Ultra Music Festival Weekend 1, Day 2: 11 Things Seen and Heard
Zedd strips, Chuckie shouts, Porter Robinson rocks and Yeasayer make it awkward in Miami ... A Recap of Day 2
As if Friday's eight-hour opening day wasn't enough, Ultra Music Festival stretched from noon to midnight on Saturday, offering fans twelve jam-packed hours of exceptional EDM talent. With more fans and DJs rocking Miami's Bayfront Park, there was naturally much more to see and hear -- running among stages to catch overlapping acts was all but inevitable.
MORE ULTRA: DAY ONE HIGHLIGHTS
CHUCKIE GETS SHOUTY: When he began his late-afternoon set at the Ultra Worldwide tent, Dirty Dutch progenitor Chuckie was already facing a warmed-up, excited crowd; he had been preceded on the decks by Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano, followed by the girls of Nervo. But that didn't stop Chuckie from staying on the mic for nearly the entire set, aggressively commanding the crowd to "put [their] fuckin' hands up" and counting down to the drops in his mix. The set itself was solidly energetic and well-mixed, with ample crossover appeal thanks to popular hip-hop one-liners -- Jay-Z's "Ball So Hard" and Trinidad James' "Popped a molly, I'm sweatin'"—as well as old-school classics like Blur's "Song 2." But much of Chuckie's technical skill was hidden behind his voice as he implored the crowd to jump and taunted fans in the front with "Dirty Dutch" snapback hats. Somehow, a guest appearance from Lil' Jon and his typical mic hype ("What? Yeah!") felt refreshing compared to Chuckie's incessant yelling.
BINGO IS THEIR NAME-O: Whereas Chuckie virtually instructed the crowd how to respond to his set, the Bingo Players took to the stage immediately after and let their music do the talking. The Dutch duo attracted so many fans to the long, narrow Ultra Worldwide Tent that those who couldn't squeeze in bled out on all sides. A few of Bingo Players' more adventurous fans scaled lampposts near the stage, waving various countries' flags and snapping photos until security intervened. The overall experience was, in a word, mayhem, but the energy perfectly matched the group's wild electro beats. By the time the Bingo Players played their hits "L'Amour" and "Cry (Just A Little)" back-to-back, the duo had worked the crowd into an all-out frenzy.
MADEON MAKES IT: Madeon made his Ultra debut in the mid-sized UMF Korea tent last year, but 2012 was a remarkable year for the talented 18-year-old. Saturday marked his first time performing on the Main Stage, and his fast-paced, sonically diverse set proved him worthy of the late-afternoon spot. The highlight? Madeon led a euphoric, crowd-wide sing-a-long to his single "The City," allowing jolts of A-Trak's "Heads Will Roll" remix to creep through here and there. By the time Madeon dropped into the song, fans were in all-out party mode, which the DJ kept alive by mixing quickly into Zedd's acid-house jam "Stache."
HEY PORTER: Porter Robinson has a knack for commanding his audiences. He hooks fans from all ends of the EDM spectrum with a unique combination of trance-inspired tunes and banging electro tracks, and his Ultra Main Stage set largely stuck to this successful formula. However, after getting the crowd moving to a remix of the Nicky Romero/Calvin Harris collaboration "Iron," Robinson took an unexpected turn: he slowed things down considerably with Purity Ring's indie-electronica single "Obedear." The breathy, atmospheric song caught fans off guard, but they quickly latched on to trap-like drums at the heart of the track. Though it didn't take long for Robinson to revert back to his usual sound -- he followed "Obedear" with his rowdy "100% In The Bitch" and Dillon Francis' "Bootleg Fireworks (Burning Up)" -- it was refreshing to see a Main Stage artist challenge his fans and prove his electronic music acumen.
YEASAYER TOO MUCH: Ultra's Live Stage, at its best, welcomes performers with electronic leanings to an otherwise DJ-driven festival. For acts like Icona Pop and Matt & Kim, for example, the stage is a natural fit; other musicians, however, can't quite find a comfortable place within the Ultra landscape. Experimental rock-pop outfit Yeasayer fell into the latter category. While the Brooklyn-based group performed capably from a music standpoint, frontman Chris Keating seemed unable to address the crowd before him.
Between songs, Keating would ramble awkwardly, half story-telling (See that Brazilian flag over there? Well, his wife is from Brazil!) and half mocking the audience. At one point, Keating ribbed the crowd, asking, "Are you on drugs?" He continued, "You're on drugs. I'd be on drugs, too. But what do you do after midnight [when the festival ends]?" Perhaps Keating's dialogue was all in good fun, but his repeated monologues and stilted attempts to interact with the crowd gave the distinct impression that Yeasayer didn't respect this particular audience.
