EDM is big and there's a lot of money to be made. No one is going to argue that headliners like Avicii and Tiësto help festivals like Ultra move tickets. But Ultra has a track record of taking risks, and when this year’s Phase One lineup came out, I just didn't see enough experimentation.
Eventually, the festival announced it was giving underground dance music its own space at the Resistance stage. (By the way, when using the term underground, I understand that it's a loaded term, like EDM. But know that it usually refers to difficult-at-times-to-digest genres like techno, tech house, ambient, minimal, among others, typically put out by boutique labels. Really the catch-all term should be indie dance music.)
Resistance is Ultra 2015's big risk. And so far, it's paying off.
When I first encountered the stage on Friday during DJ Tennis' set, I'll admit I was underwhelmed. The stage is relatively small. And it’s actually not much of a stage at all. It's more like a DJ booth that you'd expect to find in Mad Max. (I'll seriously pay good money to hear someone drop Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero" at Resistance.)
The stage is the creation of Arcadia, a company that creates festival environments combining sculpture, lights, and pyrotechnics. This live-production outfit is perhaps best know for its work at Glastonbury Festival. For Resistance, Ultra had the company set up its Afterburner stage. From the center, platforms jut out with metallic tree sculptures rising from each extremity. Smoke billows from the branches and over the top of the DJ booth, creating the illusion that the structure is smoldering. Eventually, flames shoot from the top of the trees and DJ booth, giving off a shocking amount of heat, which was a sharp contrast to the cooler temperatures on Saturday afternoon.
It's all of these small details that help make the Resistance stage shine. During Tennis' set on Friday, there were only a handful of fans. But when Umek was in command on Saturday, there were easily more than 500 people, swelling to more than 1,000 for Joseph Capriati’s set. And it's the crowd that helps this stage come alive.
With a 360-degree setup, everyone is free to dance anywhere and everywhere around the stage and platforms, with speakers mounted all around the structure. This is also for genres like techno, which is prone to slow builds and basslines that change very little. The sound converges on festival-goers from all sides, as they freely roam. These features really help define the environment and make it feel pretty intimate.
And though Resistance isn't covered in LED screens like the Main Stage, it still packs a nice wallop. The combination of lights, pyro, smoke, and textures can entertain for hours. We walked around the stage four times and always found something new to ogle.
The crowd gathered at Resistance also makes it clear that this is a techno lover’s playhouse — it's less candy raver and more a sea of messy man buns and monochromatic attire.
"No techno. No party," read one festival-goer's sign. After spending a couple of hours at Resistance, I have to agree.