So I wanted to give it a couple days before I gave my recap of Ultra, but first I had to finish playing "Where's Waldo?" with myself in nearly every picture I could find from UMF. Times have been tough as of late, in between my 12 hour sleep days and binge eating sessions, but depriving my BAD KIDS of the most acute observations of this year's Ultra Music Festival would be a crime of passion… something I don't think any of our emotions can handle right now.
So let me begin by referencing a cute, pony-beaded, assless-chapped, kandi-Floridian I met at Ultra 2011, my first ever stint in the EDM land of Narnia. Our brief conversation lasted only a short while, but what she told me then, resonates with me now more than ever. She said she had attended every single Ultra Music Festival way back when it used to be only one day and that every year Ultra seemed to double in size and outdo itself from the year before. She said this year was the most crowded she had ever seen it (since Ultra 13 was the first year they expanded the festival to 3 days) and that it would surely be her last.
Anyone who took an economics class before would know these principals are the fundamentals of supply and demand operating at its finest. But what struck a chord with me was the way this message came off - as if she had traveled to the ends of the earth battling friend and foe to reclaim her spot as the belle of the ball of South Beach, only to have it squandered by all the shoobies that didn't know their ass from their elbow when it came to EDM. At the time, myself being the biggest shoobie there, I could give a rat's ass what was coming outta this girl's mouth. But now after attending my third consecutive Ultra, I'm starting to see beneath all the kandi and glitter what exactly this girl was talking about.
UMF 15...7 stages...2 weekends...what's not to like?! Every year Ultra brings together the best DJs from all over the world to showcase the hottest dance tracks around. With some of the most highly sophisticated stages ever conceived as well as firework displays that could make Uncle Sam crap his pants on the Fourth of July. Without fail, Ultra does it right. You really think for Ultra's Quinceañera and all the Latin-based lovers in attendance (it's cool, I'm Mexican) you'd expect anything less? In my wholehearted opinion, Ultra fashioned together the greatest experience one could possibly have in downtown Miami. Every potential problem was covered and for any yearning a person could have, there was a way it could be met.
There was Avicii labeled go-carts ushering the unfortunate last minute travelers who booked hotels miles away from civilization to the park, filling stations that resembled tropical jungle water holes luring animals out of the pit for sweet sustenance; no joke there was even "Meat on a Stick" kiosks for well...meat on a stick. Why someone would want that is beyond me, but the point is, it was being used! Even the littlest addition of live streaming both weekends went such a long way. Like many of you, I couldn't take my eyes off the live stream Weekend 1 in anticipation for Weekend 2. Some might even go as far as saying it took points off the shock factor when attending the following week, seeing as the majority of DJs played identical sets back-to-back...NOT A CHANCE. There's a big difference between watching a set on your 15 inch monitor and seeing a show live, bass blasting and surrounded by 100,000+ party animals...BIG DIFFERENCE. From picnic areas to dance pits, there was something at the festival for everyone to enjoy and that goes for all ages..I shit you not I saw an 80 year old man there and boy was he getting’ after it!
Tiesto kicked off Weekend 2 playing a phenomenal set that mixed a lot of his clubbangers with a bunch of ID songs that has the Internet in a nervous panic trying to track down the names of. Like he does best, Tiesto added his own twist on the usual crowd pleasers such as “Clarity” and “Sweet Nothing”, erupting the park in a fiery fist punching frenzy. He even took a moment to throw in some "Tiesto Classics" as he calls it, which is around the time I just lost it! Meanwhile on the other side of Bayfront, the Bloody Beetroots were kicking over amplifiers and screaming at the crowd as they put on a heart stopping performance. A number of people I spoke with even had the audacity to say it was the set of the weekend given their fast-paced beats and spawn-like showmanship. Not a huge BB fan, but I'd be lying if I didn’t say that “Chronicles of a Fallen Love” doesn't get my dick hard.
The real story of Day 1 however wasn't the headliner, nor was it the enormous dance circle at the heart of Cazzette's set that lit up the Ultra Brazil Stage...no no no...it was the travesty and heartbreak that occurred roughly 30 minutes into Avicii's set when he decided to tell the whole world that he is no longer producing EDM and instead taking on a new venture...country music. At the 30-minute mark of an already abysmal set, Avicii experienced technical difficulties for about a minute and a half just after dropping Levels. Maybe this was a sign from the rave gods to walk off the stage or maybe it was his own equipment trying to tell him not to play his new music, but whatever it was, he should have listened. What Avicii came on with next were unreleased tracks off his next studio album featuring bluegrass artists Mac Davis, Audra Mae and Dan Tyminski. Does anyone else see a disconnect here?
