There’s a reason that Ultra Music Festival is one of the premier dance music events in the world. Hell, you could even say that it’s one of the premier music events in the world. Every year in March, the biggest and brightest in the industry come together for a week long celebration, which kicks off with Miami Music Week and culminates in the three day festival. Partying ensues, new music is revealed, special guests make appearances and for one week, the entire city is transformed into a dance city mecca.
Admittedly, this year was my first time at Ultra, and while I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, having followed the festival for many years and speaking with numerous people in the industry about it, nothing could prepare me for what a truly unforgettable event it was. Between the top-notch production, the vast array of artists, the exciting new music that was premiered and the overall friendly and high-energy crowd, which numbered roughly 50,000 people, Ultra Miami was, by all accounts, one of the best festival experiences I’ve had to date.
Unfortunately, things got off to a bit of a rocky start on day one, with some harsh weather conditions forcing a few sets to be shortened or cancelled outright (Odesza, Chromeo) and several stages shutting down for a good chunk of time. While many fans braved the elements regardless, showing up in droves to the main stage to support acts like Alesso and Avicii, there was a definite growth in audience size at the sheltered stages like Carl Cox’s tent, where Ida Engberg and Adam Beyer were throwing down a mesmerizing b2b set.
While certainly disappointing, the rain was merely a minor hiccup in what was otherwise a smooth operation. And that’s saying a lot. With seven stages and over 100 artists, putting together the festival and making sure it all runs as planned is no easy feat.
Headlining this year’s fest were all the usual suspects. Everyone from Martin Garrix to David Guetta took to the main stage in the later hours to play to a packed Bayfront Park. Admittedly, I’ve started to tire of the main stage lately, seeing as it’s always the same headliners playing the same sets. And while a couple of artists played exactly what we thought they would (though the crowd didn’t seem to care), a few of the headlining acts genuinely stood out as fresh and invigorating.
Garrix in particular was a popular choice for best Ultra set, as the superstar DJ stuck almost exclusively to his own material while running through several unreleased songs (including collaborations with Avicii and Ed Sheeran). He also brought out Usher to perform their new single “Don’t Look Down,” which was one of the best moments of the festival and also just one of many guest appearances throughout the weekend (Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Dzeko & Torres, KSHMR and many, many more also showed up during various sets)
The young Dutch producer put on an exciting show that kept us on our feet, making silky smooth transitions and leaving us never knowing where he would go next. While the usual staples all made appearances here (“Animals,” “Gold Skies,” “Turn Up The Speakers”), it was the new tracks that had me really excited, as they once again showed off Garrix’s immeasurable talent and have me tremendously eager for his upcoming album. The fantastic selection of music old and new, combined with Martin’s energy and enthusiasm, which radiated off of him the entire time, made for what might be one of the best festival sets I’ve seen in recent memory.