Then the pandemic descended, thwarting Ultra's return for two years and leaving people wondering if the festival would ever come back. But here we are. On Friday, March 25, the festival returned to Bayfront Park with dominance, bringing a sense of familiarity between PLUR-crazed ravers, pyrotechnics, tropical shirts, and fan clickers — so many fan clickers.
There were also new flavors — live music taking the spotlight and the Cove Resistance stage offering a blend of relaxation and deep underground sounds. With perfect weather and fireworks lighting the sky, the crowd of more than 50,000 flocked to every stage to shake off pandemic woes and expose itself to illuminating LEDs and bass-to-the-proverbial-face.
With one day down, the festival has reasserted that home is where the rave is: in Bayfront Park.
AlessoKnown for his progressive-house-meets-pop sound, Alesso covered the Main Stage with all of his favorite hits, including "Progresso," "Again," and his Katy Perry collaboration, "When I'm Gone." The crowd was thoroughly entranced and dancing during the set, while local celebs like David Grutman and Dave Portnoy were spotted enjoying the beats backstage. The setlist included Alesso's newest single, "Only You," featuring Sentinel, a fan favorite that had the crowd singing and swaying along to the catchy pop number. Mary Gibson
Armin van Burren B2B Reiner ZonneveldSure, the Dutch DJ/producers could've taken the easy way out. The duo could maybe take turns throwing in lovey-dovey lyrics and candy-coated build-ups with a few shouts of "Miamiiiiiii" and be back in the artist lounge for a beer. But the mixture of a live DJ set on Zonneveld's side, Armin tapping into those fast-paced trance days, and the inverted-parabola Worldwide stage shooting fire and blinding lights created an intense blend of old-school trance and fast techno. "We did rehearse, but it was more about checking the technical configurations," Zonneveld told New Times before the set. "We didn't plan anything. It's a hybrid set — but maybe less rave and a bit more trance, but we'll see where it goes."
Instead, the two took the high road, touching the border of trance nostalgia and melting emotions. Synths and other hardware bulwarked Zonneveld as he controlled the power of the humming synth with a calm hand while van Burren brought the breakneck trance speech that made you remember what the State of Trance is about: the moment. "When you're playing live, you can adjust everything to fit the moment," Zonneveld said. "It's once in a lifetime; it'll never come back." And you'd be mistaken to believe Zonneveld did not perform a synth solo to close the set. Grant Albert
Carl CoxIt was sound system versus DJ, and the sound system won. A usual Cox Ultra set features teeth-shaking bass, stunning rhythm, and endless energy. Yet, the sound system faltered somewhere amid Kraviz's set, requiring attendees to find the right spot to get some bass and avoid the sound from being filtered. Regardless, Cox held true to his stadium-techno style: stripped-down percussion, pulsating bass, and an "oh yes, oh yes" thrown in for good measure. Cox can create energy where there should be none and build atmosphere through even the thickest haze of bass. It should be a condition to see Cox setting the theme of his stage on his terms before venturing anywhere else. A man behind the decks, getting relentlessly primal with creeping techno and joyous house. Grant Albert
Joseph CapriatiThe sunset slot gives a DJ diplomatic responsibilities. They must ease relations between the sunny, festive music and techno's furious, dark side that shows its face at night. It's not an easy balance, which is why Ultra keeps recruiting the Italian DJ/producer Joseph Capriati as the prime track selector. "Definitely some groove with techno at the end," Capriati told New Times earlier in the day about his set. Revered for his house and renowned for his techno, Capriati controlled the decks for 90 minutes with beefy basslines peppered throughout with soulful and house vocal samples.
"I never play something without soul," he told New Times. Capriati began with an a cappella rendition of Blaze's "My Beat," while heavy house rhythms cannonballed through the speakers — a sign of his new music stockpiled during the pandemic. "I remixed a track from Agent of Times that was just released off Kompakt. I don't have one style when I produce or play, but I try to go far away for production," he explained. As night set in, Capriati shifted to unabashed techno: Hi-hats sizzled, and the bass reverberated down the neck. Yet, true to his roots, Capriati threw in the house-spun vocals that give his sets perspective. He looped in Liza's soulful chants in "I Need U" shortly before wrapping up, taking his hard-hitting tenacity skyward as he balanced light and dark. Grant Albert