Is Ultra Music Festival for Black Girls?

Is Ultra Music Festival for Black Girls?EXPAND
Photo by Daniella Mía
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Ultra Music Festival had never crossed my mind as a place where people of color were catered to. Of course, I’d heard of it — it’s one of the biggest EDM festivals in the world. But was I eager to spend $500 on a ticket to be bussed to Virginia Key Beach for three days to listen to the “noise” the rest of the city complains about? No.

Then I got the assignment to cover this year's festival.

After scrolling through Ultra Music Festival’s Instagram and forcing myself to listen to some intern’s dance music playlist, I felt I wasn’t nearly prepared to endure what the fuck was about to happen for three days. Luckily, I had no expectations and welcomed the idea with optimism. What could possibly go wrong?

The lineup advertised a few familiar names to me. I saw Zedd perform in 2015 at Y100’s Jingle Ball, I recognized the Deadmau5 mouse logo, and thanks to Power 96, Alesso, David Guetta, the Chainsmokers, and Marshmello rang a bell. So I was ready, right?

Walking the festival grounds, I saw mostly white and Asian fans in attendance. They roamed the festival grounds with their friends, taking selfies and live streaming on Instagram for all their haters to see.

After a couple of hours, my current brown girl count was two.

Fans' outfits resembled ones I’ve seen at strip clubs: bright-colored nipple coverings accompanied shiny thong panties and glitter. At a rap show, this was asking to be objectified, but here, not one man seemed to allow his eyes to wander. As a black girl, I knew wearing a sparkly panty to any place other than the beach would invite unwanted attention, but here it was normal. Even the few people of color at the festival blended in with their bikini outfits, causing no disruption in typical festival behavior.

Is Ultra Music Festival for Black Girls?EXPAND
Photo by Daniella Mía

As day turned to night, the brown girl count had risen: seven.

For someone whose typical playlist contains R&B and pop, Ultra’s music choice was different for me, but not in a bad way. While there are handfuls of black house DJs, Carl Cox quickly became a name for me to remember. I quickly discovered I hated techno music because it genuinely sounds like just one long song. But that didn’t stop me from digging deep into the festival culture and pretending I had a good time. The festival wasn’t uncomfortable if you’re into the music, but you’re looking for people of color to resonate with, good luck. At the beginning of day two, my brown girl count was at 16.

The food choices catered to everyone: pizza lovers, sushi attacks, chicken tenders, and fries and more. What stuck out to most was Nett’s SoulFood & BBQ perched near the Megastructure stage on Resistance Island. The line stretched past the seating area with hungry guests excited to try the jerk pork sandwich. By the time I got to the front of the line, it was sold out, leaving nothing but barbecue chicken drenched in a sauce majority of the demographic has never tasted but loved. Brown girl count: 21.

Ultra Music Festival’s marketing does not cater to black people whatsoever, but that hasn't stopped people of color from enjoying EDM. If you’re looking for an Afropunk experience here, with black power symbolism, afros, patterned African clothing, and glowing melanated skin, you’re going to be disappointed. But still, Ultra’s PLUR theme (peace, love, unity, respect) has been in effect. As a black girl, I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear the N-word, but it was nowhere to be heard.

Music, the universal language, knows no race or ethnicity. Anyone can enjoy it. Did Ultra make me feel included? Of course not. But I didn’t feel pushed away either. While people of color are rarely used in Ultra's marketing, it still remains a place where black girls can thrive to an EDM soundtrack.

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