Ultra Music Festival 2015: A Report

A disastrous weekend ekes out 10 “criminally under-appreciated” performances.


Ultra Music Festival makes it an annual habit of showing the world what it means to party in Miami, Florida. Although the festival takes over the heart of downtown and the sprawling green of Bayfront Park, the week-long festivities spill out into the streets, the hotels, and the city life beyond. High-end clubs like LIV and Story swell with lineups consisting of either the festival’s headliners or outside top-level talent favoring their own parties. Fools Good, HARD Miami, Red Bull Guest House, and Hard 2 Leave are names now synonymous with the festival brand. Yet none ever eclipse the main event.

This year, the world-renowned festival celebrated its 17th anniversary with the type of shindig we’ve come to expect, which raises the question: When did fans decide they wanted to trade in acts like Justice, Kraftwerk, or The Prodigy for a revolving lineup of the same ol’, same ol’? Tiësto, Avicii, Afrojack, members of the now-defunct Swedish House Mafia, and the oft-parodied David Guetta have all topped the festival in recent years to expected success. The days when Ultra once wowed festivalgoers with its billing seem long gone. It’s depressing.

Also depressing is the devastating blow the festival suffered on its first day this year. Thanks to South Florida’s trademark weather conditions, a majority of the stages were shut down, forcing highly anticipated acts such as Odesza and Chromeo to cancel their Ultra debuts. And while Carl Cox, UMF World, and the Main Stage remained open despite the harsh downpour, the majority of the sets were either shortened or completely cancelled. In light of these matters, this year’s coverage of Ultra Music Festival attempted to capture the “criminally under-appreciated” performances.

–Steve Vaynshtok
Contributing Writer




Photo by Sergey Garbe

RAC, or the Remix Artist Collective (featuring producer André Allen Anjos), brought a refreshing full-band setup to the Ultra Live Stage on Friday afternoon. The second act of the day following Dutch producer Bakermat, RAC immediately came through with staggering musicianship. Granted, the midday set felt like a midday set, with far too few festivalgoers there to fully appreciate what was going down, but they championed on by revisiting their most recent records. One highlight was a magnificent cover of Phoenix’s “Armistice”, fueled by dual vocalists.

Todd Terje


Photo by Sergey Garbe

After an unfortunate turn of events, which began as a slight drizzle toward the end of RAC’s set and into a full-fledged onslaught of hardcore rain, Todd Terje’s set seemed completely in jeopardy. Light fixtures swung around, and the entire bottom half of the amphitheater was closed off to the crowd — naturally, in fear of a production disaster. Finally, when things looked their bleakest, Terje was given the okay to play a 25-minute set some 40 minutes after he was scheduled to play.

Almost immediately, the Norwegian performer hit the stage with “Delorean Dynamite”, sparking a medley of highlights from his 2014 debut, It’s Album Time. “Swing Star”, “Inspector Norse”, “Leisure Suit Preben”, and his fantastic single “Spiral” all came to life with LED screens, keyboard maneuvering, and packages of drum loops. He exuded a musical prowess that attracted a heavy flow of traffic, specifically those waiting for an Odesza show that would never come.




Photo by Sergey Garbe

Since their inception in 1998, Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland have been crafting engaging and ambient synthpop. To see the duo live and in full effect — closing out the live stage, no less — was like an Ingmar Bergman film: surreal and captivating with a dollop of wisdom. Their Ultra set jumped through their discography with appearances by “Remind Me”, “The Girl and the Robot”, “Do It Again”, and a bevy of tracks off their darker studio album, The Inevitable End. By “Monument”, the crowd’s energy was palpable and no one could contain themselves, going absolutely bonkers for what could have very well been Röyksopp’s final performance in Miami. Well, at least until the obligatory reunion tour.

Gorgon City


Photo by Sergey Garbe

The second day of the festival brought a completely different atmosphere. Gone were the rain clouds and in was the sunlight, which made for many happy ravers and a vibrant atmosphere lush with soundscapes and house grooves. Gorgon City supplied the latter with a deep house set, chock-full of sweet synth lines, which in turn became a proper way to kick off the real meat of Saturday’s live stage festivities (especially following groups like Klingande and Anamanaguchi). Plenty of feet were up in the air for “Ready for Your Love”, despite MNEK’s absence.

Clean Bandit

Clean Bandit

Photo by Sergey Garbe

Clean Bandit’s set was exactly what you’d expect from a group that puts out songs like “Rather Be” and  “Real Love”. Their sugary and saccharine show oozed with electronic twinkles and soaring hooks with a fantastic performance by multi-instrumental band members who would further contribute to the array of talented performers throughout the day. A cover of Robin S classic “Show Me Love” was an absolute showstopper, driving the crowd into near ravenous applause.




Photo by Sergey Garbe

Kiesza’s a monster. Her breakout track “Hideaway” is now approaching 212 million views on YouTube, has crossed over in different markets as a No. 1 radio hit, and has spawned countless remixes. From the moment she stepped out, wearing what can only be described as a bodysuit of hats, she dominated Ultra. She made good on her theatrics with powerful performances of “Giant in My Heart” and her emotional cover of Haddaway’s “What Is Love” as if to say: “I’m Kiesza, hear me roar.” By now, she clearly knows exactly who she is and so does everyone else.

Boys Noize


Ultra Worldwide was a stage full of energy, brimming with completely different producers oftentimes juxtaposed one after the other. It was Deep Dish between Laidback Luke and Boys Noize that really put a focus on the latter’s high-energy electro- and techno-infused set. The German producer hit hard early on with some classics and brought the sound full circle with some of-the-moment cuts, including tracks by Brodinski and Gesaffelstein and, of course, material from his Dog Blood project with Skrillex. Like most performances, the best gauge for his level of mastery was the crowd, who absolutely bent to his every whim with each track he dropped.


KygoUltra (Photo via Beatport)

Photo via Beatport

Kygo’s Ultra debut can only be described as “galvanizing.” Taking the stage after Porter Robinson, the Norwegian producer found himself in the middle of a brand-new diamond stage structure, made to look like his signature “X” logo. He provided a proper base with his remix of Seinabo Sey’s “Younger” and offered a refreshing escape from his signature tropical house with his new track, “Stole the Show”. The latter featured an energetic drop that seemed to disintegrate the audience, cementing the young producer’s status in the world of electronic music.


Cashmere Cat

Cashmere Cat Ariana (Photo by Marta Xochilt Perez)

Photo by Marta Xochilt Perez

Arianna Grande was just the icing on the cake. Playing one of the most forward-thinking sets at Ultra, Cashmere Cat delivered a performance packed full of his own music, Lido’s music, his production work for countless other artists, and, finally, a two-song climax with Grande in tow. While they performed “Be My Baby” for the pop fans, it was “Adore” that really showcased the Kitty’s ownership of his craft and status — it was like a victory lap. His medal? Grande’s kitty ears, which she placed atop his head, eliciting a number of oohs and aahs from the masses.


Skrillex: JACKU

Photo by Sergey Garbe

What is really left to say about Skrillex? Despite being the poppiest year for Ultra yet, Sonny Moore successfully managed to fuse his breakneck tracks, preview some upcoming music from his collaboration with Four Tet, and drop the Jack Ü goods. He also brought out a number of stars, including “bad boy” Diddy and the recently roasted Justin Bieber, but you gotta give the guy a pass for simply making it a blockbuster night. After all, isn’t that why he was closing Ultra in the first place?



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