The Swedes said good night, Snoop Dogg lit up the Live Stage, and Porta Potties tumbled on the third and final day of Ultra, which culminated with UMF announcing its 2014 dates: March 28-30.
1. Major Gimmicks: Diplo has said that Major Lazer’s new album “Free the Universe” was made in part to match its live show. The party collective -- Diplo behind the decks with DJ Jillionaire, MC Walshy Fire and B-girls Mela and Lafayette -- demonstrated exactly what that meant during their afternoon Live Stage set, which used “Universe” bombs like “Jah No Partial” (a collaboration with bass god Flux Pavilion) to whip the stage’s largest crowd so far into a reggae-step frenzy. The energy was undeniable, but the proceedings got more than a little gimmicky. Girls from the audience were invited onstage to dance to “Universe” track “Bubble Butt” (featuring Bruno Mars), Diplo scaled the crowd in a bubble, and he resorted to dropping old reliables like House of Pain’s “Jump.” Standout single “Get Free” -- a potential lighter-hoisting, singalong moment -- was reduced to just 60 seconds. Even block parties can have occasional moments of meaning. Lazer’s got enough good material to be better than this.
2. A Golden Afternoon: Thomas Gold played in the Ultra Music Festival Megastructure last weekend, but he took to the Main Stage on the final day of week two. Opening with his signature snare drum intro sequence, Gold quickly started things off with his latest track "Miao" but added the Red Hot Chili Pepper's "By The Way" a capella to keep things fresh. Gold showcased a blend of old tracks and new, including Coldplay's "Clocks," which he expertly combined with his Otto Knows/One Republic "Million Voices" versus "Apologize" bootleg (a few hours later, Main Stager Sander van Doorn would play this track too). The sizable crowd was engaged and enthusiastic up until the very end, when he dropped Deniz Koyu's "Rage" to end things on a properly high note for a 4 pm set.
3. Heir Apparent: The stakes are high when you’ve got the time slot before Swedish House Mafia, but they're downright astronomical when that slot happens to be before their last set ever. Alesso, protege of SHM member Sebastian Ingrosso, was given the coveted opportunity, and he most certainly did not disappoint. The endless sea of people gathered around the Ultra Main Stage for his set was completely in tune with his mix of hard-hitting tracks peppered with lighter productions. Inventive mashups of songs like Calvin Harris and Florence Welch's "Sweet Nothing" with Avicii's "Superlove", and Porter Robinson and Mat Zo's "Easy" with Kaskade and Dada Life's "Llove." His own productions like "Calling (Lose My Mind)" and "Clash" were also major crowd pleasers, but the highlight was one of the songs that put him on the map: his remix to Starkillers, Alex Kenji, and Nadia Ali's "Pressure.” Alesso delivered in a big way this year at Ultra and definitely cemented his status as one of the best newcomers to the game.
4. Krewella Is Going to Be Huge This Year, Part II: Beeping golf carts pushing their way through the crowd are a regular sight at Ultra, usually carrying roadies, production assistants, or massive amounts of water/ice/Red Bull from stage to stage. But the fans that dutifully parted the seas for one such cart on Sunday afternoon were delighted to recognize the three members of Krewella on its back. Ravers pointed, smiled and high-fived Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf and Rain Main as they rumbled slowly past, and the band seemed genuinely surprised by and appreciative of the love.
5. Porta Pandemonium: As we’ve written in days past, the narrow UMF Worldwide Stage isn’t well-suited to some of the bigger names to which it played host during Ultra. Yet, on Sunday, space constraints served not as a limitation but rather a challenge to some of the more adventurous festival-goers. For DJ sets including Porter Robinson, Steve Aoki and Hardwell--all of whom packed the Main Stage during their Weekend 1 sets--fans got creative and scaled the Porta-Potties that lined the outermost edge of the UMF Worldwide area. No big deal, right? Wrong. The stalls’ convex plastic roofs began to give out under the weight of the ravers. A few Porta-Potties toppled over entirely, while others offered a rather precarious restroom situation for fans attempting to enter.
6. Getting Rattled: Dutch duo Bingo Players was one of the first acts to truly light up the UMF Worldwide stage last weekend, and brought an even bigger set—and crowd—to the Main Stage on Sunday. Instead of repeating their set (we see you, Deadmau5), the DJs switched it up and delivered a brand new onslaught of bangers. Perhaps taking a cue from bootleg master Thomas Gold, whose set preceded theirs, the Bingo Players played unique mash-ups that surprised the early-afternoon crowd; a particular favorite was TJR’s “Ode To Oi” combined with the plucky piano chords and vocals of Foreigner’s 1977 hit “Cold As Ice.” With two massive performances, the boys of BP have shown themselves to be an act to watch this festival season.
7. Group Therapy: Above & Beyond has one of the most loyal, cult-like followings in dance music; during the trio’s set in Armin Van Buuren’s A State of Trance Tent, it was more apparent than ever. Fans filled the tent, as well as the grassy areas behind it, the walkway leading down to it and, briefly, even the top of a bus stop to catch A&B’s hypnotic strain of trance music. As has become tradition for the group, Paavo Siljamäki writes on-screen messages to the crowd in addition to mixing the music. Sunday’s dispatches were especially poignant. While the group played its single “On My Way To Heaven,” Siljamäki wrote, “This is Miami. This is heaven. With you.” A&B closed out its set with the massive track “Sun & Moon,” and Siljamäki typed slowly. “Oh my God,” he wrote. “If you even knew how this feels for us…" He ended the performance by writing, “Last Sunday was incredible. But tonight… we are lost for words. We'll never get over you, Miami.” The crowd seemed to feel as elated as the group, resulting in one of the more purely rave-y experiences of the weekend.
8. Playing Hits, Taking Hits: Snoop Dogg--or should we say Lion?--was one of the most unexpected acts to appear on 2013’s Ultra lineup, but his early evening set drew a massive crowd and served as a break from the festival’s 128 BPM heartbeat. Even the most staunch dance supporters couldn’t help but sing along to classic Snoop tracks like “Gin & Juice” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” while being encouraged to spark up joints by the man himself. Each mention of marijuana drew loud cheers from the crowd. Towards the end of his set, the rapper took a less well-received reggae detour into Snoop Lion territory, but ended the performance on a high note with an extended sing-a-long to “Young, Wild, and Free.”
9. Armin 4Evah: Armin Van Buuren’s fans love Armin Van Buuren, and they proved it on Sunday night, packing the A State of Trance tent to overflow status for the most popular DJ in the world’s hard-hitting set. Pilgrims from Australia, Chicago, New York and Israel raised their hands in the air and audibly declared each drop and BPM shift (things get faster toward the end) “epic” and “incredible.” Van Buuren headlines the sold-out Madison Square Garden this week, proving that the trance family may be insular, but it’s still massive.
10. Good Night, Sweet Swedish Princes: You had to feel sorry for any act playing after 9:30 on Sunday night, because all of Ultra was at the Main Stage for Swedish House Mafia’s final sign-off. Artists like Zedd and Skrillex crowded the roof of the Red Bull viewing area for a privileged vantage of the proceedings, which included all the arena-sized tricks and drops that SHM has already made famous on their “One Last Tour”: Galloping LED greyhounds, pyro blasts, American wave flagging, and rock/dance ballad crooning (thanks, John Martin). Click here for the official Code recap.