By Michael Hammersly
As wild and crazy as Winter Music Conference has been for Miami over the past 25 years, nothing captures the madness quite like the two-day Ultra Music Festival, the week's official closing party. And once again, the biggest dance-music festival in America - now in its 12th year - delivered on its promise of serving up the best DJs and electronic acts together in one venue, Friday, Marc 26 and Saturday, March 27 across the spacious Bicentennial Park in downtown Miami.
Last year's event attracted more than 85,000 revelers from all over the world, and this year was expected to approach 100,000 people, gathered to see top artists including Tiesto, Paul Oakenfold, Carl Cox and Deadmau5.
Christian Holstein, 22, of Columbus, Ohio, was here with his girlfriend, Lindsey Saxe, checking out Ultra for the first time.
"I drove 17 hours from Ohio just to see this music festival, and it's just awesome," he said. "I just love to dance and listen to electronic music - it's my thing. you know?
I'm learning to be a DJ myself, so to see DJs like Pretty Lights and Tiesto - it's great."Jersey boy Rich Stesner, 27, here enjoying the sounds of DJs Rusko, Caspa and Benga on Saturday, finds a different inspiration at Ultra: "The women. The women are beautiful here."
Fellow Jerseyite Brittany, 20, was looking forward to seeing "Benny Benassi, Tiesto, Deadmau5, Kaskade, all of them. We were in Orlando the rest of the week and came here to Miami specifically for Ultra."
Friday's musical highlights predictably included epic closing sets from trance and house superstars such as Tiesto, Carl Cox and Felix da Housecat on the big stages, but lesser obvious gems were a lively set by up-and-coming electronic-pop band Passion Pit, driven by singer Michael Angelakos' fierce falsetto; and mind-blowing techno with squelching, deep bass by Felix Cartal in the insane asylum-like Root Society Dome, where debaucherous dancers gyrated on jungle-gym like platforms.
Outrageous outfits were the norm at Ultra - Day-Glo anything was popular - but most common were guys' T-shirts bearing the phrase "I'm In Miami, Bitch," referring to the group LMFAO's hit song honoring the Magic City (one notable exception was a shirt reading "I'm From Ecuador, Bitch").
Saturday was even wilder musically, with Benny Benassi dishing out hard electro beats including his hit "Satisfaction" (which was featured in a commerical for Wendy's fast food in 2005); Erick Morillo of Subliminal Sessions fame spinning angelic, vocal house including a version of Radiohead's hit "Creep" and an echoing, "Tubular Bells"-like take on
Delerium's trance anthem "Silence" - a new take on an old favorite; and British superstar duo Sasha & Digweed typically starting out slowly, with deep, minimal bass, subtle beats and spacey synth blasts, leading into expanding sonic textures and pulsing trance blips that climax in a powerful, euphoric groove. No dancers, no gimmicks, no vocals - just world-class progressive house music.
But the moment that might have outshined them all - and summed up the entire Winter Music Conference experience, really - was when Dutch DJ Sander Kleinenberg threw down a long, driving dance track that declared, "This Is Not..." followed by at least 50 rhyming cities - from L.A. to Bombay, Shanghai to Dubai. Of course, it then sent the crowd into fist-pumping frenzy with the epic statement, "This Is Miami!"
And so it is.
Photo: Tomas Loewy