By Jim Tremayne & Chris Davis || Photos by Nicole Cussell
Miami, Fla.—Just when you thought the annual dance-music excursion to South Florida couldn’t get any more intense, welcome to the 2013 version.
This past March 15-24, downtown Miami and South Beach offered a mosh of many things for many people. The 28th annual Winter Music Conference drew dance-industry types to the Miami Beach Convention Center for its seminars, exhibits and networking opportunities. Meanwhile, the 15th annual Ultra Music Festival at Bayfront Park expanded to consecutive weekends, drawing a reported 330,000 fans to its seven stages. And the parties—private or public, sponsored or spontaneous—ran around the clock. As usual, DJ Times was there for the good, bad and ugly.
At WMC: The most spirited seminar—“Pushing Buttons: The Laptop vs. Traditional DJ”—saw jocks like Markus Schulz, Tommie Sunshine and Oscar G kicking around the very notion of what even defines a DJ anymore, plus the implications of an art form that remains somewhat misunderstood.
“For me, digital has opened more creative avenues for DJs—CDJs allow me to do more things,” said Schulz, the 2012 America’s Best DJ titlist. “But I just hope the art of DJing isn’t being lost in the eyes of the audience, because reading and reacting to a crowd is a big part of that art. A pre-recorded mix just cannot do that for you.”
Then, when an audience member began to bemoan the divide between underground and mainstream concerns, the rarely diffident Sunshine broke in: “If you don’t like what David Guetta or Avicii are playing, change the channel,” said the Brooklyn-based jock. “But, understand, we’re talking about underground, when [EDM] is clearly a runaway train.”
Best Party: Ovum at Treehouse on March 16. From Josh Wink’s rollicking new acid track, “Balls,” to his closing cut, Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” the longtime Philly jock held down the main room with aplomb, while Ovum label mates like MANIK crushed it out front.
Onto Ultra Fest: Where to start? This year’s event was so massive with so many options and obvious attractions (e.g.—Swedish House Mafia’s last gig) that we can only offer some of our personal highlights:
Miami Madhouse: UMF fans get wild.
We kicked off Day 1 of Ultra in the Carl Cox & Friends Ultra Mega Structure with a standard set from Jamie Jones, DJ Times’ February cover boy. Playing awkwardly early—blame the sun for keeping its ugly head up while Mr. Jones attempted to take us into the deep underground—Jamie was followed by the boss himself: Carl Cox. The 50-year-old vet delivered his usual banging brand of techno filled with production wonders including Kryoman, sexy female acrobats, and a ceiling of hexagonal LED screens that would systematically descend and arise above the unsuspecting, loop-entranced dancers. Wild.
An incredibly diverse set from John Digweed was next, and quite the treat! When we caught Diggers at UMF 2012, we’d begun to think he might have been beaten with a drumstick as a child, due to his noticeable lack of percussion in that performance. Not this time! Fatboy Slim followed and he slayed the arena with banger after banger, avoiding his classics for a medley of modern genres.
To wrap Friday, we caught Nicolas Jaar at the UMF Live stage, where he greeted the small group of fans with a warm, if disappointed, “I guess we’re the only ones not going to the retirement party, huh?” As Swedish House Mafia’s mainstage show next door began to bleed into Jaar’s, he let his quirky “blue wave” beats stop to announce that he was going to play a new song for the “private party,” and joked again about the fireworks bleeding into his set, saying that this was also “his last performance.”
Day 2 highlights included the acoustic bass and percussion-frenzied vocal-house act of the moment, Disclosure, at the UMF Live stage, followed by the funky house beats of jozif, an amazing deep-house journey by Henry Saiz, and a bit of a fun hour of techno from Pig & Dan. We wrapped things up with a tired set from Faithless, and the return of the prince of dance music’s rodent kingdom, Deadmau5. And no, he didn’t dis anyone from the stage—he just delivered his regular big-venue set.Nicolas Jaar: No “retirement party.”
Sunday’s best brought trap kings Flosstradamus and the Skrillex & Boys Noize power-duo, Dog Blood, to the Ultra Chile stage. Female rap diva Azealia Banks’ afternoon set lacked energy, but blew us away with her razor-sharp lyrical execution. Before Banks began—she was 20 minutes late to the stage—Chicago’s Krewella filled in the time nicely with a tight set of bass-heavy, but melodic bangers.Disclosure: Men of the moment.
Art Department, who you can find on the cover of the April edition of DJ Times, warmed up the Surface stage with their brand of quirky deep house, followed by remarkable deep techno and house sets from Magda and Maya Jane Coles. The underground-oriented stage wasn’t so easy to find—ask Friday fans of Josh Wink or Steve Bug—but was rewarding nonetheless for those who did.
Next we popped over to the Live stage again to catch emerging R&B crooner The Weeknd and his killer live band, and let the Toolroom Knights bossman, Mark Knight, guide our 2013 Ultra experience to a close. I dare say the ebullient Mark had more fun than the entire audience. Well done, UMF ’13. Until next year…