When many die-hard ravers talk about their ‘Bucket List’ festivals, Ultra Music Festival (UMF) normally sits amongst the top 3 (normally Tomorrowland and EDC Las Vegas are up there too). So what’s the big deal?! Well we’re here to tell you all about the Miami Magic in our in-depth review. Bread attended UMF in 2015, as he travelled the entire coast of Florida with some friends, during Spring Break. In this review, we’ll give you all the info on the festival, where to go, what it’s like, where to stay, tickets blahblahblah – basically, everything you need to know in order to have the sickest time.
The line up for this festival is always incredible and it really does feel like a celebration of all things electronic. Headliners have included huge names such as Axwell /\ Ingrosso, Skrillex, Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren (who hosts his own stage every year for A State Of Trance), Carl Cox (who also hosts his own Carl Cox & Friends night in the Megastructure), Martin Garrix, Steve Angello, ZEDD, Seth Troxler and incredible live acts like Cypress Hill, The Prodigy, Pendulum and Justice. Ultra Miami is so special that even the superstar trio Swedish House Mafia decided to play their final ever show there in 2013.
Since Ultra began in Miami 1999, it has grown exponentially in size and popularity, and the Ultra fever has spread to over 22 other countries, who now all host their very own Ultra Music Festival. Thanks to Ultra Worldwide you can now attend versions of UMF in Japan, Australia, India, Mexico, China, Ibiza, Chile….. the list goes on – but let’s talk about where it all began – MIAMI!
Where It’s At?
Now we can’t give a full review of this festival without at least talking about the beautiful city of Miami. This beautiful city spreads across in to separate islands and has the third tallest skyline in all of USA. You’ve got Downtown Miami where you’ll find hundreds of shops, bars, clubs, restaurants, hotels, and skyscrapers – everything you’d expect from a busy and flashy American city. Across a long bridge to the East, you have Miami Beach and world-famous South Beach. This is basically one very long and beautiful beach (littered with beautiful people) that stretches for miles and miles and along that beach front you’ll find some of the swankiest (and most expensive) places to eat, drink and party. It really is worth checking out, if you have the time, and we really recommend you stay for the sunset. As we did say before, this is a very FLASHY city, so expect to see lots of good looking cars, buildings, beaches, men, women, boats – everything looks good here. Now, although we didn’t spend enough time to see ALL of Miami, there are a few parts of the city where the kinda’ vibe changes. As with any city, try to keep in the more populated and busy areas late at night, as it can be quite easy to get lost and find yourself in an unfamiliar neighbourhood.
After the HUGE rise in attendance the between Ultra Music Festival Miami between 1999-2000 (originally hosted at Collins Park, Miami Beach), the festival was moved to the picturesque Bayfront Park, which sits comfortably by the harbour and is surrounded by towering skyscrapers. It’s a really cool environment for a festival and the Ultra team always do a fantastic job of immersing you in a Dance Festival, when in reality you are right in the middle of one of America’s most famous cities. The park (and festival) isn’t as big as it may seem when you see photos or watch aftermovies, but it never seems too small or crowded. As the festival has been going on for so long now, everyone in Miami seems to be ‘down with the program’. The park is shut off early on, allowing them to build the big stages and the world famous ‘Megastructure’. The grass, trees and features are all looked after and the park is well maintained before the festival, as they prepare for the world famous UMF.
Where to Stay
Now, as this isn’t a camping festival, we feel it’s pretty important to let you guys know where to stay. The 32 foot long Bayfront Park is situated in Biscayne Bay, at the Southern part of Downtown Miami. We would really recommend staying within Downtown Miami to avoid paying for expensive taxis or walking too far (if you’re thinking of staying in South Beach, it’s a 90 minute walk to Ultra). We stayed in a really nice and affordable hotel: The Hilton Downtown, Downtown Miami. We had some really great views of the city from our room, and even a rooftop pool. The best thing about this hotel was the fact that it took less than 20 minutes to walk from there to Ultra Music Festival. We must also mention how nice it was to end a festival and go back to ACTUAL beds and showers, as opposed to damp tents and mud… that’s what we are normally used to. Remember to book your hotels as early as possible, as this is one of the busiest weeks in the city every year. Some of our friends even managed to get a Holiday Inn booked which was DIRECTLY opposite from Bayfront Park. So, as soon as you buy those tickets, sort your hotel out asap, to avoid disappointment!
Can Y’all Feel That, Can Y’all Feel That.. UHHH!
Ultra Music Festival in Miami takes place during the final 3 days of Miami Music Week: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. It started as a one day event for 10,000 people in 1999, then grew to two days in 2007 (50,000 people) and due to the ever-increasing popularity 2011 saw UMF become a 3 day monster festival with 165,000 attendees in 2017…. DAYYYYUM!! Pre-sale tickets have been known to sell out for Ultra in under 5 minutes – basically…. It’s a popular festival. People (just like Bread) travel from all over the world, from many different continents, countries and states, to see what all the fuss is about.
