There was a strong sense of familiarity as soon as I set foot in Miami. The nice ocean breeze welcomed me back to the ridiculous city, and the perfect morning weather served as an amazing backdrop as I arrived my first day to check into my hostel. But things this year were just different than last year all around:
Instead of coming to Miami for Ultra, I was there mid-week (Tuesday to be exact) to cover Winter Music Conference and Miami Music Week (recap to follow soon). By the time Ultra rolled around, I was 4 days (of partying) in and had blisters ready to burst like an anorexic who had volunteered for a Man Versus Food challenge.
The venue for Ultra this year was vastly different than last, now being at Bayfront Park instead of its long-time home, Bicentennial Park. Bicentennial can best be described as a gigantic concrete parking lot with smatters of gravel and a thin strip of a dirt hill that ran right through the middle (very-little-to-no sitting/relaxing room). Bayfront, while more condensed, had more park features--trees, shade, benches, WAY more grass--and a big-ass amphitheater sitting right in the center of it all. Though things definitely felt more crowded this year with some narrow connecting walkways dangerously overpacked and un-moderated, I give my nod of approval to Bayfront for being the more interesting venue. (I pretty much agree with everything the Broward County Blog posted here about Bayfront vs Bicentennial).
We were granted press credentials this year. Last year was a personal planned trip to what I understood as one of the electronic Meccas of North America, UMF, Miami. Complete with an extended network of 40-some-odd friends and a Google Spreadsheet (courtesy of Willowtree) that would have you ripping your eyeballs out, there was definitely a lot more logistics hoopla that surrounded the long weekend in 2011. This year, I couch-crashed, sort of stayed in a hostel, and elected to take a more nomadic route.
Due to a much different trip dynamic this year, I found I was spending a lot more time running around in small groups, with one other friend, running around in a trio, meeting up with other established groups, or a few times, getting lost and running off solo because I found an awesome photo opportunity of potentially dangerous jailbait girl making out with a tree. (Just kidding, I didn't get to see that ridiculous scene firsthand, nor did I see last year's naked humping guy from UCSD.)
For the full suite of UMF 2012 photos (over 150), click below for each of the albums!
So how was UMF as an event? Is it as epic as everyone says it is? How does it compare to EDC? Should I fall behind on my rent for a month to pay for a trip out there? Was Avicii the best DJ at UMF? Plenty of questions from anyone reading, I'd imagine.
One thing to note was the RIDICULOUS buzz surrounding UMF this year and the insane rise of a secondary market for tickets to the event. With early-bird tickets selling out within 20 minutes of release and sold-out status declared after a few short months, scalping prices jumped to over $600 for the $300 three-day general admission prices with UMF ticket craze at an all-time high. During the actual WEEK of UMF, I was lucky to get $250 for my extra pair of retail $290 tickets (I didn't get confirmed for the festival until pretty late), and there were DOZENS of people (including naked raver chicks) standing near the front entrance waving their tickets and waiting sadly for money offers like a Tuesday night in Bangkok's red light district. It was a ridiculous situation and really goes to show how unpredictable the scalping hustle can be.
Overall, I liked UMF a bit more this year than last. The venue was far more interesting, my 40-hour weekday partying binge forced me to slow down and enjoy my surroundings a bit more, and while the crowd was dangerously littered with prostitots and bros-in-training (all-ages event), the vibe was still festive. And honestly, the weather in Miami just can't be beat. It's constantly floating around the 70-80 degree mark with a cool Caribbean breeze always blowing.
And with the bro issue at hand, though a lot of people will come back from Miami complaining about the number of bro'd out bros that brumped into them as they were walking through the crowd, I think anyone who frequents the massives scene enough just needs to expect it as standard. I mean, come on, you're getting neon clothing vendors selling shirts and hats with "RAGE, SWAG, DUBSTEP" plastered all over them.
Side story: My friend's (Captain Crank) sister talked one of these unscrupulous merchants down from an outlandish price of $30 to $10 for a neon orange RAGE cap. It was ridiculous, and I still felt she paid far too much lol.
See recap of day 2 and 3 for the finished mural! It was SICK
Though deep down I'm not a fan of 1-hour sets because DJs don't really get much freedom to develop their sound and might feel inclined to throw out banger after banger, resulting in hearing a lot of the same recycled tunes that garner definitive face-melting reactions. BUT I figure that's really what the Miami pool and after parties are for, for specific artists and DJs to play 2+ hour long sets and give you a glimpse of what they're really all about. However, I tend to have MADHD (massive attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) at large scale festivals anyway and bounce around more than the Alice in Wonderland White Rabbit after taking a lethal injection of speed, caffeine, and clenbuterol. So here's how my days at UMF went:
Day 1 was definitely a day of good vibes and comfort. I spent most of it nursing my ridiculously aching feet and sitting my ass down as soon as I reached any stage. Walks to and from the different stages were a bit of a chore (as UMF doesn't employ as many interesting art installations as EDC would), requiring you to climb hills and stairs and fight through the crowds, but the stage isolation resulted in a distinctly different feel depending on which stage you were at (something that I didn't get as much at last year's Ultra at Bicentennial Park). So while the hills, stairs, and forests were sort of a nuisance, it provided for some good ambiance since Bayfront Park actually felt like, well, a park.
We entered the festival expecting to see Nicky Romero, Tommy Trash, and Katy B, but due to lagging, pre-partying, and a slightly ridiculous front entrance situation, we missed every one of their sets lol/fail. First set of the day was a bit of Dubfire at the Carl Cox stage (The Carl Cox Stage is historically noted as the techno and tech-house stage until Armin Van Buuren's A State of Trance takeover during every UMF Sunday).
