Ultra 2014: Why the Live Music Lineup Is a Big Improvement
"Who do you think we should book?"
It's a question that Ultra Music Festival founder Russell Faibisch asked me last year when I interviewed him for a feature about the iconic fest.
My answer: "I can't believe M.I.A. has never performed at Ultra."
Yesterday, I got my wish and more!
New Order, playing Ultra's live stage in 2012.
Photo by Ian Witlen
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I've always been a fan of Ultra's live stage. (It's gone through many incarnations. Remember when it was called the "dance rock arena"?)
While the main stage pushes big headliners and an insane amount of wattage, the live stage is the true measure of Ultra's feel for the pulse of contemporary music. Acts have ranged from electronic acts to rock bands to, lately, hip-hop acts. (I do think there is a place for hip-hop at Ultra, but more Weeknd and less Snoop Dogg, please.) The stage usually hosts an act that's contributed immensely to the genre (see New Order and Kraftwerk) while showcasing acts with an established following, along with up-and-comers.
Kraftwerk at Ultra 2012.
Photo by Ian Witlen
Last year, though, was an odd one for the live stage. I couldn't help but notice that the stage failed to attract Ultra attendees through both weekends. I thought to myself that maybe Ultra had finally jump the shark. Kids no longer had any respect for legacy acts or artists who are trying to redefine what the words electronic music mean. Instead, today's ravers are looking for the next drop and a hit of molly. I left the festival feeling a little depressed about the state of the scene.
But I later came to the conclusion that there were a few problems that could have been avoided, including odd set times and sound bleed.
Boys Noize, raging on the live stage in 2013.
Photo by George Martinez
And it wasn't that the 2013 lineup was subpar. Crystal Castles, Nicolas Jaar, Hot Chip, Sleigh Bells, Azealia Banks, and others are all great musicians who have achieved critical acclaim, but the poor planning kind of marred the whole experience.
Seriously, how do you put Nicolas Jaar against Swedish House Mafia and expect him to draw a crowd? Only a few acts, like Major Lazer and Boys Noize, were able to buck the trend.
In 2012, Ultra had heavyweights like M83, Miike Snow, Kraftwerk, and New Order, acts who either pulled on nostalgic heartstrings or were at their peak of popularity. So, I had decided that if Ultra wasn't going to put any effort into the live stage programming anymore, why bother going.
But yesterday, Ultra surprised me with its massive 2014 lineup announcement. And the biggest shock was the list of live headliners. The main stage, once again, seems to read like a carbon copy of last year's lineup: Avicii, Afrojack, and, ugh, Krewella. Haven't we been there before? But the live stage will showcase what's happening beyond the Miami and Vegas nightclubs.
In addition to M.I.A., who will be making her Ultra debut and her first Miami performance since 2007's Studio A show, there will be Gesaffelstein, MGMT, Cut Copy, Empire of the Sun, 2 Many DJs, Basement Jaxx (squeal!), Trentemøller, Netsky, Sub Focus, among others.
Acts like Cut Copy and Empire of the Sun have already entertained huge Ultra crowds before, so expect a solid turnout, and Basement Jaxx sort of adds that legacy factor. I know the British duo isn't exactly as foundational as New Order or Erasure, but the pair's seminal works, Remedy and Rooty, came out in 1999 and 2001, respectively, back when E, D, and M were just separate characters in the alphabet.
I'd still like to see a real legacy act on the bill. (How about Pet Shop Boys or Front 242?) It's always what has set the festival apart from other competing events like Electric Daisy Carnival. Kids need to know some dance and electronic music history before they can understand why acts like Deadmau5 and Afrojack are popular today.
But it's up to you, Ultra, to make sure the sound bleed issue from last year is fixed and artists are given properly allocated set times.
Also, Ultra: WHAT ABOUT THE KNIFE? COME ON!
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