Ultra Music Festival Wknd 2 Slideshow + Review / Bayfront Park (Miami, FL) / 3-22-2013
Published: April 12, 2013
Photos and story by: Alex Silva
The idea of having butterflies in your stomach takes on a whole new meaning come March in Miami. As if every decision made in the few months leading to this moment hadn't already accommodated for this highly anticipated event, that unmapped feeling of the unknown still whispered in everyone’s ear. Every waking task seemed to be overwhelmed by the fact that deep down you knew exactly what was coming but, at the same time, didn’t have the slightest idea what to expect. As you cross the street and join the tract of people who flocked from all corners of the globe to flood the city’s downtown urban waterfront, there is one word circling laps around everyone’s mind: Ultra.
But what is it that drives thousands of people to its gates every year? For some it’s the adrenaline that comes with exploring new and undiscovered sounds. For others it’s about standing amidst a giant crowd of mirrored souls, all coming together for their love of electronic music. And for some it’s just about the escape from reality, if only just for a bit. Regardless, as you stand surrounded by Miami’s modestly beautiful skyline, there is no other feeling like being at Ultra Music Festival.
With two weekends to choose from it was difficult enough to have to decide which lineup to embrace, let alone decide which acts to see once that lineup was chosen. My choice, I am glad to say, was weekend two. I just couldn’t pass up a live performance by The Bloody Beetroots, especially one that followed a live Boys Noize set. The first time I heard The Bloody Beetroots was at Ultra 2009, just before witnessing my first ever Boys Noize set on the very same stage. Seeing the two perform back to back once again was something I have dreamed of reliving and, thankfully enough, got to experience once again at this year’s event.
Boys Noize’s set was unlike many I have seen him perform in the past, partly because this was my first time seeing his live set. A live set differs from a regular DJ set in that it gives the artist much more freedom while using their instruments and implementing song choice. Everything from synthesizers to samplers, drum machines, audio loops, vocals and all that other good stuff is manipulated and sequenced live for your listening pleasures. Some live sets are based heavily upon the crowd reaction as well, resulting in a somewhat improvised and unpredictable performance.
Having cancelled his Florida shows during his recent tour due to complications with U.S. Customs, Ultra was the debut for Boys Noize’s newest stage setup — a nine-foot tall skull DJ podium equipped with glowing red eyes. Standing in the center of the skull’s cranium he opened his set with “What You Want,” the opening track off his new album, Out of the Black, as the stage blinded the crowd with flashing lights and buried the first few rows in a blanketing fog. Standing in his usual pose, he emerged from the fog pointing his index figure into the sky as a symbol of his everlasting devotion to his fans. He dazzled them with countless reworks of classic tracks like his “My Moon My Man” remix, originals “Kontact Me,” “Oh!” and “Let’s Buy Happiness” and then splicing them together with newer hits like “Ich R U,” “XTC,” “Yeah” and “Stop.” Perfectly orchestrated, like the solution to a Rubik’s cube. After all these years of producing, it was as if these tracks had been made to be performed together all along; a master plan developed at the very beginning foundations of his career.
Closing the first night of weekend two on the live stage was The Bloody Beetroots. Roughly 30 minutes was needed, on behalf of both the crowd and the production team, after Boys Noize’s set in order to setup the trio’s instrumentals which consisted of Rifo’s piano, a drum set, a synthesizer and more. The Bloody Beetroots have played Ultra numerous times before as a DJ set and Death Crew 77, but never as a live performance. Always switching around its members, this year’s group featured Battle on synths and Edward Grinch on drums. If there’s one thing that never changes, however, it’s the presence of Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo — the main drive behind the group’s hellishly wild and dynamic shows.
The amphitheater’s seating arrangement made for an awkward dancefloor but it didn’t seem to hinder the crowd’s ability to rage at full throttle to the band’s new wave, electro punk rock style. Some of the highlights were when they played their newest track, “Spank,” which they recorded with Tai and Bart B More, “New Noise,” their remix of AudioPorno’s “Choo Choo” and their collaboration track with Drop The Lime, “Everybody Keep On Dancing.”
Friday’s weather was a bit overcast with some light rain, which did little to slow anyone down, but the sun was high in the sky come Saturday as day two, or technically day five, of Ultra 2013 commenced. One of the first acts to distract me from the heat was Disclosure. Ultra always does a good job at booking a few of those rare acts that you don’t really get to see tour very often. For their 15th anniversary Ultra welcomed British electronic garage duo, Disclosure, comprised of siblings Guy and Howard Lawrence. In the few shorts years since their debut, the brothers have managed to attract a lot of attention from the media and their rapidly growing international fan base. The crowd made little hesitation to show-off their cult love for the band, singing proudly along to hits like “Latch,” “White Noise” and their remix of Jessie Ware’s “Running.”
