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Ultra Music Festival 15 Weekend 1: How It Really Went Down

From the moment I entered the festival Friday I was already impressed with the improvements from last year. The layout was much easier to walk through and the UMF Worldwide stage next to the MegaStructure wasn't cramped. The lines weren't very long to get in except for a few hours on Friday and the staff was very helpful. After getting in around 7 Friday we tried to catch some of the only Trance on the lineup with Markus Schulz and Dash Berlin. Both played fairly Progressive playlists for the short set duration. The sound in the stage was kind of off and not quite loud enough though, which was one of my only complaints the entire weekend. 

One of the best sets of the entire weekend without a doubt goes to John Digweed who had me and everyone else in the MegaStructure grooving hard. I really want to know what he played because looking back it was a classic example of what a dance music show should feel like, everyone dancing together instead of being cramped up waving their hands at the DJ. Carl Cox followed up by keeping the energy really high with a monster set of heavy Tech and left everyone exhausted.

I myself had to see Swedish House Mafia close just because of all the hype surrounding the "One Last Tour." I have to say that their set Friday was not just mediocre but quite disappointing overall, and very exposing to say the least. The crowd was packed but not moving like crazy, which isn't a great sign for any DJ. The visuals were nothing special considering what they had to work with and I left the festival with a false impression of what was to come the next two days.

The next day we woke up with excitement to get there early for one of the greatest lineups of any festival to date. We wanted to chill between sets throughout the day and got there just in time to see Datsik come on the Main Stage where he got his sound cut off pretty bad. It was hot and really sunny so everyone seemed a little out of it. Borgore came on with his usual rap intro and blasted the heavy beats as always. His new track with Carnage "Incredible" set the place on fire. The entire crowd went into uproar after he yelled "If you love drugs make some noise!!!" into the mic, all while the security management shook their heads to his sides. Some may say trashy, but I thought it was funnier more than anything. Better he than Madonna.

My ears had endured just about enough bass for one day by the time Doctor P & Flux came on but they still had me dancing, dropping hard-hitting festival sized tracks for the Spring Break crowd. Flux played a lot of new tracks off his EP like "The Scientist," and Doctor P dropped it down dirty with filthy sounds like his classic remix of Krome & Time's "The License." We then headed to the MegaStructure where we caught a little bit of Nicole Moudaber's set which turned out to be one of the highlights of my weekend.

By the time night fell the entire place had transformed into a magical wonderland. When the twinkling lights of the buildings in the background combined with the light fixtures installed throughout the festival, it didn't feel like we were on Earth any more. Trees came alive with transitionining LED lights and the orbiters came out to play on the grass lawn by the Live Stage. Pretty Lights had everyone in and around the amphitheater out of their minds grooving to his soulful rhythms, playing just as much if not a more memorable set than last year's. 

It was now time to head to the Main Stage to see what the big dogs had in store. Immediately upon getting into the back of the crowd during Hardwell's set the entire place was on fire. Everyone was smiling including the Dutch DJ himself, who without a doubt played one of the defining sets of his career. The entire Main Stage had an entirely new energy and seemed like a different setup from the night before. You could tell watching Hardwell that he was deciding what to do as he went along, with his set gradually becoming harder and harder as he tested new tracks on the crowd. By the time he had about ten minutes left the entire place was out of control.

The sound cut and the MC came to transition to the main acts of the night, which would turn out to be the best festival productions I have ever seen. Kaskade stepped up to his pedestal overlooking a milky sea of white fog and lasers and immediately got to it. The sound for the entire set was deep and he repeatedly built up the sound and dropped into bangers with his trademark vocal Progressive mashups.

The real prize were the visuals which absolutely blew me away. The latticed main stage structure would pulsate with lights on and off, then quickly throw fire in the air heating up everyone's faces. If you were impressed with the Kinetic Field or even the Q-Dance stage in Vegas this year, they had nothing on this one. It may have been smaller but was without a doubt the most technically advanced production setup I have ever witnessed. 

Giving Kaskade an hour may have been the only option, but like all things rave the whole thing felt like it ended as soon as it began. There was a long silent pause that signalled there was a lot of setting up to do for the main act. Now I know Deadmau5 for what he is and what he is not. He's not a DJ or really even a performer he's simply a genius of a producer who always has amazing visual productions. I was just excited to see what he would do coming back after being MIA apart from a few performances like at Veld Music Festival in Toronto

The set turned out to be as I would have expected, entirely his stuff although he didn't really play a lot of classics from Random Album Title and prior releases which is what I enjoyed most when I saw him the first two times. "Cthulhu Sleeps" was crazy to see with his cube setup in coordination with the stage, with psychedelic cephalopods morphing on the screen and crashing their tentacles down with the beat.

After being entranced by the nighttime vibes at Bayfront the night before, we decided to get to the festival a bit later Sunday. The entire place was alive by the time we got through the doors and headed to see Bassnectar take his stab at Main Stage. The set time was a bit early for the really cool visuals to kick in but Lorin kept the bass in full gear, dropping everything from "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" to classics "The Matrix" and "Voodoo."

I was skeptical of seeing Above & Beyond play for only an hour, and unfortunately my hunch was correct. Paavo and Jono came on with "Small Moments Like These" which had everyone feeling even warmer inside, then went on to drop a typical set that might as well have been an iTunes playlist of their most played ABGT tracks. "Wayfarer" and "Walter White" were good to hear but I just wasn't feeling it the way they were mixing and the crowd didn't seem to be either. While A&B's visuals and text messages to the crowd are normally cool, it just didn't fit right with the huge mainstage displays. I'm still kind of sad about the whole thing because they had never let me down before. 

Weekend 1 was not a weekend of Trance, apart from maybe ten minutes of each person's set who played UMF Worldwide on Friday. A&B had just been a big let down but Armin definitely brought the force needed to get the mainstage vibing to some 130 bpm. I've seen Armin countless times and even at Ultra last year but have never truly been blown away, but that changed in an instant after the energy he brought to the stage. Armin wasn't afraid to drop in the Electro down hard to give the crowd what it was craving, and it paid off. 

When I say that everything at Ultra was great this year, I mean it. Even the Merchandise tent had a great DJ that had everyone dancing inside. The employees were friendly, security wasn't a hassle, and beer was reasonably priced at $8 a draft. Ultra 14 saw huge crowd crush that made the festival a giant clusterfuck but this year the entire operation from entry to exit was seamless through and through. So good in fact, that I'm coming back for seconds. See you this weekend!

By Edward Fancher

Photos by Brooke Allan

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