Ultra Day 2 Recap: Garrix Wows, Bassnectar Inspires, and the Weather Cooperated
The sun showed up. So did Usher.
Is there anything better than blue skies after a storm? Day Two of Ultra basked in some classic Floridian early spring weather after Day One's rains and 90-something temps. Fans showed up to Bayfront Park Saturday, March 28 early, many taking advantage of the sunshine to show some skin (in many cases, perhaps too much of it). With the sun out but not too hot, everyone got to enjoy the things that make Ultra and its Miami location so special: you can lay on the grass feel a bay breeze in the shadow of skyscrapers just as the beats start to drop.
Despite a shift in focus away from main stage sounds by many artists, the day's most talked-about set came from the Ultra Main Stage, where Martin Garrix emerged behind the decks at dusk. Garrix seemed to have the crowd right where he wanted them as he quite easily incited a veritable riot with the twist of a knob. Halfway through a set in which he played exclusively his own records, he took the mic to announce a special guest, recent collaborator, R&B superstar, and occasional host of The Voice, Usher. The crooner walked on stage to perform their song "Don't Look Down" while somewhere a savvy A&R exec made a note to find more producers who make tropical progressive house.
After a day of tech-your-face-off tunes at Carl Cox & Friends, MK helped the shift in programming to be more house-leaning. Seth Troxler followed with some upbeat tech house as overhead aerialists rotated precariously above him. While the outspoken opponent of all things EDM was indeed playing at one of the most EDM of all festivals, Troxler seemed genuinely engaged and delighted to be spending an hour and a half playing records. (As it turns out, he and Garrix are actually buddies.) The crowd here was a particularly dazed one, so to speak, especially for a late afternoon set. A man next to me asked who was playing several times, until I stopped telling him and just pointed to the mammoth LED screen, which had been flashing the words "Seth Troxler" for at least 15 minutes. C'mon bro.
While yesterday's Live Stage rainout left everyone bummed out, Bassnectar's headline set there was a good makeup. He played a feverish hour of larger-than-life sonic waves led by a mind-boggling mix of heavy bass laid over hip-hop, dancehall, and dub. It also was one of the day's only use of truly immersive, detailed visuals, the likes of which sucked the gyrating crowd into a wormhole that even included scenes from the Karate Kid. In terms of energy, no other performance on Saturday could even come close. One guy apparently got so worked up that he got down on one knee and popped the question to his lady in front of the crowd. 'Til bass do they part.
Earlier, Colorado electro-jam duo Big Gigantic brought the hippie vibes to the Live Stage and a festival that typically eschews the weird. As their fans may have noticed, they have slightly adjusted their full-on womp-only sound to something that wades casually into the EDM waters, with drops and choruses and so on. Maybe that's what it takes to go from playing summer camping fests to Ultra. Still, they killed it.
Joris Voorn's mid-afternoon set of glossy tech-house on the Resistance Stage set a standard of attendance for the evening at the tucked-away hub of deep clubby vibes. The coolest thing about this stage is that people there have realized you can dance without facing the DJ. To other quirky tucked-away underground festival havens like Electric Zoo's Sunday School and Coachella's Yuma and Do Lab, Resistance is proving to be a worthy cohort, if not competitor.
On the arc-like structure that is the Ultra Worldwide stage, Galantis kept correct with the type of audio that had a packed crowd in full pogo-mode. Most people were singing along to anthems like "Gold Dust" while continuing to jump towards the sun with reckless abandon. It was aerobic to say the least. House music's faux-priest Tchami switched the directions with a set of upfront house rhythms, cheeky bootlegs, and a quick mixing perfect for everyone's ADD. The crowd quickly succumbed to the artist's debut Ultra sermon with shuffle circles galore. Even leftover electro-lovers from Galantis were converted.
With Japan as the theme for the day (despite the fact that zero artists on the stage had anything in particular to do with Japan), Ultra Worldwide surprised with its diversity of genre. From Laidback Luke and Boys Noize and Cedric Gervais, artists who have in many cases held down sets on the Main Stage. Giving fans a diverse spread of bigger artists, in a more intimate setting is the kind of music discovery experience festivals are supposed to be about.
Not every set was sunshine, though. The arrival of Grammy-winning violin-dance band Clean Bandit on the Live Stage had the crowd abuzz. Opening their set with "Real Love," their recent collab with Jess Glynne, the band quickly moved into some of the more housey cuts from the album, New Eyes. Despite the build-up, their performance fell a bit flat and even a bit awkward. Sound and technical difficulties throughout the hour didn't help, but it's possible that a violin and electric cello just can't compete with the endless throb of bass from surrounding stages.
When Steve Aoki took his braids and recent anti-cake ethos to the Main Stage it was still light out when his first bleep hit the air. Still, the crowd couldn't resist acquiescing when he instructed them to switch their phones to flashlight mode and wave them overhead. Perhaps that's the only way to distract 10,000 people from a "Wonderwall" remix in 2015. Then after jumping on the decks and announcing a song called "Cake Face," he was quickly handed—surprise!—a cake. Some things never change. As if drawn by the clarion call of antics, Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike appeared to perform as part of their occasional menage-a-bro with Aoki that they beguilingly call 3 Are Legend. Nobody asked for this.
Elsewhere, high points came courtesy of Get Real, the new collaboration between Green Velvet and Claude Vonstroke, who debuted their tag-team project for the first time at a festival. Loco Dice paved the way for Carl Cox's explosive closing two hours on his own stage. LA duo and Freelife progenitors Bixel Boys played to a sparse crowd at the UMF Radio Stage, but those who were there smiled and danced throughout the set, indicating that the bassy act could handily return next year on a larger stage.
Saturdays are usually the peak of attendance and cultural moments of any three-day festival and for the most part, Ultra delivered on the promise of its second day. But the Ultra 2015 story is not over yet.
David is raving IRL and on Twitter.