And on the second day, the dance music gods sent down a constellation of pop stars.
Yes, Ultra Music Festival kept pumping out the beats on Saturday, March 24. While there were no major surprises on Day Two (Daft Punk isn't coming, people), festivalgoers still got a few guest appearances, including Halsey who appeared early on during her boyfriend G-Eazy's set. Unfortunately for the Chainsmokers, her earlier guest spot ruined the surprise of her coming out to sing "Closer" during the duo's bro-tastic set on the Main Stage.
However, just like Elvis Crespo and Daddy Yankee's WTF appearance during Steve Aoki's set on Friday, Marshmello also brought out his own out-of-left-field surprise when Will Smith came out to sing about a minute of his 1997 hit "Miami" — a wasted opportunity to perform the whole song if there ever was one.
Here's what else went down on Day Two of Ultra:
Matador. As the head of his own label, Rukus, it would be fair to consider Matador something of an expert on what comprises a solid techno set. He shared his skills with Ultra attendees at the Resistance Arcadia Spider early last night, attracting hard-edge techno fans as well as weirdoes clad in the likes of one-piece, high-cut bathing suits and thigh-high white furry legwarmers.
As an expert of construction and maximizing tension for full effect, Matador’s live set — yes live, not a DJ set — incorporated more than just the hard-hitting, ear drum-bashing techno he’s most associated with, including melodic elements and turns that continue to help distinguish him from the larger techno pack. Arpeggiated segments and a surprise appearance of steel drums reinforced Matador’s status as a creative leader of the dance music pack. – Zach Schlein
Tiësto. There's a craft to making the ideal EDM set. A DJ has many decisions to make: What will I play? Will I change tempo? How many drops will I allow? Tiësto, who has been called the greatest DJ of all time by MixMag, knows this well. He's been in the game of giant festival sets as long as Ultra has been around — long enough, perhaps, to know how to go comfortably on autopilot.
For the most part, that's what his set was, an old pro going through the motions: huge mainstage bass, frequent drops, the roller-coaster structure of EDM faithfully adhered to. Besides a remix of "God's Plan," there was not much in the way of surprises. After ten minutes I began to ask myself why I'm sitting through this, way in the back, being jostled by an enormous crowd, bored and underwhelmed. And when he dropped Ed Sheeran? You bet I wish I were somewhere else. – Douglas Markowitz
San Holo. Dutch DJ and producer San Holo may not have rocked the main stage, but for one energetic hour, he made Ultra's live stage feel like a white-hot stepping stone toward that destination. He commanded a full audience from the front of the seats to the back of the hill, moving between headbanging live producer and guitar-wielding rock star. His popular blend of future bass, trap, and emotional rock kept hitting like lightning. He worked through his new song “Right Here, Right Now” and recent collaborations with friends before giving fans the ultimate sing along to “the song that changed it all,” 2016's “The Light.” He said himself it was the greatest set of his life before taking a “family picture” with his team and the waving crowd. – Kat Bein
Jamie Jones. If the last few Ultra lineups have taught us anything, it’s that tech-house is really, really popular right now. Blending the repetitive, mechanical nature of techno with a degree of progressive house’s more uplifting and melodic elements, it’s a sound that’s all but dominated Ultra proceedings in recent years, as evidenced by the repeated bookings of artists like Paradise party mastermind and Hot Creations labelhead Jamie Jones, who performed the penultimate set at the Carl Cox tent last night.
Whether tech-house at Ultra has been propagated by the artists themselves or stems from demand on the part of festivalgoers, it’s a sound that’s now grown stale. For whatever reason, contemporary DJ sets that lean heavily towards tech-house seem to lack the dynamism and sense of progression that make for a memorable experience; by being non-committal to neither the hypnotic, rough qualities of techno nor the uplifting, transcendent nature of house music, tech-house sometimes seems to just sit there, with songs indistinguishably mixing from one into the next.