Another name you don’t really get to see very often in America, unless it’s during WMC or on a HARD lineup, is Tiga. Cornered away on the Bayfront stage, his set didn’t see the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds most are accustomed to at Ultra. Nonetheless, if you found yourself amongst the loosely-knit group of people dancing before him, you knew it was exactly the place you wanted to be. Many people take dance space for granted but for Tiga you need just about every inch that can be allotted. As he neared the end of his set he dropped “ZZafrika,” off the album Party’s Over Earth by ZZT. ZZT is Tiga’s extremely underground side project with Zombie Nation, which has yet to catch wind in North America. I don’t believe ZZT has performed anywhere outside of the studio, yet, so to hear either of the two artists play a track live is somewhat surreal in my book.
Closing out the mega structure on Saturday night was Sven Vath. With each new vinyl he played, he would hold it up in the air as cheers came echoing back at him from the tents massive parameters. Come the last hour most of the crowd was at main stage, quietly awaiting Deadmau5’s return to the Ultra spotlight. It’s a shame that the Deadmau5 I fell in love with in 2008 is not the same Deadmau5 I saw perform that night at Ultra. Not to say he’s lost his talent, not by far, but his performance wasn’t as exciting and rather predictable. It was nice hearing some of his older material as he opened up with tracks like “I Remember” and “Raise Your Weapon” but I know he could do better. So, I decided to close my night with a band I had been waiting years to see — Hot Chip!
Not as many people were at the live stage for the five-piece electronic indie band from London, making it feel much more intimate. Being a long time fan, there was little I could do to stop myself from jumping front row for this. After all, they are one of the reasons I chose weekend two over the latter. Lead vocalist Alexis Taylor’s voice is like something out of a fairy tale. Buried deep beneath years of pounding, pounding techno music, my 16-year old self resurfaced for a quick throwback to some of the first songs I ever put on my iPod. As the last hour flew by, they managed to squeeze in almost of all their hits from “How Do You Do” to “Flutes,” “Over and Over,” “Colours” and “Ready for the Floor.”
The last day of Ultra is always the craziest. It amazes me how many more people showed up on Sunday. You’d think by this point everyone would just watch the live stream, but no. EDM fans are anything but weak. As I approached the mega structure for Dash Berlin’s ASOT set, my attention was immediately drawn to the swathe of people stretching the entire length of the tent and pouring out onto the sun-baked walkways around it. I hadn’t seen a crowd this engaged this early in the day all weekend. Climbing his way on top of the DJ booth as he dropped Alexander Popov’s “My World,” the dutch project’s frontman, Jeffrey Sutorius A.K.A. Dash Berlin, held up a giant heart-shaped cut-out in the air as his fans mirrored the image with their handmade tributes. Other highlights from his set include his remix of Motorcycle’s “When The Rush Comes,” which he dropped just following the latter, and his “This Miami is Nice” Dashup. Download his full UMF weekend two set here.
My last few hours of Ultra were spent at just about every stage, I just couldn’t decide who to end my night with. I saw a little bit of Swedish House Mafia but left for Wolfgang Gartner in search of something more on my wavelength. For their supposed “last show” it wasn’t as epic as all the hype building up to it but the crowd, which creeped past the festival gates, seemed to really enjoy it. Wolfgang and Paul Van Dyk held things down solidly on their stages but my mind was still reminiscing on a set I witnessed early that day, just as the sun was setting on Ultra’s 15th year. Returning to the Bayfront stage where Tiga had played the day before, I basked in the funky tech-house beats pouring from the speakers as Lee Foss gave Miami a taste of his inimitable style. The Hot Creations label owner’s set was the perfect blend of modern electro, 80s disco and 90s techno, blowing just about every other Sunday performance out of the water. However, Pretty Lights was a close second.
There’s just something about the feeling about being at Ultra Music Festival that makes it nearly impossible to avoid thinking about all the time and returning to it every year. Whether you’ve attended only one day or every day in its fruitful 15 years of existence, there is no denying the fact that Ultra is the main squeeze behind every devoted electronic music fan. Its influence runs so deep that it managed to get a second hand’s grip on the city for a whopping six days this year. Rest assured, that won’t happen again any time soon. As the music died on the last day, Ultra was quick to announce its 2014 dates. To no surprise, it was regulated back to just three days. For those brave enough to have endured both weekends this year, give yourselves a pat on the back because chances are it won’t happen again, at least not in Miami. For those who have yet to experience the magic of Ultra, there’s always next year!