Talk about déjà vu: Save for substituting the names of some performers, this year’s Ultra Music Festival was uncannily similar to its 2009 incarnation.
Well, if you want to get technical, some of this year’s artists actually were on the bill last time, including Carl Cox, David Guetta, Infected Mushroom, Swedish House Mafia, Rabbit in the Moon, Josh Wink, Tiesto, Luciano, Pendulum, Armin van Buuren, Kaskade, Deadmau5, and the Bloody Beetroots. Granted, some played DJ sets instead of live sets one year or the other, but same dudes nonetheless. (Will.I.Am also performed this year and last year as part of Black-Eyed Peas.)
Held March 26 and 27 at its home for the past five years, Downtown Miami’s Bicentennial Park, Ultra is the largest -- both in terms of number of attendees and number of performers -- event held during Winter Music Conference. And as I noted in 2009, the layout could use some work (despite my suggestions, it seemed unchanged or at least very similar to the previous year). Getting from stage to stage in the evenings became a question of “How bad do I value my limbs/belongings/friends/life?” vs. “How bad do I need to see this act?” (If you notice certain big draws left out of my review, it’s because I lack a death wish.) With the number of stages (11) and attendees, I’m not sure how this particular problem could be solved, but it’s definitely a problem.
As you’d expect, early spring in Miami is not too shabby -- generally sunny and warm during the day, comfortable at night. The brief monsoon that rolled in and out pre-4 p.m. gates on Ultra’s first day may have been responsible for the weather being a bit cooler this year than last, and for the muddy grounds as well. On the logistics end, this year attendees got the same shitty portable bathrooms (no pun intended) and abysmal food choices: very little but pizza, burgers, dogs, fried this, fried that, fried everything. (One stand advertised vegan options but only actually had some veggie burgers for a few hours on one of the days.)
Last two organizational items to nitpick: While I noticed less in the way of scheduling not matching the advertised times this year, having some sort of “info booths” scattered around the grounds would definitely be appreciated. Also, because leaving the park even an hour or so before closing means getting a taxi out of there is next to impossible, perhaps next time organizers could set up an official taxi rank, or, even better, some type of shuttle bus system.
And then we had the crowds. God, were there crowds. While I’m sure there were some very nice people in attendance and appreciated the diversity (Latinos, hipsters, ravers, 16-year-olds, 30-somethings, babies, drag queens, South-Beach types, skanks, acid casualties, criminals), at a certain point in each day, a thought popped into my mind: “This is exactly what hell must be like.” While not quite a Juggalo gathering, Ultra for some reason brings out some of the worst people I have encountered in my life: rude, obnoxious, wasted, and constantly stampeding/throwing beer. This factor is exacerbated by being smooshed against them at all times, as well as the fact that many of them are wearing the most heinous outfits you are likely to see in a public location. (See photo gallery for some examples of the “fashion” witnessed – I was tempted to create an entire photo gallery “fashion-police” style. After my 1,134th sighting of neon fishnets/furry wings/platform boots/goth makeup -- all on the same body -- I just didn’t have the heart. Note: “I’m in Miami Bitch” T-shirts are still in vogue at Ultra, apparently.)
But it’s really all about the music.
Day 1 saw heavyweights like Tiesto, Felix da Housecat, David Guetta, The Crystal Method, Plump DJs, Carl Cox, and Rabbit in the Moon take the stage. Some slightly more indie-rock-friendly acts like Little Boots and Passion Pit played the main stage late afternoon, pleasing their hipster masses with strong, vibrant performances but creating glowstick-free zones where chant-alongs trumped actual body-moving. I missed LMFAO altogether but had a sick curiosity about seeing that many people screaming “I’m in Miami Bitch.” Alas, maybe they’ll be back next year.
Pretty Lights drew a thick crowd of angst-ridden teens grooving their little hearts out. While I can’t say what they do is my thing, and they still gave off that “jam-band” vibe to me, they certainly worked the crowd and clearly have a ravenous fan base. The day’s highlight for me came in the form of Fake Blood (a.k.a. DJ Touché, a.k.a. Theo Keating), headlining the Biscayne Stage. Flanked by pal Boy 8-Bit (who performed earlier that day), he whipped the audience into a wild and weird frenzy to both his own tunes like the mega-hit “Mars” to remixes he’s done for others and other floor-stompers.
Day 2 featured headline sets by the legendary (Paul Oakenfold, Carl Cox again) and the nouveau-popular (Deadmau5), in addition to key attractions like Major Lazer, Sasha & Digweed, Ghostland Observatory, Armin van Buuren, LTJ Bukem, and the Swedish House Mafia.
While I arrived late to the grounds (WMC event scheduling is no joke), I did catch the tail end of Boys Noize vs. Erol Alkan. The superduo tag-teamed their late-afternoon set while showcasing the electro-madness they’ve created together in tracks like “Waves” and the brand-new “Lemonade.” This was definitely a mutual admiration society on all levels: Their exuberance for the crowd was evident, they clearly enjoyed playing together, and the crowd went mad for them.
The Bloody Beetroots returned to Ultra in quite a different form: live. Masks intact, Sir Bob “Cornelius” Rifo, Tommy Tea, and company took the stage, awash in red light and smoke, as a multi-instrumental, several-person unit – Rifo expertly jumping from keyboard to guitar to vocal duties throughout. Though the Beetroots have only taken this particular show out on the road recently, the high-energy chaos was flawless, their unique brand of melodic electro-anarchy feeding the crowd’s fervor. Partner in crime Steve Aoki (who also performed earlier that day) jumped in for a song, then hung back to enjoy on the sidelines. While their earlier DJ sets were a definite indication, Rifo’s both showmanship and musicianship are crystal clear in this new Beetroots incarnation.
Last set of the night for me was the long-awaited return of electro kingpins Orbital. Though they’ve done a handful of dates in the U.K. and Australia over the past year or two, their Ultra performance marked the first time they took the stage in the U.S. in approximately 10 years. Exceeding expectations, Paul and Phil Hartnoll launched into a set that included slightly updated, completely of the moment versions of beloved classics like “Halcyon,” “Chime,” and “Satan” (nice to see the crowd raising the devil horns for that one). The brothers also included their tradition of throwing in cheeky samples of Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” and Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” – and fortunately kept their legendary miner-esque headgear, two sets of tiny lights bobbing up and down like aliens to an intergalactic soundtrack (who needs a mouse head anyway?). Very good to have the boys back; I just wish they’d been given a longer set.
This year's Ultra reportedly drew a record-setting crowd. With over 100,000 in attendance, it was apparently the first time an event has sold out at Bicentennial Park, and the first time Ultra has sold all tickets for a two-day event. Given that, I’d say it’s safe to assume there will be an Ultra 2011 -- money talks. On the one hand, hopes for an experience-enhanced, less-jammed festival next year are dashed; on the other, let’s hope this demonstration of electronic music’s viability/profitability continues to get even more far afield talent gracing our shores for ass-shaking purposes.
|Tune-Yards, Twin Sister, Xiu Xiu, Zola Jesus - Xiu Xiu, Tune-Yards, Zola Jesus and Twin Sister @ Bowery Ballroom (Pics)||Obits, Screaming Females, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Obits, and Screaming Females @ Irving Plaza (Pics)|