Ultra Music Festival 2016: Surprises, Reunions And A Triple Dose Of deadmau5

Matt Joseph

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Three performances from deadmau5 in two days. Reunions between beloved acts like Pendulum and Rabbit In The Moon. Special guest appearance from DJ Khaled. Artists showing up in the middle of other artists’ sets for no apparent reason. A drool-worthy list of talent lining the bill for all three days. Yes, it could only be Ultra Music Festival, returning to Miami’s Bayfront Park once again to officially kick off festival season.

A weekend full of surprises, historic moments, reunions and overall good vibes, the organizers once again put on an applause-worthy event that while not perfect, provided those in attendance with lots of talk about and even more to remember.

Going into the festival, several artists built a considerable amount of buzz in regards to their sets, and one of them was Martin Garrix. After blowing just about everyone away with his stunning performance at Ultra last year, expectations were high for the Dutch DJ to deliver, and deliver he did.

Bringing with him no less than 10 new tracks, Garrix claimed his title as youngest person to ever close out the Ultra main stage and in the process, put on a spectacle for thousands of fans who came to witness the historic moment.

Sporting a fresh and funky new direction, the producer dropped tons of new music that bounced around multiple genres. From trap to electro and even a bit of future bass, Garrix showed us that he had no intentions of staying pigeonholed in the big room sphere and once again, delivered an excellent set.

Main stage aside, though, and one of the other most talked about acts going into the festival, and coming out of it, was deadmau5. Originally scheduled to only appear once, Joel found himself making three appearances throughout the weekend. He played his scheduled set on the A State of Trance stage, in which he got up to his usual antics and trolled the crowd with a moderate amount of metal music, and he also ended up filling in for The Prodigy on the Live Stage (which was more of a techno set, and probably the better of the two). Then, he made a surprise guest appearance on Main Stage to perform “Ghosts N Stuff” with Pendulum, which sent the crowd into a frenzy, and rightfully so.

And speaking of Pendulum, their much anticipated reunion was nothing short of legendary. As those who were there can attest to, seeing them back on stage again together was an incredible moment for dance music fans and one that won’t be forgotten any time soon. Everything from their music to the production during the set was near perfect, marking a triumphant return for one of the industry’s best acts.

Of course, Ultra Music Festival had a lot more to offer as well. The UMF Radio stage was particularly strong this year, especially on Saturday when OWSLA took over (big props to Mija for absolutely crushing her set), and the Resistance stage received a pretty epic and substantial design upgrade to match its unstoppable lineup of talent this year.

Unfortunately, I was only able to make it over to the Megastructure on day 3, when Armin’s A State of Trance took over. Despite the logistics of that area still being an absolute nightmare, you can’t deny that the artists who played there were well worth venturing into the crowd for. While deadmau5’s set was perhaps the most-anticipated of the day on the ASOT stage, it was Eric Prydz who impressed me most. The legendary producer threw down a flawless mix of music that stood out quite clearly as one of the weekend’s definite highlights.

Another stage worth mentioning is the Worldwide stage, which is probably where most of my time was spent. On Day 2 and 3 especially I found myself wandering over there more often than I thought I would and what I saw did not disappoint in the slightest.

KSHMR’s closing set on Saturday was absolute fire, while Marshmello’s performance on Sunday was completely insane and one of my favorite sets all festival. The Chainsmokers, meanwhile, delivered an exciting and eclectic array of music that included some of their older remixes, which the true fans got a kick out of.

Jauz, Robin Schulz and Malaa were also all highlights on the Worldwide stage throughout the weekend, but another one of my favorite sets came from Alison Wonderland. The Aussie DJ displayed an incredible sense of energy, emotion and passion as she mixed through another wildly impressive set that further cemented her status as one of the most exciting artists in electronic dance music at the moment.

Moving away from the music for a minute, and it needs to be said that Ultra still has several areas that need a lot of improvement. For one, as was the case last year, absolutely no one who worked there seemed to be on the same page. You’d ask the same question to several different staff and get a different answer from each one. That is, if you were even able to get an answer. Many of the staff seemed to have no idea what was going on and usually couldn’t provide very much information no matter what you asked them.

Logistics were also a nightmare, once again. I do think that Bayfront Park is a suitable, if slightly too small venue for the festival, but it just felt way too busy and congested, which made the overall experience a bit less enjoyable. Trying to get from one stage to another, especially during the night, was a daunting task, and for some artists, certain stages descended into absolute bedlam. I’m totally fine with big crowds, wild parties and limited personal space, but at some points, it was really just too much (*cough* A State of Trance stage for deadmau5 *cough*).

Another thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was seeing artists popping into other artists sets for no apparent reason. Not to name any names, but a few instances of this happening just felt gimmick-y and pointless. I get it if the two artists have a song together that they’re going to perform, but sometimes an artist would just walk on stage during another artist’s set, jump around for a minute or two with them and then walk off. I suppose the crowd gets a kick out of it, but it just takes away from the performance and personally, I could have done without it. But again, I’m probably in the minority on that one.

At the end of the day, Ultra Music Festival is, without a doubt, one of the most important events of the year for electronic dance music artists. It’s where they all go to premiere new music, put themselves on the map, create historic moments and show off their talents on a global scale. Nothing has changed in that regard with the 2016 edition of the festival. And while many may point to the fact that the organizers still aren’t doing much to innovate or keep the event feeling fresh year after year, their formula does work. And you know what they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.