By Annie Rusten
Photos by Kabir Khiatani
I’d like to start the second part of my Ultra review with an apology. I hate to give excuses, but finals really did kick my ass, so sorry this review is so late. After doing so much work on my computer, writing has been last on my “things I enjoy doing in my spare time” list. Now that they’re over and done, let’s get back to Ultra.
In my previous post, I mentioned that there would be three parts to my Ultra review and part two is going to be about the shows. In my opinion, artists that play at Ultra (and anywhere else for that matter) make or break the show with their performance. Even though playing good quality music is a very important aspect of an artist’s show, it’s hard to please everyone’s preference. What one person considers a great set may be considered crap to someone else. If artists focus on putting on a great show, which obviously includes their music, I think fans of all genres (who aren’t ignorant) will be more appreciative of their work. A truly creative artist should enthuse a crowd with the whole package: a sick light show, a unique stage set-up, music, dancers, singers, stage props, artist-to-crowd communication and costumes (this list is really endless.) So now, let’s dissect our Ultra Music Festival and see who really wowed the crowd.
Sometimes I like to save the best for last, but I’m not really in the mood. Let’s kick this off with four words: Empire of the Sun. I hate to say it, but I didn’t know much about the group before Ultra 2011. Sure I’d heard their hits, but I can’t say I ever did much research. After seeing them perform on the Live Stage Saturday night, I was left in awe. From their set (I sweat their vocals) to their costumes, to the destruction of their stage — everything was just EPIC. When I walked up to the Live Stage, EOTS was about 15 minutes into their show (not set — show.) The music was rockin’ and the crowd was singin’ along. After making my way around the ecstatic audience to a spot where I could see everything, the costumes immediately caught my attention. From big head gear to big shoulder pads, they were decked out and everyone was taking pictures. The dancers were also ridiculously talented and their costumes only complimented their moves. EOTS also had great crowd interaction and I think this is what kept their crowd consistent. If you’ve ever been to a music festival, it’s common to just jump around from tent to tent or stage to stage. Instead of just playing their music, EOTS kept you wanting to know what they were going to do next. At the end of their performance, they completely wrecked the entire stage and it was not only unexpected, but it was freakin’ awesome. When you throw in the smoke and a kick-ass light show, EOTS really did kill it.
Another artist I’d like to put on blast for having a great show is Tiesto. As a headliner, you’re going to get the most criticism, whether it’s positive or negative. Although he might be “mainstream”, Tiesto had the crowd going. Sometimes I think that people go into Ultra with a grudge against artists like Tiesto who “everybody knows” or “everybody has already seen”. Personally, I think the man put on a great show, especially with the lights and pyrotechnics. Things like confetti, fireworks, bangs and smoke might not have any benefit to the music the DJ is going to spin, but they help make the show. Unlike Empire of the Sun, Tiesto needs to work the board to play his music. So to make up for his lack of movement, he amped up his stage with a big bang in the middle or at the end of all his popular tracks and the crowd went wild. I think the audience also like it when artists act like part of the crowd. Not only was Tiesto dancing around the DJ booth while he was playing, but he would scream and party right along with the crowd, instead of stopping every two minutes to have a one-sided conversation with the audience. I really enjoyed his performance. There wasn’t one dull moment.
Deadmau5, another headliner, disappointed me a bit. So many of his tracks are just so groovin’, but he NEEDS to step up his stage presence. His mau5 head is obviously an attention-getter, and he did have live vocals being sung, but it’s just not enough. With such a famous name and what’s probably the most watched set of the festival, I was expecting a crazy show. After seeing Lady Gaga’s name in the sky (publicity?) I was convinced she was coming out with Deadmau5 to ROCK the stage. Now I’m not saying it’s the his fault Gaga didn’t come out and share the stage with him. It just seemed that his performance was supposed to be “so incredible,” that it wouldn’t have been unimaginable for Mama Monster come out too. Also, I was hoping that Deadmau5 would have tried to at least match up with Tiesto’s stage props, but he didn’t. Sure it’s cool to hear the music live, but he needed the show aspect too.
Carl Cox and many of his “friends” also put on some killer shows. The tent was always packed to the brim and there was a constant line to enter the VIP. Something the artists who played in this tent had to their advantage was a really cool light-up diamond stage DJ booth. Unlike a lot of mainstream house, techno and tech-house has more less-intense drops, and this is how great techno and tech-house DJs always keep the audience going. Fedde, Loco Dice and Carl Cox all kept their crowd interaction consistent. It was never too much or too little. With longer set times, the DJs in this tent were also able to play fuller sets and include not only their popular songs, but also their underground and new music. The tent also had some serious smoke machines that were able to fog up a big section of the crowd, so everyone could get down without anyone watching them.
Laidback Luke, Steve Aoki, Avicii and Afrojack all have many recognizable tracks. Although some people are sick of hearing the same songs repeatedly, because so many people know their music, their crowds are always wild. The audience is always on their feet jumping high into the air with their hands up, and the party is always fun. A friend of mine wanted to see the Super Mash Bros on Sunday, so I went along and they were hilarious. Most of the time, when artists are performing and speaking to the crowd, it’s almost as if the party dies down while they’re speaking. These guys had the crowd cheering and didn’t turn the music down even for a second while they were talking. It was almost as if they were MCing their whole performance. As a result, the crowd kept dancing and I really enjoyed their sets. Boys Noize and Skrillex also put on really great shows and had the crowds going crazy at the Live stage and in the Tower of Ultra.
There were so many people who said that Ultra isn’t worth it anymore because it’s too mainstream. Some EDM fans act like their lives will be over if they dare go near Ultra because it’s become the latest fad. I think that when 150,000 people are dancin’ in one place, it’s worth it. Heck, just seeing Empire of the Sun perform was worth it to me. I think people who aren’t even fans of electronic music would have certainly been wowed by the talented performances I saw that weekend. Who were your faves?