It's bewildering to see the Chainsmokers headline Ultra Music Festival this year. They were never critical darlings, even when music journalists tried to deduce if the duo's "Selfie" was a parody and some sort of deep meditation on social media and vanity. (Hint: It wasn't that deep.)
But last year's Sick Boy was in its own class of awful. The title track, in particular, exemplified some of the worst songwriting of 2018. It sounds like a rejected Twenty One Pilots cut, with cringe-inducing lyrics such as, "Make no mistake, I live in a prison/That I built myself, it is my religion... Welcome to the narcissism/Where we're united under our indifference." Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall should stick to making songs about selfies.
Luckily, if you dig deeper into Ultra's 2019 lineup, you'll find plenty of acts worth the ticket price. Offering everything from Grammy-nominated artists to legacy acts, Miami's homegrown dance music festival isn't just serving up EDM — although there's plenty of that. Techno, trance, house, and experimental electronica are all well represented.
If you're heading to Virginia Key this weekend, here are New Times' picks of the Ultra acts you shouldn't miss.
Sophie. If you've been sleeping on Sophie's meteoric rise from bubbling underground artist to Grammy-nominated producer, now is the time to wake up. The Scottish native caught everyone's attention in 2013 with "Nothing More to Say/Eeehhh," which from the get-go set the tone for Sophie's signature rubbery beats and, at times, abrasive melodies. With 2018's Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Inside, she proved all that early hype was real when she explored topics such as gender and beauty. Her music can be extremely challenging but immensely rewarding if you listen carefully. However, Sophie, who has collaborated with artists such as Charli XCX, Let's Eat Grandma, and Kim Petras, definitely has a playful pop side, so it'll be hard not to find something you like during her set. 5:40 p.m. Friday, March 29, at Live Arena.
Sven Väth. At this point in his career, Sven Väth doesn't have to prove anything to anyone. The German DJ/producer has been crafting hits since the '80s when he was a member of Off. He found success as a solo act, releasing his debut album, Accident in Paradise, in 1992, and it's still essential listening. His label, Cocoon Recordings, launched in 2000 and has signed acts that have become household names, including Guy Gerber and Loco Dice. The 54-year-old is considered a father figure to the dance music scene, a spot he's rightfully earned. Last year's DJ mix, In The Mix: The Sound of the 19th Season, proves Väth still has a keen ear for what gets crowds moving. 10 p.m. Friday, March 29, at Resistance Reflector.
Dog Blood. The side project of Boys Noize and Skrillex finally emerged from hibernation earlier this year, and dance music fans are excited. The duo has promised new music is on the horizon, having already teased audiences at Buku Music + Art Project in New Orleans this past weekend. Remix compilation aside, the last time the pair released new music was in 2013 with the EP Middle Finger, Pt. 2. If there's a good time to show the world what you've been working on, it's definitely Ultra. Dog Blood's last appearance at the festival was in 2013, so Ultranauts are ready for its return. 11:15 p.m. Friday, March 29, at Ultra Worldwide.
Jai Wolf. Signed to the indie label Mom + Pop, Jai Wolf has a sound that will be a welcome change of pace where bombastic beats will be the norm. When Wolf takes the stage at Ultra, it will be days before his debut album, The Cure to
G Jones. After releasing his highly anticipated debut album, The Ineffable Truth, last fall, G Jones was quickly praised for pushing his experimental bass sound forward. If you're a fan of acts such as Bassnectar or Zeds Dead, you might find something to like during G Jones' appearance. His music isn't always danceable, but it packs an emotional wallop as he creates ethereal soundscapes. Citing Aphex Twin and Mr. Oizo as influences, Jones definitely has a knack for the experimental, which is a blessing these days when many EDM tracks are indistinguishable from one another. That won't be a problem during Jones' performance. 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at Live Arena.
Tinlicker. Released on Mau5trap, Tinlicker's EP About You is
Armin van Buuren. Every year, when Armin van Buuren closes out the A State of Trance stage,
Deadmau5/Testpilot. New CubeV3 live show. What else do you really need to know? If you're more of a
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Whipped Cream. It takes guts to remix System of a Down's beloved breakthrough cut "Chop Suey!" However, alongside Bishu, Whipped Cream keeps the song's signature "Wake up!" before bringing the rumbling bass. If you want to witness Caroline Cecil drop the track at Ultra, you better get there at opening. That's the problem with most festivals — many of the buzziest up-and-comers are often relegated to the worst time slots. However, that shouldn't be a deterrent if you want to catch Cecil's wide sphere of influence in person. The Canadian DJ has cited contemporaries such as Kali Uchis, James Blake, and Zeds Dead as cornerstones of the sound she creates. 3 p.m. Sunday, March 31, at Ultra Worldwide.
Charlotte de Witte. In a just world, Charlotte de Witte would be headlining festivals such as Ultra, but her sound is perhaps too "underground" — whatever that means these days — for EDM-loving crowds. Still, this is a woman who has spun for the massive crowds at Tomorrowland, so she can definitely hold a large audience's attention. In Miami, she'll perform at the Carl Cox Megastructure, which is pretty massive, but the early time slot might mean a weak turnout. If you need the perfect primer for the Belgian producer's sounds, start at the beginning and listen to her 2015 release for Turbo, "Weltschmerz." 4:30 p.m. Sunday, March 31, at Carl Cox Megastructure.
Ultra Music Festival. Friday, March 29, through Sunday, March 31, at Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, 4020 Virginia Beach Dr., Miami; and Miami Marine Stadium, 3501 Rickenbacker Cswy., Miami. Tickets cost $399.95 to $1,499.95 via ultramusicfestival.com.