Wow, just like that 20 years of Ultra Music Festival have come and gone. A huge year of speculation and rumors ended almost like everyone wanted it to, and yet the surprise was still a joyous spectacle to behold. Ultra 20 showed a festival that hitting its stride yet again, putting its tried and true formula through its paces for another year. Not too many risks were taken, but Ultra doesn’t need to do things like that. Why mess with a winning formula? Let EDC Las Vegas do the tinkering.
Rather than a traditional boring event review, we decided to recap the festival (and Miami Music Week) in Winner/Loser style to see who came out of Ultra 20 and Miami Music Week 2018 a winner and who came up short.
Come on now, there is no question here. For the first time in a long time the Swedes are once again dominating the dance music scene. We love the Dutch, but its time for some change and some freshness to reinvigorate a scene that many felt was growing stale. The Dutch have held the #1 DJ slot (on DJ Mag’s List) every year since 2007 with the exceptions of David Guetta in 2011 and Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike in 2015. From Progressive Anthem House to dark Techno, Sweden brought the goods this year.
So clearly the purpose of this section is the epic reunion of Swedish House Mafia. Besides the wave of 2010-2013 Anthem House nostalgia that swept over dance music veterans when they took the stage, that was not the only reason their reunion is so important. They came back and played their classic hits, but mixed in with the newer music styles of 2018 in way that made it feel like they never even left. With one epic performance, future bass and that tropical house Major Lazer mishmash we’ve been subjected to over the past few years seems so boring now. Let’s get back to melodic club music that brought EDM to the mega popularity it has today. Is there any doubt that Swedish House Mafia will be DJ Mag’s #1 for 2018?
Swedish House Mafia are not the only Swedes to slay Miami Music Week. In fact, the best performance of the entire week goes to another pair of Swedes we can call the Swedish Techno Duo – that is Eric Prydz and Adam Beyer. Cirez D B2B Adam Beyer was, without question, the most transcendent and hypnotic musical experience of most people’s lifetimes. The two complimented eachother perfectly with dark and foreboding techno that reverberated in your soul for 3 hours. It would be hard to find another B2B combination that could even come close to this level of quality.
We’ve mentioned this trend before, but psytrance continued its growth Ultra 2018. Sure, there weren’t actually many psytrance DJs at Ultra, but the sound permeated almost every stage of the festival from ASOT to the bass sets to Steve Aoki and Hardwell.Armin van Buuren and Vini Vici kicked off this trend with their collaboration “Great Spirit” in 2017, but now you’re hearing psytrance (mostly Vini Vici) tracks in all sorts of sets throughout the mainstage scene. In fact, Vini Vici’s style of psytrance is so popular that Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike just teamed up with them to start making it themselves.
For the trance purists out there, yes there is certainly plenty of other better psytrance artists out there but Ultra just doesn’t cater to harder trance on the level of EDC or Tomorrowland. At least now more people will get into the trance scene and maybe one day ASOT will book Simon Patterson. If psytrance is going to take the reigns from Future Bass, then that’s A-OK in our book.
1 Hotel & DiskoLab
Out with the old and in with the new. As Nikki Beach seemingly disappeared off the Miami landscape for 2018, the swanky new 1 Hotel stepped up in a big way. Playing host to DiskoLab‘s party lineup, it boasted parties like No Sugar Added, Kaskade’s Sunsoaked, and Anjunabeach. With its huge sand-covered property and sweeping views, it made for one of the coolest backdrops you could want for a Music Week party.
Ultra Music Festival Security & Miami PD
It’s absolutely insane to think that in a year where anxiety was sky high for attending outdoor music festivals surrounded by buildings, that Ultra Music Festival would have its safest year yet. Where some music festivals continued to be marred by deaths, Ultra had no deaths once again and had only 27 arrests TOTAL. That’s seriously breathtaking when you consider the scale of the event and all of the ugly scenarios involved in throwing a dance music festival on the waterfront in a large urban city. Bravo to the Miami Police Department and Ultra’s security team.
Seriously, this was the year of duos and trios and b2b sets. We’ve talked ad nauseum about Swedish House Mafia and even Eric Prydz and Adam Beyer already, but those are just 2 examples of epic collaborative performances at this year’s Music Week.
For the first time NGHTMRE and SLANDER brought their Gud Vibrations show to Ultra. It’s fitting that just as SHM reuinites, the Bass House Mafia (as we’ve called them years ago) finally debuted at Ultra as well. This trio absolutely destroyed the Worldwide stage, making for one of the the best sets on that stage all weekend.
Over at the Live Stage, Tchami and Malaa brought their groovy No Redemption show to mesmerize the audience. The set was funky from beginning to end and the stage setup featuring 2 huge LED cubes for each to stand on was quite the visual treat.
