Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ultra Music Festival Report: Day 2

We were up super late the night before so we weren't in that big a hurry to get to the show, especially because we knew we wanted to stay to the end. Getting in was a madhouse again, although a bit faster this time. Funny enough the first act we ended up seeing was Skrillex, not sure if you know about this guy but he has really caught on in popularity lately. He is also the subject of much ridicule at the same time, Skrillex produces crazy dubstep music that is the definition of love-it-or-hate-it but he is a terrible live DJ. He's relatively new to the scene so maybe he will improve, but this video has already become infamous around the net:


Skrillex and his fans are pretty much the definition of brostep, and if you don't know what that is then good. He does the the crowd going though, just not my type of crowd.


As such we didn't stay too long for Skrillex and decided to make our way to the Tower of Ultra stage to see some drum n' bass. I was definitely feeling the vibe more, dubstep can become tiresome unless it's done really well (Rusko for instance) but drum n' bass is much harder to resist. We caught the very end of Feed Me and saw a good bit of Goldie, neither of who I had heard before but both rocked it. The wind was whipping through the shaded tent which felt incredibly refreshing and energized the crowd. Next up was Simian Mobile Disco, and when it got close to time that became all I could think about.


Simian Mobile Disco is one of my favorite electronic groups ever. I love their sound, but more importantly it is their style and musicinaship in a live setting that really sets them apart. Their tower of equipment is fully visible and you can see them working to make the music. I've always preferred being able to fully realize the talent it takes to create this music, not just play and mix others' tunes. Acts like Orbital, Prefuse 73, Chemical Brothers and Simian stimulate me the most with their live rigs, and if you've got great songs to match then you're golden in my book. Simian did however get stuck with a weird time slot this year, still fully light out playing a little before sunset on the live stage. Last time I saw them at Ultra they closed out the live stage and it was literally seizure inducing (as in I saw a guy drop right in front of me into a seizure and had to help carry him out of the crowd because his fucked up friends did nothing). So really the reduced risk of that happening again and the lack of conflicts at the time made me able to enjoy their set fully and really watch what they were doing.


 Not that I understand half of what the guys of Simian can do, but it didn't matter. Their show was banging, they played most of their hits and although it was slightly skewed to their newer album (which is not as good as the first) they made the songs come alive a lot more than on record. An instant highlight for me.
 

After the show there was some small debate about staying for Boys Noize or heading to Moby, but we decided we wanted to check out the crazy tent and I knww for a fact that Moby was going to destroy the tent. And damn he brought it hard, if you think a Moby DJ set sounds anything like his stuff off Play you'd be in for a surprise. The big beats he was dropping combined with the insane setting of the tent (just look at that thing) made for a completely wild and satisfying set. Props to the diminutive vegan for coming hard with such a large sound. I had to leave before he finished to catch some Cut Copy, but what I saw was more than satisfying.






Cut Copy has been one of my favorite bands the past couple of years. I remember first listening to their album Bright Like Neon Love, which seems like forever ago, and definitely enjoying their mellow electronic sound but it wasn't until their second album In Ghost Colors that sold me on them. It was a more fleshed out sound, big anthems of feel-goodness which move you both physically and emotional. Their new album Zonoscope came out this year, and while it didn't grab me as much at first as their previous it has steadily grown on me to be one of my favorite albums released this year. I was dying to see them again with their new material, so I was pretty bummed they were matched up against one of my other must-sees, Underworld. Luckily there was time to catch 3 songs, and each of them were perfect. They opened with one of my favorite tracks on In Ghost Colors titled Nobody Lost, Nobody Found and instantly the crowd was connected to the good vibes. From there they played one of their new tunes Corner of the Sky which crescendoed to an amazing finale, something Cut Copy does incredibly well. Their songs lend themselves to the build, and when those big drops hit it's nothing but pure euphoria. As the song ended I knew I would have to leave soon, but the opening chords of Lights and Music required me to stay for one more tune. We danced our asses off and then immediately began to hustle our way to the mainstage for Underworld.



Underworld are legends in electronic music, and have long been a favorite group of mine. Most known for their track "Born Slippy" used famously in Danny Boyle's Trainspotting they've been making great music since the early nineties, and continue to do so as their new album Barking is fantastic. Karl Hyde, the lead singer of Underworld, gives their group a unique energy that very few electronic groups can match, simply because they don't usually have vocalists that can amp up the crowd in the way that he does. This was my second time seeing Underworld, the last being at Ultra in 2008, and as soon as I got there I instantly was ok with having left Cut Copy early. Beginning with their classic live mash-up of Rez and Cowgirl set things off right, their tunes are often stretched out over long periods to build and build into crazy crescendos of energy with Karl running about the stage hyping the crowd up. 


