The most frequently repeated feedback we heard was how much more enjoyable the festival was without the under-18 set being allowed in. It felt as though the crowd was raving and partying responsibly. In fact, to us, it seemed almost everyone was sober. Reaching Bayfront Park was also easier, thanks to increased cooperation among the festival, the city, and local law enforcement.
But beyond this year's organizational overhaul of the event, we found plenty of music-related reasons to be happy with Ultra 2015, from Die Antwoord's WTF performance to the Resistance Stage's apocalyptic allure. The worst mistake you could have made this weekend was skipping out on the festival.
Ultra Goes Pop
It was in 2009 when Ultra first experimented with pop crossovers. The Black Eyed Peas were on the verge of releasing The E.N.D., notable for the megahit collaboration with David Guetta, “I Gotta Feeling," which was among the first signs that EDM was about to go big — even if BEP's offering was truly dreadful. Later came appearances from Madonna and Slash. But the pop superstars witnessed at this year’s festival were beyond anything we could have imagined. It started out with Usher dropping in on Martin Garrix's Saturday set. Then Ariana Grande sang with her frequent collaborator Cashmere Cat during his Sunday performance. And finally, Justin Bieber and Diddy helped Skrillex close out the festival. When you think about it, the fact that these stars showed up to Ultra isn't that surprising. Dance music acts frequently go into the studio with pop musicians to cook up hits that burn up the BIllboard charts. But never had Ultra gotten so many stars to visit in a single year.
Die Antwoord's Mindfuck
South Africa's Die Antwoord melds '90s rave beats with spitfire rhymes to create some of the most mind-blowing music you'll ever hear. The Live Stage was pretty much a bust because of the rain on Friday. But Ninja, Yolandi Visser, and DJ Hi-Tek made up for the previous day’s disappointments with their Saturday-night performance. The trio churned through tracks like "I Fink U Freeky," "Fatty Boom Boom," "Baby's on Fire," "Cookie Thumper!," and "Enter the Ninja." Visser, in particular, sounded phenomenal live, with child-like vocals that offer a jarring contrast to the filthy lyrics that come out of her mouth. But Ninja didn't let Visser have all the fun, getting the entire audience to yell "Fuck your rules!" in unison.
Röyksopp's Soggy Performance
After Todd Terje, Odesza, and Chromeo's Live Stage performances were rained out on the opening night of Ultra 2015, we seriously considered going home and just trying again on Saturday. But around 10:30 p.m., word spread that Norwegian duo Röyksopp would be playing a set. And when the clock hit 11, the lights finally dimmed and the twosome immediately kicked into a reworking of "The Girl and the Robot." The performance was vastly different from Röyksopp's Ultra 2011 appearance, which featured guest vocalist Anneli Drecker. This time, it was Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland alone, creating a wall of sound with prerecorded vocals mixed in. Still, it was an energizing and surprisingly warm performance that featured lots of cuts from Berge and Brundtland's recent collaboration with Swedish singer Robyn, as well as their latest — and final — full-length album, The Inevitable End. We sang along, loudly, during “Sayit," as Robyn and a robotic voice repeated, "I want you, I want you, I want you.” And yes, we want you too, Röyksopp.
Eric Prydz's ASOT Light Show
While we checked out Cashmere Cat's performance on Ultra's Worldwide Stage on Sunday night, the light show happening at Armin van Buuren's A State of Trance tent called out to us. It was the most amazing use of laser lights, high-definition screens, and spotlights we had ever seen. Know that Daft Punk's 2006 performance at Bang! Music Festival during their Alive tour still stands as one of the best productions we've ever witnessed — ASOT was a close second. And while a light show of this magnitude could dwarf any other act, Prydz had more than enough talent and energy to keep our ears interested. This was easily the best marriage of visuals and music at Ultra 2015.
Ultra Fashion Goes East
Last year, Ultra debuted its first Japanese event in Tokyo. We're not sure if that's why we noticed a substantial uptick in Japanese, Korean, and other Asian fans at Ultra 2015 in Miami. If the festival took place in California, we wouldn't think anything of a strong showing from the Eastern Hemisphere. But Miami is as far from Asia as you can get. And though long-distance travelers, like the Australians, have been coming to the festival for years, it wasn’t till this weekend that Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and other visiting fans infused UMF with their keen sense of street style. Fuck your store-bought raver gear! These girls and guys upped the ante by combining kawaii, cosplay, and other Asian fashion trends with East-meets-West items. It was awesome to see in person, and we tried to offer our compliments despite the language barrier.
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Pete Tong Leads the Resistance
Tucked away at the south end of Bayfront Park near the InterContinental hotel was the Resistance Stage, the most apocalyptic stage setup we've ever seen. Burning Man first came to mind, but we were later told it was the creation of Arcadia. We spent most of our Saturday watching Umek and Joseph Capriati spin, but it was Pete Tong on Sunday who won our hearts. There's a reason Tong is such an influencer in the dance-music world, and that's because he's so skilled at bringing people together. His set was one of the most chill and accessible that we heard at the stage, and the crowd was eating it up. Resistance also had the honor of hosting Get Real, the side project that brings together Green Velvet and Claude VonStroke.
Carl Cox and John Digweed
Avicii and Martin Garrix may be the new faces of EDM, but the old masters aren't going to just sit around watching everyone pass them by. Heavyweights like Carl Cox and John Digweed proved they are still very much worthy of admiration and respect, and for reasons beyond the simple fact that they've been in dance-music stars for decades. In fact, as a whole, Ultra still did a great job of not loading up its lineup with the flavors of the week. Other Ultra vets like Boys Noize, Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, Steve Angello, Bassnectar, Paul Van Dyk, and more proved that longevity is possible in an industry that burns through trends and artists.