Ultra Music Festival 2013: Miami’s Music Mecca

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Ultra Music Festival 2013 expanded to two full weekends for their 15th anniversary (with Miami Music Week sandwiched nicely between the two).

While a few acts were specific to one weekend or the other, the majority of the performers were on hand for both weekends (albeit not always on the same stage as the other weekend).

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Independent Philly hit Miami mid-week between the two Ultra’s, in plenty of time to catch some of the warm up events and all of Ultra weekend 2.

We kicked off our coverage on Thursday, March 21st at the W Hotel in South Beach where Sol Republic, Motorola, Trident, and SiriusXM joined forces to present the Moto Music Lounge.

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The invite only event served as pop-up studio for the SiriusXM UMF broadcast and saw a slew of DJs and celebrities roll through to give interviews, hit the decks, or just relax and mingle.

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Thursday saw names like A-Trak, Rony Seikaly, Krewella, Calvin Harris, and Afrojack make appearances.

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The music was loud, the drinks were cold, and everyone had a great time, removed from the much larger crowds at other Miami area events.

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It was the perfect way to kick off the week with a very hectic schedule ahead for Ultra.

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Last year, we made a point of covering as many sets as possible at Ultra’s eight stages. As a result, we had very little time to actually listen to any one set for more than 15 to 30 minutes. In 2013, we pledged to spend more time at each set we photographed. The result was less running between stages, a better experiences, and some very tough calls about some stellar choices for overlapping sets.

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On Friday, Ultra Music Festival weekend 2 kicked off at 5pm with Hard Rock Sofa & Swanky Tunes on the Main Stage. From the second the gates opened to fans at 4pm, there was a constant stream of people heading into Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.

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The five guys behind the decks did a great job of kicking off the Main Stage, making those in the crowd rage from the opening beat, despite the grey skies and gentle rain that began to fall around 5pm.

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Up next on the Main Stage was R3hab who we hadn’t had a chance to see since last summer at Tomorrowland. There were many fans of R3hab pressed up against the gate at the front, as was evidenced by their R3hab branded gear and homemade signs.

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Ultra added some more diverse acts to the festival this year, especially on the Live Stage so we left R3hab to catch Kerli followed by Matt & Kim (who we had bumped into the day before at the W Hotel).

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Kerli’s singing performance consisted of a few quick songs performed in about 20 minutes so it was hard to really get a feel for her, but her loyal fans in the crowd certainly seemed to enjoy the chance to see her perform.

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The Brooklyn based pop duo, brought their usual high energy on the drums and keys while they regaled the audience with tales of everything from Matt’s love of small boobs, to Kim waxing her “cha-cha” in preparation for wearing booty shorts (which, according to her, she backed out of doing because of the chilly, rainy weather).

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It’s hard to keep your energy up on an empty stomach so we took a break following Matt & Kim to grab some food from one of the numerous tents throughout Bayfront Park. We found a nice spot on a grassy knoll and enjoyed our dinner while our ears took in the sounds of Avicii on the Main Stage. Avicii got somewhat experimental with his set, which we found very enjoyable. However, the crowd didn’t seem to know what to do with it and seemed rather shell shocked. Maybe they would have preferred he play a 60 minute rendition of “Levels”.

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Following our break, we returned to the Live Stage to catch Boys Noize and his mega skull structure. At this point the sun had set, literally setting the stage for a killer light show to accompany Boys Noize fantastic track selection which offered something for fans of all genres.

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Finally we concluded our Friday evening at the Live Stage for a live performance from The Bloody Beetroots. This was hands-down our favorite performance of the first day and one of our top 3 from the entire weekend. Having only ever experienced DJ sets by the Beetroots (Ultra 2012, Tomorrowland 2012) it was a real treat to see the added elements present in their live show. There is no substitute for the organic sounds of live instruments and vocals.

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On Saturday, Ultra was open for a full 12 hours, from noon to midnight. After a late-night out in South Beach on Friday night, we were a little slow to arrive at the festival on Saturday. Once we did, we quickly regained our energy, as the heavy bass and tens of thousands of beat freaks echoed from every corner of Bayfront Park.

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After strolling around for a bit,we stopped by the Trapped Stage to catch UZ. The masked man of mystery has been rumored to be any other number of DJs in disguise because he always wears a full mask and does not do interviews. Whomever the man behind the mask is, he had the crowd running the trap on the hill top over looking the bay.

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From there we headed to the Drop Zone tent which was absolutely jammed with people to see Krewella. The Chicago trio threw down a great set, completely void of some of the technical difficulties they faced during weekend 1.

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After a bit more wandering and a stop for some needed hydration, we hit the Main Stage for another one of our favorite DJs, Fatboy Slim. Norman Cook has been rolling out top notch production and thrilling crowds with his life sets for decades and the man shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.

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His sets at Ultra 2012, EDC NYC, and Tomorrowland were some of our favorites of 2012 and while his 2013 Ultra set wasn’t quite as enjoyable as the offerings we got from him last year, it was still a treat. There are some under 21 year old DJs out there that don’t have the energy that Fatboy Slim has behind the decks, and his enthusiasm only made his live set that much more enjoyable for the masses who packed the Main Stage to see him.