What Avicii did to the 100,000+ attendees at Ultra on Day 1, I wouldn't wish upon my mortal enemies. For those of you who have been living on planet Neptune for the past couple years, Ultra is an EDM festival – EDM – meaning electronic DANCE music, emphasis on the DANCE. 100,000+ fans that paid hundreds of dollars to come all the way to the dance capital of the nation do not really want to be entertained by cowbells and harmonicas for an hour holding their lighters in the air waving them back and forth. Miami is not that crowd, nor will it ever be. A lot of critics are saying it was hit or miss, he was trying something new, it was too advanced for our time, blah blah blah blah blah..it sucked donkey balls! Ginormous, oversized, sweaty, hairy donkey balls! You wanna try something new Avicii, then do it on your own damn time! I came to dance to electro tunes, and dance to electro tunes I shall!
You should have seen the droves of people fleeing the scene the second that wreck came back on the speakers, as if a murder had just been committed and people were running away to any stage they could find, just so they wouldn't die too. Avicii's set seemed more like a PR stunt by his managers than a true DJ set. They knew the show would be streaming across the world so they tried to take advantage of that. They saw opportunity to try and bring in a “fresh new crowd” of people seeing as country music (for reason I'll never understand) is the most listened to genre of music in North America. But what they didn't plan for was that those country folk wouldn't be watching a live stream of Ultra Music Festival if their lives depended on it! They're too busy in the barnyard sipping on moonshine whacking off the family cow while their daughters watch and churn corn!
Avicii swung hard, and boy did he miss the ball completely. His set as a whole was just too scattered with no fluidity whatsoever. He tried referencing too many hit beats like Rattle and In My Mind without giving any of them a chance to build up. I thought it got bad with Duck Sauce's funk track “Anyway'” but his snippet of “Thrift Shop” was the icing on the cake, showing how he didn't care about his particular style of music anymore and that it was more about appealing to as many people as possible… oh and while throwing in a shotty transition to try and make them all flow. I got news for Avicii; people enjoy his music because of the feel-good, uppity style that resonates in all of his tracks. Once you go bending over backwards to try and appease everyone else, you end up putting out songs that sounds like Taylor Swift getting run over by a lawnmower. If Avicii wants to stay relevant, for the love of god does he need to fire his managers like yesterday and go back to what made him big to begin with.
So if you couldn't tell, Avicii was a stone in my shoe on Friday, but at Ultra Music Festival its hard to stay down in that kind of environment. Between kickass after parties every night and A+ DJs around the clock, there was always something to do. If you shuffled back and forth between two stages all weekend then I pity you. Ultra is your chance to see people you've never seen before, not guys who tour on the reg and you've seen 6x over. Probably one of the best times I had was when I wandered over to the trapped stage early in the day on Saturday for DJ Craze's set. Space to dance as far as the eye could see, and deafening speakers that caused your ears to ring within 5 minutes of being in the immediate proximity. That's one thing that Ultra does great - the way they section off different subgenres of EDM between different stages. Nothing is better than hopping back and forth between, trap, dub, progressive, trance… and even a little tech house here and there helps you relax yet keep the beat going!
Day 2 was highlighted by Deadmua5's hypnotic set, and anyone that was able to make their way towards the dropzone more than likely stayed there for the remainder of the day. With heavyhitters like Flux and Bassnectar throwing it the fuck down, there was no reason to leave that stage for hours on end. Day 3 and the final day of Ultra was the most raw day in terms of turnout. Everyone who showed up in the morning to midafternoon were the troopers of the weekend, the ones who dug deep after 2 days of raging out to give it one last hoorah before going back to the real world the very next day. If you were amongst these select few people I salute you, as did the DJs who played some of the best sets of the weekend. SVD and Dirty South were remarkable during the day and if you hadn't had the chance to scope out the main stage due to the overwhelming amounts of people there all weekend, this was your best chance. Probably the most anticipated day for many, Sunday was the day Carl Cox's mega structure transformed into ASOT dragging the inner zombie out of all of us. Honestly, any time spent at the trance tent is time not to be taken granted for; time always has a way of flying by when completely zoned into whichever spellbinding DJ takes the reins.
So everything about Ultra weekend sounded pretty good right? Well the way I prefaced this post should be a word to the wise that not everything appears as it seems. To the untrained eye and mainly the first timer's experience at UMF 15, Ultra is an adult's playland, a fairytale in which one can behave and do whatever their heart desires…and it is. But to people like that little assless chapped kandi girl I met at Ultra 11, its a ticking time bomb to Ultra's max potential, and ya know what my friends...I think its been reached.
