Ninety degree weather, enough bikinis to make David Hasselhauf blush…and a no name rapper named Shifta throwing out Shifta Shwag out of a pickup truck? No, this wasn’t the preview to Miami Vice 2 (thankfully). It was the scene at Miami’s Bayfront Park last weekend as hundreds of thousands of EDM fans flocked to South Beach for Music Week, highlighted by the three day experience known as Ultra. I set pretty lofty expectations for the second home of Tony Montana as Ultra was this fledgling raver’s first festival. I can safely say that these expectations were all blown clear out of the water…on the first night. Lil Jon’s excessive “YEEEAAAHHHHHH” ‘ing couldn’t even ruin the mood on Friday as Afrojack, Skrillex and Tiesto helped bring Miami strip to life right from the start. Well, my head has finally stopped buzzing, ears have stopped ringing and I am ready to dive into the wildest weekend so far in 2012 – Ultra Miami.
Ultra started off with a bang as Jack Beats took to the live stage early. The limited crowd that had made it past the ludicrous security checks by this point was picking up what they were throwing down before migrating to Tommy Trash. Trash’s ‘Ladi Dadi’ remix was a popular track throughout the weekend, but the crowd lit up when Trash played what is my current frontrunner for ‘Remix of the Year’. The first day’s main stage took over the scene late in the afternoon with Martin Soulvig, Bennie Benassi, Afrojack, Skrillex and Tiesto. The biggest surprises of this super set were Skrillex and Tiesto. Skrillex played to the crowd, formulating the perfect party mix that included a ten minute remix of Kill Frenzy’s ‘Booty Clap’. Rock n Roll and Cinema helped keep the dance party alive during the remainder of his set. At any other venue or night, Tiesto’s set would have been good, even great. However, the bar was set high by Skrillex. Tiesto did not do anything overly impressive to warrant a noteworthy performance. The expectations for sets at Ultra worked against Tiesto on Friday.
The temperature on Saturday was not a deterrent as the crowd seemed to build on itself each and every day. The beats were just as hot as Miami at Ultra. But with Alesso, Calvin Harris and Swedish House Mafia teaming up, this offer was all too tempting to pass up. So my buddy Dave and I held on to our Ultra tickets for Avicii and hit Mascaraed Motel for free (crazy, I know) water, bathrooms galore and a fireworks show that had Ultra-goers asking us “what was that all about”. Oh that? That was just SHM killing Every Teardrop is a Waterfall. Alesso’s set was during the late afternoon hours and it looked like half the crowd, most of which probably couldnt score tickets to the “Main Event” down the road, didn’t even know he was a top tier DJ as they casually walked around and socializing during his set. Calvin Harris’s set was more fun than anything but was a great appetizer for Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso. From the second Swedish House took the stage, their goal appeared to be to have more fun than the crowd. They shared the stage well, played an incredible set and had the crowd bouncing (and of course jumping) the entire time. After opening with Greyhound, there were fireworks, lasers and classics including Save the World, Calling and of course Miami to Ibiza which sent the crowd into a frenzy. The night ended with their new track and more fireworks than Miami has seen since Lebron made his ‘decision’. A quick sprint to Bayfront Park allowed us to catch the beginning of Avicii’s set which had the biggest crowd of any single act at Ultra. While he did not disappoint, he did nothing noteworthy. This young DJ is quite talented but much like Tiesto, there was a higher expectation for his set.
Two Thanksgiving dinners and then Christmas morning?!? That may never happen so instead, we have two days of raging that then culminate into Day 3 of Ultra or as I will now call it in the future – Christmas morning. The day started off with Bingo Players bringing the party to life. Unfortunately most of the crowd heard their set from the security line. Rattle and Cry were obvious crowd favorites but the rest of their set was just as fun. The lowlight of Sunday (and most of the weekend) was Lil Jon’s stage presence. I have no problem with him joining Just Press Play-oki for Turbulence. This was expected, especially after Lil Jon joined Afrojack on stage Friday night. Lil Jon was sure to remind us all that we were at Ultra and in Miami. I didn’t have a problem with Lil Jon and Just Press Play-oki throwing two full sheet cakes at fans. And full disclosure? I didn’t even mind Steve Aioki being honest about his Just Press Play-oki stage demeanor (hey at least he’s more honest than the guys that fake it). What I did mind was Lil Jon trying to hype the crowd up like he was serious Ultra act. He brought nothing to the table. No one was happy he was there and Just Press Play-oki would have had just as good (or bad) a set without him. Aioki did get the crowd into it when he did a remix of Pursuit of Happiness. But his set is easily forgotten when compared to Knife Party’s set that almost brought down a few nearby hotels. Internet Friends had just as big a crowd reaction as any of the song I saw. Sunday continued strong through the end with Kaskade, Guetta, Armin Van Burren and Bassnectar. Kaskade’s stage was a kaleidoscope of fun, aided by the sun setting just in time for his set to start. Guetta was a happy surprise for me. Having never seen him, I expected a Play-oki style performance but this was not the case. He extended the piano sample of Clocks to lengthen “When Love Takes Over” which sounded like a different song completely. He also did one of the better covers of “Levels I Used to Know”, a song that seemed to be a motif of the weekend. Bassnectar brought more confetti with him than any D1 Homecoming. He also brought bass, a lot of bass. Upside Down forced every last drop of energy out of a spent crowd. The night and weekend was completed with a full fireworks display, viewable from all stages.
So what are some things we can take away from Ultra 2012? EDM is bigger than ever and only getting more popular. The security at Ultra is absolutely ridiculous, forcing concert goers to throw away sealed Push Pops, condoms, dumping out CamelBaks, all in the name of profit. Lil Jon is not any more popular in the EDM scene after his Ultra appearance. Lastly, Ultra 2013 will certainly be nothing short of legen…wait for the beat to drop….dary.