Thanks to Ultra Music Festival, the rest of the world gets to thaw out in the Magic City while jerking their bodies to the latest EDM hits. It's becoming a spring equinox celebration of sorts — just with a lot of more neon and very little clothing.
Friday launched the 19th edition of the festival, meaning Ultra is finally going to stop being a rowdy teen next year and get its act together, finish school, and get a real job.
Well, probably not. But ever since the fence collapse in 2014, the festival has matured into a well-organized machine. That was evident on the first day as throngs of revelers marched their way to Bayfront Park in a calm but excited manner. And there was plenty to be excited about on day one, including performances by Martin Garrix, Zhu, Armin van Buuren, Major Lazer, Carl Cox, and more. The festival also announced the dates of the 20th anniversary edition, Ultra 2018 – March 23 through 25 – and a new global edition of the festival, Ultra India, which will take place in New Delhi and Mumbai some time later this year.
All that news comes on the heels of Ultra's announcement that it'll take Resistance to Ibiza for an eight-week residency at Privilege with Sasha and John Digweed from July 25 through September 12.
In the meantime, here's what went down.
Tchami at the Main Stage
The French producer and DJ dresses like a reverend, but his set at Ultra's Main Stage was an unholy mixture of bass, funk, and booty-clappin' beats. He stormed the decks at 6:25 p.m. and filled the still-sunny evening with dark, g-house vibes. He vacillated between wonky grooves and outright bombast. His fresh mix of the Fugees' "Ready Or Not" with AluneGeorge's "You Know You Like It" was a memorable high-point, and all the while, the sun sank deeper into the horizon behind the slowly building Main Stage crowd. The flashiness of the state-of-the-art visuals were only slightly lost in that orange and pink of the setting sun. - Kat Bein
Technasia at the Arcadia Spider
As New Times reported
last year, Technasia really loves Miami. His adoration of the Magic City was on full display Friday as the techno producer and DJ led those assembled underneath Arcadia in a set that was as worldly as it was danceable. While a bedazzled, androgynous “Not Quite David Bowie in the ‘Ashes to Ashes’
video but close enough” jester on stilts helped with getting the crowd pumped, it was Technasia who did most of the heavy lifting, practically galloping in place as he mixed. Even when a relative lull in the set emerged, it was rectified with a perfectly placed bawm-bawm-bawm progression — don’t look at us, we’re just going by what Technasia seemed to be mouthing as it went on — before teasing the audience for the long-awaited bass drop. Once it arrived it more than paid off, with a dance circle quickly taking form. The reggaeton-tinged set proved to be a perfect fit for the sunset. - Zach Schlein
Maya Jane Coles at the Arcadia Spider
Taking over the Arcadia Spider just as it began to drizzle and the cloudy sky turn to dusk, Maya Jane Coles started out her set rather aggressively — a bit jarring for a set of the first day. However, that uneasiness quickly faded into more tech house and trip hop offerings that seem to edge close to early '90s hip house. Coles offered the perfect soundtrack as the spider spewed fire with a startling force, which providing some warmth to everyone dancing on the breezy edge of Biscayne Bay. The original Resistance stage has always attracted an eclectic crowd, and this was no different. Queer kids, top-knot techno boys, curious (bicurious?) frat bros, sparkly raver girls, and people of all shapes and colors dance underneath the straight-out-of-Mad-Max
sculpture. If only Donald Trump could have witnessed the sight, I'm sure he'd reconsider his policies going forward. - Jose D. Duran
Netsky at Worldwide - Korea
Drum 'n' bass is not dead, not while Netsky is on the scene. The British DJ and producer stunned the audience at the Worldwide Stage with his bass-riddled performance. He masterfully mixed between dubstep, trap, and good old d'n'b breaks at a break-neck pace. He was joined by a rather energetic MC who danced and tossed his hands about as much as Netsky worked the ones and twos, which is to say, both men were plenty drenched in sweat when his hour closed. It was a set full of finesse that had the whole crowd convinced drum 'n' bass really could be making that ever-storied comeback. But the real lesson we took away was that the true spirit of the genre never left. - Kat Bein
Mad Decent & Friends at UMF Radio
Diplo's label has become the quintessential barometer of American EDM. So unsurprisingly, Ultra gave it its own stage Friday at UMF Radio, which has been retooled to look like a tropical oasis complete with bamboo rafters, balsa wood lanterns, and palm trees swaying in the wind. Also, not in the least bit surprising, when the festival announced that "Mad Decent & Friends" would be playing at 9 p.m. on stage, you could safely assume Diplo was going to warm up before closing out the main stage with Major Lazer. It was hard to tell who exactly were the "friends" who appeared alongside with a jean-jacket-clad Diplo, but there were at least four or five people behind the decks at any given time. Perhaps it was a case of having too many cooks in the kitchen, but the volume was often lacking before someone remembered to turn it back up. One fan cosplaying as Major Lazer even vocally protested, "Why is it so low? Who is fucking up?" - Jose D. Duran
Zhu at the Live Stage
Make no mistake, Zhu is the hottest producer in the game right now. He proved he was a stud with his 2014 release, “Faded,” and followed it up with last year’s spectacular electro-R&B full-length debut, Generationwhy
