If there's one complaint you hear often about Ultra Music Festival, it's that the acts all seem to be the same year after year. Some of that criticism seems valid, but if you're looking for something new among the headliners, perhaps you're looking in the wrong place.
Acts such as Major Lazer, Afrojack, and Martin Garrix sell tickets, but the exciting thing about Ultra is discovering new music and sounds. In the past, New Times has pointed out the often overlooked acts at the festival, but this year we've done one better. There are a handful that have never performed under the bright LED lights of the many stages. And they aren't newcomers; these are acts that have proven time and again to be dance-music powerhouses.
So before you complain that there's nothing new at Ultra this year, check out five of the confirmed 22 acts making their Ultra debut in 2017.
Anna: Resistance seems to be leading the way in having new acts perform at the festival, and adding some much-needed diversity to the mix is the Brazilian-born, Berlin-based DJ Anna. Describe by Mixmag as "one of Brazil's finest exports," Anna has easily earned the respect of dance-music lovers with her blend of techno and tech-house. Though most of her underground cohorts might turn their nose up at dabbling in EDM, Anna seems to relish doing the opposite of what's expected of her, like remixing Nervo's 2015 hit "Haute Mess" into a more ominous cut that's perfect for dancing in a dark, windowless warehouse.
Chris Liebing: Though he's definitely a Winter Music Conference veteran, Liebing will finally make the leap to Ultra as part of the Resistance lineup. As the founder of the record label and podcast CLR, he's been an expert musical curator, concentrating mainly on techno and its subgenres. Acts such as Monoloc, Terence Fixmer, and Drumcell are all fortunate to be part of CLR, which is a testament to Liebing's skill at homing in on worthwhile acts. In 2013, Liebing told New Times: "I feel that some of the people who discover the pop side of EDM will become interested to dig a little deeper." Ultra will give him the platform to put that theory to the test.
Sander van Doorn presents Purple Haze: Yes, Dutch producer Sander van Doorn is not new to Ultra — but his alias, Purple Haze, definitely is. His trance persona signals a larger movement of popular house acts releasing music that's not exactly expected of them under another guise. However, Purple Haze isn't exactly a new side project for van Doorn. He's being releasing music under the pseudonym since 2005, but it had been dormant for a while until he revived the project earlier this year. Purple Haze's Ultra debut will introduce van Doorn's "sharper, darker, and rougher" side — as he described it to Australia's the Trance Project earlier this year — to a legion of fans that knows him best for his bouncy, club-friendly beats.
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wAFF: Creativity seems second nature for former dancer and actor wAFF. Now, as part of Jamie Jones and Lee Foss' Hot Creations, he's been burning up dance floors around the globe. His latest release is a tech-house collaboration with Santé called "Interferenz," released through the German label Avotre. The track is a repetitive exercise that slowly builds until the midway point, where it seems to almost explode with excitement. He has performed in Miami before both during and outside of Miami Music Week, but it will be exciting to see how he commands a larger stage at Ultra.
Zhu: The Chinese-American DJ/producer will hit the festival on the heels of his remix of Migos' "Bad and Boujee." Zhu gives the track a synth-assisted backdrop that takes it from a drawling trap anthem to a dance-floor-ready cut. Zhu kicked off his career in 2014 anonymously in the hopes of avoiding the obstacles that musicians of color encounter, especially in dance music, where it seems like all you need to be is a teenage Dutch DJ in order to score a record deal and a festival headlining slot no matter how mediocre you are. In addition to making the Migos remix, Zhu has worked with Skrillex and AlunaGeorge and released his debut album, Generationwhy, last year. It wasn't exactly a critics' favorite. Still, Zhu is best when he's behind the decks, so expect magic during his debut.
Ultra Music Festival 2017
Friday, March 24, through Sunday, March 26, at 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.