Just after 11 p.m. on Sunday night, a steady stream of sweaty bodies poured out of Miami’s Bayfront Park, some dragging their dirty furry boot-clad feet, others still dancing shirtless to the beat that played on in their heads. Roughly 165,000 electronic music fans clogged Biscayne Boulevard for the last time that night, aware that Ultra Music Festival 2012 was over but not quite prepared to go back to the city, state or country they came from.
As the last bass buzz died, the conclusion was that the 14th Ultra Music Festival was an undeniable success, with fans from Ireland to Israel to Indonesia and dozens of countries in between sated by the sounds of the world’s best DJs for three jam-packed days.
Walking into the festival, fans were hit with a wall of sound and a thicker wall of people. The constant current of neon-hatted, Camelback-sporting, bodypainted and bejeweled fans snaked around Bayfront Park, with passersby catching sight of naked body parts from fans in various states of undress and snatches of Portuguese, Swedish, Japanese and German from fans who had traveled from far and wide to attend the fest. And then there was the music.
Wubs, zings, blips, pews, claps, scratches, disco horns and whistles blasted from the eight stages, where fans swayed to ambient, fist pumped to electro-house, writhed to dubstep and head-bopped to trance, occasionally caught between conflicting bass as they walked between stages.
Those who profess to love techno music were satisfied with such crowd pleasers as Avicii, Steve Aoki and David Guetta, while those who claim a more refined palette could catch Afrobeta and Layo & Bushwacka!.
The dubstep kids could hail the mighty Bassnectar or choose to expand their horizons with Mord Fustang and 12th Planet, and the more mellow crowd could see MiM0SA, Pretty Lights or SBTRKT.
Trance lovers had their pick of the litter with Armin Van Buuren, Ferry Corsten and Sander van Doorn, and those who appreciate a good dance track could jump around to Tiësto, Laidback Luke and Hardwell. Those unsatisfied with the DJs just listed had their choice of more than 200 others. As smiling fan James from Cambridge, England articulated while watching Gareth Emery, “When you go to a club you have to pick the DJ, but when you come to Ultra you can walk up to any stage and hear something amazing.”
The goal of the performances seemed to be shock and awe, as DJs found themselves on what is arguably electronic music’s biggest stage, playing to not just festival attendees but fans at home with the premiere of the festival’s YouTube channel, UMF TV.
David Guetta shot fire from the top of the main stage, DJs in the A State of Trance tent were flanked by Tron-like dancers in LED costumes with lasers blazing from their hands, smoke billowed onto the crowd during Carl Cox’s performance, Bassnectar and Skrillex made liberal use of confetti, and Madonna made a guest appearance to promote Avicii’s remix of her new track “Girl Gone Wild.” It was in a word, spectacular.
While some DJs were decidedly underwhelming, like the relatively inexperienced Madeon and the too-understated Jus†ice, festival-goers needed only walk to another stage to find a performance more suited to their mood. The issue lay more in deciding between conflicting DJs than finding a DJ worthy of being seen. Well, and getting through the crowds.
Those who found themselves at the front of the crowd had either staked their claim when the festival gates opened or made effective use of their elbows, shoving through the thousands of glow-string-bearing, inflatable animal-toting, arm-flailing fans in front of them. Once (and if) they got to the coveted first row, they were rewarded with champagne in their face from Dada Life, cake from Steve Aoki, sweat from the festival’s scantily clad dancers and occasional guest vocalist and images of their faces transmitted to fans around the world by Ultra’s film crew.
While those in the back of the crowd couldn’t see the DJs’ faces or air piano playing, they were treated with a view of entire stages and entire light shows, some more dazzling than others. Those who clambered into the fairytale-esque lit trees had the added benefit of seeing the crowd heave and pulsate below them, until they fell — or were kicked — out.
By the time Sunday came, fans had been treated with the sounds and visuals of the best electronic music has to offer. Although crushed with the realization that the festival was over, those leaving the festival with ears ringing and voices hoarse from heeding the calls to “make some fucking noise” were greeted with a consolation from Ultra organizers: An email sent out just before the festival ended announced the dates for Ultra XVI. For the electronic experience of a lifetime, mark your calendars.