exchange for 15 pieces of plastic, attendees could see the iconic Mexican grupero band, Bronco. 7000 people took part.
Caines' goal is to gently guide conversations. “[People] always like to say what's right and what's wrong. And I don't really know, technically, especially from a creative standpoint, that what I'm going to say is really right or wrong. And it's not like there's a better way. There's different ways to look at things. And I think when you can turn around and you can inspire people to change their perspective, it’s a real unique and amazing thing. And that can come from someone being inspired with a sense of awe and seeing something that's never been done before. And to shift their perspective is really powerful.”