The real joy of a music festival is discovery, and the 10th edition of Ultra offers plenty of opportunities for it, whether through presenting familiar favorites in a new way or introducing emerging artists and DJs. And although we'd never dream of imposing on that wonderful feeling of figuring it out for yourself, the sheer size and scope of the two-day event begs for a bit of sound advice.
The guaranteed-good headliners — such as Justice, Underworld, Paul van Dyk, Rabbit in the Moon, Richie Hawtin, and Moby — are expected to shine and should be missed at one's own peril. Presumably they are a large part of what attracts the masses in the first place, and deservedly so. But here's a sampling of potential Ultra highlights that might not be quite as obvious as those stars.
FRIDAY, MARCH 28
Eric Prydz: Stockholm's most famous dance music export at the moment, Eric Prydz is a DJ/producer with that incomparable Swedish gift for addictive dance-pop sounds. He dazzled international pop charts with 2004's "Call on Me," the pumping Steve Winwood-sampling guilty pleasure that has been exposed far more than his name, and "Proper Education," a nightclub-savvy rerub of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall." His big beats are perfect for this big event. Wikipedia says Prydz is afraid of flying, and Ultra will be his first appearance at an American festival, so he should get some extra love simply for showing up.
Deadmau5: The name looks like it's got a typo, a notion reaffirmed by Deadmau5's apparent love of mouse-related digital imagery. But this Toronto-based producer, whose self-described range is from "banging to electro," to which we'll add the descriptors tweaky and twisted, is clearly a different breed from normal humans. For proof, check out his "sex tape" on his rather odd YouTube channel.
The Veez: Ultra normally likes to throw in some left-field surprises on the bill (even featuring The Cure last year), and this year's curve ball is The Veez. The London-reared she-rocking quartet has no fancy gimmicks or novelties, just solid tunes. If the Spice Girls had talent, they still wouldn't be The Veez ladies, who are truly more camera-ready than those old drag queens. And they won't be performing anywhere else during Winter Music Conference.
Boys Noize: In our crowded dance music marketplace, it's certainly excusable — but a gosh-darn shame — to have missed last fall's excellent long-player Oi Oi Oi, Boys Noize's reverent hybrid of old-school techno, quirky house, and electro breaks. Berlin's Alex Ridha rattles the skull.
Dynamix II: Here we have the new-school sound with the old-school pedigree. Formed in 1985 by David Noller, who's now residing in Palm Beach Gardens, this electro legend is largely responsible for poisoning with bass thrills a generation of young and dangerous minds, spawns who have grown up to become world-renowned artists such as Aphex Twin, who put out a Dynamix II retrospective on his Rephlex label 10 years ago.
My Favorite Robot: Montreal's Simmz and Voytek explore the intersection of electro and house in their DJ sets, favoring tracks they often intriguingly describe as having a "sarcastic edge." Who the hell wants to hear that?
DJ Ology: The Miami native is a local radio staple. For five years he's been hosting The Burrow Friday nights from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. (airing simultaneously on 88.1 FM and 95.3 FM), a sonic space for him to showcase all the underground sounds that get scant airplay, as well as interview the local, national, and international players making it all happen. Raised on a diet of Miami bass, British synth pop, and progressive house, he's surprisingly more eclectic with his sets than many prog-leaning jocks.
SATURDAY, MARCH 29
Uberzone: This mild-mannered and jovial white boy turns into an absolute electro-funk machine onstage. The Southern California-based producer is known for being a perfectionist, a quality that has attracted collaborators such as Afrika Bambaataa and support from a legion of superstar breaks DJs in the UK. As Bam says, it's the sure shot.
Pete Tong: The phrase "It's all gone Pete Tong" is standard British Cockney rhyming slang for something that is utterly wrong; it even inspired a movie about a deaf DJ. But for all the good-natured ribbing the longtime BBC Radio 1 DJ has taken, he's still got one of the greatest overviews of the international dance music world.
Goldie: The maniacal face of classic drum 'n' bass is on his second wind, so take cover or get blown away. The notorious Londoner, who appeared in a James Bond flick and the classic Brit soap opera EastEnders, has recently released numerous highlights from the back catalogue of his Metalheadz record label and relaunched the awesomely vibey London club night of the same name. They don't make DJs this charismatic and unhinged anymore, so let's treasure what we've got.
DJ Dan and Donald Glaude: These two, based in Los Angeles and San Diego, respectively, will be straight West Coastin' when they get together for a special tag-team set crossing boundaries to find the best in party funk. Individually revered in their own right, the veteran jocks are consummate crowd pleasers. And they're the opposite of selfish, attitudinal superstars; DJ Dan is even working with the nonprofit NextAid to sponsor part of a village being built in South Africa for children orphaned by AIDS.
The Engineer: He's Miami's go-to guy for drum 'n' bass and dubstep precision. Host of online's Thirdschool of Thought (Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m. on BassDrive.com) and college radio's The WVUM Underground (Fridays 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.), in addition to playing clubs and parties, The Engineer is on top of the latest as well as the classics.
Otiz F. Angel and the Jaava Punks: At last year's Ultra fest, he got the glowsticks churning and the sweat dripping. Angel, who used to operate pirate radio in London and now lives in Miami Beach, calls his flavor of electronic music "jaava," which appears to be a heady reinterpretation of old UK and Belgian hard-core techno, trance, and house.
DJ VButterfly: Miami's Vanessa Picart makes provocative and flavorful tribal beats — some even with freakily charged names such as "Fuck My Drumz" — and favors the same in her DJ sets. For many, that's the perfect formula for a caliente Saturday spent dancing outdoors.
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