The Ultra Music Festival in Miami started as a humble labor of love by two local music fans. These days, it’s the largest electronic music festival in the United States, now spanning some three days, and, during its 2011 edition, selling out all of its tickets and attracting a reported 100,000 attendees.
In its first two years, 1999 and 2000, Ultra was basically a polished, daytime beach rave, set on the actual sand of South Beach. Creators Russell Faibisch and Alex Omes were locals who decided to throw their own one-day event coinciding then with the annual Winter Music Conference.
When attendance jumped dramatically by the 2000 event, for its third year, Ames and Faibisch moved the festival to Bayfront Park in downtown Miami. Eventually, it even outgrew that venue, moved to nearby Bicentennial Park, expanded to two days, and forged a partnership with Winter Music Conference that made Ultra Music Festival an official Conference event.
After the 2010 edition of Ultra Music Festival sold out, organizers announced that the following year would be three days. Again, the plan was for the festival to take place during the last week of March as always, and coincide with Winter Music Conference again. However, in early 2011, WInter Music Conference announced it would hold its own event earlier in the month, while Ultra held firm at the end of March. So did most of the DJs and party promoters who usually arrived in town for the week’s satellite parties, and Ultra’s dominance in the contemporary dance music landscape was cemented.
In its current incarnation, Ultra Music Festival runs from Friday afternoon to midnight that night, and then from about noon to midnight on the following Saturday and Sunday. There is no camping at this festival, with most festival-goers from out of town decamping to hotels either nearby in downtown or in South Beach. These neighborhoods give the best options to keep the party going every night, either at Ultra’s official nightly Carry-On parties, or at other unaffiliated club events.
There are about six stages on the first night of the festival, and more than a dozen on the full days, each with a particular genre theme. At least one stage is usually devoted to more live, or indie-dance, sounds, or even so-called “jamtronica,” while others are devoted to house, trance, dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass, breakbeats, and other forms of electronic music. A main stage provides a mix of both, the common thread being that all main stage performers are either legends in the scene or its current reigning kings.
As such, this relatively wide-sweeping musical programming attracts a wide range of ages and tribes, from teenage candy ravers to 40- and even 50-something vets of the global dance scenes. Crowds are huge, but relatively peaceful in spite of it all.
For its 2012 edition, Ultra Music Festival organizers have already announced that the festival will again span three days, and again return to downtown Miami. However, Bicentennial Park, the site of the festival for the past several years, is currently undergoing major construction in a conversion to a museum park for the city. (In fact, the construction had already started before the 2011 edition of Ultra, leaving certain stages particularly dusty.) As such, it remains unclear what the festival’s venue will be in 2012.
If you’re considering attending Ultra Music Festival at all, buy an early-bird ticket if you can as soon as they go on sale. The festival will more than likely sell out eventually, and the face value of your three-day pass will increase several fold by the time it does. If you’re not sure if you can attend all three days, buy anyway — there is a brisk market among fans for resales of single-day pass use. Conversely, if you fail to buy Ultra Music Festival tickets in advance, chances are you’ll know someone who can’t attend each day. There’s a good chance you will be able to score a leftover or unused ticket on Sunday, when people start to tire out.
Performers at the 2011 Ultra Music Festival
Friday, March 25
Main Stage: Tiësto, Duran Duran, Pendulum (live), Erasure, Benny Benassi, Fedde Le Grand, Tinie Tempah, Dada Life, Dimitri Kneppers, Cato K.
Live Stage: Röyksopp, Trentemøller, STS9, Carte Blanche, Designer Drugs, Mustard Pimp. Carl Cox & Friends: Carl Cox, Laurent Garnier, Loco Dice.
Mid-Park Tower: Avicii, Martin Solveig, Roger Sanchez, Chris Lake, Sidney Samson, Cedric Gervais, Funkagenda, Rodrigo Viera.
Root Society Dome: Joachim Garraud, Jefr Tale, LA Riots, Harvard Bass, Stripe, Elite Force, Jelo, Rob G, Electric Soulside.
Saturday, March 26
Main Stage: deadmau5, Underworld, Armin Van Buuren, Kaskade, Afrojack, Avicii, Sander Kleinenberg (live), Hernan Cattaneo, Sunnery James/Ryan Marciano, Jerome Isma AE, Riotgear.
Live Stage: Empire of the Sun, Cut Copy, Sasha (Vortek live), Boys Noize, Steve Aoki, Simian Mobile Disco (live), The Klaxons, Mr. Oizo, Bag Raiders, Conspirator.
Carl Cox & Friends: Carl Cox, Moby, Fedde Le Grand, Joris Voorn, Yousef.
Mid-Park Tower: Rusko, Skream + Benga, Andy C & MC Q, NERO, Excision & Datsik, Feed Me, Goldie, Fresh, Netsky, Toddla T & Red Light.
Roots Society Dome (Dirtybird Records Showcase): Claude Vonstroke, Justin Martin, J. Philip, Christian Martin, Worthy / Mowgli, Detroit Grand Pubahs, Elio Riso, Remo, Donald Glaude, Filthy Rich.
UMF Radio Stage: Telekinetic Walrus, Flash Brothers, Noel Sanger, Damaged Goods, Goldfish Live, Jimmie Page, Afrobeta, Kinesis, Ideal & J-Break, George Morel, Heather Holiday, Eric Lobe, Jeff Thompson, Laura of Miami, DJ Indigo, James Nao
Sunday, March 27
Main Stage: The Chemical Brothers (live), David Guetta, Erick Morillo (live), Jessica Sutta, will.i.am, Laidback Luke, Wolfgang Gartner, Gui Boratto.
Live Stage: Crystal Castles, The Disco Biscuits, MSTRKRFT, Chromeo, CSS, Fake Blood, Hybrid (live), Subfocus (live), !!!, Afrobeta.
A State of Trance 500: Armin van Buuren, Ferry Corsten, ATB, Gareth Emery, Sander Van Doorn, Alex M.O.R.P.H., Cosmic Gate, Marcus Schossow.
Mid-Park Tower: The Glitch Mob, Skrillex, The Gaslamp Killer, 12th Planet, Dieselboy, Super Mash Bros., Daedelus, Ed Rush & Optical, Drop
The Lime/AC Slater, Kill The Noise, Plastician.
Root Society Dome: Dada Life, Congorock, Alex Gaudino, John Dahlback, Pleasurekraft, Steve Porter, Remady, Will Bailey, Hatiras, Lazy Rich.