Ultra Miami 2016, Day One: A Giant Metal Spider Stole Our Hearts

This year, Miami's Ultra Music Festival turns 18 years old. Which means, under Ultra's new age restrictions, it can finally attend itself (while smoking a cigarette).

And the festival's maturity is starting to show. Day one of Ultra was largely a smooth success. Even Mother Nature cooperated (which didn't happen during last year's soggy opening day of Ultra). The Carl Cox tent is back (and still stunning), the live stage is packed with talent (and still criminally underattended), and the Main Stage is a masterpiece of modern technology (shoutout to Steve Lieberman and company).

Some of the day's headliners included Martin Garrix, Miike Snow, Jamie Jones, Carl Cox, Yellow Claw, and too many others to name here. We've discussed a few of our favorite below.  

Arcadia’s Landing Show at Resistance Arcadia Spider
Last year, Ultra gave techno, deep house, and whatever else that didn’t exactly fit the EDM mold a place with the Resistance stage. (Arguably, the Carl Cox tent also steers clear of big-room house and the ilk, but Resistance felt grungier and more intimate — in a good way.) Last year’s stage, the Afterburner, was provided by Arcadia Spectacular, a performance-art collective. New Times was told depending on the crowd’s reaction, Arcadia would maybe return in 2016 with an even bigger stage. I’m guessing Ultra deemed last year’s trial run a success — I know I did — so this year, Arcadia returned with the Spider, a mechanical arachnid that soars above the crowd. The stage really shows its chops during “The Landing” show, in which the Spider awakens to scan the audience and deems humans: “Destructive. Threat to planet. Threat to self.” Arcadia’s show has an environmental message that, I’ll admit, seemed a bit too on the nose. (I could see a party with a message working better at Burning Man.) Still, what followed was an amazing display of acrobatics. Dancers suspended in air grabbed well-placed extras in the crowd and enveloped them in a web a while a soundtrack of techno, jungle, and noise played on. (I might have even heard a Kraftwerk sample.) But the real showstopper came in the last ten minutes, when, suddenly, fire shot out of the Spider. The heat and brightness caught the audience by surprise, and everyone collectively ducked. The fire really didn't get close enough to put anyone’s safety at risk, but it had everyone on edge and in awe at the same time. The 30-minute “The Landing” show will be performed again on Saturday and Sunday, and I highly recommend you don’t miss it. — by Jose D. Duran

John Digweed
Is there anything left to say about English DJ John Digweed that Wiki entries and electronic-music outlets haven’t already? Over the span of two decades, Digweed has permeated and defined house culture in a manner few have been able to match. With that in mind, it makes sense then that the crowd populating his set skewed noticeably older, with many a tanned 40-odd-year-old partying like it was 2001. Resting comfortably in the belly (or thorax — there’s a reason we’re journalists, not arachnologists) of the Spider and accompanied by dazzling lights, Digweed spun an alluring set that caught many an Ultra attendee in its proverbial web (get it, because of the Spider?). Dismissing familiar house favorites and crowd pleasers in favor of tracks one would likely never hear outside of a John Digweed mix, Digweed’s Friday set was as interesting as it was danceable. — by Zach Schlein 

Chet Faker
Chet Faker’s set at Ultra’s Live Stage should have been a gloriously slick hour of the Australian’s wicked brand of electro-tinged neo-soul. Instead, it was plagued by lengthy technical difficulties that cut his time in half, frustrating the uncommonly large crowd that had arrived early to the Bayfront Amphitheatre (as well those watching on the live stream, where he was cut out of the broadcast entirely.) After a ten-minute delay, the audience grew anxious. After 20, there were grumblings and confused glances. Around the 30-minute mark, a small exodus began toward other stages. Once Faker finally began, he quickly apologized and dove headfirst into the essentials of his catalog. That included his viral hit, the bumping, downtempo cover of Blackstreet’s R&B classic “No Diggity,” and the elegantly pained “Gold.” The show started in earnest with “The Trouble With Us” as a full backing band emerged from the shadows, allowing Faker to indulge in his disco-happy, funk side. The unperturbed Faker crooned and sashayed across the stage. At one point, he playfully snatched a fan’s selfie stick out of the front row, filming himself before turning it on the audience. Sadly, Faker’s shortened set was over in a flash, and at best, he was able to salvage something with a brilliant 30 minutes, but at worst, it felt like a tease of what could have been. — by Angel Melendez

Following in the footsteps of many great multi-instrumental acts on the Live Stage, Caribou’s Friday performance was woefully underattended. However, those who did make it found themselves treated to an ecstatic, colorful testimony to the power of electronic music. Although his records are produced in isolation, Dan Snaith, the man better-known as Caribou, has successfully enlivened his records — animated, though, they already are — through the support of a full live band. Running through cuts off his two most recent records, 2010’s Swim and 2014’s Our Love, Snaith and company covered a wide gamut of moods and expressions, ranging from the danceable domestic drama of “Odessa” to the sensitivity and tenderness of “All I Ever Need." Most impressive of all was the set closer, “Sun.” Working in tandem with the orange glow illuminating the band, “Sun,” perhaps more than any other song that will be performed this weekend, embodied the transcendence that can be found in the repetition and mantras of dance music. — by Zach Schlein 

Martin Garrix
At 19 years old, most people are just leaving the protective watch of their parents, sloppily learning to maneuver their way around a hangover and adult responsibility. Dutch producer and DJ Martin Garrix, however, is reaching an international pinnacle. The “Animals” star closed out the Ultra main stage, packing the final hour with a high-octane mix of shiny, happy, pop-house. It wasn't a bold set or even anything unexpected. Usher didn't crash the show, as he did during Garrix's early-evening set in 2015. He didn't rock the boat with any experimental sounds or genre-pushing vibes. He kept things straightforward and traditional, staying true to that post-Swedish House Mafia EDM sound. Essentially, he played it safe, but when 19 looks this easy, it's hard to imagine there ain't still room to grow. — by Kat Bein
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Kat Bein is a freelance writer and has been described as this publication’s "senior millennial correspondent." She has an impressive, if unhealthy, knowledge of all things pop culture.
Jose D. Duran is the associate editor of Miami New Times. He's the strategist behind the publication's eyebrow-raising Facebook and Twitter feeds. He has also been reporting on Miami's cultural scene since 2006. He has a BS in journalism and will live in Miami as long as climate change permits.
Contact: Jose D. Duran
Angel Melendez is an unabashed geek and a massive music nerd. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University and an accomplished failure at two other universities, Angel is a lush and an insufferable know-it-all, and has way better taste in music than you.
Contact: Angel Melendez
Ryan Pfeffer is a contributor and former Miami New Times music editor. After earning a BS from Florida State University, Ryan joined the New Times staff in November 2013 as a web editor.
Contact: Ryan Pfeffer
Zach Schlein is the former arts and music editor for Miami New Times. Originally from Montville, New Jersey, he holds a BA in political science from the University of Florida and writes primarily about music, culture, and clubbing, with a healthy dose of politics whenever possible. He has been published in The Hill, Mixmag, Time Out Miami, and City Gazettes.
Contact: Zach Schlein