Searching Donceles Street in downtown Mexico City for any sign of an entrance, we scramble to a black garage door, and discover an even smaller one hidden within it—opening on its hinges. After searching the warehouse space and ascending a staircase, we finally arrive at Capricho Studio.
Its home captures the underground essence of this Mexico City rave. During the day, the building is used by Mexican workers to operate their family businesses, but its purpose is inverted from dusk until dawn, to become a playground for techno-lovers. As Calle de Donceles is one of Mexico City’s first recorded streets and one block away from the Aztec Templo Mayor, the head of the team, Donovan Manjarrez, tells me: “It’s where everything started from a cultural perspective. It makes our spot super special.”
The dance floor is long and narrow, and the best place to be is at the front, by the decks and a big fan. I noticed the security guards are friendly and non-threatening, even taking photos, so I assume they promote the event too. After their sets, the DJs join the dance floor, meeting ravers and chatting to them with familiarity.
Feeling like a visitor to this world doesn’t last long, as the crowd acts more like they’re at an intimate house-party than a big city night. Soon, you’re part of the family.
Mexico City born Donovan lived in Berlin for 11 years and DJ-ed under the name Bastard Love in clubs Sisyphos, Club Der Visionaere, Golden Gate, Watergate, KitKatClub and The House OF RED Doors at Renate. Donovan, his partner Natalia, sister Karina and other friends are behind the night. Speaking to him, the magic of Capricho Studio becomes as clear as day: they’re championing an ethos of inclusivity and it translates to the dance floor. The organisers take care that attendees respect each other, to create an atmosphere free of any kind of discrimination. Donovan has deliberately cultivated an environment where people can feel liberated, safe and free to dance.
“This is a safe place for freedom and to show the right values of Mexico as inclusive, open and respectful in a rave situation. We have such well-known, passionate artists. It’s just a corner of Mexico, but you can get involved,” he says.
“In Latin America, we have a different culture. I want to share how to create a good party without all the pretension, classism, sexism, I hate all that shit. It’s really people who love the music, with no other intention or pretension,” he explains. “In the studio, it really is a rule. Just come to have a good time. Don’t stress others. Mind their space, respect women, respect human beings, get crazy and well take care of each other. We need to have this to get a good dance floor and a good party.”
Donovan’s attitude has manifested into a collective feeling at the venue. There is something palpably special happening between its four walls. In one year, they’ve gained a reputation for throwing great techno parties, and their bookings are testament to this. International artists such as Margaret Dygas, Magda, Nicolas Lutz, Traumer, Didier Dlb and Petre Inspirescu, as well as local talent, such as elRojo, Viiv, Rodrigo Pintado, Gabo Barranco and Andy Martin, have graced Capricho’s decks. The synthesis of Mexican and international DJs is intentional on Donovan’s part, to create a roster with a shared love for the music.
“That is my idea, to mix not only Mexicans and not only international, but people with the honest passion and make it real,” Donovan explains. “I want to create these combinations of people who rule the scene around the world We are opening the doors to the biggest from Berlin, Ukraine, Italy and amazing local artists.”
Despite Donovan’s affinity with the Berlin rave scene, he’s always spent half the year living in his hometown, tied to this magical city. But after his last international gig at the KitKatClub in January 2020, he moved home for lockdown. Capricho is a four-year-long project, taking abandoned spaces and organising raves, but the studio was born post-pandemic, out of the desire to eradicate its damaging implications on mental health. It explained the living-room atmosphere of the night, as the party originated in Donovan’s actual home.
“After eight months of lockdown, we started to make intimate nights. We just wanted to play some records and give people some work, you know, security guys, people who really live for the night. We decided to get back to work, even if it’s small,” he explains. “I started to make parties at my house, then we moved to this spot with some partners. It’s one year established, throwing wicked parties.”
Minimal techno DJ and producer Magda performed and attended Capricho after meeting Donovan through a mutual friend. The sense of inclusivity and community was felt by her too, and she drew parallels between the Capricho scene and her own musical up-bringing in Detroit, where techno began.
“I heard Capricho was a great underground party, but I didn’t realise what a family vibe it has. I like the fact there is no sign and it’s hard to find. You have to knock on this little door to come in, which reminds me of the old school parties in Detroit back in the day,” she says.
“Musically speaking, the bookings are super solid. It’s exciting every week. The people who go there, go there for the music. It’s its own little community,” she continues. “It feels very welcoming and non-judgemental. Again, it reminds me of the culture I grew up in, very inclusive and supportive.”
There is a strong cohort who return every time, but the organisers are always encouraging newcomers to experience what Donovan calls their “rabbit hole.”
Allan Verdigue, 23, is from Mexico City and a consistent and passionate attendee. You can’t miss him on the dance floor—his love for the music translating to explosive, happy moves and a joyful smile.
He stumbled across Capricho Studio by chance. He was at another party in the upstairs space—a gay and queer night—but after hearing great music, he followed the beat downstairs.
“So, I just sneaked to Capricho, literally. I didn’t pay and entered the party,” Allan laughs. “Nicolas Lutz was playing. He’s an amazing DJ. It blew my mind, watching all the people dancing, feeling free and the music was awesome.
“I asked people ‘what is the name of this party?’ Suddenly, I met ViiV. She is one of the crew DJs. We had a good connection and she introduced me to the other organisers, Donovan (BastardLove) and Santiago (elRojo). They liked me because I’m just always dancing like a freak. We started talking and became friends,” he continues.
Since that night, Allan has not missed one single event, attending 23 raves so far. Speaking to him, he captures the close-quarters nature of the affair.
“If you know the artist, you’re going to have them in front of you and you can talk to them. If you don’t know them, you’re going to know them. You’re going to experience new music and I am sure you are going to love it!” he smiles. “In the club, you can feel free. You can forget about having a bad day, having problems or just being a little too shy, because you don’t know what the fuck is going on. You can forget about everything, because people in there want you to feel really comfortable. It is your home.”
“From my own experience, I believe Capricho is the best party in all of Mexico City. I have never experienced a party like that in my whole life. It’s the only club that actually brings good music, to my taste,” he continues.
Allan is now being taught to DJ by one of the Capricho regular’s Robert (Waxey Gordon) after striking up a friendship at an after party.
“The first time I met Robert was at a Capricho afters. Me and my friend, we gave them a speaker because theirs was bad quality. My friend lives nearby, so we said, ‘hey man do you want me to bring a speaker, it’s great quality and the sound will be better?’ After that, we became good friends,” Allan says.
Allan hopes to perform his first set soon. “I’m really excited about learning, so I can bring my energy and intention to the desk,” he grins.
As for the shared sense of wanting to be at the studio, Jesús Gálvez, 35, is also from Mexico City and another ardent Capricho raver. When I asked him if he was heading to Donceles for the third time in two weeks, he replied, “I just love the community down there” and described it as the “perfect playground” to test out shyness.
Attendees, including myself, are left with the feeling that something special is brewing in this little community. The elusive magic of Capricho ought to be seen and felt. To reiterate Donovan’s point, it’s just a corner of Mexico, but you get involved.
Elena Angelides is a freelance journalist travelling in Mexico. Her work has been published by British GLAMOUR and The Guardian. You can follow her on Instagram @elzagram__ and Twitter @ElenaAthena.