Both Miami Music Week and the Winter Music Conference take place on the last week of March and they are the premiere platform for electronic dance music, with thousands of attendees every year. Miami Music Week (MMW) is a collection of banging parties and events held around Miami and South Beach during, and leading up to Ultra Music Festival. There are pool parties, rooftop parties, beach parties, club parties, concerts, etc. All these events hosted by the Winter Music Conference organization are considered “official events”. Some of the official WMC events are free while others are exclusively for WMC badge holders. There are many other non-official parties which are organized by independent promoters, artists, and venues to attract the crowd gathered in Miami. Lots of world famous DJs and Record Label’s host their own events e.g. Bread went to Spinnin’ Sessions at Nikki Beach, South Beach, the day before Ultra.
The dates for Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival traditionally overlap. Rather than briefly discuss this, we will do a separate feature on our website about Miami Music Week, in which we’ll give more detailed info on how the week works, what goes on and how to plan the ultimate Miami trip around Ultra. Basically, most of the best producers and DJs on the planet, all come together for one week, in Miami, and there is A LOT of parties. So yeah… it’s pretty awesome.
Bienvenidos A Bayfront
The first day of any festival is always the most exciting, and Ultra Miami is no different. The festival starts at 4pm on the Friday (until 12am), whereas it kicks off at 12pm on Saturday and Sunday (closing 12am Saturday and 11pm Sunday). However you decide to arrive, you will need to walk to the festival entrance itself, as the road alongside the festival is closed. The walk to the festival is so much fun due to the thousands of party people dancing and chanting in the street and waving flags around. The entrance to the UMF works well with a structured long queueing system, split with metal rails down the middle. The security flows through quite quickly and we never felt unsafe or threatened when accessing the park. Ultra Miami did have a few security issues back in 2014, with people trying to climb over the gates and guard being trampled and hospitalised… not cool! Luckily, since then, Ultra have upped their security game and increased the minimum age limit to 18+. We think this is a wise decision, as EDM festivals can present many dangers for younger people. They now have a ‘Clear Bag Policy’, in order to expedite entry whilst still promoting security.
One of Bread’s fondest memories of UMF is that feeling of running through the gates and seeing the festival for the first time. As soon as you enter, you are immediately immersed in the American EDM wonderland. You have a big booming Archway-styled stage immediately in front of you, the booming Megastructure peering to your left, American dance-fanatics showing off their colourful kandi and shuffling around you – it’s the perfect introduction to one of the biggest and most famous dance events in the world!
Stage After Stage, Slowly Drifting
UMF isn’t a gigantic festival, but it works well in the space that it has. There are usually at least 6 stages, all of which vary in their visual style and musical genre. It never takes more than 5-10 minutes to walk from stage to stage and the festival does a really great job of containing the music at each stage, without the sounds overlapping and being heard from other stages.
We’ll start by talking about the Mainstage. This Big Mamaa sits right in the centre of the festival, with a huge space in front of it for all the attendees to bust some shapes. There’s even a few shade-providing trees in the crowd space, which have become quite famous in recent years after receiving some hugs and ‘love’ from some VERY happy ravers.. The stage itself is a real visual extravaganza!! As a platform for many of the world’s best Electronic artists, it seems quite fitting that the Mainstage always has a very Electronic theme to it. The stage changes it appearance every year, but it has always followed a similar blueprint: an Ultra ‘U’ symbol, long straight and curved light panels forming shapes and a heavy use of black and silver metals, not to mention the epic lasers and fireworks that make an appearance after the sun goes down. The sound system from the stage is, as you would expect, INCREDIBLE. We were worried that the volume might be quite low due to the location (right in the middle of the city) but.. NOPE. Bread has some unforgettable memories of standing in that Mainstage crowd, turning around and seeing the lasers and lightshows bouncing off of the towering skyscrapers that surround the festival… amazing.
As with any Dance Festival, it’s not all about the Mainstage!! One of the best stages is the Ultra Live stage – playing host to various DJs, bands and producers, all of whom perform LIIIIIIVE! The stage is set out in a theatre / auditorium format, with rows of seats curving around a hill and a large area for dancing (yeah that’s right dancing, not standing!!) right in front of the stage. There’s always something extra special about live performances, as the instrumental and electronic sounds are authentic and crisp. If you get the chance, try and see a tropical house set here.. someone like Kygo (saw him in 2015), Bakermat (again… amazing in 2015), Klingande. The sexy saxophone in the sun will send you in to a super happy chilled out trance. Love it!!
