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"Amoeba was my first-ever event, in 1998 at Power Studios," he says. "We had over 2,500 people show up."

But the idea of a beachside dance-music festival would come from another working relationship he developed in the mid-'90s. Alex Omes, a Miami Beach Senior High grad who was then about 25 years old, was publisher of a dance-music magazine called D'VOX, which devoted its pages to pushing the city's burgeoning EDM culture. Before launching the magazine, Omes had cut his teeth in the '90s Miami club scene as a bouncer at Cameo, where he developed the connections that would eventually allow him to be seen as an influence.

"I was doing an event and had to place some ads," Faibisch remembers. "That's when I met Alex Omes, who had the vision. We started Ultra together."

The Black Eyed Peas debuted their single "Boom Boom Pow" at the 2009 festival.
Chris Grosser / Ultra Music Festival
The Black Eyed Peas debuted their single "Boom Boom Pow" at the 2009 festival.
In 2010, Deadmau5 put on an ambitious stage show.
Anthony Djuren / Ultra Music Festival
In 2010, Deadmau5 put on an ambitious stage show.

Omes and Faibisch connected on their mutual love for club beats, becoming close friends as well as business partners. The duo, looking to capitalize on Miami's growth as a dance-music hub, came up with the idea of holding a beachside party during Miami's WMC.

The conference was an industry event that had been launched in 1985 as a way for EDM artists, DJs, producers, and promoters to come together for panel discussions and seminars. During the week of the conference, there were also sanctioned dance parties and concerts at nightclubs throughout Miami. EDM fans began flocking to Miami every March. With thousands of people coming to town for the conference, the opportunity to launch a signature dance-music event was ripe.

Omes brought his industry connections, and Faibisch brought the business savvy.

"There were a lot of growing pains," Faibisch says.

Faibisch was able to secure investors, including a $10,000 bank loan for seed money.

"Everybody had to take a leap of faith in investing in what we were trying to accomplish. Rabbit in the Moon was the anchor — they played very rarely and usually only at Zen Festival. Once we got them, it was easier to get other artists onboard."

On July 12, 1979, the Chicago White Sox hosted an event planned by shock jock Steve Dahl: Disco Demolition Night. The event, held during a sold-out Sox game, had fans throwing disco LPs onto the field and climaxed with Dahl's destroying them. It ended as a full-blown anti-disco riot and effectively pushed dance music into the underground.

However, thanks to subcultures in London, Detroit, Chicago, and New York, new genres of dance music emerged over the next two decades: house, electro, techno, and trance. The late '90s saw DJs and producers like Moby, Fatboy Slim, Paul Oakenfold, the Chemical Brothers, and the Prodigy gaining moderate success on the Billboard charts, though the genre still couldn't compete with hip-hop or pop.

But drugs, ecstasy in particular, seemed to go hand in hand with dance music, and when Ultra launched in 1999, EDM seemed to be at a crossroads. Pushed by national news reports of deaths caused by overdoses, cops raided parties and lawmakers passed anti-rave ordinances around the country. Dance scenes fizzled.

"It was euphoric in one sense and chaotic in another," says WMC cofounder Bill Kelly of the inaugural Ultra. "At some point, they were carrying people out of there on stretchers, right past a city commissioner they had invited. They brought him to see [the event] because they wanted to show it off."

Despite these early setbacks, Ultra seemed to learn that to survive, it needed to prove itself a fun but safe environment for EDM fans.

"Our number-one priority is safety and security," Faibisch insists. "A lot of promoters say that, but not many follow through. The police and city need to see that you're not only talking but backing it up with action and not trying to cut corners or save costs. If they see that, that goes a long way."

Successful as the first Ultra was, it lost money — $10,000 to $20,000, Faibisch estimates.

"Today, $10,000 to $20,000 doesn't seem like a lot, but back then, it seemed like we lost millions," he says.

But he forged ahead. "I'm very, very passionate about it," Faibisch says. "It's my heart and soul. It's what I eat, live, and breathe. Probably one of the most rewarding things now is looking back at the old days and seeing how just about everybody there was asking the same questions, saying, 'Stop, this doesn't make sense!'"

In 2000, Faibisch and Omes threw a second, successful Ultra, and by 2001, its third year, Ultra had outgrown its South Beach home at Collins Park. At the insistence of the city, Faibisch moved the party to Bayfront Park in downtown Miami. Attendance swelled from the initial 10,000 attendees to 23,000.

As it grew, Ultra worked in tandem with the Winter Music Conference in championing electronic music. It coordinated dates, and WMC badge holders were allowed free access to Ultra.

The festival lasted five years at Bayfront, until 2005, when the park's trust urged Faibisch to consider moving it to the much larger Bicentennial Park, located north of American Airlines Arena.

The festival helped acts like Tiësto, Avicii, and Deadmau5 launch their careers in the United States. By 2006, with EDM virtually nonexistent on U.S. radio, playing Ultra, one the few major American electronic music festivals, seemed necessary to gain exposure. Established artists began seeing Ultra as a key place to premiere new tracks. Newcomers saw it as a way to get noticed.

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29 comments
Tim Pritchard
Tim Pritchard

There's definitely some pros at Ultra Festival. Not really my music scene but a party is a party & Ultra is a huge f'ing party. Party on Wayne.

sticks_7
sticks_7

Ultra Music Festival Hope to see You in 2014 watched 2013 Sets were amazing especially liked hardwell, armin van buren, Skrillex and david guetta.

