This is how it starts every year: a flood of images, stories and reviews from SXSW in Austin, TX. Time to get your game face on, kid, because now you’re looking down the barrel of Winter Music Conference, Miami Music Week, and Ultra Music Festival, which is (for many) the beginning of Festival Season.
Ultra went worldwide in 2012, with events in Argentina, Brazil, Ibiza (Spain), and Seoul South Korea, and new events planned for Chile and Croatia later this year. Then, following the example set by Coachella, Ultra announced an expanded TWO weekend festival for 2013, book-end events to the traditional Winter Music Conference (WMC) and Miami Music Week (MMW). That was a pretty fucking BIG risk to take at the time, especially so close on the heels of EDM’s “coming out party” in 2012.
Well, any doubts were quickly squashed as ticket sales for both weekends were brisk, fueled by the announcement that Swedish House Mafia would be closing the Main Stage on the second weekend as the last date on “One Last Tour”, which sees Axwell, Steve Angello, and Sebastian Ingrosso performing together purportedly for the last time. After hitting #2 on the Billboard charts with “Don’t You Worry Child”, that’s a pretty audacious way to wind down a project.
UMF TV’s live feed of the first weekend showed vastly upgraded production for the main stage, the “mega structure” (home to Carl Cox and Friends) and the Ultra Europe stage. The Amphitheater features LIVE performances from Bloody Beetroots, Hot Chip, Pretty Lights, Crystal Castles, Sleigh Bells, Major Lazer, and many more. With Electric Daisy Carnival staging a new event in Chicago this year, and Tomorrowland reportedly eying Atlanta for Tomorrow World in 2014, Ultra stepped up their game to be considered the premiere electronic music festival in North America.
What many DON’T realize about WMC, MMW and Ultra is that, often, the clubs are where it’s at for the true fans of electronic music. With some of the world’s finest clubs in Miami proper and a plethora of venues dotting the South Beach strand, clubbers from around the world get the chance to see many of the biggest names in the business playing in fairly intimate venues (sans explosions, trampolines and flying cake) for a once-a-year taste of the finest in nightlife and club culture. There are generally no less than three concurrent parties that you want to attend, making evening planning gut-wrenching. Honestly, it’s overwhelming.
I’ll be on-site In Miami starting Thursday evening for semi-live reports for IndyMojo and Mojo Radio, hoping to get some comments from the talent appearing at MMW as well as check out some of the super-sick day parties on the strand in South Beach (DJ Mag at the Delano, anyone?). Audio recorder and camera batteries are charged and at the ready. Will our intrepid hero survive the weekend? Stay tuned to find out…
Friday March 22
After a pretty LONG day of travel (my own personal version of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”), got feet-down in Miami and arrived at Base Camp around 9pm last night, and enjoyed a fantastic dinner with my hosts, Kathy and Carl (long-time Miami natives, and a tremendous resource on navigating the city). I was pretty wiped out from the excursion and didn’t make the trip into South Beach for the UMF pre-party, a decision I’m likely to regret until this time next year. Hey NASA – get to fucking work on that teleporter already…
I’ve done a technical run-through of all the gear, got a few pointers from ace cameraman Carl BaseCamp, filed a preliminary report for Mojo Radio on what I think *might* be the highlights of Day 1, and am preparing to go catch an MTA train from BaseCamp and head into Bayfront Park. For those planning on attending next year: take my advice and load up an MTA EasyCard. You can pre-pay by mail, have it delivered, and use it to travel on the Miami-Dade County train and bus lines a whole hell of a lot cheaper than taking cabs. The Trains run until 2AM and pick back up at 6AM, conveniently when a lot of the South Beach night clubs are kicking you the hell out so they can clean up and start all over again that night.
Holy shitballs… Day 1 (ie the ‘short day’) is in the books. I was able to sneak away from the press area a few times to get a feel for what was happening throughout the festival, and the scope and scale of the event is almost indescribable. Every one of the six stages I managed to visit today was mobbed. The crowds this year seem an order of magnitude larger and more intense, which is only amplified by the over-the-top production. Tiesto’s closing set on the main stage was so crowded that even using the service paths was nigh impossible. Bloody Beetroots’ live set at the Amphitheater was rocking, and Luciano had the crowd whipped into a frenzy at the Mega Structure to close Carl Cox & Friends.
I got to speak to lots of performers today, some of which will run as late updates on Mojo Radio later this morning. The personal highlight for me was to meet Nile Rodgers, the beating heart of disco icons Chic and collaborator on the new Daft Punk album. The word “legend” gets bandied about quite a lot, but this encounter left me hands trembling and completely at a loss for words. His appearance was unscheduled, and rumor has it that he contacted some friends in the press corps to attend to “see all the pretty girls”. Whatever the reason, that was the icing on a pretty fucking tasty day-1 cake.
Hopefully I’ll get some of the pictures from today posted here early in the morning. Tommorow looks to be the day of days, with Calvin Harris, Fatboy Slim, deadmau5, Hot Chip, Faithless, Flux Pavilion vs Doctor P, Bassnectar, Andy C, Dillon Francis, Sub Focus, Riva Starr and Funkagenda on the schedule. Continue to check the Twitter feed and Facebook – my goddamn phone went DOA around 8pm today, but a fresh battery and a healthy regimen of plugging the bastard in should make the in-the-moment updates go a lot smoother. Check in with you all later today.
Of course, Internetz on site decided to get wonky today, so I was unable to update in near-real-time. That being said, temperatures were in the mid-80s and not a cloud in the sky as I made my way from BaseCamp to the press area in Bayfront Park.