The Ultra Megastructure is just INSANE. It’s just a gigantic, enormous, massive, huge beast of a stage. Carl Cox & Friends and A State of Trance usually take over the Megastructure, with Coxy himself closing off the Friday every year. The entire ceiling is made up of these mammoth light panels, reflecting off the light shows and lazers from the front. The sound is crystal clear and the music that plays in there compliments this impressive tech perfectly.
Other stages include the epic Ultra Worldwide stage – with light panels and screens curving over the crowd and forming an archway. There is the Ultra Radio stage which is a smaller stage for a more intimate, yet still very energetic experience. A special shoutout goes out to the RESISTANCE stage. This musical platform plays nothing but Underground, Techno and Tech-House ALL weekend. The DJs at this stage perform from the inside of a giant spider, the world-famous Arcadia Spider. At night, this huge metallic arachnid spits flames, sparks, fireworks into the air, all in time with the infectious heavy basslines of techno music.
The Ultra Experience
The real charm of this festival is its location. The energy of the momentous occasion is intensified by the excitement you feel from Miami as a city. We were really impressed by the crowd and all the excited Ultra attendees. We met lots of people who had travelled from many different parts of the world, and most of them were really making the most out of being there. As much as we enjoyed the high energy crowd, there was definitely a different vibe in comparison to lots of European festivals. We can’t quite put our finger on what exactly why it felt so different… The electronic music scene is still relatively new to America when compared to Europe, and sometimes it felt like everyone was a bit ‘too excited’. What we mean by this is, you’ll see lots of people covering their faces in kandi and shuffling on their own, quite a few mosh pits, not many people want to socialise. Although everyone really seemed like they were enjoying themselves, it seemed like there was a lot of people who were just there as a place to take photos and drugs. We saw more ‘messed up’ people on drugs at this festival than we have seen at many others, but we never felt unsafe. We have mentioned this growing ‘artificial happiness’ feelings in our other review (see Tomorrowland Review) and it is quite apparent here. It just seems that, with the increasing rise of social media and networking, many people just want to brag about ‘being at Ultra’.
This festival really is all about the music. You won’t find any fairground rides, hidden stages, food courts… nope! Don’t get us wrong – there are places to sit, eat and have a drink. The festival was (and still is in 2017) sponsored by Heineken, so there was always plenty of premium beer, with bars dotted around the festival, with at least one at every stage. There are toilets and free water stations all over Bayfront Park and all of these amenities are well kept and accessible.
This wasn’t a cheap holiday for us Brits… Of course it was always going to be more expensive travelling all the way to America for a festival, rather than a trip to one of the hundreds of festivals in Europe. In 2015, we purchased our GA (general admission) tickets for Ultra Music Festival on the UMF website for a total of $324.90 (almost £250) and this was made up of a $299.95 ticket price (approx. £226) and a $24.95 delivery charge to UK (approx. £19). We did have some issues with the delivery of the tickets, as we were told that they COULD have arrived up to no later than 10 days before the event… luckily they didn’t as we would have already been travelling around Florida at that time.
The food and drinks were not cheap, but that is to be expected at most EDM festivals (well.. not at Balaton Sound). Beers were around $8 (£6) which is quite expensive, even for festival standards. As it stands, Ultra is not a cashless festival, so you will need to pay with ‘dem dollardollar bills y’all! There are ATMs spread out over Ultra, but be advised – the queues can be very long.
PRODUCTION / STAGE DESIGN
Each stage is unique, yet similar. The stage designs are simple yet complex. There is no specific ‘theme’, just a real celebration of electricity – with electronic music, lights, lasers, pyrotechnics and fireworks.
Incredible sound at every stage. UMF does a great job at containing sounds at each stage, even though the festival itself isn’t massive.
CROWD / ATMOSPHERE
People come from all over the world to party at Ultra, and it’s easy to see why. Although we are glad they bumped the age limit up to 18+, it still felt like an immature festival at times. This may be due to the popular trap-style music with live pop vocalists and newfound ‘molly’ culture.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Free water points are always good, but prices for admission, food and drink are quite high. The admission price does no cover any form of accommodation or transport to the festival.
FESTIVAL LAYOUT / VENUE
Considering Bayfront Park isn’t HUGE, we think Ultra have done a really decent job at managing space well – with good distance between stages and effective sound containment.
OVERALL FESTIVAL SCORE
Ultra Music Festival is one of those festivals that we’d urge any festival fanatic to attend. It’s a very flashy festival in a very flashy city – and that works! The real standout star of this festival is the fantastic location: right in the heart of the city and surrounded by skyscrapers. The lineup is always amazing, and there really is something for everyone. If you’re making the trip from Europe, we’d recommend checking out other parts of Miami Music Week too, to really get the most out of your money.