Over at the Resistance Megastructure one of the sleeper hits was Paco Osuna, Nicole Moudaber, and Dubfire. This trio set a pulse-pounding groove for close to 3 hours and it was an amazing set, especially when you consider how early in the day it was. They pulled you in and prepared you for an epic night of techno.
The Weather (in Miami)
As somebody who has attended Ultra every year since 2012, it’s hard to remember the last time the weather was this good for Miami Music Week. Sure it was a bit chilly at night on Thursday and Friday nights, but the weather was absolutely perfect every single day of music week and especially during Ultra. It was sunny but not too hot and not too humid. When was the last time it didn’t rain at all during an entire Ultra Music Festival? We’re not sure but the earliest could be 2013 (and they had 2 weekends to deal with). We all know it poured at least 1 day during 2014-2017.
Carnage made a big belly flop of a splash back when Ultra’s Phase 1 lineup leaked, because he was initially supposed to be on the lineup and was subsequently removed. We all read about the tantrum he threw over it, and not too many were bothered with his removal from the lineup.
Then Carnage popped up at Ultra 20 anyway to witness the reunion of Swedish House Mafia. He felt those waves of nostalgia like the rest of us, but he also wanted to insert himself into the moment by getting on stage. When he was stopped by security he made the headlines once again. All in all it was a bit of a rough Ultra experience for Carnage this year.
It’s become a bit of a cliche at this point, but the bad mainstage scene may have finally bottomed out this year. The stage itself was amazing of course, but the music at the mainstage was mirroring many of the troubling trends in dance music from 2017. Perhaps that was always the case, but if you hear “God’s Plan” more than 6 times in one day at the same stage that indicates a lack of variety. Even if you did want to venture over there to catch a set or two, the crowd made it so difficult that you probably gave up and went back to the megastructure. If you were at Ultra’s 15 Anniversary in 2013 you almost certainly didn’t go near the mainstage this year (except for that final set for SHM which was completely worth it)
However, there is reason to have hope for the mainstage once again. The headliners and other DJs are taking note of the trends in EDM in 2018, and they’re good ones. Those trends include a move back to club sounds and higher energy. So you’re seeing less future bass whatever, and more actual dance music. The return of Swedish House Mafia is also sure to push this trend even further, to where we might just see the mainstage pop off like it has in the past with a return of melodic dance music. Take a listen to the headliners like Armin van Buuren, Hardwell, and Afrojack and you might notice their sets are better than they were last year. Now if only we can kickstart a trend of not talking on the mic, we’d be all set.
Hopefully Electronic Pop Music
You’ve probably gathered by now that we’re not big fans of the Chainsmokers/Zedd/Major Lazer/Dash Berlin EPM (electronic pop music). It’s a trend that slowed down EDM from dance music to just a different category of sing-a-long pop music. Unfortunately, pop crossover music is still hurting our scene and just claimed the life of the best dance music radio station in the US, Electric Area. Hopefully with Swedish House Mafia’s return they will suck all of the oxygen out of the room and bring the focus back on melodic, energetic, euphoric dance music made for clubs. Even Calvin Harris and DJ Snake are ready to get back to those club sounds. Hopefully we see Dash Berlin at ASOT next year.
People Who Thought Martin Garrix or Avicii Would Perform
If you thought Martin Garrix or Avicii would be the Ultra 20th Anniversary special guest you probably haven’t been to Ultra more than 3 times. In fact, you probably never even saw Swedish House Mafia live either, but that’s ok. You see young padawan, when Ultra had its last anniversary in 2013 Martin Garrix was merely another Electro House producer in the Netherlands and Oliver Heldens produced Big Room without a beard. Martin Garrix had one of his first US performances ever at Ultra in 2014 and has played every year since (until 2018). Swedish House Mafia and its members have been dominating the dance music scene since it first became a thing in the US in the late 2000s.
Since 2012, the only years Avicii did not play Ultra Music Festival were 2014 (when he backed out) and 2017 after he retired. A special guest is not somebody who has played almost every year of the festival for the past 5-6 years. Once you’ve attended a festival for over 5 consecutive years you’ll understand that artists need to take a year off every so often to keep things fresh and make people excited for when they play the following year. Martin Garrix will be back, and Avicii can tell his story about why he probably won’t be back in a few weeks once his Stories Documentary hits Netflix in the US.
So how can they possibly top Swedish House Mafia’s reunion?
Your Ability to Ever Listen to ‘God’s Plan’ Again
I been movin’ calm, don’t start no trouble with me
Tryna keep it peaceful is a struggle for me….
God’s plan, God’s plan
The Weather (up North)
While the weather in Miami was perfect, the weather up North was a bit less so. In fact, the weather was so bad up in the New York area that a slew of flights were delayed by days or cancelled altogether. This made many revelers miss parties or miss Miami Music Week all together. Even some music industry folks were impacted by the rough weather, but at least they were rewarded by amazing Miami weather once they got down.