Ultra Music Festival 2019 Winners and Losers

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The 21st Ultra Music Festival is over. Will it return to Virginia Key next year? Who knows. Rest assured there will be plenty of discussion from city officials, residents, and environmentalists about whether the festival belongs there.

However, as far as fans are concerned, the Virginia Key site definitely brought several improvements: more space, a later closing time, and a picturesque setting. Still, Ultra 2019 didn't feel like it was one for the books. Going into the festival, hiccups were to be expected, but for the first time, New Times reporters had a tough time coming up with things they liked about the event, while the list of complaints is long.

That said, this list isn't meant to bash Ultra. Instead, it should serve as constructive criticism. To paraphrase Tyra Banks: We are all rooting for you, Ultra! And though the production was, as always, topnotch, the attendee experience at Virginia Key needs some work.

Here are highlights and lowlights from Ultra 2019.


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Photo by Daniella Mía

Odesza's comeback. Four years ago, Odesza was slated to perform at Ultra 2015, but rain forced the bandmates to canceled their set. This year, they made up for it. Not only did the duo deliver its set free of rain, but also the hourlong performance turned into a full-fledged musical experience. The set included eye-catching visuals, a full drum line, and a horn section — and fans ate up every second of it. Perched at the top of the DJ booth, Catacombkid and BeachesBeaches tapped viciously on their electric drum set, making their performance one for the books. — Cristina Jerome

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Photo by Daniella Mía

Resistance Island. The clear and undisputed winner of Ultra 2019, Resistance Island was one of the few aspects of this year’s festival that worked. Always an Ultra highlight, the Resistance area gained new life through its Virginia Key Beach location. By combining classic Ultra fixtures such as the Carl Cox Megastructure and a fresh beach vibe, Resistance Island expanded the definition of what the festival could be. It's a shame about that long walk, though. — Zach Schlein

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Photo by Daniella Mía

The weather. New Times has been covering Ultra faithfully since it began in 1999, and this publication's reporters have endured all kinds of weather conditions at the fest. In 2009, it was so hot during Cut Copy's performance that security used bottled water to spray the crowd so no one would overheat. Then there was the Great Deluge of 2015, when rain relentlessly pounded the fest and forced several acts to cancel. This past weekend, Miami's weather was on its best behavior, with clear skies and temperatures hovering in the low 80s. It was the kind of weather people from the Midwest tell their friends about, not realizing Miami is a humid inferno come June. — Jose D. Duran


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Photo by Daniella Mía

The distance between Miami Marine Stadium and Resistance Island. If you’re not in shape or simply not mentally prepared to walk far, the distance between Ultra's two sites — Miami Marine Stadium and Resistance Island at Virginia Key Beach Park — was brutal. The walk was roughly 20 minutes, which meant attendees had to plan ahead to catch acts performing at the two venues. The trek was even farther for festival-goers headed to the Carl Cox Megastructure, which added another ten to 12 minutes to the trip. The long walk made it extremely difficult to catch acts with overlapping set times at different sites. The winding trail was fenced on both sides, keeping ravers safe from traffic, and included two pedestrian bridges for extra glute toning. — Cristina Jerome

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Photo by Daniella Mía

Ultra’s faulty generator powering deadmau5’s cubev3. Deadmau5’s Saturday performance was one of the most highly anticipated of the fest because he planned to debut a new production set. His cubev3 is a technological marvel: a huge moving contraption with several screens and a seat for the DJ to do his thing. Well, it broke — which wasn't deadmau5’s fault, but the generator Ultra provided to power the cube did it no justice. Forty minutes into his set, the massive structure powered down while deadmau5 thanked the crowd for having him. — Cristina Jerome

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Photo by Daniella Mía

Day one's shuttle fiasco. It was well reported that the end of Ultra’s first night was a shit show, as thousands of revelers scrambled to get off the island with little guidance. Considering people were running in the middle of the Rickenbacker Causeway and more than a few shoves were thrown to secure spots on the shuttles, it’s a miracle there weren’t more serious injuries. — Zach Schlein

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Photo by Daniella Mía

Diversity, or lack thereof. Ultra's lineup used to feel like a compendium of the best that dance music has to offer. Then came EDM, which turned a style of dance music into a commercial cash cow that cared less about PLUR and more about commodifying something that was once underground. Ultra jumped on that EDM bandwagon and never looked back. To some extent, it was wise: Ultra, after all, is a business that needs to make money to continue growing. And the kids these days seem to value the experiential over the unique. That's meant Ultra booking so many of the same acts over and over again — Tiësto, Afrojack, Marhsmello — that it's difficult to distinguish the lineups from year to year. That also seems to have created a huge obstacle for people of color, women, and LGBTQ performers to land slots. Is this really the hill you want to die on, Ultra? You can do better. — Jose D. Duran

Colonel Sanders’ DJ set. Whether Ultra’s organizers still believe it or not, dance music is better than this. — Zach Schlein

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