ULTRA Music Festival 2012 was an experience like none I’d had before, and it was one that I could never have anticipated. This was my first big, all-dance music festival (save for a handful of live bands, which were still electro and dancy), so I didn’t quite know what to expect. I thought my previous attendance at Northcoast here in Chicago would give me some idea of what I was getting into, but that notion was quickly vanquished the minute I set foot in Miami’s Bayfront Park.
First of all, ULTRA is massive. 165,000 kids in furry boots and LED glasses made for a scene that can’t quite be described…but for a little comparison for those of us who have attended Lolla, Lollapalooza 2011 was attended by roughly 80,000 people per day and was held in an area over three times the size of Bayfront. Packing twice as many festival goers into one third of the space? Perhaps not the best idea, but luckily this type of event seems to draw an extremely happy crowd that didn’t appear to mind the close quarters. Providing multiple stages, tents, and even domes helped to ease the crowding at the larger stages as well.
I generally stuck to three stages: Main Stage, Live Stage, and the UMF tent. But I made a point to visit the rest at some point just to get their vibe. The only stage I did not make it to was Annie Mac Presents, which was sort of hidden in a far corner. I’m still not sure how you got to that one! Probably the coolest venue-within-the-venue that I saw was the Carl Cox tent, a haven for trance music that was constructed with the ultimate light show in mind. You are literally surrounded by lights of every color, shape, and size.
Of course none of this atmosphere would have mattered in the least without the ridiculous amount of artists performing at ULTRA. I saw all or part of 21 sets over the course of three days, plus another 5 at after parties! Highlights for me included: Knife Party, Chase and Status, Pendulum (after party),
Mt. Eden, Fedde LeGrand, Bassnectar, Justice, and the much-too-short portion of FatBoy Slim that I caught. Skrillex wins the award for craziest light show, but I have to say that I prefer him in a smaller setting. Killer performance nonetheless, and he even managed to win over some of our friends who hate dubstep!
Ahh but my favorite set was, as I expected, Pretty Lights closing out Friday night. He was on the Live Stage, which was this very cool amphitheater with much better sound than the Main Stage. There was not a single person standing still at that show, and between getting lost in his sound and his lights it was over FAR too quickly.
My summation of the experience there would be this: I have never danced so much/ slept so little in my entire life. I departed Miami with nothing left mentally, emotionally, or physically and did not feel remotely normal for at least a week. It was a total sensory overload that I’m still piecing together…I found myself finally pulling the individual performances out of the insane blur in my head several days after it was all over. This is a festival that is definitely not for everyone.
But for me, this will go down as one of the most incredible and unforgettable weekends of my life. I never stopped moving, reveled in ridiculously awesome music under palm trees, climbed “structures”, and made a dozen new (and lifelong) friends. So, if you think you’re ready for it… 347 days until ULTRA 2013!!!!