Ultra Music Festival Takeaways: Avicii's Return & Swedish House Mafia's Non-Reunion
One week after a photographed flyer unceremoniously leaked to the blogosphere, Ultra Music Festival unveiled its Phase 1 lineup for the annual dance music assemblage from March 27-29 at Miami's Bayfront Park. With commercial powerhouses like Avicii, Skrillex and Tiësto joining underground luminaries Dixon, Jamie Jones and Maceo Plex, as well as cutting-edge live outfits Porter Robinson and ODESZA, the lineup represents one of the festival's most diverse to date.
What are the most significant stories to be drawn from the major dance festival's lineup? Here are our five takeaways from the Phase 1 reveal:
1. Ultra has embraced the underground
The 2015 lineup rightfully reflects the rising tides of underground dance music in America. Out of this year's 24 announced Phase 1 DJ headliners, nine (Adam Beyer, Carl Cox, Deep Dish, Dixon, Jamie Jones, Loco Dice, Maceo Plex, Marco Carola and Tale of Us) arguably qualify as true house and techno acts. That's an upgrade from last year's total of seven (which includes Eric Prydz's techno alias Cirez D) and a giant leap forward from 2013's meager three.
With an additional lineup featuring a treasure trove of credible underground acts like Apollonia, Art Department, DJ Tennis, Guy Gerber, Joris Voorn, Martin Buttrich, the Martinez Brothers and tINI, Ultra's recent era of house and techno tokenism appears to have ended. The announcement of a dedicated Resistance stage for underground sounds marks another step in the right direction for a festival that has drawn criticism for being too one-dimensional in the past.
2. Don't hold your breath for a Swedish House Mafia reunion
After the flyer leaked last week, fans were quick to notice that all three members (Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello) of former dance supergroup Swedish House Mafia had been booked for the first time since their 2013 swan song. Despite chatter about a potential reunion, that's almost certainly where this year's similarities with "One Last Tour" will end.
Fresh off the release of aptly named new single "Something New," Axwell ^ Ingrosso have fully moved on from their triumvirate days with a forthcoming new album on Def Jam and a slew of festival appearances. They're firmly focused on the future, not the past. Meanwhile, Angello has continued to tour relentlessly and build his own SIZE Records imprint, which just celebrated its 10th year with a #DECADE campaign. Word on the street is there's still no love lost between the former colleagues, so expect the Phase 1 lineup to be just about the only thing they share.
3. Avicii is back in action
Last year, Tim Bergling was forced to cancel his headlining performance at Ultra Music Festival after suddenly being hospitalized with a blocked gallbladder. He was replaced by deadmau5, who added just a bit of insult to literal injury by trolling the main stage with Avicii's 2011 hit "Levels." Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of the Swedish superstar's health woes, who scrapped the remainder of his 2014 scheduled performances following complications from surgeries to remove his gallbladder and appendix. Since then, Avicii has been resting and recuperating in his native Stockholm while working on his second album.
Remember Avicii's courageous and controversial performance with a live bluegrass band that presaged his country crossover on debut album True? Or flash back to 2012 when the newly anointed headliner brought out Madonna for a performance of "Girl Gone Wild" and a now-infamous drug joke? Expect him to make a similarly significant splash this year with all eyes on his much-anticipated return to the limelight.
4. Tropical house has arrived
Palm trees and coconuts. Bikinis and beachfronts. This genre was practically made for Miami. It should come as no surprise that the city's biggest dance institution has embraced it. After all, it was Ultra Music Festival that helped contribute to Norwegian producer Kygo's meteoric rise last year when it adopted his remix of Syn Cole's "Miami 82" as its official trailer's soundtrack.
This year, Kygo and South Beach resident Thomas Jack will act as the fledgling genre's festival standard-bearers. Listed as a live headliner, Kygo is expected to unveil a new stage show that better complements his classical piano chops than the current DJ format.
5. Tiësto remains on top
The Dutch veteran has impressively played at 13 Ultra Music Festivals, making an appearance at almost every single festival since his 2002 debut, save for 2006. 2015 will mark his seventh straight booking as a DJ headliner, which is a testament to the superstar's remarkable staying power in a quickly shifting industry.
Tiësto knows it too. The Breda native has made no secret of his affinity for the festival, which he has praised as "one of the most important festivals in the world" and described as being "very good for his career." He has also made strategic use of his main stage platform in recent years, bringing his protégés and Red Light management roster signees Dzeko & Torres out onstage last year to premiere their new track together. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him rep another one of his in-house artists this year. With "Blow Your Mind," a forthcoming collaboration with Tiësto, slated for release this month, fellow Dutchman MOTi would seem the most likely candidate.