After six years having the Ultra Music Festival at the larger-capacity Bicentennial Park, construction at that site sent the annual party back at its original downtown Miami home, Bayfront Park, this year. But thanks to some reconfiguring and reconstruction with the help of the host city, the venue can reportedly accommodate 25,000 more people.
"We're a great economic boost for the city, which in this climate they're very thankful for," said Ultra co-founder Russell Faisbach last week, during the build. "The last conversation we had, they put the economic impact at $50 million-plus. We feel privileged and honored that they're our partners in this."
And with the field built, boy they did come: Hordes of teenagers and twenty-somethings in American Apparel neon, anxious for their annual chance to commune with likeminded contemporaries, and hundreds of their favorite artists at once. With sunny skies and a light breeze, Day 1 of Ultra was perfect for a balls-to-the-wall festival of bass -- while elsewhere in Miami, EDM artists and fans enjoyed it in more micro ways too. Here are just ten highlights:
Day 1: Ultra Music Festival
Swedish House Mafia
1. Touring powerhouse Pretty Lights clearly has a captive audience. The Colorado-bred glitch hop DJ attracted a mob scene to the Ultra Live Stage, not easy to pull off with Tiësto playing at the same time on the Main. "Everyone looks f--king beautiful," he told the audience, many of whom were mesmerized by the futuristic visuals being projected onto the Intercontinental Hotel behind the stage.
2. The Las Vegas nightlife wars hit the skies of Miami, with competing entities Strategic Group (which manages Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub at the Cosmopolitan) and Wynn Las Vegas (the casino-hotel that's home to four venues) flying planes with their banners over the crowded sands of South Beach. At one point, a banner for Marquee was tail-to-nose with one for Tiësto's residency at Wynn venue XS.
3. Afrojack always draws a bevy of celebrities to his sets (Paul McCartney showed up for him at Coachella), and this time was no different, with Lil Jon and rumored girlfriend Paris Hilton waving to the crowd and watching the Dutch electro star destroy the crowd on the Main Stage. Jon and Hilton have been rolling with Afro throughout Miami, starting with the Kings of Ace pool party at The National on Thursday.
4. Godfathers of electronic music Kraftwerk have been on a reunion streak of shows leading up to an 8-night spectacular at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Friday night they brought their finely tuned brand of electronica to the Live Stage. The quartet brought an appreciative crowd over to see their finely tuned performance and visuals, and remained expectedly silent throughout the unique spectacle.
5. Last year, Swedish House Mafia caused a sensation with the instantly-sold-out Masquerade Motel, a risky, multi-artist, all-day show in a tent on the white sands of South Beach. While it was competitive with Ultra downtown, it didn't feel that way: The crowd was older and more well-heeled, and even with a teeming capacity of 5,000, it seemed positively intimate next to Ultra's 50,000-strong massive. This year, SHM decided to make the throw-down more direct, booking 10,000-capacity Grand Central Park in downtown Miami - Ultra's backyard - for a two-day festival of its own. While the guys did their usual shtick - large-scale lighting and video, pyrotechnics, epic vocals, like Henrik B's "Leave a Light On," and rave-ready bangers, like their own "Antidote" - the experience felt somehow incomplete. Flocks of bartenders waited for lines that never materialized, and the undulating, ripped-up grass field made nighttime navigation difficult. With a $125 ticket price for only one stage and five total artists each day (including SHM), it's not surprising that Saturday is still not sold out.
6. The youngsters of EDM made a strong showing at Ultra Day 1, with performers like 17-year-old French "it" boy Madeon and 19-year-old Porter Robinson tearing up the crowd at the UMF Korea stage. Earlier in the day, Robinson talked about his young age, learning how to DJ just a few days before his first Ultra appearance last year, and the wild ride that followed (e.g. opening for Skrillex and Tiësto, topping the iTunes dance chart, selling out his own headlining tour).
7. Tiësto brought out the big guns for his Ultra-headlining main stage set, bringing hardstyle DJs Showtek on stage as emcees for the event. He was slightly delayed going on, but this was only so more speakers could be brought in for what was surely the biggest set of the night. Earlier, we spoke to the DJ about his set and the launch of his new channel on Sirius XM, called Tiësto's Club Life Radio. Watch:
8. Over at Masquerade, partiers were invited to refill their water bottles at the ingenious Event Water refill station, a dock of stainless-steel spigots "with an integrated filtration system that can be hooked up to any municipal water source," according to the company's website. Thumbs up to organizers for putting attendee safety over profit -- and in such an elegant presentation, to boot.
9. The venerable Pete Tong might be a stately 51 years old, but like other rock stars, that's just upped his appeal. At the all-day Surfcomber pool party promoted under his own name, the DJ/radio personality/tastemaker took a moment to Sharpie-sign the arm of gushing girl in a teeny-weeny bikini. But how long would her joy last in the 80-degree Miami heat? "About five minutes," he posited.
10. Kaskade took the day home with an appropriately banging nightclub set at oceanfront venue Amnesia, for a heavy industry crowd that included Patrick Moxey, president of his home label Ultra, and large crews from both Marquee (the current home of his Las Vegas residency) and Wynn (the previous one). "He's one of my favorites and I consider him a friend," said Sean Christie, co-owner and managing partner of Wynn's Encore Beach Club and Surrender, dissolving any tension. Able newcomer Digital Lab opened.