Ultra Music Festival 2011 Review (It's A Long One)


Mar 31 2011, 1h31

This year was my third year attending Ultra Music Festival in Downtown Miami; consequently, it was also the first year where the festival has expanded to three days. Each year the festival has gotten even better. I was a little worried that with the shrink in the festival grounds that I would be a bit disappointed this year, but quite the contrary. The festival this year was probably the best that I have been to thus far; it easily had the strongest lineup and the best crowd (I think lack of single day tickets really helped that as only the dedicated people hit up all three days). I ended up in a core group of 4-6 guys depending on the day, but also met up with a larger group of 15 or so throughout the festival.

My group started off our Ultra trip in the longest line to get in that I have ever seen. We decided to head down around 6:00 or so on Friday and the line was ridiculous. After the next two days, I would come to find that apparently the ticket scanners broke the first day, and security was being extra tight. They were far stricter than past years, and slightly more so than the other two days. They got their shit down for the lines for the next few days, but it took what felt like 20-30 minutes to get in.

Our first stop was Benny Benassi on the Main Stage. Benny was putting on a pretty solid set, but the highlight was seeing the new Main Stage for the first time. It was absolutely massive, much larger than last year and filled with LED screens and lighting rigs. Just check out the pictures and videos, intense. We stuck around for Benassi who kept it going strong, until he started dropping dubstep. His dubstep work was terrible and forced, which is a damn shame since the rest of his set was so good.

We wandered quite a bit checking out the all-new layout. While the area this year was much smaller than last year, it felt nicely organized. To my surprise, unless you were walking around, there was not too much sound bleed. That was a big worry of mine, but Ultra did well to minimize the issue. The Carl Cox/ASOT tent was a bit overpowering at times though when at the domes, but otherwise quality sound.

Speaking of, we made it over to the Carl Cox mega structure next. Holy. Fucking. Shit. This place wasn't a tent, it was a goddamn arena. Word is it fit 10-15k people, I believe it. It was intense. VIP has two story risers on each side, which was pretty awesome if you had VIP I suppose. The entire tent had hanging lighting and decorations, but the focus was easily the flying saucer looking DJ riser in the middle. Absolutely fantastic setup. We made it in as Laurent Garnier was finishing his 4 hour, 30 minute set. You read that right, this guy was going off for nearly five hours. He was absolutely killing it, the entire time I felt like I was on a different, dark and twisted planet. From what I could tell, he was composing a lot of the music live on a series of synths and controllers. Not 100% sure though. Made a fan out of me either way.

Next up we made our way over to the Live Stage to hit up Röyksopp. From what I can tell the Live Stage used many of the set pieces from the Main Stage last year, it was quite nice and this year the view to the bay was open and it got a nice breeze rolling in. It was easily my favorite stage to chill at and became the meet up spot for the group. We made it to Röyksopp later than we wanted, but managed to catch their last few tracks. Absolutely stellar performance, I feel very lucky to have had a chance to see them and hope to have another in the future. They closed out their set with Tricky Tricky and had the entire crowd going off.

From the Live Stage we made our way to the Main Stage again to see Pendulum. This was a bit of unfortunate timing as Pendulum and Trentemøller were going on at the same time, and both were must see acts for me. That said, I caught the beginning of the set for Pendulum. They brought it hard and easily surpassed their set at the Linkin Park show I want to earlier in the year. The visuals were top notch, some pretty crazy industrial stuff. I really want to see them do a proper, full set one day. Lots of energy and aggression, but sadly I had to cut out early and run over to the Live Stage to catch the tail end of Trentemøller. The sacrifices one must make huh?

In the end, it was completely worth it. Trentemøller lived up to the hype and made me wish I had caught the set from the beginning. I made my way to the front of the crowd right as they started playing Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider Go!!! What an outstanding live track, so much energy. I figured going from Pendulum to Trentemøller would be a downer in terms of intensity but Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider Go!!! is just way too serious of a track. From there they want into Moan, which was just an orgasmic end to the set. I wanted much more, but it is what it is. I mean, at times every single person on stage crowded around the drum set and just went nuts. If I had caught the full set I'm sure they would have been one of my favorite acts the entire festival.

The plan from here was to hit up Carl Cox in his crazy tent, but we sat down to catch a little bit of STS9. Needless to say, an hour later the festival was over and we had not left the Live Stage. STS9 was just far too good. The stage, the crowd, the atmosphere, the music, the lighting... everything was impossible to get away from. It was an hour of amazement and awe; I wish it could have gone on all night. I am now an STS9 fan, and I really hope I have the chance to see them again soon where they can play for longer and truly jam out.

