Top three takeaways from Miami Music Week and Ultra Music Festival

Photo: Manny Hernandez

Electronic Dance Music’s electromagnetic spectrum probably shifted back and forth by the second as Miami Music Week descended on Miami Beach and the downtown area Wednesday and through the weekend’s Ultra Music Festival. The event had something for everyone.

Here are Anthony’s top three impressions of the week:

3. A factory and a panel
For Steve Angello, Miami Music Week was like a second coming of sorts. After closing out Ultra 2013 with Swedish House Mafia’s final performance, Angello dished on his upcoming album, Swedish House Mafia and the decade mark of his label, Size Records, as part of a creativity panel at the W South Beach last week (The Creativity Wake Up inspired by illy issimo). Angello opened up about his youth, how Swedish House Mafia became a “monster,” as well as giving away all his label’s songs for free online. It was an interesting look at Angello, who considers his life a “vacation.” He said he tried to stay away from digital technology with his new album, and offered to fix any wrongs within dance music now. And, besides his Sunday set at Ultra, he also played in front of hundreds at Wynwood’s abandoned RC Cola factory, an interesting venue that served as a big party for Size Records’ decade mark. Beyond the sets, Angello appreciated the panel, and said Miami needs to do more of them (we agree).

2. Jacked up
Perhaps the most diverse set at Miami Music Week was Sunday’s Ultra Music Festival world premiere performance by the newly formed duo of Jack U, made up of Diplo and Skrillex. The guys were able to weave in hip-hop, reggae and even reggaeton beyond the recognizable thumps of EDM. The set had a “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It” hip-hop style vibe, as the crowd seemed to lean back and forth in their dancing. The man of many catchphrases, Lil Jon, also made a cameo appearance in the DJ booth to spit the vocals on a Jack U mix of the current hit song “Turn Down For What.” Other mixes included Diplo’s “Revolution,” Flux Pavilion’s “I Can’t Stop” and even YG’s “My N**ga.” Beyond the DJ booth, a group of people to each side of the stage jumped rope and Diplo almost did himself as he climbed up onto the booth with a rope in his hand. Jack U closed by simply playing (no mixes) Toto’s “Africa,” a personal favorite, as they walked off the stage.

1. AVB is the MVP
Two performances at Ultra, one panel discussion, a private show, an invite-only lounge performance and a pool party. That about sums up Miami Music Week for Armin van Buuren, if only it were that simple. From the launch of his new Phillips-branded headphones, to a pool party at the Surfcomber, you could not miss AVB last week. At a panel at the W Hotel (where he played earlier at the Sirius/XM Lounge), the Grammy-nominated DJ dished on the success of “This Is What It Feels Like,” the acrobats involved with his upcoming world tour, dubbed INTENSE, and the pressure put on young DJs like Avicii, who was originally supposed to play after Van Buuren’s Ultra set, but he cancelled because of medical problems (Van Buuren referenced Avicii in his Ultra set). For his Phillips headphones launch, Van Buuren did about a 45-minute set at Baoli, mainly sticking to the mainstream tunes for the media in attendance, but he really showcased his talents at Ultra Saturday. Playing during intervals of rain showers, Van Buuren played his new video game-inspired track “Ping Pong,” and the back and forth beat was quite the buildup. The Dutch DJ, an EDM veteran at 37, was original throughout. At the panel earlier in the week, he talked about the demand for a follow-up to a chart topper like “That Is What It Feels Like.” It won’t happen. “I cannot do follow-ups,” he said.

And here are Ricardo’s top three impressions of the week:

3. Best Miami Music Week Party: Sirius/XM Miami Music Lounge
SiriusXM has hosted the Miami Music Lounge for eight years, and it continues to be one of the best events of the week. While many DJ events this week typically are massively expensive and immensely crowded, those who are lucky enough to swing an invite into this event are treated to some of the world’s biggest DJs. Among the line-up this year were veteran names like Armin van Buuren and Tiesto as well as new names like Martin Garrix and Dyro in an intimate poolside setting for this three-day, six-hour mini-festival at the W Hotel.

Not only is it a great way to experience the best of Ultra and MMW in a private setting, it is also a good place to spot major DJs who pass through to do interviews or grab swag such as custom-engraved watches from House of Horology, 808 Headphones or Razon wooden sunglasses. There even were some freebies for non-VIP invitees including open bar featuring Heineken and Smirnoff vodka as well as Olay Fresh Effects products. And for those who weren’t invited, they were able to tune in to SiriusXM to listen to the whole festival, a democratic way to share the party with the masses.

2. Best DJ Performance of the Week: Giorgio Moroder
Red Bull Guest House hosted a four-day lineup of music on the Gale Hotel’s glitzy rooftop pool deck that featured acts like dubstep superstar Skrillex and the eccentric North Floridian rapper Riff Raff (who showed up two hours late with green corn-rows and his signature grills). But none was more anticipated than Giorgio Moroder, a pioneer of electronic and disco music.

He dedicated an entire set to material he helped create, showing off an astonishing back catalog of amazing songs to choose from. He played remixes of some of his most famous works like Blondie’s “Call Me,” Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls,” Irene Cara’s “What A Feelin’” and even his new collaboration with Daft Punk “Giorgio by Moroder”. The exceptionally hip crowd was absolutely crazy for his music, dancing and singing the whole night as the sun came down on the party. The crowd was so mad for Giorgio that they demanded several encores of songs including “I Feel Love” and “Love to Love You Baby” and ran the party 30 minutes over. At the end, the revelers were over the moon with several overheard saying it was one of the best sets they’ve ever heard — there was even a grown man crying over how good it was. It was not only the best DJ set all week but likely one of the best to ever grace Miami.

1. Best Show At Ultra: M.I.A. at the Live Stage
There’s a reason why thousands of people travel from all over the world to go to Ultra over any other music festival: it has arguably one of the biggest lineups of world famous DJs performing in one weekend at any time in the year. Combine that with the sheer spectacle of a technically amazing stage and it can be an engrossing experience, even for non-EDM fans.

But despite all the talent the DJs brought, there was no reckoning with the force that was Sri Lankan musician M.I.A.’s performance in the MIA. She’s a tour-de-force with a massive stage presence and one of the few performers we’ve seen who has been able to fill the Bayfront Park Amphitheater with adoring fans. Her stage visuals were striking and bold, resembli
ng something Andy Warhol would create if he lived in Southeast Asia and had a Tumblr. Her set list was superb, capturing the right mix of the best of new and old material, playing deep cuts like “Uraqt” from her first album as well as new favorites “Double Bubble Trouble.” At one point, M.I.A. invited several hundred girls to join her on stage as she sang “Y.A.L.A.” (an acronym for “You Always Live Again,” her takedown of the YOLO – You Only Live Once – phrase). She even threw in a cover of Bob Marley’s “One Love,” which prompted the majority of the audience to light up suspicious-looking cigarettes. It was a stellar way to kick off her new tour and one of the best concerts in Miami in a long while.

Cover photo by Manny Hernandez. Story images by Tomas Loewy.