If you’re a lover of dance music at some point you’re going to have to make the pilgrimage to Miami for Ultra Music Festival. This year Crocmode decided to kick off festival season in the Magic City and find out how this festival that began in 1999 on the beaches of South Beach has managed to take over the world. What we learned is that concrete and palm trees are one hell of a backdrop for an epic dance party!
On Day 1 Miami greeted us with cloudy skies and long slow lines as both revelers and the security staff figured out how they were going to work the three check-points prior to entry. It took us about an hour and a half to get inside and once we did it was a full on auditory assault as we were confronted with the deafening sounds of Bro Safari. Of all the acts at the Ultra Worldwide stage, Bro Safari pulled off his brand of trap and dubstep the best. And while younger fans that are still forming their musical preferences may be enamored with that bombastic style, we were anxious to see what other surprises Ultra had in store for us.
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We walked up a hill and found ourselves in the Bayfront Amphitheater that typically hosts rock concerts but for the next three days would be home to bass. There we discovered Youngr who was singing his way through Craig David’s ‘Rendezvous.’ A groovy good time and a light listen to enjoy your first meal of the festival. We enjoyed some vegetarian fare that was reasonably priced by Miami standards. Even the carnivores amongst us thought it was adequate. The drinks were another story entirely. We would spend the whole rest of the festival wondering where Ultra was hiding the booze.
The Live Stage proved to be quite the happening place. We were introduced to the musical stylings of KSHMR. Pleased to say that Crocmode is officially big fans of this guy! What a talent! KSHMR took the whole audience on an epic medieval journey of discovery and dance. Did we mention he did it with real instruments? Well, he did! While entirely unexpected at an electronic music festival it was incredibly refreshing to see an artist who actually knew how to make sounds come out of instruments. Needless to say, we’re going to be following this guy and hope we get the chance to see him again during this festival season. Do yourself a favor and check out KSHMR’s Youtube Channel.
Zhu then hit the Live Stage and while the bros in attendance didn’t quite get his smooth delivery, they were certainly happy that the ladies were feeling it and themselves. Even the Crocmode ladies were drooling over Zhu’s falsetto. Whatever seals the deal. Alas, even our cute company couldn’t keep us from the sounds of the Megastructure and the legend himself, Carl Cox! He knows how to put on a show, or three. He would do three sets over the course of the festival. His first set included aerial dancers, a descending ceiling of lights, and…a shirt with tiny blinking lights. The shirt didn’t convince us but the techno certainly did. Carl helmed the Megastructure like a true virtuoso.
We closed out Day 1 at the Main Stage with Major Lazer. It was a homecoming of sorts for the group that has roots in Miami. In typical Major Lazer style, lots of time was spent on top of the DJ booth yelling instructions to the crowd. Including their request to have the crowd shuffle from one side of the field to the other. It’s less than ideal to have a tightly packed crowd of thousands move five feet to each side. We did it and have the foot injuries to prove it. They played all their hits so the crowd was satiated. It was fun and consistent, pretty much what you want in a closer.
Day 2 seemed to bring some more cloud cover to typically sunny South Florida. We weren’t concerned. We were much too pumped for what the day had in store. We started the day at the Main Stage and caught French House DJ Martin Solveig. His set started with some Hip-Hop, including current chart topper ‘Bad and Boujee.’ This threw off some of the crew but Martin’s known to be eclectic in his style. His video package was especially interesting, featuring lots of 80s style pop art. While some might object to the amount of time he spent on the DJ booth he did appear quite active behind the decks as well. Crocmode can attest to this much, everyone was dancing during this set. Not a single booty was unshaken.
South African DJ Black Coffee was given a spot at Carl Cox’s Resistance Megastructure stage this year and while we really like his album this particular set was pretty boring. We think he needs to brew just a little longer.
Saturday turned out to be a day for Hip-Hop because believe it or not, rave kids listen to more than just techno. So we were really excited about the prospect of seeing A$AP Ferg. He went on stage late and was generally unremarkable. But who cares because what we were really back at the Live Stage for was Cypress Hill. While Cypress Hill could seem like a drowsy throwback in such a fast-paced and loud environment their performance proved why the old school guys were so fun to see live. Sen Dog and B-Real knew exactly what the other was doing on stage at any given time. While they asked for audience participation it wasn’t obnoxious or every four bars. Some of us were wondering why it was taking them so long to get to ‘Jump Around’ and then we remembered that was another 90s Hip-Hop group…oops! They did sneak a short sample of it though because let’s be honest it’s a great little number to get the crowd hype. B-Real also made sure to advocate for the legalization of marijuana by smoking a very large joint that was delivered to him on stage by a young man. Overall, we along with the other 30-something year olds in the crowd loved this ‘trip’ down memory lane.
It was during Cypress Hill’s performance that the heavens decided it would be a good time to open up. By the time Ice Cube began his performance it had turned into a full on monsoon. Apparently, it’s wet season in Florida. I guess they forgot to put that in the travel brochure. Ice Cube brought the whole temperature down and while we’re sure he was probably solid we were too wet and too cold to adequately evaluate his performance. All we remember is that his long-time DJ Crazy Toones passed away in January and so Ice performed with Ghost DJ (a light shining in the place where the DJ would have set up). Despite all this, we’ll be checking him off our collective bucket list.
Since we were soaking wet we took some cover in the Megastructure and got in a little bit of Sasha & John Digweed’s set. These two wield house music like a weapon. Digweeds’ stripped down techno attacks your mind and Sasha’s soulful stylings will steal your heart. It certainly warmed us up before heading back to the Live Stage.