The show was a mix of classics including Two Months Off, King of Snake, and the aforementioned Born Slippy, mixed in with a healthy dose of new cuts. I had only heard a bit of the new album but their new songs really struck me, particularly Between Stars and Scribble which I took some excellent video of and I think captures the energy of their show quite well. Karl's enthusiasm was palpable, and their team of producers behind their custom mixing board (Underworld always plays with a custom setup, they don't rock the normal DJ decks that most people playing the mainstage can just switch off on) gave him the music to feed off of. Even though the crowd was littered with Deadmau5 fans, many of whom probably didn't even really know who Underworld was, they were still enthralled. The extended tracks which could sometimes last over 10 minutes built to powerful endings that were impossible to resist. I'm sure Underworld made some new fans at this show, and he sure as hell pleased this old one.

 


Our group didn't want to stick around for Deadmau5, who was labeled as the true "headliner" for the day which is pretty bogus considering his body of work, so we pushed our way out of the thick crowd to go see Empire of the Sun. This is a band that's been on the radar a lot recently, their hit Walking On a Dream is known by many and I'm pretty sure has been in commercials as well. I wouldn't say that tune really gives an accurate depiction of their live show, it was a lot harder and intense than I expected. Adorned in some outrageous costumes with even more ridiculous visuals it was probably the trippiest show of the day I saw. The music went through many different movements, sometimes there were vocals and it was more traditionally song based and other times it was straight hard electronica. Discenerning their setup was ahrd sometimes, because often they played with instruments, guitar, drums and keyboards but then at other time it just seemed to be more sequencers and controllers doing all the work when they went deeper into the dance music side of thing. Whatever was going on it was clearly appropriate for the Ultra crowd, everyone around me was loving it. And when they closed with the hit Walking On a Dream the crowd went nuts, a completely satisfying conclusion to their crazy show. I must say also they were very photogenic with the costumes and awesome backdrop they had, so I definitely got some good pictures:


After Empire of the Sun ended I was beginning to succumb to exhaustion from the long day. We hung around the live stage for a bit and I caught the beginning of Sasha's set, which was cool but didn't get me going as much as some shows I had seen of his before. Sasha is another legend of the electronic music scene, often paired with John Digweed they were one of the premiere electronic duos stretching back into the 90s. It's hard to pigeonhole his music into one category of electronic music because he can pretty much do it all, to me it's sort of a best of both worlds mix of house and trance. His set here included a crazy visual setup which was cool, but it couldn't touch some of the legendary shows I'd seen of his before so we I didn't stay for too long and decided to wander around for the final 45 minutes of the day.
As I walked around I could see Deadmau5 playing, his show was in full swing, and it was a MUCH better scene than his disastrous show he played last year at Ultra when the speakers blew and the crowd was a horrendous mess. This time there was actually space to move around and you could hear and see well from the back, Ultra's new mainstage setup really was an improvement over previous years'. I guess though I've grown a bit weary of Deadmau5, his popularity is just so high and I don't feel he brings that much new to the table. His best album Random Album Title seems like a longtime ago and I'm just not that big a fan of his new work. I'm sorry but 4X4=12 is just nothing groundbreaking, for all the acclaim it gets it should be much better. His visual setup is one of the best in the game, but the best Deadma5 shows I saw were in 2009 before he had all that going on and it was more about the music (and better music). So I just kind of absorbed the scene for a bit, the crowd was definitely feeling it and I will say it was fun but still nothing as jaw-dropping as when I first saw him at Ultra in 2009 and he was causing stampedes from twirling peoples brains around so hard. I also wanted to check out some of Claude VonStroke before the evening was over so I booked it over the the Root Dome Society Tent which I had yet to have visited yet.

The scene here was much calmer than Deadmau5, a lot fewer people and a much simpler setup. Claude VonStroke is DJ I only knew a little about, mostly his infamous tune The Whistler, and clearly the Ultra crowd was in a similar mindset because the tent was no more than a third full. He played some cool stuff but the energy wasn't really there, and he seemed maybe like he was a little drunk himself (I definitely caught a sloppy mix into a new tune during his set). I did appreciate the dancers strewn about the stage but I only stayed for a bit and went back to check out the end of Deadmau5 and try and work out my ride situation.
Luckily I ended up catching a ride to and from the festival today from old Miami friends, which was clutch considering my car was still locked up and unmovable just blocks away from the festival. I went to check on it, I had gotten a ticket at this point but it was still there so that was really all I could ask for. My old roommate came and picked me up and we rendezvoused with my other friends and headed home. Another satisfying day in the books, this one definitely much smoother than the last. But still one more day to go...

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