So came the end of the shortest day of the festival, in retrospect it was probably my favorite day. Part of it was the wonder of seeing the new setup for the first time, but really, the music just felt right. It was alive, inspired, intense and unique. I truly felt lucky to see the acts I did on Friday. Sure, I had favorites the other days, but Friday just felt right.

Saturday started at 2:00PM, for me the start of the day was going to be that of seeing acts everyone else in the crew wanted to see. We hit up Steve Aoki in the Carl Cox tent, I'm not a huge fan but he does get the crowd going with his constant jumping and screaming (like it or not). We stayed in the tent for Afrojack who put on a quality set. I am not a big house guy, but I've always enjoyed the mixes Afrojack does. He got the crowd dancing like crazy, simply a blast in that big ole tent. From there we hit up Skrillex on the live stage. First off, fuck Skrillex got big quick! He easily had the largest crowd outside of the CC Tent and Main Stage. The live stage was PACKED. He brought the energy and had a mosh pit going quite quickly. He is not really someone I enjoy too much outside of a few tracks, but my crew loved him. Shit mixer live though...

We had intended to hit up Goldie and Simian Mobile Disco but didn't make it over to Tower in time for Goldie and were sidetracked at the Main Stage for SMD. So we ended up listening to Afrojack and Kaskade on the Main Stage while chilling with our group. We did get to see some guy being carried out completely naked after trashing a security guard. I suppose that is a highlight. Oh and props to Kaskade for bring a shitload of balloons to launch out into the crowd.

The next few hours would be spent at the Tower of Ultra for some dubstep. It's a bit of a misleading stage name as it is in a big dome, and it kind of sucks to be honest. Not much creative set design and a pain to get into, easily the most disappointing stage for me. However, that did not stop the place from going insane. We showed up for the tail end of Nero's set which transitioned nicely into two of the biggest names in dubstep: Skream and Benga. Disappointed we didn't get a showing of Magnetic Man, but Skream and Benga still slayed the crowd with an hour and a half set. You can tell they were having a blast and dropped some great tunes. Up next was Rusko who did his normal thing, playing some serious party dubstep. We had intended to stay there to check out some Andy C, but after spending nearly three hours dancing our asses off in the middle of that crazy dome with no water we needed to get out. Shame, but I've seen Andy C a few times before.

I entirely intended to check out Underworld, at least the last 30 minutes of their set... but I somehow did not make it over there. We were bit delirious after dubstep craziness, so we wandered over to sit down/relax/eat at the Live Stage in the grass. Empire of the Sun was playing, which was some good music to chill out to even though we weren't focused on it (their visuals were fucking trippy though). We started walking over to Underworld, but got distracted at the UMF Radio Stage. That little stage was going off! It was small, but had some powerful sound and a cool light setup. I think it was Damaged Goods spinning tracks, whomever it was we ended up dancing there until 11 and completely missed Underworld. A bit upset with that, but such is life.

deadmau5 was closing out the Main Stage, and I will admit I was interested in seeing his new lighting setup, but we never made it over there. The mau5 was disappointing last year, his latest CD was a bit shit, and we knew it would be packed as there were way too many mau5 heads around during the day. So we did what anyone with half a brain should have done, got front and center at the Live Stage to witness the glory that is Sasha. We were literally dead center, front row with 15-20 people in our crew. It was glorious and Sasha did not disappoint. The crowd was amazing (probably the best crowd the entire show), the weather was chill, the lights were sick, and the music is exactly what was needed to close out the night. He finished with The Chemical Brother's Escape Velocity, which absolutely blew my mind. It seriously got me psyched up for The Chemical Brothers closing out Ultra on Sunday. Sasha did not disappoint, but we already knew he wouldn't didn't we?

Saturday certainly was dubstep day for us, and was overall a pretty good time. That said, out of all three days I would probably rank it third. It was pretty packed the entire time, felt much busier than the other two days. Simply put, the vibe just wasn't as solid as Friday and Sunday.

So on Sunday we intended to get into the festival at 1:00 to catch alex morph and BT (why the fuck was BT playing so early?), but due to circumstances we did not make it in until 2:10 or so. We had to run past BT, who was clearly putting on an awesome set on the Main Stage, to get ready front row for Hybrid on the Live Stage. Hybrid was easily in my Top 3 of acts to see at Ultra this year. I have seen Chris do DJ sets, but I have never seen them live. They did not disappoint. It was Chris and Mike on electronics, Charlotte on vocals/keys/guitars, a drummer, and them a 10-piece string section. Yeah, Hybrid brought a fucking string section. How epic is that? I was a bit bummed they played mostly tracks from Disappear Here, as I wanted to hear some older stuff, but it was still an awesome set. Shame it was so early and there weren't a ton of people, but such is life. One day I will see them in a more controlled environment (House of Blues please) with more time.

