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The event is about more than superstar DJs and headlining acts, though. It has always given light to locals, semi-locals, and young upstarts, and that's an essential part of its vitality. At the risk of sounding self-promotional, Village Voice Media (New Times' parent company), for example, sponsors a yearly DJ contest, whose prize is a coveted performance slot at Ultra. Winners have come from cities as far away as San Francisco and surely would come from locales even farther away if the rules allowed international entries.
"It's very important to us to support local talent as well," says Omes. "I book talent every single weekend at clubs here in Miami, so I always know who's up-and-coming and what will be the hottest thing to have at Ultra." He has also honed his approach for the festival's longevity. "I think basically what we need to do to have the key to success is change with the times, of course: add some new, live element ... and have new talent, the up-and-coming and new generations."
"For the past five years, we've gone into some live elements, but with the same core of what it is that we do with electronic music," says Faibisch. "We're always trying to do new things and stay true to the electronic music as well as cross over where it fits."
"To me, Ultra Music Festival — like only a handful of historical events — has become part of the American culture," says Fort Lauderdale's Galaxy Girl (a.k.a. Jeannette Romeu), a trance artist who has performed at the event several times.
The festival has meaning above and beyond a career boost for Galaxy Girl; Ultra actually shaped her whole musical identity, based on a pivotal show she performed in 1999. "By the time I was finished, a young teenage couple came to me and said, 'You are Galaxy Girl, aren't you?'" she remembers. "And I said, 'No, I'm Jeannette Romeu.' And they insisted, 'No! You are Galaxy Girl; we just saw you play up on the stage!' So I laughed and my friends and manager Alan Freed were next to me and kept saying, 'Yes, that's her! She is Galaxy Girl!' So that night I became the Galaxy Girl. True story."
After all of that, no one even bothered to talk about the ridiculously fun people-watching at Ultra; that's gotten only bigger and bolder as the years have passed. Check it out next weekend, or when the planned 10th-anniversary DVD drops later this year.