The amount of people that Ultra attracts every year has been growing exponentially ever since its inaugural show in 1999. Given this trend, it’s only a matter of time before the park reaches its maximum capacity right? That time is now and anyone who had attended Ultra before this year can attest to that. When I go to a dance festival, the main reason I go is to dance. In the past couple years I've had no problem doing this whatsoever, and I'll be the first to tell you if you don't have enough room to dance its because you're not dancing hard enough--if people see someone getting after it they're going to respect their space if not join the unavoidable dance circle brewing. However, given the overwhelming amount of people at UMF 15, there wasn't a spot in the entire park that you could go without a conga line of people passing in front of you at any given time. The same spots that I would use for land markers to meet up with friends during Ultra the year before were so congested this year that you would have to use sites 100 yards further back from the stage just to have room to breathe. Consequentially, the further you are from the stage the less you feel the music, and if you can't feel the music then you can't dance, and if you can't dance at a dance festival, then what's the point? Seriously?
I've never been more frustrated in my entire life struggling to gain space to simply breathe at times and that’s saying a lot considering the amount of times I've been to Pacha NYC, that place is tighter than a mouse's asshole. The way the park was setup, you could tell the coordinators of the event did not foresee certain areas being problematic once completely filled up with people. Perfect example was the addition of the Dropzone tent in between the Mega Structure and the main stage. This stage was nonexistent last year so passing through to get to other stages in the park wasn't an issue whatsoever. Unfortunately, the brainiacs behind Ultra decided to add this monstrous edifice and fill it with some of the best talent all weekend, therefore creating a walkway that would bottleneck people just trying to get to the other side of the park. This area became immobile and any wanderers would be sucked into a sea of people and spat out where ever the crowd took you. The poor placement of this single stage drastically limited how quickly people could move from one stage to another restricting the DJs you could see and the experience that went along with it.
The most evident display of how Bayfront park can no longer be the site for UMF was during Swedish House Mafia's so called "final performance." For anyone that witnessed the live stream of this set, they probably heralded how unbelievably epic it was and how the hour and a half set brought them to tears. To the untrained eye that may be so, but what you probably didn't notice is that they never once showed a visual of the park from the street. If they had, people would have seen that every square inch of space was completely filled, nowhere to walk, nowhere to dance, nowhere to stand without getting pushed by the person getting pushed next to you. Personally I thought the Swedes set ranked as one of the worst of the weekend. It was very predictable, and nothing more than a greatest hits performance segued with 5 minute interludes of the Swedes talking and saying how much they love us and love music and vomit.
If Ultra wants to continue to outdo itself by adding more stages, more DJs, more people, they're going to need to relocate the festival, cause Miami certainly isn't the spot anymore. From 2006-2011 Ultra reigned supreme at Bicentennial Park, a 30 acre venue that had all the stages set up as a giant circle so it was very easy to move about, too bad there was only about a quarter the amount of people in attendance then compared to what the festival draws now. Ultra relocated to Bayfront in 2012 and designed the venue to be more scattered - almost more amusement park-like to spread out the crowds. Great idea right? Would have been if Bayfront wasn't only a whopping 2 acres bigger than Bicentennial! Sounds to me like a lot of great ideas, just the lack of resources to do it.
If only there was an untapped goldmine somewhere in the U.S. where all the debauchery and everything a festival stands for could coexist? On second thought, one of the most talked about festivals around the EDM watercooler last year was Counterpoint - the first of its kind that brought campers together for three days in the Chattahoochee Hills of Georgia. The festival was such a huge hit that the widely acclaimed Tomorrowland is making its United States debut in the same exact location! So what's so good about the distant and placid plains of Georgia? Only about 32,000 acres of land! With that much space you can have whoever and whatever you want at a festival! The sooner the creators of Ultra realize this, the sooner they'll be able to assemble the greatest festival ever made. Yea you miss out on the nightlife that South Beach has to offer with a move like this, but at this point something's gotta give.
At the pace Ultra is headed given the location, the rapid growth, and their propensity to sell tickets to an already sold out show the day of just to milk a few more bucks, I simply can't see this festival's run going more than another year or two. In the meantime though, we have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming months. With EDCNY right around the corner, Governor's Island reopening for all the summertime festivals, and how can we forget the 5th year of Electric Zoo. We are on the precipice of entertainment in the metropolitan area, the most difficult part of which is choosing which spots to unleash your inner BK. Don’t know where to start? That's ok, I'll be sure to give you the 411 on all the new shows coming up in the near future and where to find your queens of the dance. Stay tuned and stay sweet my BK kids.