The Friday of Ultra Music Festival always has a certain feeling in the air. There is anticipation and excitement from the attendees, a certain friendly competition amongst DJs, frustration from locals who just want a quiet weekend, and confusion from oblivious metro-riders as a burst of neon and fishnet quickly flood the carts leaving a cloud of body glitter behind. But as the gates to Ultra Music Festival open, the locals and metro-goers alike calm down and enjoy the scenes and sounds of this paramount 20th anniversary.
For their 15th anniversary, Ultra took place over 2 weekends. They knew they had to step it up for their 20th anniversary while also keeping their mystery guests under lock and key. Rumors were coming all over the place but everyone’s guesses were dismissed. We would just have to wait.
If you could designate a theme to Ultra 2018, it would be nostalgia. The now-behemoth festival put its humble beginnings on South Beach into perspective. It seemed as if every DJ was trying to play the tracks that made us fall in love with electronic music. Alice Deejay’s classic “Better Off Alone” could be heard at any stage, at any hour throughout the three days.
But humble beginnings are over as soon as you walked into the Resistance/Carl Cox Megastructure. The massive tent is devoted to techno die-hards. It is littered with dozens of Chauvet lights, lasers and the infamous LED honeycombs that were attached to the ceiling and moved and retracted above the audience, like string puppets. A single massive circular LED screen was behind the DJ booth — think warehouse rave meets intergalactic spaceship. Josh Wink was the first DJ to play on Friday, a proper opener for someone who played the very first Ultra. He played his classic 1995 track “Don’t Laugh” as well as his instant classic, “I’m Talking to You.” The people started to flood all over Bayfront Park. Some were new as they quickly hopped from stage-to-stage, while the more seasoned Ultranauts settled at their favorite stages. Josh Wink, in a way, served as a guide for everyone with his insensible rhythm and impeccable technique.
Oliver Heldens took over the main stage around 5 p.m. The main stage was freshly built and seemed more massive and exceptional than ever. The stage resembled an elaborate prism littered with lights, LED’s, and the signature “U” logo perched on top of the stage like a jewel in an enormous crown. Oliver brought numerous remixes of classics from Madonna, Jay-Z, Backstreet Boys and even from a Swedish trio who I’m sure will not be relevant in this article. He opened with a mashup of Madonna’s “Music” blended with Drake’s “0 to 100” over a thumping bassline. A-Trak’s remix of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s “Heads Will Roll” quickly changed to a forceful remix of DAF/DOS’ “KOM”: a juxtaposition of old and new while being surrounded by skyscrapers and yachts. The sun was slowly setting over all the steel and attendees but not before the unexpected: an acapella of Kelis’ “Milkshake.”
On that note, it seemed only necessary to check out Ultra’s newest creation: Resistance. The Resistance movement is bringing the more obscure and underground techno acts to a brighter light by providing their own stage, the Arcadia Spider. This stage is quite the engineering marvel. To put it simply: it’s a giant mechanical spider with lights for eyes and shoots fire … the DJ booth is under its abdomen, above the audience. However, people with arachnophobia do not have to fear. This spider does not bite, it only delivers wanton techno to a hungry audience for 32 hours. POPOF was delivering dark techno beats to an emerging audience. Neon was replaced with black and fist-pumps for two-steps.
There is nothing more memorial or nostalgic for an Ultra veteran than the first sunset of the festival. At the Megastructure, Italy’s Joesph Capraiti had the honor of playing this magical time slot. Unstoppable is the word that describes Joesph’s set. He brought proper techno and tech-house with fat basslines that pulsed through the stack of Funktion-One speakers. Joesph made the buildups more exciting with his weapon of choice: the Electron Analog Rytm Drum Computer, which added an extra layer of depth. He controlled the deck like some electronic maestro.
It was now dark and up to Drumcode founder Adam Beyer to stir the crowd into something never before seen. The speakers hummed out a bassline as the Megastructure was coated in red lighting before Adam opened with Claude VonStroke’s “Grenade.” Again, nostalgia was the motif and Adam was no exception. He went from techno to the comeback kid genre: acid house. He dropped Amile Lens’ “In Silence” to a crowd that seemingly lost their self-identity and were now slaves to bass and rhythm. For two hours, Adam led the crowd through mystical techno and vicious acid house. The Megastructure was shooting a paroxysm of lasers and visuals when Adam Beyer dropped the unreleased and highly anticipated Bart Skil’s track, “Losing Your Mind,” as well as Bart’s latest banger, “Ocean Drive, ” after a remix of Ramiro Lopez’s “Pachamama.”
There was one person left to close out Friday. A simple “Oh yes, Oh yes! Miami, how are you feeling, are you okay?!” woke up the audience as we were about to witness two hours of literal teeth rattling bass. Carl Cox started playing Ultra in 2004 and became an all-star, playing every year since and having his own stage. There was no need to be subtle. Carl opened with a hard-hitting, bass-driven, 4-by-4 track as he controlled the mixer and CDJs like someone who is more robotic than human. The speakers were at their max, the lights were flickering like spontaneous madmen. Lasers were beaming, and the crowd loved every single second. Carl has an ability to bring forth so much energy that any track he would play would instantly become your favorite. For two hours, Carl created emotional spillovers, quickly going through techno, tech-house, acid house, and sprinkles of disco influences. Of course, a 20th anniversary brought Carl to bring back some his signatures bangers like Joesph Brunning’s “Now Let Me See You Work” and a Carl Cox remix of Finder’s “Ninetoes.” With moments left, Carl told the audience they have been fantastic and faded the music down perfectly as fireworks were being fired off at the main stage. Day one was in the books.
Stay tuned for our day two and three reviews!