, which featured silky hits such as “Money,” “Hometown Girl,” and “Working For It.” Zhu also stirred up controversy with his latest release, “Nightcrawler.” In the video for the stirring, darkwave house track, he seems to go after a string of top producers — Marshmello, Kygo, the Chainsmokers, Alan Walker, Afrojack, Zedd, David Guetta, and Steve Aoki — by crossing out their names written in chalk atop a coffin. Whether or not he’s trying to start the EDM version of a rap rivalry remains to be seen, but they’d better be on alert. Zhu is already a commanding presence; his massive crowd at Ultra’s Live Stage can attest to that. People poured into the amphitheater like rats fleeing a sinking ship, crawling through broken steel cables to catch a glimpse of the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. His arrival announced by ship’s horn cutting through the fog, the only truly visible thing was Zhu situated high above the crowd, singing and spinning from behind a giant glowing construct of his zed-flag logo, flanked by a pair of musicians on either side of him, a guitarist and a saxophonist. Despite their ominous presence, this three-headed Cerberus didn't so much guard the gates of hell, but welcome revelers into shadowy dance heaven. Donning his signature fedora, Zhu retained an air of mystery about him, as he always adamantly maintained, preferring to focus on music rather than personality. With tracks such as “In the Morning,” a reworked version of the classic trip-hop anthem, “Insomnia,” by Faithless, and his stunning remix of Migos’ "Bad & Boujee," (hands down an improvement over the original, it must be said) at his disposal, there’s not much room to discuss the man behind the curtain as we were all too busy vibin.’ - Angel Melendez
Martin Garrix at the Live Stage
Before we delve into the headlining main stage set by the world’s number one, Martin Garrix, can we just talk about how he’s not only incredibly young but also looks the part? Throughout the show, a camera hovering above and behind the 20-year-old Dutchman gave the crowd a black and white bird’s eye view from his perspective. Even with a full-blown beard, Garrix’s baby face dominated the entirety of his visage. He looked like the teenage son of an older DJ who snuck out on stage to wrestle away the decks and upstage his dad — and upstaging this imaginary parent and most other superstars on a nightly basis is what Garrix does. His unfaltering smile and buoyant, youthful energy powered the set, Garrix hopping around on stage as well as jumping back and forth between past and present. Not only did he roll out all of the hits including the romantic banger, “Scared to Be Lonely,” featuring Dua Lipa, his collaboration with Bebe Rexha, “In the Name of Love,” and “Together” off of last year’s Seven
(which was the moment the crowd brought out the lighters and camera phone lights in unison), but Garrix also dropped a handful of new tracks. He’d teased as such recently and kept his subtle promise. The audience was thrilled he did and let him know it with guttural cheers or more quietly like one tiny woman holding her hands up in a heart shape, way, way, way in the back of the crowd. - Angel Melendez
Nic Fanciulli at the Arcadia Spider
Part fire-breathing dragon and part Mr. Freeze with its CO2 blast cannons, Rave Spider had a very special fuel for its respective firepower: British DJ Nic Fanciulli. Not much has changed in 2017 with either the 50-ton stage constructed out of recycled industrial and military machinery or with the 37-year-old Englishman. And thank the dance gods for that. Last night, Rave Spider spit out flames and torrents of cool air as consistently as the beats Fanciulli was spinning. A life-long Winter Music Conference fan and participant since the conference’s inception, Fanciulli is a throwback to the deep house of the '90s. His set was equal parts Creamfields house and, to a lesser extent, warehouse techno. The Hollywood-cum-nightclub special effects only served to enhance the music. From high above the center of the dance floor, in the belly of the beast, Fanciulli and Arcadia gave Ultra fans a heightened experience those JNCO-wearing '90s rave kids could have only dreamed of. - Angel Melendez
Carl Cox at the Carl Cox Megastructure
As noted in our own interview
with the man, Carl Cox is a respected institution in a discipline of trends and possibility; where one Ultra act may be forgotten in a year’s time, Carl Cox and the Resistance stage will remain firm, so long as he continues to share his skills on the wheels of steel. So it was Friday evening, when festivalgoers densely packed in to catch a man who long ago solidified his status as a bona fide legend. Several decades into his career, Cox still manages to consistently surprise; his set’s early incorporation of the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic”
was a particularly welcome treat. But even if he hadn’t, the mere privilege of witnessing a master of his craft do what he does best would have been more than enough. - Zach Schlein
Maceo Plex at the Arcadia Spider
Maceo Plex – the artistic moniker of Eric Estornel – has a repertoire rife with music from the moody '80s: in one of his widely-viewed Boiler Room sets, the Spain-based producer drops a tastefully restrained remix of the Smith’s downward-gazing dancefloor classic “How Soon Is Now?”
What’s more, he’s previously remixed the originators of Ultra’s namesake, Depeche Mode.
Even without this background information, it wasn’t hard for attendees to suss out what the one-time Miami native's influences are. Sounding like a Miami Vice-
-themed party, Estornel’s set at Arcadia operated in the more emotional and melodic realms of techno, a refreshing change of pace from the sometimes repetitive thump
that can be found at any number of Ultra performances. With eerie robotic voices asking, “Is anybody out there?” strobe lights, and infrequent vocal samples from detached-sounding females, Maceo Plex was sometimes spooky, always danceable. - Zach Schlein
Rabbit in the Moon at the Live Stage
It was a bit of déjà vu with Rabbit in the Moon performing at Ultra two years in a row. Perhaps we were hoping their stage show had changed since the last year — they did have a whole year to come up with new choreography and costuming — but a lot of it was a rehash of 2016's performance down to the milk ceremony that's a bit Eyes Wide Shut
meets The Holy Mountain
. There was one piece that seemed new and could have been a not-so-subtle commentary of the vapidness of EDM. As the track's hook proclaimed, "I'm all about the PLUR,"
three dancers dressed like kandi ravers took the stage. "On the way to the rave/Steve Aoki on the stage/Gotta get a piece of the cake,"
the song continued before quickly changing course as three all-in-black techno dancers appeared. "EDM is so last year"
and "I'm not about the PLUR"
the song declared. Was it a jab at the kids who have annoyingly migrated from Top 40 EDM to "underground" techno? I'm not sure, but it did seem like the whole thing was a level-ten Deadmau5 troll. - Jose D. Duran