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Ultra Music Festival 2018 Winners and LosersEXPAND
Photo by Amadeus McCaskill

Ultra Music Festival 2018 Winners and Losers

The weather was beautiful, the music was awesome, and the bullshit level was rather high at last weekend's Ultra Music Festival. Following a great New Times tradition, we rate what worked and what didn't.

Ultra Music Festival 2018 Winners and Losers
Photo by George Martinez
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Winner: The Resistance Arcadia Spider stage. This stage has been bringing the heat — literally and musically — for the last three iterations of Ultra, but it stood out particularly this year for the much-needed musical variety its acts brought to the proceedings. While it’s universally accepted that the years of Ultra bringing artists such as the Cure, Duran Duran, or Hot Chip to Bayfront Park are long gone, it has been disappointing to see Ultra also become less diverse in sound, pulling heavily from the progeny of the EDM explosion the festival helped to birth. Although the stage traded heavily in techno and genre deviations, many of those who resided in the Arcadia Spider’s thorax this weekend — such as J.E.S.u.S., which played a wonderful set filled to the brim with house music — showed that Ultra attendees are still game for dance music that doesn’t revolve solely around bass drops and cries of “1, 2, 1, 2, 3 LET'S GO!” — Zach Schlein

Miccosukee activist Houston Cypress called out headdress wearers at Ultra. That is ugly cultural appropriation. Read the story here.EXPAND
Miccosukee activist Houston Cypress called out headdress wearers at Ultra. That is ugly cultural appropriation. Read the story here.
Courtesy of Houston Cypress

Loser: Cultural honesty. To quote a recurring segment on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, “How is this still a thing?” Between sets throughout the festival, the announcer on the Main Stage gave wandering crowds hippie speeches about how to best take care of each other. “If you see someone in trouble, say something.” But caring for one another doesn’t just mean flagging down an EMS when someone’s gone down the brown acid rabbit hole. It also means listening to the needs of erased and vulnerable populations in society, especially if you’re in a privileged enough position to shell out $500 to rave in Miami for an entire weekend. Given the vast number of nationalities and flags represented at Ultra, it was surprising to find sombreros and cheap Party City imitations of sacred Native American headdresses common throughout the festival. The issue of using cartoonish ethnic signifiers as costumes has been public discussion for some time now, but during an era when protesters from Native American nations have been hosed down at Standing Rock and Mexican people have been stereotyped as rapists and drug dealers by the president, participating in those antics is even more insulting, and worse, willfully ignorant. – Celia Almeida

Marshmello
Marshmello
Photo by George Martinez

Winner: Marshmello. The EDM DJ/producer broke the monotony with a set that included an encore performance of “No Limit” by G-Eazy and “Rake It Up” with Yo Gotti. But the biggest surprise of the set — and of Ultra 20 at large — was Will Smith’s performance of “Miami.” Marshmello dropped the beat of the late ‘90s classic before pressing pause on the music to introduce the sticky-clean rapper as attendees ran from around the festival grounds to catch a glimpse. – Celia Almeida

Above & BeyondEXPAND
Above & Beyond
Photo by Amadeus McCaskill

Loser: Expect the unexpected. To those who called Ultra’s big surprise being the Swedish House Mafia reunion, congratulations to you and the rest of the internet. Though Ultra told its audience to "expect the unexpected," the consistent barrage of leaks from sources as varied as electronic music publications, Miami nightlife moguls, and even members of Swedish House Mafia themselves meant Ultra’s big reveal could be seen coming from a mile away. Additionally, for as great as it looked and sounded, Above & Beyond closing A State of Trance was anything but surprising; they’ve been a regular feature of the festival for several years and had performed at the RC Cola Plant only days before. On their own, there’s nothing wrong with these acts or their placement on the Ultra lineup; Swedish House Mafia’s reunion is admittedly a big deal and a great get for the festival, and Above & Beyond continue to dazzle with their show. But to act as though these performances were surprising in any way can’t help but feel disingenuous; let us know when Daft Punk gets their live act together and decides to finally perform at Ultra. — Zach Schlein

Virtual Self
Virtual Self
Photo by George Martinez

Winner:  Porter Robinson's Virtual Self. Of all the dudes standing onstage making music with their laptops (and it's Ultra, so that's most of the bill), Porter Robinson's Virtual Self show was by far the most interesting and exciting. With sumptuous and thought-provoking visuals drawing on cyberpunk, anime, and internet subcultures, along with a blinding light show and high-tempo, '90s rave-influenced beats, it was an outstanding experience. Ultra needs more acts like this if it's going to keep its lineup from getting stale year after year. — Doug Markowitz

Ultra Music Festival 2018 Winners and LosersEXPAND
Amadeus McCaskill

Winner: The weather. A boon for festival-goers as much as for Miami residents, the weather this past weekend was uncharacteristically cool for our infamously humid city. It was a far cry from last year, when Saturday's rainfall herded hundreds under the shelter of the Carl Cox tent that evening. One year onward, and it would seem the irregularities of climate change seem to finally be paying off in some way; leaving Ultra with a cool breeze in your hair rather than a wet puddle in your nether regions was an unexpected delight. — Zach Schlein

Fischerspooner
Fischerspooner
Photo by George Martinez

Winner: The Live Stage. Sure, you could've hung out in the massive, crowded mob at the main stage and watched Steve Aoki bring out Daddy Yankee. Or you could have watched a real show at the live stage. By far, the collection of acts performing at what's normally known as Bayfront Park Amphitheater was the most diverse and individually satisfying. Throughout the weekend, you might have seen the flamboyant electro-pop of Empire of the Sun, the reggae chill of Julian Marley and the Wailers, the gay theatrics of Fischerspooner, or hip-hop from Azalea Banks and G-Eazy. The best part? You could sit down. Hallelujah! — Doug Markowitz

Ultra Music Festival 2018 Winners and LosersEXPAND
Photo by Amadeus McCaskill

Winner: The redesign of the Megastructure. Besides being much needed, this remake was exceptionally impressive on its own merits. The circular light fixtures running down the middle of the tent were particularly awe-inspiring, and the tinkering with the tent’s iconic descending panels only refined one of the most effective and memorable aspects of the previous Megastructure. Those lucky enough to have squeezed in for Above & Beyond’s pink- and blue-hued closing set at the stage on Sunday night were treated to one of the most spectacular — and beautiful, we might add — electronic shows they’ll ever see. All of which is to say, the stage is really fucking cool. — Zach Schlein

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