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Reviewed: ULTRA Miami 2018

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This weekend saw the hugely anticipated 20th anniversary of the biggest EDM festival ULTRA.

Taking place in the middle of downtown Miami, the party capital of America, the location couldn’t be any more sought after. Partying against a backdrop of the Miami skyline is definitely an experience not to be forgotten.

To say the line-up was massive is an understatement. With hundreds of the best quality over the course of the weekend spread over 6 stages, I found that I was always spoilt for choice and there was always more than one act that I wanted to see at once. The fact that this festival is in Bayfront park though, meant that all the stages were relatively close together. This was so convenient as I could go back and forth from one stage to another easily. There were no issues of getting lost like there is at bigger festivals. Although there were over 165,000 people in attendance it didn’t feel like overcrowded. In fact, it felt like just enough people to make the atmosphere perfect.

As there were so many massive artists I am just gonna go ahead and tell you about the highlights of the festival and the absolute banging artists that I enjoyed so very much.

When I got to the site of the festival the first thing I noticed were the hoards of familiar strangers. I use this oxymoron because every person dressed wildly in their bright, colourful and sequined attire was an absolute sight for sore eyes. After living the mundane lifestyles that we live all winter, its refreshing and revitalising to see people dressing up in a spectrum of colours, unashamedly proud of the uniqueness of each individual’s trippy ensemble. I loved it!

So the first act that I really got to enjoy at ULTRA was the legend that is Steve Aoki. The Miami born EDM and house DJ and producer is most well known for his ruthlessly entertaining showmanship skills as well as his upbeat and entrancing beats. ULTRA festival is well known for the DJs bringing surprise guests onto the stage, and Aoki was no exception. After performing his most well know remixes and collaborations, mid-way through the set Aoki bought out Latin singer and rapper Daddy Yankee to perform world-famous hits ‘Gasolina’ and the hit of the summer ‘Dura’. They then went on to perform ‘Azukita’ at which point the crowd was going wild, as you know, fans love an unexpected guest to turn up and excite the crown. Following the performance from Daddy Yankee, Aoki went on to play more of his classics hits including ‘Cake Face’ and ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ leaving everyone on an absolute high ready for the next set.

The next act up for playing was Dutch Trance master Armin Van Buuren. He has been known for hosting A State Of Trance radio show which broadcasts to over 37 million listeners weekly. His uplifting and energetic music is nothing less than food for our souls, and it was absolutely incredible to watch such a huge DJ perform a perfectly melodic set amongst the Miami skyline. Buuren also brought out special guests Conrad Sewell to perform their new funky electronic sounding single together called ‘Sex, Love an Water’ as well as bringing out Shapov towards the end of his set to play their tune ‘The Last Dancer’. The atmosphere of the crowd was electric as Buuren played tune after tune of classic trance, each one more uplifting than the last.

Next up was to check out the ultra worldwide stage as this had such an unusual set-up, nothing like I’d ever seen before. The stage was a sort of open-ended dome shape with the main speakers and visuals overhead meaning that the quality of music from inside and the surrounding areas was perfect, however, the music couldn’t be heard from more than a few meters outside of the dome. It was an incredible way of keeping the music confined but still enabling it to sound crystal clear. Because all the stages at ULTRA are so close together, it is an ingenious and quite essential aspect of the stage set-up to be able to get them all playing music at optimum volume and clarity but as not to be heard at the surrounding stages.

What I experienced next on the worldwide stage was a genre that I can quite honestly say I have never heard before. What I have now come to understand as ‘Alien House’. I was absolutely transfixed by this 22 year old DJ who goes by the name of Rezz. Sporting electronic hypnotic glasses she says she wears them to a sign of respect for the art of hypnotism. She is signed to deadmau5’s label mau5trap and had apparently spent the last few years working 14 hours a day on her mixes to perfect a brand new out of this world genre. While I would describe some of the tunes as a harder version of dubstep, sometimes slowed down, it was definitely an eclectic mix of music. Artists who come on stage and mash the genres up tend to be brave and sometimes it doesn’t always work, but this is a woman who has put the time and effort in and has absolutely perfected a brand new genre. Watch this space for the upcoming of Alien House music.

Another artist that I have to mention was Virtual Self on the live stage, an alias of DJ Porter Robinson who has been well known for his wide production range. This was another mash-up of genres and I found my ears had been subjected to the beauty of a genre that I had never heard before. It was almost like the backdrop was soft, melodic jungle mixed into the main sound of a rhythmic focused beat. It was incredible, to say the least. I love hearing new genres and ULTRA festival definitely gave me so much more than I expected. The uplifting trance laid on top of a subtle drum beat was an absolute winner.

Approaching the festival early on Saturday afternoon the first thing that caught my attention apart from the bass blaring out was the emotion on people’s faces. Everyone had a very relaxed, happy and chilled vibe about them and you could tell people were genuinely happy to be there enjoying the music and atmosphere in all its glory. Saturday held a huge line up of mega-artists that played throughout the day including – Freddie Le Grand, Christian Smith b2b B-Traits, Cheat Codes, Brohug, Nastia, Dubfire b2b Nicole Mudaber and Stefano Noferini who all offered incredible sets throughout the day. Listening to beats under the Miami sunshine in a park full of like-minded ravers has got to be one of the best things that I have ever done. But it was the night time shows that really amazed me.

