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Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

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    ultra 2012 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012“Miami Beach is where neon goes to die.” -Lenny Bruce

    According to the company’s website, “DayGlo Color Corp. is the world’s largest manufacturer of daylight fluorescent pigments. We develop technologies that improve and enhance any color, from subtle specialty effects, to glow-in-the-dark pigments, to our classic range of fluorescents.” One might argue they not only improve and enhance any color, but also human beings – that is, if Ultra Music Festival is any indication.

    Throughout the festival’s three-day excursion, which sets down on Bayfront Park in Miami each March, thousands upon thousands of festivalgoers brand themselves with the stuff. Anywhere else this style would be considered fashion suicide, but it’s posh within the festival’s confines. In fact, if you don’t have any sort of neon, sparklies, or what have you, it’s as if you’re not one of them. No kidding, they’ll probably think you’re a narc.

    As kitschy as DayGlo appears to the layman, it adds an aesthetic that’s oddly futuristic in scope. It may seem uniform, but when everyone’s showcasing radiant blues, yellows, pinks, lime greens, et al., it’s hard to imagine you’re anywhere else but some other post-modern world. It’s like you’re in a live-action rendition of The Jetsons, only it’s really loud, everyone’s zoned out on alcohol or drugs, and even the robots are cute.

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    Of course, there’s more to this festival than just arbitrary fashion decor, but really, that’s the stuff you remember. The music’s great, with dozens of artists pushing their respective genres, but it’s the people and the friendly community within Ultra that separates it from anywhere else. Look, whenever I told friends or colleagues that I was attending Ultra, I was met with sympathetic eyes, as I was shipping off to war, or something really dangerous – clearly they didn’t know what they were talking about.

    cap0768 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    I’ve never encountered a more jovial crowd, one thrilled to be alive and away from society. Sure, there’s a likely chance the drugs were doing most of the talking for everyone, but at the end of the day, a happy soul is sure better than an angry one. Also, something dawned on me while I shuffled around the park in a glorious stupor: This is the future.

    It’s easy to write Ultra off as an escape to “get fucked up and laid”, but when you’re dancing under thousands of intricate LCD lights, ricocheting an array of colors that somehow go with the extraterrestrial music that’s being pumped out on stage, and everyone’s just synched together mentally, there’s something rather spiritually intelligent about it all. It’s as if there’s this higher plain of existence here that’s being attained, and perhaps we’re the fools for missing out.

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    You don’t even need the drugs to get there; instead, you just have to lose yourself in the ether, and go in with a sense of humor. Otherwise, you’ll begin to really think hell is on Earth.

    -Michael Roffman
    President/Editor-in-Chief 

    Friday, March 23rd

    Neon Indian – Live Stage – 5:20 p.m.

    cap0023 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    “I feel like we’re at a seminar right now,” Neon Indian frontman Alan Palomo observed. “And I should have a Q&A about the effects of having a loud monitor.” After some frustrations with sound check, the chilly Texas indie rockers, with a penchant for ’80s New Wave, submerged in the warbly synths of “Local Joke” just as the sun began its downward shift. It was hot, it was sweaty, but it was fitting. With so many DayGlo enthusiasts everywhere, the band’s glossy, liquified jams (or, just its name alone) felt almost too choice for the scene. For a nighttime act, this daytime set did well enough to entertain the hundreds stalking about and soundtrack the thousands having a frustrating time getting in. Plus, who doesn’t want to dance to “Polish Girl” again and again? -Michael Roffman

    Chris Lake – UMF Korea – 5:50 p.m.

    chri lake friday umf korea Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    Located directly in front of the main entrance, the beats pulsing from the UMF Korea stage were impossible to avoid Friday evening. Just two hours after Ultra 2012 kicked off, tech-house DJ Chris Lake was already performing to a tightly packed audience. The UK-bred, LA transplant worked through early monitor issues to develop a double-edged set of beauty and beats. Driving four-to-the-floor tech movements were cut with lush, live female vocals – a body-swaying mixture to help ease revelers into the more foreboding sounds that the stage would offer Ultra Weekend. -Derek Staples

    Loco Dice – Carl Cox & Friends – 6:30 p.m.

    loco dice alongside richie hawtin friday carl cox Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    Initially walking into the Carl Cox tent was like wrapping oneself in a blanket of lights and sounds. And if not properly monitored, the melodic tech mixes delivered by Germany’s Loco Dice would ease attendees into an open-eyed trance. Delicate sounds ran through a solid bottom end, like morning dew trickling through porous sandstone. -Derek Staples

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    New Order – Live Stage – 6:40 p.m.

    cap0170 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    Technically, without original bassist Peter Hook, this isn’t New Order. But those who gathered around the Live Stage at dusk didn’t care to notice. Dancing ensued from the start when frontman and guitarist Bernard Sumner, donning his own band tee, strummed straight into the stormy distortion of “Crystal”. Tight and kinetic, this UK collective remains a popular export for Americans, especially with still club favorites “Bizarre Love Triangle”, “True Faith”, and “Blue Monday”, all of which were performed with precision for Ultra’s dance-obsessed crowds. Throughout, a couple of the band’s gooey tracks fell flat (“The Perfect Kiss” and “Regret”), but the two-hit punch of “Ceremony” into “Bizarre Love Triangle” and the set’s eventual closer, “Temptation”, showcased an act that deserved a bigger stage and a proper set time. Still, Sumner remained in high spirits: “It’s great to be back. It’s been a long time since we’ve been here – I dunno why – probably because it’s too nice. We don’t do that sort of thing.” There’s that familiar spirit of Manchester eking out. -Michael Roffman

