Hear the 5 Most Unforgettable Sets from Ultra 2016

Pendulum on the Main Stage at Ultra 2016. Photo © Drew Ressler/Rukes.com.

Pendulum closing out the Main Stage at Ultra 2016. Photo © Drew Ressler/Rukes.com.

The 2016 festival season kicked off last weekend with Ultra Music Festival in Miami, one of the biggest EDM events of the year. Ultra, rivaled only by EDC in scale and production among American music festivals, boasted a typically stacked lineup of headliners including Avicii, Deadmau5, Knife Party (and Pendulum), Armin van Buuren, Martin Garrix, The Chainsmokers, and many more.

With so many incredible artists playing simultaneously across seven stages, one person couldn’t possibly cover them all. What I can share with you is the experiences from last weekend that I will never forget. This is a list of the five most incredible sets I had the privilege to witness at Ultra 2016. I hope they hit you just as hard.

#1. Eric Prydz

Eric Prydz at the ASOT Stage on Sunday. ©️ J.T. Fales

Eric Prydz at the ASOT Stage on Sunday. ©️ J.T. Fales

Eric Prydz‘s hypnotic, thrumming techno set at the A State of Trance stage on Sunday night was augmented by a typically exceptional light show that gave the music shape and color. It was an hour of pure energy and excitement, propelled by the beats of Eric and his alter egos, Pryda and Cirez D. The set consisted mostly of newer material, such as “Rebel XX,” and, of course, included a few IDs. It was such an absorbing performance that I couldn’t peel myself away from the experience even as friends texted me warning that I was going be late to Knife Party’s mainstage closing show. I just couldn’t imagine being any happier than I was basking in the repetitive beats and dazzling lights of Mr. Prydz as a cold, light rain fell on my skin. By the time “Opus” started nudging its way into the set toward the very end, I knew I had just witnessed the best set of Ultra 2016.

#2. Deadmau5, ASOT Stage

Deadmau5 at the ASOT Stage Sunday. ©️ J.T. Fales

Deadmau5 at the ASOT Stage Sunday. ©️ J.T. Fales

You can always count on a last minute twist or two at Ultra – and odds are that Deadmau5 will have something to do with it. This year, it took the form of an unexpected hat trick by Mr. Joel Zimmerman himself. Already scheduled to perform on Sunday at the A State of Trance stage (a shock in itself, as host Armin van Buuren alludes to in the recording of his set), Deadmau5 was called in to replace the Prodigy on Saturday at the last minute. Then on Sunday, the the Mau5 was briefly trotted out onto the mainstage by Pendulum when they played “Ghosts n Stuff.

While I felt that his Live Stage set on Saturday night was disjointed (the highlight being when he dropped NOISIA‘s searing remix of the Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up”), Deadmau5 rose to the challenge of Sunday’s performance in the ASOT megastructure. Like Eric Prdyz, Deadmau5 went deep for this set, crafting a delicious techno treat that shied away from his own extensive oeuvre in favor of a consistent, subterranean sound featuring artists like Maceo Plex and Jooris Voorn. (Of course, it wouldn’t be a Deadmau5 set without some conspicuous trolling. He kicked off his otherwise coherent set with a furious metal track, apparently a reference to a joke he’d made on Twitter. Feel free to skip the first two minutes of the recording. Beware also a NSFW rant about 40% through his set when his DJ equipment briefly gave out.)

#3. NERO

Nero at the Live Stage on Saturday. ©️ J.T. Fales

Nero at the Live Stage on Saturday. ©️ J.T. Fales

On Sunday, dubstep titans NERO rocked the Live stage with an electrifying live set, amplified by drum pads, synths, and of course, the live vocals of singer Alana Watson. Despite the relatively simple stage setup (when juxtaposed with the overproduction of the Main Stage, Resistance Stage, and Megastructure), NERO managed to absolutely slay the audience with their signature bassy riffs. This was the rare live set that may even sound better recorded than it was live, as it is easier to tell where the songs were augmented from their studio counterparts.

#4. BOTNEK

Botnek at Stage 7. Photo © J.T. Fales

Squirreled away on Stage 7 was one of the most potent weapons on Friday’s lineup: bass music duo Botnek. Their high-energy, vomitstep set was far the highlight of my Friday at Ultra. Filled with remixes of 90’s throwbacks and dirty, dirty drops, Botnek got the crowd thrashing around and dancing with a visceral fervor. It was one of those special sets where the music wordlessly brought me together with other dancers to rock out to one special song or another, whether it was Botnek’s definitive remix of The Chainsmokers‘ “Selfie,” or an edit of Rage Against the Machine‘s testosterone-tastic anthem “Testify.” At the end, I even heard one dancer wonder aloud that he couldn’t remember “the last time I danced that hard sober.”