SHIMMERING LIGHTS: Pretty Lights (Derek Vincent Smith) was the day Live Stage success story, with fans packing the small outdoor auditorium and the entire grassy area behind it to get a taste of his one-of-a-kind sound. While music by Dirty South and Carl Cox blared from nearby stages, Pretty Lights offered up a more relaxed groove; his soulful, sample-full trip-hop and dubstep was a blissful break from the fast-paced beats that dominate most other sets. Sunday will see Bassnectar, the Ultra artist most sonically similar to Smith, taking to the Main Stage. Judging by the turnout for Pretty Lights' set on Saturday, Smith and his music deserve a similarly large platform.
HARDWELL's NEW TRACKS: Ultra (and, in general, Miami Music Week) is EDM's prime testing ground for new music. Main Stage staple Hardwell certainly took advantage of the opportunity, telling UMF TV in a pre-set interview that he planned to premiere ten tracks during his set. The DJ/producer did debut new material—some of his own creation and some slated for release on his label, Revealed Recordings—but he also gave a ringing endorsement of a rising talent. Hardwell introduced a collaboration with fellow Dutch musician Dyro, and dubbed him "the world's biggest upcoming [sic] DJ" before launching into the track. The pair hugged and joked with one another as uplifting vocals gave way to a melodic, anthemic house beat.
KASKADE's U-TURN: By its very design, the towering, ornate Main Stage makes a strong visual impact without the activation of single light or laser. And, while Kaskade wasn't the first artist to play the Main Stage, he may well have been the one to do it best. Every last inch of the space became a part of Kaskade's performance, from the small glowing "U" on the DJ booth to the same logo at the top of the structure, rendered in massive LED screens. Most performances featured the center "U" shape occasionally outlined in bright lights, but Kaskade's production included animations on the screens inside of the logo as well. Depending on the song Kaskade played, the oversized "U" sprouted fangs, displayed lyrics, or took on the texture of the moon and appeared to spin. The three-dimensional pyramids that make up the bulk of the Main Stage structure also lit up in waves, syncing with the motion of the on-screen animations.
Kaskade began his set with "Atmosphere," one of a handful of first-play tracks from his upcoming album, but also paid homage to his 2011 LP Fire & Ice: bursts of fire shot upwards from the top of the Main Stage structure as snow fell lightly on the front of the crowd. It was a subtle touch, to be sure, but reinforced Kaskade's reputation as an artist who thinks holistically about the live experience he creates.
DEADMAU5 GLORY: For most artists, Kaskade and his stunning visuals would be a tough act to follow. Not so for deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman), whose iconic cube stage setup was hidden until the very moment his set began. Columns in the center of the Main Stage slid apart to reveal deadmau5 in all his masked glory, exaggerated eyeballs aglow. As with previous performances that utilized this production, animated graphics on the cube synced up with those on screens behind and beside the structure.
The set, excellent as it was, wouldn't have been so noteworthy if not for the fact that, not long ago, mau5 created a YouTube video called "Ultra Rage About The Ultra Music Festival." In the 12-minute clip, posted in December 2011 but since removed, Zimmerman called the fest "the definition of insanity: doing the same fucking thing every year, expecting different results every time." Almost exactly a year later, in December 2012 deadmau5 tweeted that he would be returning to the festival. "Well, I caved in," he wrote. "There was [sic] just too many of you guys asking me to play at Ultra this year, so im doin [sic] it for you guys!" He also wrote that production preparations were already underway. There weren't many changes from his prior tour's cube setup, but we were happy to hear the sounds of the mau5 nonetheless.
ZEDD LAPS IT UP: The ever-outspoken deadmau5 also has a troublemaking streak, which manifested itself at Ultra in the form of a bet with fellow EDM star Zedd. mau5 has long called Zedd "wussy," and Zedd text-messaged the headliner that he would don pink briefs and do seven laps around the onstage cube in honor of Avicii's "Le7els." To the surprise of many -- especially Zimmerman -- Zedd actually completed his seven laps.
TOO MUCH TO SEE: An unfortunate reality of attending a festival of Ultra's size is that there will always be missed sets and conflicting schedules. Such was the case Saturday night when, as most fans checked out deadmau5 or Benny Benassi, a surprise back-to-back set went down at the UMF Radio/OWSLA stage. Skrillex shared DJ duties with Alvin Risk and Porter Robinson, only to then be joined by Zedd and Madeon. It's hard to imagine the magic these five talented DJs created together… but then, there's always next year.
MORE ULTRA: DAY ONE HIGHLIGHTS