Downtown Miami feels every beat: Ultra festival 2013

You've never heard of it – but dance music festival Ultra drew 330,000 revellers last week. Arielle Castillo reports on a new American passion

If there's any proof that electronic dance music has once again bubbled over into the mainstream in the US, it's the explosive rise of the annual Ultra Music Festival in Miami. What started as a home-grown, one-day beach rave in the spring of 1999 exploded in size over the ensuing decade and a half into this year's behemoth.

The 2013 edition featured two, separate three-day festivals, from March 15-17 and from March 22-24, billing many of the same major acts but promising “two unique experiences.” And rather than seeing it as overkill, the festival's international following of fans reacted by opening their wallets en masse. Both weekends completely sold out, welcoming more than 167,000 revellers each time to waterfront Bayfront Park, in the heart of downtown Miami.

The experience of attending the country's largest dance-music festival was well worth it as a way to chart the beginnings, crests, and deaths of major trends in the scene. If nothing else, Ultra confirmed that “EDM”, the term the American media uses for fairly mainstream dance music, is now big business.

The festival's main stage – one of seven separate areas for music – featured a roster that looked like a who's who of the Billboard charts. Producers and DJs such as Calvin Harris, Avicii, David Guetta, and Tiesto all pumped out sets consisting largely of their own hits, either written for their own albums or produced for other artists hoping for a fresh sound infusion. In fact, the performances at the main stage often sounded less like the long musical journeys to which seasoned clubbers are accustomed, and more like seamless pop-singalong medleys.

Some of these chart titans, however, seemed fatigued by their own role. Avicii, the Swedish wunderkind responsible for the inescapable, Etta James-sampling song “Levels,” made a complete departure during his main stage set this past Friday night. Halfway through his traditional set, he suddenly began to play country instead, even inviting out a live band to perform with him. Bemused, some in the crowd booed.

Then, on Saturday night, the Canadian producer Joel Zimmerman, who performs as Deadmau5, also refused to take listeners down the easy route. Instead of cranking out his more boisterous electro-house hits, he seemed intent on taking things ever so slightly back to the traditional DJ's emotional narrative. There were moody, dark downtempo passages and stretched-out melodies that sounded bittersweet.

Sunday, of course, marked the end of an era for contemporary dance music when the trio of producers known as Swedish House Mafia performed their purported last-ever show. Producers Sebastian Ingrosso, Axwell, and Steve Angello all plan to make music as part of their solo careers, but they sent their five-year project out with a literal bang. Fireworks and pyrotechnics punctuated the bombastic set. That they chose to go out in style at Ultra was also telling.

At the same time, the action at other stages hinted at shifting tides of taste in other dance music genres. This past Saturday, the “Dropzone” tent featured a line-up of artists from the American iteration of dubstep, heavy on loud, grinding bass lines and low on subtlety. The musical selection here sounded even more repetitive in years past, the crowd enthusiastic but skewing young, and heavily swathed in fraternity logo vests.

The early adopters, meanwhile, had all shifted to the Trapped stage, where forward-thinking DJs like Miami native Craze, duo Nadastrom, and Dillon Francis all cranked the new sound of “trap.” Marrying low-end bass with stuttering rap samples and sound effects, it's an appealingly aggressive form of electronic music that's still somewhat more sanitised than the Southern US rap from which it derives some influence.

On Sunday night artists like Lee Foss, Seth Troxler, Art Department, and Damian Lazarus blended new minimal techno, vintage acid house, and anything else with an appropriately robotic, yet soulful, thump.

One more cameo appearance solidified Ultra's reputation as a potential career reviver. Last year, Madonna took the main stage for a guest appearance with Avicii, infamously making a reference to “Molly,” the American slang term for MDMA pills. This year, another celebrity of a similar age also showed up.

Guitar-god Slash climbed the speakers during Dutch DJ Chuckie's main-stage set for an impromptu solo. This musical aside served, perhaps, as a symbolic nod to commercial dance music's replacement of arena rock on the charts, and its potential role as its saviour. It turns out that Slash, on a forthcoming collaborative track with Chuckie, is also going dance. Call Ultra Music Festival, then, the music industry's new fountain of youth.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine