There's no denying that acts like Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, Martin Garrix, and Afrojack help Ultra Music Festival sell tickets. But before EDM became a marketing buzzword, Ultra was putting dance music at the forefront every March with a lineup that always seemed to carefully balance popular, if flash-in-the-pan, trends while paying close attention to the sounds bubbling up from the underground.
In 2015, with EDM still riding high, Ultra looked to solidify its dance-music cred by bestowing the Resistance name upon a small area where Bayfront Park meets Chopin Plaza on the southeastern edge.
"Rather than walking [to a stage] and knowing every single record, you are going to be doing sit-downs, you are going to be doing jump-ups, you are going to be told to clap your hands, and that kind of thing. That's great, but when you grow out of that, you want to find something else, and Resistance is that," says Carl Cox, an Ultra veteran whose yearly festival pilgrimage is expected by fans.
Last year, Cox was named Resistance's global ambassador. This year, the stage that bears his name, the Carl Cox Megastructure, joins the Resistance brand as it expands to two stages; the original stage, the Arcadia Spider, will also return. The British beatmaker's history with Ultra goes back to 2004, the first year the festival gave him his own stage to curate. Cox says the partnership formed from his frustration of having to play short sets during the festival's early days.
"I was playing the clubs in Miami at the time for a minimum of three to four hours," Cox says. "I said to myself, I'll [perform at Ultra] one more time, and I played at the amphitheater, no cover, steaming hot. For that one hour, I played pure vinyl, and the crowd was so excited by my set. I walked away from it thinking, This is fantastic, but I cannot do this again. I felt like I had done as much as I could for [Ultra]."
However, rather than let Cox walk away, the festival worked with him to give him the room to breathe. Today the Megastructure is second only to the main stage in crowd size, so having Cox be the face of Resistance was a no-brainer.
For years, Cox has been inviting the kind of DJs who usually play in packed, dark warehouses. Unlike with EDM, vocals are rarely heard coming out of the Megastructure, where house and techno beats seem to drone on for hours with no end in sight. It's the kind of music that can be challenging at first but rewards you the longer you stick around. DJs often use the cliché of referring to it as a "journey," but in reality it's just incredibly nuanced in the way orchestral music is. If EDM is a McDonald's Happy Meal, underground house and techno — and their various subgenres — are multicourse dinners at El Bulli.
"I think it's coming to a point where the kids who were coming to Ultra eight or nine years ago still enjoy the festival but want to move on to something else," Cox says. "My [stage] has always been for music-oriented partygoers who want to walk into the room and not know the songs. They want to be awash in creativity and excitement because they don't know what's coming next."
This year's Resistance lineup includes, in addition to Cox, Joseph Capriati, Sasha & John Digweed, Tale of Us, Nic Fanciulli, Maya Jane Coles, Dubfire, Adam Beyer, James Jones, and others spanning across both stages. And for the most part, you can expect the same technical prowess that has become a signature at both the Megastructure and Arcadia Spider during sets.
"The production and the level of what you are going to see is going to be seriously outstanding."
10 p.m. to midnight Friday, March 24, and Saturday, March 25, at Ultra Music Festival 2017, Bayfront Park, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-358-7550; bayfrontparkmiami.com. General-admission tickets are sold out; VIP tickets cost $1,249.95 via ultramusicfestival.com.
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