Phantasmagoria: The Ultra Spectacle
14 Apr 2011

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My crew and I spent most of our morning slangin beers on our balcony at the Shelborn, overlooking the daily pool party.

People watching could be a serious career for a Miami dweller, as babes in heels and bikinis slayed my eyes worse than the burning sand of the southern beaches.  The DJ’s and Producers that played everyday at the pool drew a huge crowd, and turned out to be great appetizers for the main coarse.  Waking up post Pretty Lights at the Fillmore  on Thursday was not hard to do when Electronic Christmas was visible from my bed.  Miami was in rare form this Friday morning. After painting and bedazzeling my first pair of titties of the fest I was off to experience the myriad of magic.

The mental fizzle and grinding sparkplug that was my body ignited sparks at every receptor in my brain. I knew I was about to walk into the most monumental  festival of electronic music. This WAS the embodiment of “The Final Countdown,” the band Europe was singing about in the 80’s.  My mood cocktail was a blend of anxiety, disbelief, and excitement.  Ultra Music Festival is the Mecca for the creative electronic phenomena our generation is experiencing. WE are amidst a musical revolution that is changing the way we interpret the abstractions of sound and performance. This event is what musicians die to book and practice all year for once they do.

Trentmoller was fucking amazing and helped me shake off the first stages of dance jitters. He blended and morphed sexy hyper-real sounds with Phantom of the Opera organ echoes.

Royksopp quickly drew me in with their quirky Norwegian antics and catchy, warm electronica.  They had analogue synthesizers with live guitar, keyboards, and drums The song Remind Me is still lingering somewhere in my frontal lobe because it was so damn likable. However, their song Alpha Male was so captivating that the people swimming in my eyes all drowned to death. Just thinking about the way they slowed down the tempo so gracefully to end the song makes me sweat. If Animal Planet’s theme song decided to go a different rout and embrace a blend of house, drum and bass, and electronic, they would commission Royksopp to do the intro. Also notable: Happy Up Here and The Girl and the Robot.

Simian Mobile Disco turned out to be a little diamond in the rough. The stage performance confused me at first because Jas Shaw had his back to crowd almost the whole time. Then it became clear that it was not about ego with Simian it was about technical skills. He wasn’t just taking sounds or beats off Ableton and producing it all together, he was using machines and technological utensils like a guitar or piano. The dude rewired an entire washboard from back in the day and was creating electronic sounds like an operator at the end on a hotline. He would unplug one wire and then plug it into a separate outlet. He did this with multiple chords and outlets over and over physically making beats. Mean while James Ford is using some serious improvisational skills on the keyboard. Their performance was, for the audience , like “be a part of this creation with me” and less like the typical “watch ME do this” shit. I really appreciate their effort to pose technical insight in the hands of the audience and delete a layer of separation

Fedde le Grand was the first artist I saw that I had not previously been familiar with. Hailing all the way from Detroit, a city that’s steadily shutting down due to depression and devastation in their moneymaking motor business.  However, the vehicle that drives Fedde is blazing the musical asphalt. His set during Ultra put me in a seriously funky place. My whole noggin was bumpin with tribal techno footwork music infused with tight hip hop samples with middle eastern grit flavor.  Sounds and samples would pop out at just the right moments, keeping me amped and ready to groove it real low.

DeadMau5 provoked the usual deep breaths from the crowd as if he rings a giant gong right before he lays it down. The mouse was definitely in the fucking house. He played Raise Your Weapon, which got me a little cold sweat wet…hah. That female hook has such an interesting melody that makes it commercial but keeps it stunning. His production skills are obvious and he has a great ear when it comes to pleasing larger crowds with unifying beats and rhythms.  Tommy Lee was murdering the drums from a pedestal above his giant light up mouse square for “Sophie Needs a Latter.”  He was relentless on the percussion and added a nice, dirty spice to the cleanly produced forte of Deadmau5’s performance, and for once, we saw the man behind the mouse.  He took his gear off and gave a humble nod to the festival.

Empire of the Sun was one of the most well considered performances I saw at Ultra. They killed the trifecta as musicians, actors, and dancers melded into one collective firework.  They created a narrative through images that seemed to tell an epic story. One minute you were in a golden field of sunflowers and suddenly a castle in a bubble would appear, enveloping us. And just when the story seemed to be about utopia, it flashed to outer-space with Luke Steele deepening his voice like a dark hippy. Mysterious dancers moved like a funky synchronized army all over the stage, adding an important element of sexy ooze.  These babes looked like Janet, GaGa, and Prince all had a threesome.  Their costumes were on point and became alter egos, dictating the way they would dance. At one point, they threw on ill paper mache’ dolphin masks and swam across the glittery stage.   Luke steele peered out from underneath his monumental tiara and silver face, backed by drummer Nick Littlemore sporting a festive headdress.

