Ultra 2013: Richie Hawtin Delivers Sensory Overload, No Bottle Anthems
This year's main stage at Ultra Music Festival has seemed particularly heavy on so-called "confetti house," the lineup rife with marquee names from VIP-heavy megaclubs.
But the (relatively) more underground sounds of dance music -- or at least those not so concerned with encouraging bottle sales -- lived on at a few other tents. The Carl Cox and Friends stages at Ultra 2013, two this past Friday and one on Saturday, continue to serve as a refuge for deeper, techier sounds at the festival.
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As such, one of the rare treats came early Saturday evening with an appearance by techno god Richie Hawtin. Was a mass-appeal festival with shortened DJ slots the best place to hear him play? Not really -- the best Hawtin sets unfurl over the course of a club night and into the wee hours. Still, by Ultra terms, his allotted two hours seemed like a luxurious sprawl, with the full kind of narrative arc that rewards dancers who stick it out to the finish.
Hawtin's been mocked for helping create the trend for superminimal techno, but played at ear-crushing volumes, the sound yesterday was pleasantly full and dubby, locking into a robot groove from the start. Subtle variations in the tracks, carefully crescendoing song selection, and of course seamless mixing kept things moving without the flash gimmicks of many DJs on the main stage.
And yes, the kids still loved it -- thousands of revelers of a wide spread of ages packed the tent from the beginning, lost in careful concentration on the four-four. There wasn't a single easy vocal hook here, yet it was hard to turn away as Hawtin's set continued on its twists and turns until it reached a frenzied peak right after sundown.
Seemingly all of a sudden, things got very psychedelic. Bass pounded, the mid-range clanks and squeals ground along, and the hectagonal screens on the tent's ceiling lowered in an explosion of psychedelic vocals. It was totally possible to get a kind of euphoric high on the sensory overload, no bottle anthems required.