From Hybrid, we hit the A State of Trance 500 tent, which was the Carl Cox tent the past two days. Brilliant idea letting Armin host ASOT500 at Ultra, it was a crazy tent. We caught the end of Cosmic Gate and then Gareth Emery. Honestly, Gareth Emery probably put on my favorite set in the tent all day. He brought energy and some awesome tracks. From Emery we headed over to Tower to see the end of Diselboy. It was a pretty harsh transition from trance to dnb/dubstep, but Dieselboy is always a good show. Next up we saw 12th Planet in the same spot. I had no idea who 12 Planet was, but a few friends were well familiar. I was pretty surprised; he put on a great dubstep set with a ton of energy (even jumped into the crowd a few times).

It was 6:30 by this time, and we decided to take a little break to get ready for the long haul. We chilled in the grass at the Live Stage (what a shocker) and caught a little of Aoki destroying another packed crowd. After a short while we ended up back at the ASOT tent and caught Armin van Buuren doing his thing, into ATB doing his. I stand by the fact that ATB puts on a helluva lot better show than Armin does, but both sets were awesome. The lighting system was in full use and they were fogging the shit out of the tent. At times you could not even see your hand in front of your face. During this time, we skipped out on The Glitch Mob, as we'll be seeing them soon enough... and apparently missed Beardyman whom I had no idea would be there. Bummer!

We skipped out of ATB a few tracks early to make our way to the Main Stage, through the David Guetta crowd, to get a good spot for The Chemical Brothers. It was quite easy to move through the crowd the entire festival, but even easier then. Apparently, everyone was too tired to get tight. We secured a good spot for The Chemical Brothers and prepared to get our minds fucked.

If I had to describe The Chemical Brothers, the first thing that comes to mind is professionals. These guys know how to do it right, they are age-old pros at the art of building you up and tearing you down. My mind was completely melted by the end of their 90 minute set, I'm going to try to describe it, but honestly there will be no words that do the set justice. Easily in my top three of electronic sets ever, the others being Massive Attack and The Prodigy.

They started the show really hard with Galvanize, but then transitioned into a slow rolling build up and by the time Horse Power kicked in the crowd was going crazy. Not only do The Chemical Brothers excel at musical build-ups, their entire stage show was designed to be in perfect sync. The show started with only the background screen working, and as the songs built up other elements of the stage would turn on and increase in intensity. On top of the normal Main Stage mass of screens and lights, the Brothers brought their own retractable "light cage" and array of strobes and effects (just go watch the videos). The entire stage was their instrument in making the crowd ignore the fact that they had been raving for three days and dance like lunatics. This process happened throughout the set and made the music so much more intense.

Every single song seamlessly transitioned from the previous, taking its energy and building up continuously. Add to this the fact that the Brothers were running around their massive setup of hardware, endlessly tweaking knobs, adjusting mixes, triggering samples, composing melodies... and you have a show with crazy amounts of energy and passion. My personal high point was when they dropped Escape Velocity near the end of the set. That song has such amazing buildups and ridiculously deep drops. It took me to another place, complete sensory overload. As closed out with Block Rockin Beats you could feel the crowd let out a sigh. A partial sigh of relief that three days of partying hard was over, but also a sigh that this was the end of an experience. The finale of The Chemical Brother's amazing set and the finale of an amazing three-day music extravaganza.

I have high hopes that next year will be even better, but until then I suppose we have EDC Orlando to look forward to!

One little side note though, to all the people complaining about bathrooms... you're a bunch of fucking morons. The bathrooms were all in one area, and if you had enough sense to move past the first 10-15 porta-poties you would find a TON of open ones (that were pretty clean too). Every time I hit the bathroom, it took me less than 5-10 minutes to get in and out. I never once waited the 30 minutes people are complaining about. n00bs.

Fri 25 Mar – Ultra Music Festival 2011
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Ultra Music Festival


  • anacondasss

    Great review! The Chemical Brothers were breath-taking! That had to be, by far, the best show I've ever seen and I'm not huge on electronica either. Thanks, this was a fun read!

    Abr 5 2011, 22h13
  • kaminekosan

    Awesome review, I'm a bit disappointed I couldn't go, but you did a great job filling me in! I wish you reviewed Crystal Castles' set so I can see what I missed there!

    Abr 17 2011, 16h03
  • UltraMusicBlog

    Wow, thanks for the detailed review!! http://ultramusicfest.blogspot.com/

    Mai 4 2011, 20h03
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