Grabbed a little nibble in Bayfront Marketplace, the outdoor mall that sits adjacent to the park proper. If you plan on attending next year, you can save yourself a little cash by hitting the mall for food before you enter the festival. A pretty decent New York slice and a Coke runs $6 at the mall, which is a hell of a sight cheaper than you’d find it on the grounds.
So, no sooner than I step on site than I nearly knock skulls with 12th Planet, clowning with some of the female help in the press area. Chatted briefly (off-mic) about his Indy gigs, his upcoming set at the Dropzone stage, and one quick station ID later – poof! – he was gone.
Moments later, I had a bombshell dropped on me. Chuckie was performing with a “secret guest”, and I overheard a conversation that guitar legend Slash was on the grounds. It didn’t take a genius to put those two together (especially after Madonna’s appearance with Avicii last year), so I posted the teaser and set about trying to find a second source before going public with the story. It was KILLING me to sit on that information, but I had to do the responsible thing and find a second source, preferably from inside the UMF staff, before going public with the information.
I approached Chuckie’s Altantic Records contact and mentioned that I believed I knew what that situation was, and they were NOT pleased. They asked me to embargo the info until the event was actually taking place, and it’s always a good idea to NOT PISS OFF ATLANTIC RECORDS. I attempted to tease the special guest and point people to the UMFTV live stream to catch it as it happened, but WiFi on the festival grounds proper is non-existent, and cellular service was so overwhelmed by the masses of Twitter and Facebook updates clogging the cell networks that it just wasn’t going to happen. I shot some pics from the pit, and after it was closed found a decent place stage-right to try and at least get a good shot of one of contemporary rock’s legendary guitarists. Fifteen minutes from the end of the set, a platform rises 10 feet above stage level, bearing a top-hat wearing, Les Paul slinging Slash as he blazed a gnarly solo over 32 bars of Chuckie’s set. I feel very lucky to have been there for such a special moment. Mother-fucking SLASH!
The crowds for this event are SO much more dense when compared to last year. As early afternoon turned into evening, you could sense the pressure from what has to be record-breaking crowds for Ultra attendance. Throngs of fans crowded the Trapped stage to catch Flosstradamus and Dillon Francis bring it low. I happened upon that stage just as Baauer was dropping some personal bootleg remix of “The Harlem Shake” and no video, words or images can do justice to the bedlam and carnage in the first twenty rows – one of the most intense crowd responses I’ve ever seen.
Fatboy Slim popped through teh press area on his way to the main stage to begin stirring the pot and ramping up the energy and anticipation of the Main Stage home stretch – Calvin Harris, David Guetta, and the closing set from deadmau5. His time was brief, but I managed to catch up with his tour manager and asked what their week was like. Last Sunday, Ultra. A different South American country every night of last week, and back to South America tomorrow morning. Seven countries in nine days, and they won’t return to the UK until next Wednesday. An insane travel schedule for (quite possibly) an insane man.
Although pressed for time, I got to say ‘hey’ to Flux Pavilion and Doctor P as they breezed through on their way to Dropzone for their shift in command of the most terrifying low-end sound system I’ve ever been around. I moved into the photo pit to try and find an angle to shoot the stage when the first big bass drop shoved me towards the retaining fence. Even with 20dB attenuators in my ears, I could feel the subfrequencies resonate INSIDE my skull and sinuses and knock my equilibrium slightly out-of-whack. This set was in a much more intimate venue than last week’s set on the Main Stage, and the close proximity of the crowd coupled with the re-goddamn-diculous sound system turned the crowd into a choppy, churning sea sweaty bodies and rage-faces.
I was advised to haul ass to the photo pit for some cool photo ops during David Guetta’s set. I’d peeked at some of the performances from weekend #1 and saw the design and layout of the Main Stage, but it doesn’t give you the sense of scale that seeing it in person does. If you’ve ever been to an Imax film and sat a little too close (you know, where you have to move your head to see the ENTIRE screen), then you have a frame of reference. The structure towers over the park, standing at least 5 stories high and threaded with what must be miles of cables to control an obscene number of LED screens, lasers, spot scanners, and a whole bunch of shit I don’t even have names for yet.
David Guetta has made it a tradition to debut new material in Miami for Ultra music festival, a ritual he claims has brought him a ton of good luck. This year is no different, with Guetta debuting his latest single near the opening of his set, which sounded a whole lot like Usher singing over a sample of Alice Deejay’s “Better Off Alone”. The peak of this set was a production piece that looked like they set the entire stage on fire as pyro and fireworks blasted into the night sky. I blasted off a ton of pics before putting the camera down to bathe in the heat, light, and thunderous roar of the crowd.
A quick bottle of water and a re-set before heading BACK into the frey at the main stage to set up for deadmau5, who’s set was simul-cast on UMFTV. New stage production and a fresh new set of material promised to make the official closing of day #2 special indeed. Silhouetted against a curtain of spotlights, the massive carbon-fiber mau5-head bobbed rhythmically over the top of the latest incarnation of the cube. Kudos to the projection mapping gurus and the digital artists involved in setting the tone and mood on stage as deadmau5 dodged shifted from track to track. The anthemic “Raise Your Weapon” became an incredible sing-along moment for a crowd that was packed solid from stage-front to the back fences near Biscayne Boulevard.
Holy shit am I tired, and still trying to process everything. If the internet decides not to shit the bed tomorrow, I’ll try to get some of the images posted and give you a preview of day #3 and our farewell to Ultra Music Festival 15.