One of the great but frustrating things about Ultra Music Festival is it continually books interesting rising acts for its live stage while scheduling them in its earliest slots. This meant that yesterday, the second day of the second weekend, one-man electro-pop band Robert Delong and house revivalists Azari & III played to fairly tepid crowds.
It seemed the same fate might befall Disclosure, a London-based brother act that's reigniting a handful of recent bass-y subgenres for a new audience. But despite the act's very English lack of bravado, members Guy and Howard Lawrence managed to amass a decent crowd through the ear-soothing powers of its bubbling low-end and a heavy helping of R&B.
The hour-long set traversed a series of subgenres absent from the rest of Ultra for their lack of in-your-face thud -- soulful house, broken beat, U.K. garage, and two-step -- all stuttering, slinky products of multiculti London. But the Howards managed to make it work on the festival stage, pushing the bass levels up while switching between electronics and live instrumentation to keep things relatively energetic onstage. Live bass, an electronic drum kit, and even live vocals added to the usual "live P.A."-type mix of machinery and beefed up the sound for a hybrid performance.
Halfway through the set, the Howards announced a run of new material, a handful of songs that sounded super-fresh by looking to the recent past. At the barely legal ages of about 18 and 21, these musicians were kids when U.K. garage properly last peaked. But these new songs were straight-up R&B-laced champagne jams, and in the face of an "urban radio" landscape that now sounds like endless David Guetta throwaways, they sounded fresh.
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Most of Disclosure's popular songs online -- and on U.K. radio and charts -- hinge on buttery vocals from guest artists like Aluna George and Jessie Ware. Unfortunately, there were no super-surprises with any of them showing up, so the Howards relied on samples and vocal tracks for those parts. But it was exciting enough to hear the George-starring "White Noise" and a remix of Ware's "Running" loud, full of rolling bass, funky snares, and beats that were danceable without pummeling.
"Latch," the group's biggest commercial hit, featuring Sam Smith, came last, and turned into a proper mass sing-along. Well, many of the most fervent fans clustered around the stage seemed to be English, so they were basically enjoying a radio hit. But knots of American kandi kids even joined in. So maybe the group is making inroads in the U.S. -- proof that we don't always need or want our dance music to be dumb.