With all the visuals been absolutely out of this world, literally some of the best I have ever seen. The trance-inducing visuals were none stop and every artist seemed to have a theme that fitted around either their stage name or style of music. For example, Marshmello had visuals resembling his namesake, with bouncing cartoon marshmallow characters parading along to his future bass beats on the big screen creating a playful energetic vibe. The American dance music producer and DJ played almost an hour of upbeat house music along with his original remixes of classic songs. He also bought a shitload of celebrity guests on stage including Slushii, Yo Gotti, G-Eazy, Southside, Lil Uzi Vert, and the one and only Will Smith. To perform Will’s song “Miami” Marshmello brought out the legendary rapper, actor and motivational speaker to perform his own song. This was a completely unexpected event in the evening which left the crowd screaming with excitement.

The Chainsmokers were first timers at ULTRA this year and lucky enough for them they got the closing spot for the Saturday show, which in my opinion is a great achievement. To pull this off they had to do something quite amazingly special and to be fair to them they really did. The American DJ Duo hit fame in 2014 with their top 20 hit ‘#SELFIE’ and have since shot to fame. Appearing on the stage in a manner that none of the other acts did, they actually came through the centre of the crowd to join the stage in the middle. This took everyone by surprise and added to the atmosphere even more as they went directly into their first hit of the night ‘Closer’ ‘Something Just Like This’ and ‘Don’t let me Down’ while delivering hit after hit of remixed house classics. They kept the energy on stage completely alive by keeping the hits fresh and new. The tunes were all well mixed and they kept a good flow of conversation and feedback from the crowd. The amount of flags waving from the crowd were uncountable, and it was magical to see so many different nationalities all coming together for the love of music to unite in a synchronistic environment.

Weighing up the decision to leave the end of The Chainsmokers because I wanted to catch the end of Carl Cox performing at the Resistance stage I decided to catch some of his set because as you all know Carl Cox is an absolute legend and his techno beats are the heaviest. By the time I got there the techno was in full swing and had pretty much peaked. The stage was crazy loud with the feeling of the bass coming from all angles, LED-studded rectangles robotically dangled up and down, suspended from the ceiling as the crowd tried to reach to the sky with their hands in time to the music. The bass got louder and heavier as the nitrogen sprayed on the crowd to cool us all down. It was an amazing finale to the Saturday and as I was leaving I saw all the fireworks from the main stage which was a great end to the night.

Sunday saw probably the biggest line-up of the weekend as huge acts lined all 6 stages at various times throughout the day. Eric Prydz, Armin van Buuren, J.E.S.u.S, David Guetta, Nicky Romero, Andy C, Dub Vision, Sub Focus, Jillionaire, The Wailers and Infected Mushroom all had planned spots across the weekend as a surprise reunion from one of the biggest groups in house music history that have not to have played together since 2013.

Modestep were an absolute treat for me as a drum and bass and dubstep fan I relished in the electronic beats that were played at sunset on the live stage. Long-standing psychedelic trance group Infected Mushroom also played an absolute storm of their pioneering and innovative music. This collaborated with the most colourful and intense visuals of the weekend made for an entrancing show with fans from all over the world out to support the often sold out group playing tracks from their albums ‘The Legend of the Black Shawarma’ ‘Army of Mushrooms’ ‘CVII’ and ‘Converting Vegetarians’

On the line-up for ULTRA the closing act for the main stage was blurred out, hence not revealing who was going to perform. This seems like a strange thing to do as to not put a reconciliation of one of the biggest groups on the planet on the line-up, but it was definitely one of the best surprises of the weekend. On ULTRA’s 20th anniversary and the 5th year anniversary since they last played together, Swedish House Mafia, made up of Steve Angello, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso took to the stage to play an awesome set of well-known classics as well as some individual new material. Despite a few start-up issues with the lights and sound, the DJ’s carried on in true professional fashion as the crowd were just incredibly surprised and thrilled by the reunion and ready to hear the songs that they know so well.

Of course, the set started with the classic hit ‘Miami 2 Ibiza’ with a rendition of Axwell Λ Ingrosso ft Kinna – ‘How do you feel right now’ mixed in for good measure. Huge classics such as ‘Greyhound’ were played as well as the amazingly uplifting tune ‘Save the World’ ft Laidback Luke and Deborah Cox. The atmosphere at this point was like nothing that I had ever seen or heard before, with everyone in the crowd on the most euphoric high at what they were witnessing. New hits from Steve Angello’s anticipated album ‘HUMAN’ were played as well as brand new music from Axwell Λ Ingrosso. They even mixed in a Led Zeppelin track ‘Stairway to Heaven’ effortlessly tuned with the Axwell mashup of ‘Don’t you worry child’ and ‘Sweet Disposition’ One of the highlights of the set for me apart from their nostalgic originals was them playing ‘Pendulum-The Island’ as their sound mimics the uplifting euphoria The Swedes always emulate. The ultimate highlight of the evening for me though was the DJ’s playing a mix of 3 renditions of the song ‘One’ in various styles as flames and pyrotechnics galore engulfed the stage. Huge flamethrowers of fire rose up surrounding the entire stage with a burning heat. What an absolute finale to the most amazing EDM and dance festival to exist.

The many highlights of my weekend ranged from seeing some of the biggest DJ’s performing such fantastic sets that I times I couldn’t believe how immense it was…. To hanging out all weekend in an incredible location in the sunshine, to the vast amount of people from different nationalities that I got to meet to the absolutely eclectic mix of music and discovering brand new genres. ULTRA 2018 was definitely something special and I am eternally thankful to the universe that I got to experience it all. If you are thinking about going next year, just book it and I promise that your sweet EDM dreams will be ultimately fulfilled.

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