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Published: 2011/04/06
by Julia Rickert

Ultra Music Festival, Bicentennial Park, Miami, FL – 3/25-27

Glitch Mob – photos by Julia Rickert

I’ve always enjoyed the more mellow, grungier and intimate festivals like Vibes or Camp Barefoot, but last weekend, I found my inner appreciation for electronic music at the 13th annual Ultra Music Festival. Unlike many jamband festivals, this vast 50,000 person, three-day festival had no camping options as the festival grounds are right in the heart of downtown Miamii, touching the water. Each day thousands of neon colored, glowstick holding, glitter covered electronic fans poured through the security gates to dance to the world’s most famous DJs before spilling onto the streets of downtown Miami after the festival ended at midnight.

There were six stage setups at Ultra. My personal favorite and the spot where I spent most of my time was at the Live Stage; it was the closest to the water and was the only one that housed the artists that played actual instruments. On the other hand, the Main Stage was by far the most expansive, hosting the biggest and rowdiest crowds for headliners Tiesto, Deadmau5 and The Chemical Brothers. Other interesting tents included the Tower of Ultra, a large tent with its DJs spinning high up in a hole in a 50-foot high LCD light wall and the Heineken Dome, a somewhat air-conditioned golf ball shaped dome for people 21 and up.

The gates opened at 4pm on Friday, although most of the crowds started showing up later in the evening and getting in to the actual site even later than that. Lines were extraordinary because security was tight as outside food or drink of any type was not allowed into the festival grounds (annoyingly enough water was available for sale only for the small fortune of $5). Tiesto took control of the Main Stage for an energizing hour and a half set on Friday evening. Halfway through though, I posted out for what I thought was the most exciting show of the evening: David Murphy’s first show back performing with Sound Tribe Sector 9 after his battle with cancer this winter. Their hour long set suggested that he has made a full recovery, rocking some new tunes like “When The Dust Settles” and really getting into the jam at their end of their set during “Abcees>Rent>Evasive>The Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature.”

Saturday at Ultra was a day of discovery for me. The only DJ I was really excited for was for headliner Deadmau5 to take the Main Stage at 10:30 pm, as I missed seeing Conspirator’s noon opener set, but I found a lot of dance-worthy artists throughout the day. Skrillex was my first stop. His premier set of the weekend (he had another one that evening and ended up making appearances with several DJs throughout the weekend) was full of energizing dub-step that made people go a bit wild for the early 3 pm hour. Another artist who got people going on Saturday afternoon who also made several appearances was Afrojack. Although most of his songs contain sampling, the crowds were having a good time dancing like crazy. Another frequent sampler, Boys Noize, came next on the Live Stage, while the current number one DJ in the world, Armin Van Buuren tore up the Main Stage.

Just after sundown, one of the more indie/alternative acts of the festival, Cut Copy played an exciting set on the Live Stage. Hot Chip-esque and ‘80’s pop influenced, Cut Copy was a nice break from all the heavy bass I listened to throughout the day. Before heading to Deadmau5, I caught a few minutes of the eccentric group Empire of the Sun. The band had one of the most entertaining stage presence with elaborate costumes and an impressive visual backdrop.

Deadmau5 delivered an extremely solid set. The buildups were long and frequent, making audience members scream in anticipation for the drops. He played all of his major hits like “Ghosts N Stuff,” “Raise Your Weapon,” and “FML.” Also, during “Sofi Needs a Ladder,” Tommy Lee appeared high above Deadmau5 playing a drum set in the sky while singer Sofia Toufa danced around belting out the lyrics.

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