Festival Review: Ultra Music Festival 2013

ultra music festival 2013 lineup


    The aerial view of Ultra Music Festival is massively deceiving. When perched some 50-stories above downtown Miami, the Bayfront Park location looks like a serene beach side environment with shade-producing palm trees lining the short walk in-between stages. In reality, the jaunt between the northern UMF Radio Stage and the intimate Bayfront Stage takes an approximate 20-minutes and requires revelers to weave through the crowds of the Main Stage, Live Stage, indoor public restrooms, the spill over from vending, and a hill scattered with resting fatigued Ultranauts. The simple reaction would be to avoid the hike, but for those that don’t want to spend the weekend awash in big room electro-house and saw-jaw trance, the two smaller stages offer a dark glimpse into the more subterranean aspects of dance music.

    Celebrating their 15th anniversary, the minds behind Ultra have provided some small extras to remedy the problems that often arise in city-centered festivals; including multi-hour waits Friday evening, major traffic congestion, and the aforementioned lay-out limitations. For the first time, party-goers were kept hydrated with water stations (a true no-brainer when producing an all-day, no-reentry South Florida event) and connected with free Wi-Fi; the latter nearly impossible to access during the majority of the weekend. However, in similar fashion to EDM’s artistic talent, Ultra has started to fall into the trap of over-production as it’s gained international acclaim.


    Even before a single beat hit the speakers, the festival was plagued with publicity issues like a falling Main Stage L.E.D. section that injured four workers early Friday morning and the City of Miami Commission’s vote to cancel the second weekend of the festival less than two-months prior to the festival (a decision eventually withdrawn). Post-event, Ultra is sure to receive feedback about poor communication regarding adjustments in set times and multiple technical issues that continue to plague the Live Stage. Transitioning between DJ sets is as easy as switching a few cords, but the amphitheater stage requires the production team to set-up complex rigs and high-tech lighting structures with very little padding around set times. This pressure resulted in abbreviated times for many, and major complications that hindered the sets of Matt and Kim (who had to end their set early with broken equipment) and Boys Noize.


    Derived from the need to constantly please capacity crowds, the errors are a minor hiccup for a festival that continues to draw both the most marquee names in club culture and the new talent within underground sounds. For the many haters that blast social media about Ultra continuing to feature the same dozen headliners, they fail to peruse the five stages that surround the opulent Main Stage and brilliantly-lit Mega Structure (which has actually been reduced in size for the better since 2012). Be it trap, tech-house, deep house, or old-school Florida breaks, nearly every sub-genre within club-ready production could be uncovered within enough wandering amidst the gated concrete jungle. While dubbed an “electronic music festival”, Ultra 2013 continued to shy away from the less-energetic forms of digital production, forgoing artists that excel in analog, IDM, ambient, dub (sans the step), the West Coast beats culture or anything that could be deemed experimental.

    ULTRA 3

    For all those fond of the disco nap, Ultra still proves to be a must-visit the world over. Personally, there are several reasons why I haven’t made the annual mid-March Staples’ family reunion in nearly a decade, and they are not David Guetta, Tiësto, and Calvin Harris (truly no disrespect to that big room, pop sound). Rather, it’s the artists still more concerned with exploring the boundaries of the dance floor and not the potential of a cross-over top 40 hit. It’s these artists that make blisters, sun burns, and a substantially lighter bill fold all minor sacrifices for three days of dance music appreciation.

    -Derek Staples
    Senior Staff Writer

    Friday, March 15th

    Jamie Jones Friday Main Stage 1

    Jamie Jones – Mega Structure – 6:00 p.m.

    For those in search of sexy house music early Friday evening, the Mega Structure was the go-to destination. With the masses still clamoring to make their way through will call and security, Hot Creation’s Jamie Jones worked the small crowd with a set more fit for a crowded pool party. Aided by the stage’s cacophonous sound system, Jones’ deep house grooves marched atop a broad bottom end that rests so low it isn’t easily audible on your typical set of speakers. As the deep house movement finds its way across the pond, Jones’ set Friday was an indicator that the sound can lose some of the underground edge and energize a pre-peak dancefloor.

    Modestep Friday Live

    Modestep – Live Stage – 7:10 p.m.

    Modestep follow in the path of British-based live electronic outfits like The Prodigy and Chase & Status. Suggesting the four-piece has reached the artistic aptitude of either outfit is a bit of a stretch, but they do manage to merge the current bass-heavy rebellious EDM within the classic structure of a four-minute alternative radio single. Led by brothers Josh (vocals/production) and the masked Tony (DJ) Friend, Modestep delivered a much more visually stimulating live experience than the festival’s laptop musicians, but less than three years into existence the members are still developing the overall intensity of Saturday night headliners Infected Mushroom. Given the pop-qualities of tracks like “Time” and “To the Stars”, however, Modestep seem more on a Linkin Park trajectory than that of their European live-electronic brethren.

    Crystal Castles Fri Live 1

    Crystal Castles – Live Stage – 10:00 p.m.

    Drummer Christopher Chartand receives only a small portion of the credit he deserves. Not only does he provide a tight rhythm for the electro-punk pulses of Ethan Cath, but he also has to deal with the fluctuating screeches of Alice Glass, improvise when she takes her leaps into the crowd, and maneuver around the petite lead singer when she climbs atop his kick drum. Cloaked beneath the mask of Crystal Castles’ live strobe lights, Chartand provides a powerful dynamic that re-energizes live staples like “Baptism”, “Alice Practice“, “XXZXCUZX Me”, and “Untrust Us”. Having seen Crystal Castles no less than six times, it’s their unshaking ability to maintain a raw, bar room energy that makes the live trio such an appealing multi-sensory experience — even when the setlist changes infrequently.

    SHM Fri Main Stage


    Swedish House Mafia – Main Stage – 10:30 p.m.

    Watching a few moments of the Swedish House Mafia was like celebrating the retirement of a dreaded acquaintance. Showing up seemed more like an obligation and opportunity to eat a few slices of delicious cake than a real chance to remember their career achievements. Quite possibly the second to last show for the threesome of Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso, and Steve Angello, SHM were notably quiet about the farewell portion of their highly-publicized farewell tour. Possibly expecting something more grandiose from the trio, the Ultra production team was amped to light the downtown skyline with an escalating series of fireworks and building projections. Axwell cracked a small joke prior to epic-hit “Save the World”, but SHM just let the stream of hits speak for the revolutionary success of their solo and group careers.

    Porter Robinson and Zedd Mansion Fri

    After Party: Mat Zo and Porter Robinson – Mansion – 1:00 a.m.

    After seven years of Ultra, I was set in 2013 to finally dive headfirst into the weekend and explore a few choice after parties. Absent from the festival, the progressive house beats of the wise-beyond-his-22-years Mat Zo, which also happened to be taking place at Opium Groups Mansion Nightclub, seemed like the ideal way to drift into the pre-dawn hours of a brisk Miami morning. Although often releasing through Above & Beyond’s trance-heavy Anjunabeats imprint, Zo was down to rinse bolsterous big room sounds ranging from short stints of 128 BPMs to DnB productions normally foreign to the well-dressed clientele.

    As the club sardine-canned around 3 a.m., one could get a sense that something was bound to happen during young-gun Porter Robinson’s set. That something was an appearance from both Hardwell and Zedd, with the latter taking to the dials to share a new Zedd track alongside Robinson. The careers of all four gentleman are in their infancy, but the Zedd, Hardwell, Zo, and Robinson bill may be the coveted collection for the next few decades.


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