    Richie Hawtin – Carl Cox & Friends – 8:00 p.m.

    richie hawtin close friday carl cox Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    He may not fill his set with bass drops, but very few DJs deliver with the same level of low end as Windsor’s Richie Hawtin. Atop of the continued floor-rattling bassline, Hawtin mixed in nearly non-existent tones, making you question if you were actually hearing the bleeps or if your brain was simply continuing his well-defined pattern. Hawtin showed no fear juggling the beat and tempo through the mixes. While most DJs rest on the repetitive kick or hi-hat, Hawtin manipulated polyrhythms for jarring transitions throughout the two-hour set. -Derek Staples

    Miike Snow – Live Stage – 8:10 p.m.

    cap0529 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    Maybe it’s that they’re on the coattails of a sophomore LP (Happy to You – due out Tuesday), but Sweden’s own Miike Snow commandeered the Live Stage. They had the tools, too. With a center console stripped from ’60s-era Star Trek, Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg (or, Bloodshy & Avant) constructed all the cherry-flavored hooks and lines that strangle the group’s latest material. Opening with the piano and harmony-led “The Wave”,  this became a set that just did not let up, and all of the new tracks were ready-made for festival crowds everywhere. In fact, with accompanying visuals, tracks like “Devil’s Work” and “Vase” felt rather claustrophobic in the amphitheater setting, and frontman Andrew Wyatt, with his grungy decor, appeared as if he were too contained. Basically, they exuded the confidence of a headliner, and depending on the festival, they may very well be ready. Oh, and has anyone grown tired of “Animal” yet? Doubtful. -Michael Roffman

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    Skrillex – Main Stage – 9:10 p.m.

    skrillex 1 friday main stage Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    Just a few years ago, it would have seemed impossible for a U.S. bass DJ to grace Ultra’s massive Main Stage post-sundown, but that was before Skrillex went and won three Grammy’s this year for his West Coast Jump Up. Now having toured the world, Skrillex showcases more substance and control than his earlier drop-heavy bass assaults. With stage production equal to that of his recent Mothership Tour, he had the audience “Breakin’ a Sweat” with his Doors collabo. Skrillex then showed some respect for dub, with a subtle bass remix (for Skrillex, anyhow) of Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock”. He then worked Avicii’s “Levels” through the bass grinder, adding his signature, mechanical bass growl to the track’s lighter aesthetic.

    To the surprise of many, Skrillex went with some straightforward techno mid-set with “Make That Booty Clap”. At one point, he brought the song to such a standstill that you could hear the crowd’s collective inhale waiting for the drop, but no drop was to be had until Skillex blew the crowd back with the newer Wolfgang Gartner collaboration “The Devil’s Den”. The performance may not have included sufficient hyper-drive bass for the die-hard Skrillex fan, but the hour-long performance showcased an evolution in his ability to produce a complex set for an educated, international EDM community – and still get peeps on their feet to rage. -Derek Staples

    Kraftwerk – Live Stage – 9:30 p.m.

    cap0167 e1354713921450 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    “Do you think they’re even really doing anything up there,” someone asked me early on during Kraftwerk’s impressive hour-long set. It’s an honest question because, really, the four stoic members that make up the German industrial collective don’t ever do much onstage – at least from what we can see. Instead, they let the archaic CGI animations behind them do most of the work. A minimalistic journey that would have Pixar in tears accompanied “Autobahn”, creepy, robotic dolls (something out of The Twilight Zone) burned into our nightmares during “The Robots”, and a Marxist-like montage sold the crowd on a “Computer World”. In a word, it was weird, but when each member – who, by the way, were dressed in minimalistic Tron-ready suits – exited the stage in procession, it all made sense. The homogenous nature of the four – that structured unity – is downright intimidating with its precise force, and it’s something you just have to witness live to make sense of. Color me jealous: Those sold-out museum shows will blow everyone’s fucking minds. -Michael Roffman

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    Dada Life – UMF Korea – 10:20 p.m.

    dada life friday umf korea Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    Olle Corneer and Stefan Engblom of Dada Life are a mirror of the enjoyment shared by their audiences. A pair of sweaty bodies onstage, the Swedish duo produced high-energy, saw-jaw electro-house. Combined with the bright hues of the tent’s massive L.E.D. screens, the continual bass vibrations and hard-splashing synths were a suitable follow-up to all those still ready to rage following Skrillex’s Main Stage performance. And forget hydration, the duo would much rather pop some bottles of champagne during the peaks of the set than be seen with some thirst-quenching water. If revelers wanted to leave with their brain and all body parts intact Friday evening, this set was definitely the one to avoid. -Derek Staples

    Nobody Beats the Drum – UMF Worldwide – 11:00 p.m.

    nobody beats the drum close up friday worldwide stage Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    In the shadows of Tiësto’s monster Main Stage setup, the future of Dutch dance music, Nobody Beats the Drum, took to the tight confines of Ultra’s Worldwide Stage. Sjam Sjamsoedin and Jori Collignon mixed hip-hop, breaks, heavy bass, and electro to appease a younger audience that is continually besieged by diverse types of audio. Equipped with a classic analog synth and a table full of gear, the duo continually made eye contact to keep the tracks progressing and the people bouncing across the grass. The only negative was that the experience wasn’t shared with a larger number of people, but my guess is that this won’t be a problem for long. -Derek Staples

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