Ultra Music Festival Weekend 1, Day 1: 10 Things Seen and Heard
Afrojack loses power, Swedish House Mafia heads toward its finale, AraabMUZIK and BoysNoize draw crowds
As South by Southwest wraps up in Austin, Miami Music Week is just getting underway. Kicking off the festivities is Ultra Music Festival, now in its 15th year but celebrating its first as a two-weekend event in 2013. Here are ten items of note from Ultra’s opening day.
1. The fest got off to a frightening start when, on Thursday evening, one of the Main Stage’s LED panels collapsed. The thirty-foot LED wall, rumored to be part of Swedish House Mafia’s custom One Last Tour setup, appeared to peel off the massive supports. Three crew members were injured in the accident.
As rumors about cancellations and postponements swirled on Twitter and Facebook, Ultra released a statement late Thursday night that offered little information about the state of the festival. On Friday at 1:30 PM, just hours before the fest’s gates were set to open, Ultra wrote on Facebook that “event organizers are on the ground working tirelessly with the Fire Department, OSHA and other regulatory authorities to ensure the festival site is absolutely safe for all festival-goers and crew.” Undeterred fans began lining up at Bayfront Park not long after; by the time Ultra’s gates finally opened after 4 PM, the line to enter was blocks long.
2. Ultra’s second weekend is long sold out, but the box office remains open for Weekend 1 tickets. The crowd certainly didn’t feel sparse, but it definitely skewed younger than in years past: high school and college spring breakers, decked in neon and jerseys, were among the most enthusiastic festival-goers. There was no shortage of R-rated printed tees, either; it seems lots of dance fans are still looking for Molly and advertising their affections for “sex, drugs and dubstep.” A notable counterpoint to the “YOLO” tees was a group of college-aged kids lingering near the festival entrance. Their matching electric yellow shirts read “Ultra Mega Faith in Jesus” and the group toted signs with Bible verses. Their message may have been lost on the music-hungry crowd.
3. Once fans made it onto the festival grounds, they were drawn to the Live Stage for AraabMUZIK’s 6 PM set. The hip-hop-leaning DJ/producer brought his usual style with an Ultra twist; Araab offered up the expected sample-laden bass assault, but layered in dance favorites such as Carnage’s trap remix of “Spaceman” by Hardwell. The screen behind AraabMUZIK frequently cut to shots of his hands moving expertly over the pads of MPC, showcasing a “button-pusher” of the highest order.
4. UMF Worldwide got a strong start as well; the trance-focused stage filled up quickly as Tritonal’s energetic set got fans ready for the rest of the evening. Next up were veterans Markus Schulz and Ferry Corsten, who recently announced their joint project New World Punx. Hopes of a collaborative set were dashed when Schulz exited the stage and Corsten began spinning solo. However, hearing Schulz’s harder-hitting sound, immediately followed by Corsten’s more uplifting one, only heightened anticipation for the duo’s work together.
5. The Ultra Mega Structure, curated by techno legend Carl Cox, kicked off the weekend with sets from rising underground stars Cassy and Jamie Jones. The space was woefully empty as Cassy and Jones played smooth, sexy grooves better suited to a late-night warehouse party than a half-enclosed tent at sunset. However, the space itself is visually stunning, with hexagon-shaped LED panels lining the ceiling and walls, creating a honeycomb-like effect.
6. The Main Stage was an even more impressive feat of design, whose intricacies could best be appreciated once the sun went down. The gargantuan structure is an immensely detailed pyramid, with the Ultra logo’s signature U-shaped logo—rendered in LED screens and outlined by flashing lights, of course—serving as the star atop the tree. The bulk of the stage is comprised of a series of smaller pyramids, not only providing design continuity but giving the stage a more three-dimensional feel. Each pyramid was outlined by ever-changing colored lights, cued in time to the music. Sure, the DJs themselves may not have always been visible from within the supersized stage, but the screen above the booth, as well as one on either side of the overall structure, allowed fans in the nosebleeds to catch all the action.
Action at the Main Stage really got underway with the one-two punch of Nicky Romero and Fedde Le Grand behind the decks. Romero hooked the crowd with his Avicii collab “I Could Be The One” and a handful of unreleased tracks, and Fedde dropped “Long Way From Home, his collaboration with Sultan and Ned Shepard. Le Grand’s visuals offered up an all-too-appropriate tagline—“This is a conspiracy to make you feel awesome”—but his use of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” vocals felt dated.
7. Boys Noize (also known as Alexander Ridha) may have been given a Live Stage slot, but he put on a show of arena-sized proportions. His DJ booth was actually a giant silver skull, with ominously glowing red eyes. His electro and acid house set was seamlessly mixed, yet full of surprise drops and old favorites, and filled the smaller Live Stage well beyond capacity.
8. Afrojack’s DJ sets are undeniable party-starters, with the Dutch DJ’s energy consistently inspiring the same in the crowd. Midway through his set, the sound cut out entirely as the animations onstage continued to play. It took a good five minutes for the music to resume, but Afrojack handled the situation like a pro. "Who's ready to get back into the motherfucking party?!" he yelled. "I don't give a fuck about the technical difficulties. I don't give a fuck about the haters.” There were no haters in sight, but everyone was undoubtedly glad to get back to the music. As usual, the Wall records honcho played new music, including an unnamed track from his forthcoming album, and his new single with Chris Brown, “As Your Friend.”
9. When Afrojack finished his set, the crowd quickly got denser and larger in anticipation for Swedish House Mafia’s Main Stage performance. The show was a carbon copy of the trio’s other One Last Tour sets, but fans either didn’t know or didn’t care. Swedish House Mafia offered a master class in the group’s hits, label favorites and individual tracks… not to mention pyro, effects and fireworks to spare. With the Swedes closing out the festival—and, ostensibly, their career as a group—next weekend, it remains to be seen whether they will switch things up or stick to what’s been working well for them.
10. For Ultra attendees with less mainstream leanings, the Mega Structure was the ideal spot to finish off the night. Carl Cox took fans on his typical techno journey, leading into Fatboy Slim’s set; the DJ legend picked up where Cox left off, with a steady bass-kick at the heart of his sound. But Slim also invited fans to “Gather around and enjoy the sweet sounds” as he mixed old (Green Velvet’s “La La Land”) and new (an utterly unexpected edit of G.O.O.D Music’s “Mercy”) with creativity and obvious joy.