Which brings us to Jones’ set. There’s no doubt that he’s a master selector and extremely talented behind a mixer, which might be the reason why his set was so underwhelming; he’s capable of so much more. Although a flourish of steel drums near the end of his set helped to liven things up a bit, there were few moments where Jones truly wielded his capacity to create audience insanity at full force. This is a guy who, under a decade ago, was able to seamlessly combine electroclash, downtempo-but-funky joints, and near-forgotten synth-pop treasures in his classic Fabric mix. Needless to say, what actually was — a never-ending onslaught of tech-house — didn’t compare to what could’ve been, that is, a genre-bending monster of a set. Hopefully next Ultra visit around, Jamie (or most artists under the Carl Cox tent for that matter) will decide to mix things up a little more. – Zach Schlein
Marshmello. When you're one of dance-pop's biggest crossover hits, you come to Ultra ready to make headlines. Marshmello's cotton candy-colored bass was custom-built for the main stage. His visuals featured cartoon versions of his bulky masked self floating through the air as a parade balloon or riding Mario's Rainbow Road on a go-kart. Collaborators G-Eazy and Slushii were expected, as they were also on the lineup, but Yo Gotti, Southside, and Lil Uzi Vert were big surprises, none more so than Will Smith who came out to perform “Miami” to a wildly impressed crowd. A legendary moment for the Ultra history books, for sure. – Kat Bein
G-Eazy. “Why would they put him on a little stage?” a young blonde in rave wear could be heard asking as she sat on the lawn of the Live Stage waiting for G-Eazy. Looking beyond the pit during the rapper’s set, it was eazy to see why. Save for the hardcore fans in the pit, his 9 p.m. set appeared to be more of a layover on the way to the headliners for the burned-out masses. He continually hyped the crowd with declarations about Ultra being the best party in the world and how long he’d waited to play it, but at times it seemed more like he was trying to convince himself than responding to the crowd’s energy. Eazy’s set list tapped into his decade long discography, but leaned heavily on his later output, including his latest The Beautiful and the Damned, 2015’s When It’s Dark Out, and 2014’s These Things Happen, but it was “Say Less,” his collaboration with Dillon Francis, that finally awakened the crowd. Francis was a no-show, but Eazy brought out girlfriend Halsey for their Bonnie and Clyde ode “Him & I” as home video clips of the pair lit up the screens behind them. They teased the crowd with near kisses and PDA before the “Bad At Love” pop singer slinked offstage into the darkness. – Celia Almeida
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Tchami & Malaa. There may have been No Redemption at Tchami and Malaa's monstrous live stage performance, but it damn well felt like the French pair were saving something. The two were dark and powerful demigods delivering sermons of brooding future house and sensual funk atop two massive LED towers. They worked synths and tables to serve the perfect balance of pure groove and boisterous intensity. One moment, they were evil, the next they were dance-floor saviors. They controlled one of the largest crowds the live stage may see all year, and the visuals were all kinds of wildness. As they closed out in a sea of fog and haunting atmosphere, Tchami grabbed the mic and repped for he and his silent partner. “Be thankful for this moment,” he called in a tone that was somehow both inspiring and boastful, then they let the last note fade out as the crowd stood in astonish awe. Cue fireworks. – Kat Bein
Carl Cox. It is 10:29 p.m. on Saturday and I am officially over this shit. I am watching Carl Cox do his job, spinning an epic mix of destructive techno in the massive, immersive Resistance tent, where the lights move up and down on platforms suspended above the jostling crowd like platforms in a fighting game. It's an incredible set, a feast for the senses by one of the greatest living entertainers, a guy who had an Ibiza residency for over a decade. I feel like I should be having fun. But I'm not. Everyone around me is dancing and cheering and I'm just standing here uncomfortably. My back hurts. People keep bumping into me. The portajohn I just used stank of excrement. I am very mildly dissociating from this environment, the flashing colors and booming music becoming an indistinct blur around me as I stare into my phone and write this, looking for an escape from my chaotic surroundings. It's too much. This entire week is too much. I'm not having fun anymore. Can you come pick me up? – Douglas Markowitz
The Chainsmokers. Who goes to Ultra — for decades the stateside mecca of all genres and subgenres of electronic dance music — to see the Chainsmokers? Turns out, it’s thousands of people. It was an open question whether the Ultra crowd would show up for the EDM duo turned bro-pop headliners, but the Main Stage audience stretched almost to the Metromover rail at the opposite end of the park. Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart seemed intent on reminding attendees that although they’ve gone pop with a string of blockbuster hits over the past two years, they got their start as DJs. They whipped and flipped their hits into distorted, deconstructed dubstep jams and dropped remixes of Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” and Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life.” They eventually left the booth, though, singing a medley of their string of radio hits at the foot of the stage, and there’s no bigger Chainsmokers hit than “Closer.” Once Halsey hit the stage at G-Eazy’s earlier set, it was all but guaranteed that she would make a cameo to sing the song, so when she finally appeared onstage, the crowd was less than surprised. – Celia Almeida