Article By: Andrew Brown ; Photos By: Maria Farias
Motivated by my failure to get to Bicentennial Park in a timely fashion the day before, I was inside Ultra by 3 p.m. on day two. The festival was empty. On the main stage, Hernan Cattaneo played to an audience of only a few hundred – presumably many people were nursing hangovers from a late night in Miami Beach, or perhaps they were just waiting for the 85 degree weather to cool to a more danceable temperature.
The tent known as UMF Korea on day one had been redubbed the “Tower of Ultra,” and now featured mainly dubstep and drum and bass artists. Inside, about 200 people were dancing to Belgian producer Netsky’s layered, upbeat style of drum and bass. I had initially planned to listen to his entire set, but was instead lured to the huge Carl Cox tent, where thousands of people were dancing.
Afrojack was onstage, and his two-hour set was loaded with crowd pleasers: I heard “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, “When Love Takes Over”, “Sexy Bitch”, “We Are Your Friends”, and an extended version of “Pon De Floor” that sent the tent into an uproar. He closed with Dirty South’s remix of “Coming Home” and Imogen Heap’s poignant “Hide and Seek”. I was happy to hear a set with so many songs I recognized…it’s fun to dance to what you know!
After Afrojack, I walked through a bottleneck of food vendors and people to the live stage where Skrillex, dressed in long sleeves in spite of the heat, was addressing the audience in his high-pitched voice. I got there just in time for him to drop the lurching, grimy “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”, to which grimy people lurched in response. It was his last song though, so I headed back to see who was on the main stage.
It was Afrojack. I kicked myself for forgetting that he was scheduled to play consecutive sets at the Carl Cox tent and main stage – I could have seen Netsky after all. Afrojack appeared to be using the same strategy on the main stage as he had at Carl Cox, playing the biggest pop and electronic hits both new and (relatively) old: “Barbara Streisand”, “Aerodynamic”, “Day ‘n’ Night”.
At 6:15, Kaskade replaced Afrojack. Though the sun hadn’t set yet, the ground in front of the main stage was now mercifully covered in shadows, thanks to a nearby condo that stood between stage and sun (maybe this is why the organizers repositioned the stages). Giant white balloons bounced lazily over the audience; on one of them someone had scribbled in Sharpie “In Trance We Trust”, maybe in preparation for Armin Van Buuren. Kaskade’s set was 60 minutes of beautiful, melodic progressive house, including his collaborations with deadmau5, “Move for Me” and “I Remember”. I enjoyed every minute with one exception: inexplicably, he played “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”. Its supreme discord stood in stark contrast to the rest of the music, which cultivated feelings of peace and love, not…constipation?
I had planned to walk to the Tower of Ultra at 7 to see Skream and Benga, who rarely play in the US, but the combination of apathy, my excellent spot near the front of the main stage, and my love for its next act, Armin Van Buuren, made me change my mind. Van Buuren came on at 7:15, heavily featuring songs from his new album, Mirage while the sun set. During one of these, “These Silent Hearts”, the breakdown was so quiet that BT’s vocals were drowned out by noise from other stages.
Van Buuren paid tribute to the 21 people who died during the stampede at Germany’s Love Parade festival last summer during “Remember Love”, his collaboration with Paul Van Dyk and Paul Oakenfold, made shortly after the tragedy. As the song played, video clips of the festival and the words “Remember Love Parade” appeared on the stage’s LED screens.
The set ended early, at about 8:20, and the festival’s MC jubilantly announced that Afrojack was about to play a surprise set. Apparently someone though it was a good idea to cut Van Buuren’s set short so that we could all hear three Afrojack sets in the same day. Irritated, I sacrificed my good stage position (big mistake) to refuel on corn dogs and arepas. I was further chagrined to hear Afrojack use close to 10 of his 25 minutes to replay “Warp” and “Aerodynamic” as I walked away. Weak.
I could hear UK electronic titans Underworld start to play as I sat on a dusty, litter-covered hill eating the corn dog. Most of their songs were slow, epic, locomotive house pieces that built up for minutes, though they shifted tempo in the middle of the set to incorporate at least one drum and bass song. The highlight of the performance was without question the more than decade-old “Born Slippy”. For minutes the audience danced hard to its relentless, propulsive drums, and when the drums abruptly cut out everyone raised their arms and cheered in appreciation while the song’s famous, serene synth chords washed over them. A cooling breeze swept through the crowd as vocalist Karl Hyde sang: “Drive boy, dog boy, dirty numb angel boy…” Then suddenly the drums were back and everyone was dancing again. One of the festival’s best moments.
Underworld ended substantially before 10:30, the scheduled end of their slot, so that deadmau5’s cube could be set up. Electro house producer Feed Me played songs not unlike deadmau5’s while workers wheeled the cube on stage and checked its lights.
Mau5 and mau5head were onstage by 10:35. He played almost all of 4x4=12; fans like me who prefer his older songs like “Arguru” and “Strobe” were let down, as the only songs from Random Album Title and For Lack of a Better Name were “Sometimes Things Get, Whatever”, “I Remember”, “FML”, and “Moar Ghosts ‘n Stuff”.
“Raise Your Weapon”, which had been relegated to the encore when I last saw deadmau5, was now in the middle of the set. Its closing piano chords faded into “SOFI Needs a Ladder”, which was augmented by live vocals from SOFI and drumming from Tommy Lee, whose drum kit was raised high in the air behind the glowing cube. Tommy Lee and SOFI stayed onstage for the next song, “One Trick Pony”. I enjoyed the surprise appearance – ordinarily the cube and mau5head’s visual display is more than enough of a spectacle to keep me entertained, but their effect was marred by Ultra’s LED screens, whose lighting quite literally outshone and distracted from them.
After “I Remember,” Zimmerman disappeared, either offstage or behind cube, returning after a few minutes for a one-song encore. I was relieved to hear that the song, which is unreleased, was neither electro house nor dubstep but good old-fashioned progressive house, hopefully an indication of the producer’s next move. It ended exactly at midnight and day two was over.
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