As their set progressed we parted from outer space and rested somewhere in an orange cloudy sunset. Night fell and a nostalgic Ferris wheel rotated behind the harvest moon.

Pendulum had one of the best video projection shows because it seemed to be in a similar vein as their music. Cockroaches and beetles twitched and flashed to their multi-layered, dark music. The white backdrop would bleed to a deep luscious saturated red making my mouth salivate as if sickening sugary syrup was running down my throat.

Sound Tribe Sector 9 killed it.  Murph was looking extra sexy with his bald head, post chemo. They progressed and developed their set towards the end and gave me the necessary dose I needed. They added a different flavor to the Ultra repertoire that kept me sane during the madness around me. I was able to close my eyes and take myself to a specific place I always go to during an STS9 show that doesn’t meet the description of any words. As many artists did that weekend, Tribe seemed to create a special set in the spirit of Ultra that was a bit darker and more electronic….I mean fuck: Scheme, When The Dust Settles, Atlas, Abcees, Rent, Evasive Maneuvers, Unquestionable Supremacy Of Nature, EHM.

Benny Benassi was spinning a lot more dubsteppy than I’m use to, but I yanked it in with open arms. I think a lot of people expected him to do the typical Satisfaction shit but he branched out and shed light on his musical knowledge outside of his formulaic reputation.

Holy Moby, ahhh, he is just one of those people your voice falls silent to. After Fedde, I saw that bald head pop on stage and I fucking knew.  Adjectives have not birthed a word to describe this man. His energy and smile touched every fucking person in that tent. A little while into his collection he stood on top of the Carl Cox mega structure with his arms out like Christ during the crucifixion and demanded energy from the people.   Glow created an epic aura around him creating a mysterious black silhouette . He played my favorite eddie k remix, All The Joys, and I pushed my way to the front, tossing glitter, manifesting my last experience at Electric Zoo.  I watched the golden flecks float to the floor, reflecting in the sun’s rays.

After seeing Moby I realized that, as far as stage presence and excitement goes, Rusko would be his little brother. They may seem like the odd couple but I can picture them grabbing drinks.  “Put um up put um up put um up” like dude says I put my hands the fuck up, raised the roof and then smashed it to the ground.  It felt so good getting gutter and head banging to dubstep. I squatted real low in my dope baggy genie pants, grabbed my crotch and let my hair fly.  Ah Rusko, thanks for bringing me down in a good way.

MSTRKRFT were the fucking hype men of Ultra. I danced harder at their set than any other set. I was literally out of fucking breath from two stepping, switching it up, droppin it low, and grooving it like a Bernie Mack zombie.  They are the kind of dudes you want to play your birthday party . They mixed John Legend’s  Heartbreaker with Rye Rye, one of Baltimore’s finest female MCs. I feel good yea mixed with a god damn it Charlie sample. You take me higher than I’ve ever been baby. They had to have some important friends in their creative crew to get a hold of such exclusive indie rap remixes that many don’t have the rights to. In this case it definitely takes two to make a thing go right fuck yes MSTRKRFT!

Miss Nine held it down for the ladies and killed it during each of her sets. Homegurl popped rocks in your mouth in between sets on the Live stage. She played everyday at Ultra, keeping a steady momentum going and creating a constant vibe throughout. Her long brown hair bopped in the middle of two turntables like the DJ next door, if you live next door to a sexy chick DJ.

Chemical brothers played last on the main stage: they were the deal sealer. I took a seat on one of the most beautiful hills of the fest, looked over the sea of people and watched as they became one. String theory had manifested itself, de-shelling the individualized. Oscillating souls glowed under the amazing lights and illustrations of the Chemical brothers….”You should see how I’m feeling, you should know what I’m thinking” moaned over the human ocean, creating a great silence with only the choir of children singing.

Ultra allures its own genre, every artist there leaped outside of their comfort zone to create something cohesive and specific to this event. None of the artists performances were expected or typical.

I felt like I could live that dream forever. I had a proper epiphany that applied to all electronic music I saw that weekend: It NEVER stops. Some where in the world there is electronic music happening. It is genuinely a drug in its self. All other music genres stop in between songs, presenting them as separate entities, yet electronic music proposes an entire thesis of sounds that all flow into the next creating a continuum of artistic thread.  The consistency of the music and nonstop attitude weaves a fabric of faces of many people coming together.

A great realization struck amidst the madness of neon and Jurassic vibrations. What keeps us contained? Life is all about choices, and people are reserved because we choose to be. We can dance anywhere, sing anytime, paint our faces for every event an ditch our social barriers. I once saw a child clapping his shoes together in his hands, walking down the street making fart sounds with his mouth. Now that is someone I want to be more like.  From now on I’m practicing a funkier lifestyle and responding to creativity with creativity. Fuck social constructs, I’m dancing everywhere.

Keep it moving fellow astronauts

S.

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