Ultra music festival – review

Bayfront Park, Miami, US

If any proof were needed that dance music – or electronic dance music, or "EDM", as it's increasingly abbreviated – is breaking new ground in the US, it came at the Ultra music festival in Miami when Madonna joined Avicii onstage. A video showed will.i.am, David Guetta and the Dutch DJ Afrojack talking about EDM's creeping colonisation, over a soundtrack of Madonna's Music, before Madge herself appeared on stage with the 22-year old Swedish producer to stress there has always been a dance element to her music.

"I've finally made it to Ultra music festival. I've been here in spirit for many years," she insisted. "Electronic music has been a part of my career since I started, and I can honestly say … a DJ saved my life." She then went a little Mr C, asking: "How many people in this crowd have seen Molly?" Molly is US street slang for MDMA. Madonna's own album is released this week and is called MDNA. You do the marketing maths.

For 27 years, Miami has been home to the Winter music conference: an annual sojourn in the sun for the dance music industry. It's always been a heady affair but there was a different air of expectation this year because of the newfound US fondness for EDM. Dance music artists have headlined festivals including Lollapalooza, Coachella, SXSW and Austin City Limits; Las Vegas casinos are clambering to get the biggest DJs signed up to residencies; UK publication DJ magazine is launching a US edition next month; and now, sitting alongside the Winter music conference, comes the three-day Ultra festival, which sold out nearly three months in advance.

The event took place in Bayfront Park in Miami, overlooking Biscayne Bay on one side and overlooked by the towering downtown Miami skyline on the other. This was the location for the last-ever scene in Miami Vice, but the dominant look of the mainly teenage crowd was lessT-shirt-under-Armani-suit, more luminous bikini, glowsticks and a headdress.

There were eight stages or arenas, with the UK's Annie Mac and Carl Cox both hosting their own stages on different days. In among the fresh-faced headliners such as Avicii, who only released his first single a couple of years ago, it was reassuring to see a few iconic legends in New Order and Kraftwerk, both of whom played the live amphitheatre on Friday night. It gave a cynical older raver hope that the American kids who have had a dance epiphany in the last few years might realise that the history and legacy of electronic music stretches a little further back than the Grammy-winning Skrillex.

On Saturday, Annie Mac's stage had the more interesting lineup, with Brodinski and Gesaffelstein following up their storming Bromance party earlier in the week. 2 Many DJs also played a typically barnstorming set in the live arena.

Come Sunday, Crosstown Rebels artists Seth Troxler, Jamie Jones, Damian Lazarus and Art Department played the Worldwide stage while superstar DJs Kaskade, David Guetta and Armin van Buuren took over the main arena. Then Afrojack turned up to party on stage with his girlfriend Paris Hilton, who is rumoured to be preparing to launch herself as a DJ.

There hasn't always been a dance element to Paris Hilton, but the way things are going she probably won't be the last US star to claim otherwise.


Luke Bainbridge

The GuardianTramp

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