March 29, 2011

An Ultra-Cool Experience

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What do you get when you put 50,000 people in a park in downtown Miami raving and rolling around?  For my first spring break in college I did what all true electronic music fans wish to do: attend Ultra Music Festival. Ultra has been held every year for the past 13 years in Miami and every year the organizers continue to outdo themselves. Originally starting as a small one day event on Miami Beach, Ultra has now grown to a three day extravaganza with hundreds of artists and has been held at Bicentennial Park in downtown Miami since 2001. This year, for the first time ever, Ultra sold out before the festival began.

On the first day of Ultra (March 25), the gates were set to open at 4 p.m., but the most dedicated fans showed up hours before that with the hopes of being one of the first to enter the historic festival. As soon as I entered the festival grounds, the first thing I noticed was the enormity of it. The main stage had standing room sufficient for 40,000 people and the tent, appropriately named “A State of Trance,” was a two-story mega structure. Some highlights early in the day were Designer Drugs, an electro artist who never seemed to lose the attention of the crowd; Dutch house DJ Fedde Le Grand; and Italian electro house producer Benny Benassi. One group who seemed out of place at the festival was Erasure, best known as the group who produced the Robot Unicorn Attack theme song (although they never actually played the song).

As the light faded on the festival the talent increased. Up-and-coming Swede Avicii played at an extremely packed dome where he gave the crowd a taste of some tracks from his yet unreleased album, including “I.D.” and “Penguin.” Another major highlight of the night was Norwegian duo Royksopp, whose performance and light show sent even the most sober people at the festival on a trip. Back at the main stage, while Pendulum’s set soundtracked the mounting anticipation for trance legend Tiësto’s headlining set. As soon as he took the stage a massive roar could be heard throughout downtown Miami. The crowd was enraptured by Tiesto’s performance, which included well-established trance classics as well as some unfinished versions of songs set to debut on his next album. At the end of the first day 50,000 ravers slowly made their way out of the festival grounds, excitedly realizing that this experience was not even halfway through yet.

The second day at the festival was set to be the best of all three. I arrived at the festival around 2 p.m. and immediately made my way over to the “A State of Trance” tent (whose name had been changed to “Carl Cox and Friends”), where Steve Aoki was set to play. Aoki was perhaps one of the best stage performers at the festival. At every one of his shows one can expect to see him spraying the crowd with champagne, followed by an over-the-top stage dive during his most well renowned song, “Warp 1.9.” Following Steve Aoki in the tent was another legend: Afrojack. This would be the first of four times he would perform at the festival and with every set he and the crowd seemed to get more and more excited. Halfway through Afrojack’s set I made my way over to the “Live Stage,” where Skrillex was set to perform. If you’re a fan of electronica and haven’t heard his sound yet I urge you to do so. His set started with one of his most classic songs, “My Name is Skrillex,” but the energy in the crowd wouldn’t reach its peak until he played “Scatta,” at which point a riotous mosh pit broke out and anyone who was still sober enough to realize where they were stayed clear.

After experiencing Skrillex’s spectacular set I rushed over to the main stage for Kaskade. Early into his set the traditional white balloons were released from the main stage and a full-on rave had finally begun. Following Kaskade came Armin Van Buuren, a trance legend second only to Tiësto. At this point the sun had set and the complexity and beauty of Armin’s light show captivated all the ravers and rollers out there who witnessed it.

As soon as Armin was done Underworld took the stage but the majority of the crowd at the main stage was not there for Underworld, they were there to get a prime spot for the final act: Deadmau5. Five years ago Joel Zimmerman, the mind behind the Deadmau5 moniker, was unknown in the electronic music world. Now he is possibly the most well-known house artist in the world. He performed perched atop his legendary cube with his unmistakable LED head. His set included many classics such as “Ghosts and Stuff” and “I Remember,” but it also included a preview of a song which he claims will be his best work yet: “Get in the Cart Pig” (a reference to the open-source computer game Minecraft). At the end of the second day it seemed that many in the crowd, myself included, were wondering where they would find the energy for the third and final day of the festival.

On the last day I arrived at the festival at 4 p.m., since many acts that day were artists playing at the festival for a second or third time. I started at the main stage with Wolfgang Gartner’s set, which featured standouts “Illmerica” and “Space Jam.” Following Gartner I wandered around the festival paying a visit to Aoki again as well as Avicii. When the night had come once again, I paid another visit to see Skrillex in the dome which proved to be one of the best sets of the day once again.

Finally, I gathered whatever energy I had left and made my way to the main stage where David Guetta played an incredible set. The crowd’s energy never seemed to dwindle during his set due to his positive energy and accompanying performances by Will.I.Am and Afrojack.

The last night’s headliner was The Chemical Brothers, who put on a spectacular light show but failed to captivate the crowd at the same level as Guetta (perhaps due to the fact that people had now been raving for almost 72 hours).

At midnight Ultra 13 came to a close. The festival made this the best spring break I have had so far and further increased my love for electronic music. So what do you get when you put 50,000 people in a park in downtown Miami raving and rolling around? The Ultra Music Festival experience.

Original Author: Peter Noback