I seriously love Dubfire. He plays some of the deepest, darkest tech-based house that I've ever heard and always has those who appreciate it dancing non-stop for hours on end. Having caught a bit of his set at Beyond Wonderland (the perfect set in an ultra dark hangar on a cold rainy night) just the weekend before, it was definitely a stark contrast hearing the deep thumping beats with the sun setting over the downtown Miami skyline. No sing-along melody lines and wave your arms in the air female vocal hooks here; you get an extra whoosh or a new wood block sound to signify a new phrase, and dammit, you're going to love it.
Next we stopped by the BAO dome for a quick EDM Madness meet up and to say hello to the always hospitable, always gracious Root Society crew (Brandon and Jefr, you guys are always so great). Their dome set up this year remained uncovered due to some technical problems with the paneling, but more important (and impressive) to mention, they straight built the multi-story dome on a damn sloped hill. INSANE. After a beer and water recharge in the production area, we were ready to explore the festival once more.
Next stop for me was at Madeon with a few people. Though I've heard complaints before on his lack of mixing skills, I was ready to give the 17 year old French House prodigy the benefit of the doubt. And I have to say he brought it pretty damn well. His transitions were smooth and the upbeat electro-house set included his own productions. When he finally dropped his latest single, "Icarus," the crowd went absolutely wild. Madeon's set was overcrowded and overheated, and his fans, overzealous as hell. There's just a certain level of astonishment when you're sitting there watching a young Harry Potter-looking 17 year old kid controlling a crowd as well as the older guys who have been doing this longer than he's been alive. And rocking out to it the entire time.
Sad to have missed "Bizarre Love Triangle", but glad to have caught New Order!
Next I moved on to the live stage at the Amphitheater with stadium seating to catch the last half of New Order's set. Though they're a bit of an oddball act at an event like UMF (much like Duran Duran from last year), I've wanted to see them since I discovered New Order only a few years ago and went on a massive New Wave and '80s music binge. This was the perfect opportunity. The crowd was definitely in the know as when I arrived, I realized that all fist-pumping had disappeared, substituted by crazy '80s dance moves and a lot of robot contorting. Unfortunately, I missed my absolute must-hear song, "Bizarre Love Triangle," but got "Blue Monday" as a solid consolation tune for the wonderful time I spent there.
As night began to fall, the artists on deck included Alvin Risk, Treasure Fingers, Camo & Krooked (all at the UMF Worldwide stage, which was way the hell on the other end next to the water), back to the BAO Dome for Jefr Tale, Groove Armada, and Carl Cox to end the night. Risk played every production tune of his I wanted to hear including his horrendously comical remix of Kaskade's "Eyes" with a dirty dubstep drop so unsuspecting, you'll be wondering just how sick this guy's sense of humor is in real life. Treasure Fingers started off with some electro bits but quickly changed the pace into the Nu Disco sound I'm more familiar with. A HUGE change of pace from the argyle-clad Alvin Risk who played right before.
Camo & Krooked, whom I missed at Beyond Wonderland, were absolutely amazing. Mixing dubstep into drum 'n' bass, and back, their set hit ultra hard and was pure unrelenting madness. Though the production at the Live Stage was pretty weak compared to the larger UMF and Carl Cox structures, the intimate vibe of the Live Stage was nicely complemented by an open view of the Miami Bay behind it.
Hopping over to Jefr Tale at the BAO Dome was great as I noticed they hands down had the hottest go-go dancers shaking it on the stage fixtures. Perfect for the eclectic electro set Jefr was throwing down, bringing a little bit of Burning Man to the commercial music festival scene.
Bless you, fine people of Root Society/BAO Dome/Buffalo.DJs for installing a dance platform above the DJ booth!
Groove Armada, was a huge surprise. The lighting at their stage (UMF Korea) was pretty weak unfortunately (lots of strobes and fogs, but it was impossible to see the booth and the DJs themselves from even the middle of the stage), and luckily, all the bass bleedover from Carl Cox's stage was controlled as soon as you got under the roofing.
Gripe time: Though I loved how obscenely loud the Carl Cox/ASOT stage was, it made no sense to me that they faced the UMF International directly against it. The bleedover was horrendous when you were sitting on the grass around the UMF Int'l stage and not directly underneath the roofing, and with how different the music genres were (UMF Int'l's Friday was smaller electro acts, Saturday was dubstep heavy, and Sunday was techno while ASOT was going on), the muddled contrasting BPMs was just nasty. Though I suppose when you're not sober, it don't really matter ^.^
Groove's DJ selections were a deep, dark techno-reminiscent set that mixed in the vocals and melodies from their recognizable tunes. Ultra gritty and jungle-like, it was savage and unprecedented as hell! I felt pretty bad for my friends whom we had dragged out with me with the promise of a 'chill set'. Lol.
Day 1 closed out with the Carl Cox stage. Out of any sound set up that I've ever heard, this night and this set definitely had to be the most powerful. We were standing almost dead center in the massive crowd and could still feel the air blasting off the subwoofers to the point where each thump of the kick drum caved my chest in ever so slightly and caused disrupted breathing and laughing.
Favorite moment of Day 1: Willowtree looks me dead in the face during this set and says to me with the most serious face: "WE NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE".
Even as we walked away and were a good distance away near Tiesto at the main stage, the thumping BOOM-BOOM-BOOM felt like it was sitting next to us, reminding you that tech-house is king in Miami.
I wish Carl Cox would play in Southern California more often. He's happy, jolly as hell, and just looks like he's having the time of his life while spinning bouncy tech-house records.
And that concludes.... EFFING DAY 1