Back at the Live Stage the rain had momentarily stopped and Chase & Status was blowing everyone’s mind! We were especially thrilled to see them because they so seldom come to the States. Whatever was going on at the dubstep/trap represented Ultra Worldwide stage was not coming anywhere near as hard as C&S did. Wow, what a treat! They had a drum kit and two DJ booths. Their lighting was fairly traditional with the added bonus of some shooting flames. Flames were really big at Ultra, apparently, Miami’s really into fire. Since we were still wet we appreciated this.
Finally, the moment had come, The Prodigy was going on next. We watched as they set up the Live Stage for their performance, bringing out what looked like every strobe light in the tri-county area. We clutched our sunglasses as blinding light engulfed the amphitheater and the deafening 30-50 Hz sub bass was initiated. Had we descended into hell? Yes, we had and decided to stay for awhile. The vocalists Keith Flint and Maxim both still look jacked! And sound just like they did in the 90s and can run circles around these young kids. We at Crocmode have not headbanged and moshed this hard in a very long time. If you get the opportunity to see The Prodigy do not pass it up! Some of us found it to be life-altering. When they played ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ and the collective body of the festival roared in unison it was as if everything was both right in the world and the end was near. We would mosh until the very end of their set and loved every blinding minute of it.
By the time Day 3 came around we were starting to show signs of wear but we carried on. First, we headed to the Main Stage to take in Fedde Le Grand’s set. The Dutch DJ stuck to a formula that works: keep it house, keep it light, keep it fast. The effect was a whole lot of people dancing in the warmth of the Miami sun.
We ourselves couldn’t help but be taken up by the rhythms and just about lost it when he played ‘Put Your Hands Up for Detroit’ – although it would have been nice to hear the original drop. Still a brisk way to start Day 3.
We then headed to the Live Stage to experience those funky Australians Bag Raiders. Can you tell we really loved the offerings at the Live Stage? Two keyboards and a drum kit is all they needed to get those select few who knew who they were bobbing to their signature alternative dance sound, coming to a head with the single ‘shooting stars’. We appreciated their sound after a very heavy Day 2. We hope more people in this hemisphere get to know this band. We hear they’re doing a small tour of the US in June, maybe they’ll be in a city near you. (Bag Raiders Announce US Tour Dates – Billboard Dance)
After Bag Raiders we headed back to the Main Stage for Hardwell. The Crocmode team was divided on our impression of Hardwell’s set. While it was certainly full of energy it seemed like he was playing around with too many genres and didn’t quite sound like himself but a guy trying to be on trend. Then again that impression could have been the result of feet that were clamoring for relief after two and half days and a couple dozen miles of dancing. Yeah, some of us were cranky and Hardwell’s insistence on playing Hardstyle and trap was just making us crankier. It’s amazing how much music can affect mood.
Thankfully, Hardwell was followed up by sweet Zedd at the Mainstage and we thank him profusely for tempering the beast. His set was melodic and lyrical and flowed effortlessly from one song to the next. It was truly sing-a-long time as tens of thousands of people sang every word to his biggest hits. His video and light package was superb with his signature ‘Z’ flashing to the beat. What was most impressive during Zedd’s set, however, was when Alessia Cara made a guest appearance to sing vocals on their collab “Stay.” It was a real treat!
Do we have to write about David Guetta? We know some of you adore him and we’re not denying that he can produce a hit but producing and DJing are two entirely different things. We get the sneaking suspicion every time we hear Guetta DJ that he is such a perfectionist that he can’t just wing it on stage. Does that make him a “press play” DJ or just a guy that’s really polished? We’ll leave that up to you to decide. What we will say is that his drops sounded like fun drops he heard other DJs do and he decided to stick them in his set which consisted of, you guessed it, all the songs he’s produced. Needless to say, we left the Main Stage before his set was over and headed to a stage we had neglected all festival, the Resistance Arcadia Spider Stage.
The Arcadia Spider wasn’t really a stage at all but a massive fire-breathing spider made of solid steel that glowed ominously in the city night light. The DJ booth was nestled in the metal
spider’s abdomen. The stage sat between the cityscape that included the Intercontinental Hotel and the bay. Some of us remarked how it reminded us of a kind of urban Burning Man. The set Jamie Jones & Seth Troxler played had a real underground vibe to it and you felt like you were in on something special. It seemed to us all weekend that the people enjoying the techno sets were older, typically in their 30s and 40s and this set was no different. We don’t mind admitting that as we’ve matured our musical tastes have evolved as well. If you’re curious to see how this spider worked, take a look at this video of the two’s b2b set in the Arcadia Spider as we just can’t do it justice with mere words.
And speaking of Justice, we hated to tear ourselves away from Jamie and Seth but Justice was going to be closing out Ultra on the Live Stage. Away we went to our favorite stage of the festival to witness this french duo make their triumphant return to Miami. A less shy Daft Punk, these guys trotted out a whopping 36 additional half-cabs for their set (they lit up along with everything else on the stage), including speakers that descended from the rafters. If their intent was to melt our faces and burst our eardrums, well they succeeded. Our feet swollen and our limbs aching Justice got us grooving with their flashing speakers. We’re glad we didn’t pass them up because they crushed it and all without ever saying a word to the crowd (well our French isn’t so good anyway). Their presence was incredibly powerful in an unpresumptuous kind of way.
We know Miami gets a bad rap as a place that’s superficial but during our three days at Ultra Music Festival, all we encountered were down to earth people who were kind and in it for the music. We met people from all over the world united in this singular place because of the love of dance. We highly recommend that you consider attending this festival next year which promises to be an amazing party as Ultra celebrates its 20th festival. Be sure to leave us a comment if you were in attendance this year and make sure to keep your dancing shoes ready because festival season is just getting started.
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