As home to one of the world's largest electronic music festivals, you already know WVUM was on the scene. DJs Ryan Vasta, Nikhil Delahaye and Nicole Spencer were all over it, click ahead here to see what they thought of Friday's opening
This weekend, in a sea of scantily clad neon ravers, I found myself at Ultra Music Festival. On Friday, I stepped off the Metro Mover and looked around at my fellow Ultra-goers with excitement. The next few days had great music and tons of dancing in store for all of us. I saw flags from places all over the world like Mexico, Colombia, the U.K., and Maryland, just to name a few. Everyone was drenched in glitter and color. I saw duct tape on places where duct tape should not be. All of this was in the name of Ultra fashion, and it worked. I think that the fashion is one of the most interesting parts of Ultra, because I'm always surprised with a new trend each year. Whether you go topless or in a morphsuit, Ultra brings people from all corners of the world together through the power of music. As cheesy as that sounds, it is a beautiful thing when you really think about it.
Getting into the venue, I stopped to look at the enormous crowd in front of me. It was about 3:45, 15 minutes before the gates were supposed to open. The anticipation and excitement was palpable, as the crowd would break out into cheers every few minutes, ready to start the weekend. The thud of the house beat playing over the loudspeakers gave the experience an almost animalistic feel. Despite enormous delays due to the sheer number of people, the energy remained on high all the way through the gate and lasted throughout the day. I saw many different acts including Diplo, Datsik, Basement Jaxx, MIA, and MGMT, but there were a couple that really stood out and were the highlights of my experience.
After the routine bag checks and ticket scanning, I bolted to Main Stage at full force to make sure I didn't miss my first set. On arriving, I was left in awe of the intricacy of the Main Stage Vortex. Of the three years I've been to Ultra, this year's setup was the most impressive. The stage had dozens of screens that were always flashing incredible visuals or live feed from the cameras that circled the massive crowd.
I made it through just in time to catch Diplo, and what an incredible way to start the festival. He brought some friends along to make his set rowdy as heck. Waka Flocka was already up on the Main Stagerapping along when I arrived. People were swaying and climbing on trees. It was a spectacular moment. A few songs later, Diplo introduced Sean Paul and the other members of Major Lazer, and the crowd went wild.
I was a little bit surprised at how excited everyone was about Sean Paul, but when he started singing, I felt reunited with the spirit of myself circa 2005-2006, and I couldn't help but dance along. He certainly brought the "Temperature" up (hah--Sean Paul puns). Diplo made sure to integrate some Major Lazer jams mixed in with strong drops and Caribbean beats. Every single person in the crowd was dancing, and it was a sight to behold.
After a ton of genuinely fun songs, it got real. Diplo blasted "Express Yourself". I think everyone knows what happened at that point--and for those of you who don't know, I have one word: TWERKING. It was hard to resist shaking "what your momma gave you" when that song was on full blast. Diplo brought out his own Twerk Team on stage, which consisted of two women twerking furiously in many different directions, including a one in a split (that one was painful to imagine, I know). Everyone was dancing or twerking (…or trying to). It was extremely entertaining.
Next, I decided to check out the Carl Cox & Friends 10th Anniversary Mega Structure, where the European presence was strong. Marco Carola was commanding the stage; delivering tasty house beats to the crowd that had gathered under the massive tent. Carola played an excellent set, and the production at the Mega-Structure was as impressive as ever. With ample space to move around and dance, plus an amazing lightshow that never stopped, I always found myself returning to the mega structure, just to relax, dance, and meet new people. Massive hexagonal screens lowered and rose above the crowd, along with plenty of lights and lasers made for an atmosphere not found anywhere else. The vibe was the friendliest in comparison to the other stages and I would highly recommend everyone to check it out, even if you might not like the music. Before I knew it, the time had come to move on to the next stage and a new artist experience.
Glitch Mob were one of the most highly anticipated artists to perform at Ultra this year, and they lived up to every bit of the hype. Touring for the first time in three years, they are fresh off the heels of their latest album, “Love, Death, Immortality.” which drew in a massive crowd that spilled onto either side of the Worldwide stage. The trio started their set with “Our Demons,” staying true to their name by battering the crowd with their signature heavy, glitch sound.
