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Ultra Continues To Age Beautifully As 20th Anniversary Shines Bright: Review

Not many electronic events have been around for as long as Ultra Music Festival. Continuing any event for 20 years is a true achievement and to see how Ultra has grown into the international monster it has become today only further demonstrates just how brilliant the festival has been over the years. The 20th anniversary of Ultra brought with it many challenges as well as a massive promise. “Expect the Unexpected” they said, and while many believe that promise to have been fulfilled when Swedish House Mafia reunited on the closing night, I found the statement to be the truest in many different areas throughout the incredible weekend. Ultra Music Festival delivered in a big way for their 20th anniversary, demonstrating that their ear continues to stay on the ground as dance music continues to evolve.

The Resistance Is Growing

One of the most unexpected features of Ultra 2018 was the heavy representation of the house and techno genres. Many moons ago Ultra introduced the Resistance brand which highlighted the more underground genres that shined away from the limelight of main stage bangers and heavy hitting dubstep drops. In 2018 though there was arguably a greater representation of Resistance artists billed than that of any other genre. For two days Resistance took over the Megastructure and for the entire weekend, it held down its usual home at the Arcadia Spider.

Resistance also saw some of the most jaw-dropping B2B sets including Nicole Moudaber, Paco Osuna, and Dubfire at the Megastructure and Seth Troxler, Jackmaster, Skream and Eats Everything (J.E.S.u.S.) at the Spider. Seeing the latter at the Spider was easily one of the most incredible moments of the weekend. Beats were grooving, Tommie Sunshine was in the crowd dancing his heart out, strobes went at a hypnotic rate as a deep haze started to encompass the crowd. The names of those in the cockpit were displayed in lasers 10 stories tall on an adjacent building and when it was least expected, fire erupted from the top of the futuristic stage only adding to the overall intensity of the moment.

Finding myself at the Resistance stages far more than any other throughout the weekend signaled to me how my personal tastes have changed over the years. Seeing how Resistance has now started to dominate the festival has displayed how the overall taste of the dance music community has shifted. How long before we start to see these masterful producers and DJs take the main stage to throw down their beats in the prime time spots?

Safety and Security Enhanced But Not Overbearing

Ultra Music Festival found itself in a spot which nobody likes to be in. On October 1, 2017 a gunman opened fire from a hotel room overlooking a music festival in Las Vegas, killing more people than any other perpetrator of a mass shooting in the history of America. Ultra found itself surrounded by high rise condos and office buildings, and everybody started to draw comparisons.

Ultra had a challenge on its hands. Luckily working with the Miami Metro Police department it carried out the monumental task of keeping the festival and it's attendees safe outstandingly. The police stationed counter snipers and employed helicopters during the festival to make sure the surrounding buildings were clear of any threats. At one point a man made a threatening Instagram post about the festival and police had him in custody almost immediately.

Lines were long to enter the festival but even at peak hours on the busiest days, the entry line was only at about 30-45 minutes of waiting. For a festival which moves 150,000+ through its gate over the weekends – that is pretty extraordinary. Overall 3 days of the festival no deaths have been reported and only 27 arrests were made for selling narcotics, fake tickets and a few assaults.

Of Course – Swedish House Mafia

When Ultra 20 announced that it would be featuring a special guest unique to Ultra entirely, fans almost immediately guessed it would be Swedish House Mafia. As Miami Music Week progressed it became more clear that the trio would reunite. Everyone from Sebastian Ingrosso himself to OFF WHITE head Virgil Abloh posted on socials about the impending reunion. Soon signs and stickers started to pop up around the city. It was clear the reunion was actually going to happen.

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As the final closing spot came near the stage was fogged out with haze as the crew set up the elevated platform and incredible pyrotechnics. “NO PHOTOS” graced LED screens on either side of the stage in signature OFF WHITE fashion, pointing towards that Axwell/\Ingrosso's favorite label had some stake in the reunion. The crowd grew at an exponential rate. Stretching out so far it was as if it was high tide and a sea of people came flooding in. The house lights clicked off and the crowd roared. As horns blared and the stage began to strobe, the tension was at an all-time high. Then the unmistakable beat to Miami 2 Ibiza began and the prophecy proved to be true. Almost 5 years to the day of their last show, Swedish House Mafia was back.

Possible Improvements

Ultra 2018 was a beautifully run festival as noted above. There were a few things I experienced which I feel could help improve future installments. When I attend a festival I like to get into the thick of the crowd, talk to people, see as many acts as I can and not just hunker down in the press lounge. One thing came up more than anything else – the crowds are at a critical breaking point.

While there is no real solid solution to this it needs to be addressed. During some of the big sets at the main stage (not including SHM as it was exceptional for good reason), the crowd stretched into walkways to the bathroom and Arcadia Spider. This made getting to different stages incredibly difficult. The main thorough fair from the megastructure to the main stage, which passes Worldwide many times became so congested it was near impossible to squeeze through. While Bayfront Park has it's limited, it seems that Ultra will not be shrinking anytime soon. Expanding the grounds or opening up new walkways from the Radio stage to the spider could be explored.

Where was the water?! There was a lack of water refill stations on the grounds. This seems a bit inexplicable to me considering the Miami heat and size of the crowds. If there can be nothing done with the size of the crowds or placement of the grounds than more free water refill stations need to be implemented in coming years.

Best Sets

1. Eric Prydz

Hands down this was one of the most incredible sets I have ever witnessed. Eric never disappoints, especially when billed at A State of Trance. The production of his set at the megastructure surpassed that of even the main stage for Swedish House Mafia. It was truly unbelievable to witness and hear.

2. J.E.S.u.S.

The unity of 4 of the biggest names in house got a worthy name. Seth Troxler, Eats Everything, Jackmaster and Skream came together for one of the most epic B2B's in the history of music festivals. All four of the guys took to the cockpit of the spider and threw down one of the best sets of the entire week. The vibes were unmatched and the DJing was just beyond impressive. They perfectly worked the crowd, controlling them at a whim. It was some next level stuff to be a part of.

3. Virtual Self

Porter Robinson may have only released one EP worth of music under his new alias but his stage production is truly next level. Taking place at the live stage, the show took off immediately. Filled with an unbelievable variety of BPM's the crowd really never knew what was coming next. Besides the guy who had a full-on meltdown when I took a video that he deemed to be too long, there was not a complaint I could find with this beautiful hour of music.

In The End…

The 20th anniversary of Ultra Music Festival was amazing. People from dozens of countries came together for (for the most part) peacefully celebrated dance music together. As the dance music community has expanded and developed so has the offerings of Ultra Music Festival. We were so thrilled to be a part of Ultra 2018 and cannot wait to see what Ultra 21 brings.

All Photos in article courtesy of aLive Coverage for Ultra Music Festival, used with permission.

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Featured Photo by Rudgr.

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