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Ultra Music Festival is a totally homegrown phenomenon, cofounded in 1999 by local scenester, entrepreneur, and UMF Entertainment mastermind Russell Faibisch. Yet today it rivals the pristine beaches of summertime Ibiza and Stratford-upon-Avon's insane GlobalGathering — not to mention that other megasize American bacchanal, the West Coast-based Electric Daisy Carnival — as the ultimate mecca for hard-core beat freaks.
Every year at the end of the third week in March, a massive mob of half-naked, Day-Glo-soaked revelers swarms downtown Miami, flooding the streets and sidewalks, overloading the public transit system, and dancing all the way down to the Ultra festival grounds while stunned Japanese tourists and annoyed abuelitas giggle, gawk, and snap cell-phone photos.
But a decade and a half ago, Ultra was just a club night, run by Faibisch and a few friends. "Back in the late '90s, it started as a small nightlife event," Faibisch recalls. "And then we moved right into producing, doing the first festival on the Beach in '99."
The festival filled a gaping global need for an electronic festival. "The first one was so natural," he says. "It was on the sand and it was during a time period when this music and these kind of events were hard to come by. It was fresh and unique, and the vibe was really a magical experience. That to me is definitely one of the most special of all the years."
Adds Faibisch: "After that, it just got bigger. The acts got bigger. The production got bigger."
In 2011, Ultra had its most epic outing, expanding to three days, boasting more than 200 electronic and pop acts — such as Deadmau5, Duran Duran, and the Chemical Brothers — and attracting 150,000 bros, babes, hipsters, ravers, and music snobs to Bicentennial Park.
Plans for this year's edition are still top secret. But Faibisch and his partners have already premiered the trailer for an ambitious 43-minute concert documentary, Can U Feel It?: The UMF Experience, starring the likes of David Guetta, Tiësto, Carl Cox, Fedde Le Grand, and Boys Noize. He has even announced plans to expand Ultra's spinoff fest, UMF, taking the tour to its usual stops — Brazil and Ibiza — as well as "three to four new countries for the 2012 season."
"The plan for Ultra is to always get better, bigger, stronger. But it's very humbling to watch Ultra grow and grow and grow," Faibisch admits. "Any time I sit down and really think about it, I'm so appreciative. It's a dream. And we actually made it happen."
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