They were on fire, electrifying the now, more spacious, Worldwide Stage. The ridiculously heavy set had us grooving and head-banging, as they went through new songs like “Can’t Kill Us” and “Skullclub”, and old classics like “Drive It Like You Stole It” and “We Can Make The World Stop.” The set even included a remix of 2Pac’s “California Love.” Their usage of visuals was superb and really lent itself well to their more rhythmic, percussion heavy beats. Their love for their music and their genuine appreciation for the crowd spilled through and the energy in the crowd was just of pure happiness.
My favorite act of the day was at Live Stage. Some of you may remember her as that girl who sang "Paper Planes" a few years back. She is M.I.A., the British rapper who stole the show on Friday night. After her outrageous new album Matangi, I was stoked to find out she was going to be performing at UMF, and she did not disappoint at all. She opened with her classic song, "Bucky Done Gun", and every person in the crowd wasdancing, bouncing, singing, or doing all of the above.
She rocked her performance with two talented dancers and incredible visuals. We laughed as M.I.A stopped security from vacating the stage of her posse, easily 40-strong, that she encouraged the crow to come join. She performed a wide variety of songs from her discography including older jams like "Boyz" from Kala, and new jams like "Y.A.L.A." and "Double Bubble Trouble" from Matangi. Uring "Y.A.L.A.", she climbed up on the speaker in front of me and grabbed the GoPro that the man next to me was holding, certainly rivaling crowd-pleaser performances like Steve Aoki’s legendary cake and crowd-rafting.
Unfortunately, security was not enjoying the show as much as the crowd and prompted the Brit to wrap it up. It must be easy to lose track of the time when you are oozing awesomeness all over the crowd. Despite being cut short, she closed strong with “Paper Planes”, and every single person in the crowd moved to the beat and made sure to highlight those signature gunshots.. Everyone was singing along. She killed it.
Next, I headed back to the main stage where it was time to see Kaskade. By this time, it was dark so every part of the main stage was lit up in an absolutely gorgeous display of engineering. “The Vortex” was sheer sensory overload from the combination of lights, flames, smoke, and fireworks that was completely unique to its daytime effect; it now looked like a giant speaker.
Kaskade’s fusion of deep house and big room anthems lent itself well to the environment as the emotion pouring through was evident, and powerful. He highlighted mostly his most recent songs from “Atmosphere” and some of the remixes he had made including his remix of Lana Del Ray’s “Young and Beautiful”. Never afraid to challenge his audience, his set was far more satisfying than what you might expect from a main stage set, although there isn’t much like watching the massive Main Stage amongst Bayfront Park’s palm trees and the high-rises of Downtown Miami, helping to create an intense, emotional experience.
We decided to end the night with the prince of French techno, Gesaffelstein. There weren’t as many people in the crowd as I expected, but considering this was his debut Ultra performance, it was a respectable turn out. Right away, his signature sound brought punching bass and strong percussion that the crowd took to immediately, though I did notice some confusion from those who were expecting a traditional festival sound. The growing crowd was thrown into frenzy as he played through songs such as “Belgium” and “Pursuit.”
His performance was unique, utilizing minimal visuals and letting the music speak for itself. Not once did he get on the mic to yell at the crowd to hype them up, he simply just continued to play. He also presented a different image than other DJs, wearing his signature slim black suit, and going through cigarettes with increasing frequency. The drum beats were so crushingly heavy, we were left wondering if we had just seen a concert or had been in a 12 round fight; hopefully more people have turned on to Gesaffelstein. Perched upon his pedestal on the smoke-filled Live Stage, accompanied by nothing more than black and white video and white strobe lights, Gesaffelstein was so into his set that he went past the midnight curfew and had the sound system shut on him. Ultra Music Festival proved why they are one of the most popular music festivals in the world.
Overall, my day 1 experience was amazing, bar some mishaps in terms of organization at the beginning. But in terms of the actual music, every performer played their hearts out and were at the top of their game. As I walked out the gate and back to the metro stop, the quiet of the outside world struck me. I feel very fortunate to have experienced Ultra again this year. Music festivals like this are able to transport you to another, fantastical world without you even realizing it, and it’s not until you leave that you realize how great your experience was. Even if you don't understand a word of what the people next to you are saying, you share the same joyful vibes, and you are surely sharing in a memorable experience. The energy that radiates from every square foot of Bayfront Park is contagious. And most importantly, the music is stellar.