Ultra 2014: Why the Live Music Lineup Is a Big Improvement
"Who do you think we should book?"
It's a question that Ultra Music Festival founder Russell Faibisch asked me last year when I interviewed him for a feature about the iconic fest.
My answer: "I can't believe M.I.A. has never performed at Ultra."
Yesterday, I got my wish and more!
Photo by Ian Witlen New Order, playing Ultra's live stage in 2012.
I've always been a fan of Ultra's live stage. (It's gone through many incarnations. Remember when it was called the "dance rock arena"?)
While the main stage pushes big headliners and an insane amount of wattage, the live stage is the true measure of Ultra's feel for the pulse of contemporary music. Acts have ranged from electronic acts to rock bands to, lately, hip-hop acts. (I do think there is a place for hip-hop at Ultra, but more Weeknd and less Snoop Dogg, please.) The stage usually hosts an act that's contributed immensely to the genre (see New Order and Kraftwerk) while showcasing acts with an established following, along with up-and-comers.
Photo by Ian Witlen Kraftwerk at Ultra 2012.
Last year, though, was an odd one for the live stage. I couldn't help but notice that the stage failed to attract Ultra attendees through both weekends. I thought to myself that maybe Ultra had finally jump the shark. Kids no longer had any respect for legacy acts or artists who are trying to redefine what the words electronic music mean. Instead, today's ravers are looking for the next drop and a hit of molly. I left the festival feeling a little depressed about the state of the scene.
But I later came to the conclusion that there were a few problems that could have been avoided, including odd set times and sound bleed.
Photo by George Martinez Boys Noize, raging on the live stage in 2013.
And it wasn't that the 2013 lineup was subpar. Crystal Castles, Nicolas Jaar, Hot Chip, Sleigh Bells, Azealia Banks, and others are all great musicians who have achieved critical acclaim, but the poor planning kind of marred the whole experience.
Seriously, how do you put Nicolas Jaar against Swedish House Mafia and expect him to draw a crowd? Only a few acts, like Major Lazer and Boys Noize, were able to buck the trend.