MusicLover
MusicLover

ULTRA has evolved into the Epitome of Cultural & Human Decadence but if it generates money then why not right? Everyone's for sale and so Miami will become another Vegas. Way to push the culture forward!


mickeybailbonds
mickeybailbonds

I've been there with Russell through Amoeba, Magical Maydaze and Ultra.  Will ALWAYS have much love for Ultra and Russell.  I wish I had stayed in Miami and continued through the process with Russ, but after 08 and The Cure, there wasn't much else to conquer.  EDM has become WAYYY too commercialized.  Russell gave me a hand at getting into the bailbond business and has had an extremely positive impact in my life.  I love him dearly (and Charlie, too, but not so much Adam).  Keep doing your thing, boys, and stop listening to the assholes like "the ultra truth"; you guys make Miami proud!!!

theultratruth
theultratruth

THIS FAMILY HAS ACCEPTED MONEY FROM SOME OF THE MOST HIGH PROFILED CRIMINALS IN THE WORLD. SAY WHAT YOU ARE PROUDLY AND STOP TRYING TO BE A VICTIM! YOU ARE NO MARK ZUCKERBERG! YOUR A MAJOR DIRTY PLAYER IN THE GAME! LOOK I'M MAKING YOU FAMOUS!

theultratruth
theultratruth

"WE THE PUBLIC, FEEL THAT WE ARE BEING PLAYED" 

"GIVE MUSIC BACK TO THE PEOPLE" YES TO EDM !! NO TO ULTRA !!

Jimbo99
Jimbo99 topcommenter

Might wanna publish the short list of who got paid kickbacks along the way too. Notice how the dead grass in the park and crowd issues downtown disappeared for weekend #2 when they paid off the city for another $ 500K ? Guess someone's kid needed braces or that college fund needed seed money ? Who knows, maybe it was a house upgrade just the same ?

Frank Castle
Frank Castle

i wanna see the story behind WMC...that should be good

jjcolagrande
jjcolagrande

Nice clip, well-written, plenty of scope and context.. 

As usual, Mr. Ophir sounds like a snob. 

Two weeks of Ultra is a horrible idea for downtown corridor...



smeejay
smeejay

You should be a teacher.

Jimbo99
Jimbo99 topcommenter

@theultratruth @Jimbo99 That's the key to most anything, make that money on the front end and the back end of it all too. It's the bait/lure of an extravagant event. I think those that got arrested on drug charges, well if they aren't smart enough to figure it out, there's having a good time and then just making an azz out of yourself.

theultratruth
theultratruth

@Jimbo99 @theultratruth maybe this has more to do with just being arrested at ultra. maybe it has to do with morality, and codes we live by as human beings.     ::::::::focus on the light going off in your head, and not the one flashing in front of your face:::::   

Jimbo99
Jimbo99 topcommenter

@theultratruth @Jimbo99 Again, we're talking about Ultra & being arrested and needing to be bailed out of jail. Why would one get arrested at Ultra ? Probably because that person is making an azz out of themselves. Urinating in public ? Looking for a hooker ? Public intoxication ? On some controlled substance(s) ? Fighting ? Those that can't conduct themselves in a socially responsible manner are for the most part the troublemakers that wind up needing bail bond services. If one doesn't want to take that risk, stay away from the event ?

As for someone that attempted to kill another ? One would have to wonder what the alleged victim did to merit that kind of response. People generally have no reason to try to kill anyone. Not unless you did something to drive them to do that ? Did you rip them off or screw them over in a big enough business dealing, whether it was legal or illegal ? Or was it because someone slept with another's wife ? In any scenario, there is cause & effect. Just me, but sometimes exercising a little judgement & common sense, you have to know when it's time to go to sleep every night ? The acid test for anything should be whether whatever happened was good for all involved.

theultratruth
theultratruth

@Jimbo99 @theultratruth you don't have to do drugs or be drunk to end up in jail. I didn't read half of what you wrote but I know what it's about. now that the issue is more to light......we don't need bail bonds man....actually its just another unnecessary process in the system. why can't we pay within the confides of jail itself? Also, let's say for example someone try's to kill you, but lets say its not booked as attempted murder, then that person can bond out and kill your ass. I don't expect you to have any morals, I just hope you do. But then again your probably hypnotized by Ultra and all the fireworks. Your all sheep. Unless your a wolf too.

Jimbo99
Jimbo99 topcommenter

@theultratruth @Jimbo99 That's the point, nobody I know has ever been in jail and going there isn't an option in my lifetime or theirs, we're law biding citizens not losers. My life is drug free, and that includes alcohol. Anyone that needs an illegal substance to feel/experience life deserves to be in jail in my opinion, because that's what the rules are. I don't want to be around anyone doing or selling drugs, because inevitably they'll wind up in jail. Drugs are a game that being the loser on or selling them is what makes you the police department's customer. Raise the standards for yourself and those in your life and bail bond scumbags are the last people in this community you'll ever meet in your lifetime. Those that went to Ultra on drugs put themselves in a position to have bail bond people become a part of their life. I'm not looking to finance their lifestyle. If I stand in line at a store to make a purchase, that's longer than I want them around me just the same as the drug addicts and abusers.

 

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