#5. SNBRN

SNBRN at the Worldwide Stage on Sunday. Photo © J.T. Fales.

SNBRN at the Worldwide Stage on Sunday. Photo © J.T. Fales.

SNBRN played the Worldwide stage on Saturday in the mid-afternoon Miami light, a perfect setting for the captain of the “sunset house” movement. The only daytime set on this list, this one is a marked contrast to the techno and bass-heavy sounds of the immersive minor-key experiences of Eric Prdyz, Deadmau5, NERO, and Botnek. I was pleasantly surprised by SNBRN’s feel-good set, which was a well-mixed serving of groovy melodic house songs with considerable trap and hip-hop influence, including his hits “Gangsta Walk,” “California,” and “Raindrops.” While the others on this list left me feeling exhausted and fulfilled, SNBRN’s set recharged me and left me feeling good.

Find Me at Ultra 2016 for Free Stickers and Wristbands!

This weekend I’m in Miami, Florida, for Ultra Music Festival 2016. After years of livestreaming the event, I’m excited to finally be here to experience it in person. Day 1 is already over, and it did not disappoint. I’ll be posting a review about the whole experience soon. In the meantime, make sure to follow me on Snapchat (username: theEDMist) for live stories straight from Bayfront Park!

But more importantly – if you spot me inside, be sure to come say hi! I’ve got 200 wristbands to give away and a whole bunch of stickers.

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The EDMist wristbands say “E PLURibus Unum | One Beat. Much Love.”

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The wristbands say “E PLURibus Unum | One beat. Much Love.” As a refresher, E pluribus unum is a Latin phrase on the United States seal that means “From many, one.” I like how the idea can apply to EDM – many genres united in one community. (As a bonus, it happens to have the word PLUR – short for the rave credo of Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect – baked into it, so it seemed too perfect not to use.) The second part – “One beat. Much love.” – gets at the same idea of electronic dance music sharing certain base elements like a 4/4 beat while encompassing a staggering diversity of musical styles (not to mention the fans!).

I’ve also got a whole bunch of stickers with the same phrase and my Snapcode printed on them. Look for these in the crowd and try to find me!

 

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About to head into day 2 to see Nero. See you at Ultra!

 

Weekend Listening 4/3/15: New Music and Sets from Ultra 2015

This week, we were graced with many of the livesets from Ultra 2015. I look forward to listening to many of them over the next few weeks. Of the ones I’ve listened to so far, I highly recommend Eric Prydz‘s. His sets are melodic, arpeggiated, slowly morphing journeys of the body and mind that take you by the hand and lead you through a wild landscape of emotion and elation. It’s too early to say for sure, but this may well end up taking the crown for best set of Ultra 2015.

Skrillex‘s set, which closed out the festival on Sunday night, is a stunner of a different kind. This one is all energy, all the time. The first half of his set might as well be called Skrillex’s Greatest Hits in 30 Minutes, while the second half features more A-list cameos than a Hollywood house party. At some point, it becomes clear that this performace is no longer a Skrillex show: it has transcended to become a superjam of some of the best and brightest names in the industry. I think a text I received from a friend today sums it up best: “Holy crap have you heard the Skrillex Ultra Set? Jesus. Insane.”

If you’re in need of something quicker-to-the-bloodstream, check out this beauty of a song revealed by Mat Zo on April first. In response to a tweet charging that “Your genre is ‘dance music’. You don’t do country, rock, folk, jazz or classical,” Mat replied simply, “really?” with a link to this song. In a tweet that appears to have been deleted, he said something along the lines of, “You can decide for yourself if it’s an April fool’s joke.” But the careful, airy production of this song makes it clear that this is anything but a joke. In fact, it will leave you wanting more.

And I have to say, Mr. Prydz blew me away with a production he dropped just before going onstage for his set at Ultra. “Generate” was featured in the coveted opening slot on ABGT this week, and with good reason. It’s a classic uplifting Prydz tune that follows in the tradition of his remix of CHVRCHES‘ “Tether” – which he debuted unforgettably at Ultra 2014 as the centerpiece of his set. (For what it’s worth, I also think Eric’s set from Ultra 2014 was the best of that festival. If you take a listen – and well you should – make sure to watch the video for the full effect of his incredible visuals.)

If you’re looking for something to get your blood pumping again after that Skrillex & co. set, check out this filthy goodness from Far Too Loud. It’s a remix of Zomboy‘s “Delirium” (feat. Rykka) with a drop that will take you from space down to the underworld. The weird vowely sounds that go nuts remind me of Snails‘ signature sound, which has been catching on around the EDM scene like wildfire.

That’s all for now. For more song recommendations, follow me on Soundcloud, where I repost the best of EDM for your listening pleasure.