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When Fatboy Slim was almost finished, we headed over to the Live Stage where Delaware based band Yeasayer was working it for the smallish crowd that had formed to catch their set. Having seen Yeasayer at other festivals (Coachella 2010, Firefly 2012) we  knew we to expect.

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Their chilled out live sound was a welcome break and let us sit down in the hard backed seats of the Live Stage, and mellow out to their funky stylings. The band even apologized to the audience, saying they received a bad review from a Miami area publication after their weekend 1 performance and promised to be better for weekend 2.

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With the sun setting, and our hunger once again rising, we again took a break to grab some food before heading over to the Carl Cox arena to see the UK master do his thing accompanied by a breath-taking light show.

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With our energy levels replenished we hit the Drop Zone stage which was crazy packed with people for a bass-drop onslaught from Flux Pavilion and Doctor P. We stayed for the rest of their set in order to be there for the beginning of another one of our favorites, Bassnectar.

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Bassnectar, whose countless fans often refer to him by his first name, Lorin, puts on a ridiculous live show infused with tracks and remixes from a slew of bass-heavy EDM genres.

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The crowd, packing into the Drop Zone like sardines, got down as best they could to his set as confetti canons and kryo-blasts shot from the stage. We would have loved to see his entire set but with the buzz building about Deadmau5’s Main Stage performance, we had to leave ample time to make our way through the uncanny large sea of people that lay between the two arenas.

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After fighting our way through thousands upon thousands of people, we made it back to the Main Stage in time for Deadmau5. Despite his having bashed Ultra Music Festival in the past, the opinionated DJ behind the mouse helmet returned to play both weekends in 2013.

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Deadmau5 is known to play (almost) exclusively his own music and that’s exactly what he did again at Ultra. While we didn’t watch any of the live video feeds from weekend 1 (not wanting to spoil our weekend 2 experience) we did listen to several sets.

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While we are big Deadmau5 fans, we were a little disappointed that his weekend 2 set was almost identical to the one he played during weekend 1. While it was enjoyable, we were hoping to hear some variation. Mix it up Mau5.

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We closed out Saturday night back at the Live Stage where Hot Chip, another electronica-infused live band, was closing out the evening. We love Hot Chip’s sound and the band did not disappoint.

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Rocking out hits that made everyone dance (even a few folks on crutches) it was abundantly clear that Hot Chip brings the funk. With a killer laser show and tons of confetti to boot, it was the perfect close out set for us on Saturday and left us dancing and humming as we exited Bayfront Park.

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It’s funny how quickly time passes at a three day festival. You arrive on Day 1, thrilled about the three full days of music ahead of you and before you know it, Day 3 has arrived and you’re facing the final hours of the experience.

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After rain on Friday and clouds on Saturday, it was sunny and in the low 90’s on Sunday. The crowd took a little longer to build on the final day, an obvious consequence of late night partying in Miami taking a toll on festival goers by the time Sunday rolled around.

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Our first stop was at the Toolroom Knights stage while we hung out briefly before heading off to the Main Stage for Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano.

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We had the pleasure of watching their set from the sound/lighting booth where we chatted with Vello who was running the imaging for the Main Stage. The view was excellent.

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From there we moved to the top of the booth to the Red Bull Flight Deck to catch Thomas Gold who put on a killer set. We had considered leaving to catch Dash Berlin but we were happy we stayed. Thanks for not making us regret our decision Thomas Gold.

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From there it was off to the Press Yacht for an interview with Krewella. You can watch the interview right here:

After we wrapped up with Krewella, we dashed off back to the Live Stage to catch Major Lazer.

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Diplo & company put on one of the best sets of the entire weekend hands down.

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At one point they were joined on stage by surprise guest Sean Paul to the delight of fans who packed the Live Stage to the gills.

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We stuck around at the Live Stage for Snoop Dogg/Lion. Between Major Lazer and Snoop, Yasmine Yousaf of Krewella and Adventure Club (who are dating) popped up to do a surprise quick tag-team set for the massive crowd.

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Snoop hit the stage to a roar of cheers and proceeded to drop a mix of his biggest hits, other hip-hop favorites (like House of Pain’s “Jump Around”) and some of his new tracks from his Snoop Lion reggae project.

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While it was amazing to see Snoop perform his classics and some newer dance-infused jams (while he puffed away on stage), we were left totally uninspired by his new Snoop Lion selections.

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Up next on the Live Stage was Pretty Lights who we  had no intention of missing. His track selection and light show are second to none and we stayed for as long as we could before breaking away to head back to the Main Stage for Swedish House Mafia.

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Swedish House Mafia has been one of the biggest names in EDM for the past several years and after announcing their plans to retire as a group to focus on their solo careers, Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso, and Steve Angello decided to play their final show at Ultra weekend 2.

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It was no surprise that the Main Stage was absolutely packed leading up to their 90 minute set (although their were also very large crowds for Paul Van Dyk at the ASOT600 Stage and Wolfgang Gartner at the Ultra Korea stage).

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After a 30 minute break following Alesso’s set, the stage was prepped for the trio to give their farewell performance. They entered from the middle of a huge stage set-up in dramatic fashion and played exactly what you would expect, all of their productions that have made the trio famous.

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After snapping some photos, we returned to the Live Stage where we had chosen to see Crystal Castles as our final Ultra set.

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After taking the stage fifteen minutes late (which is arguably early for Crystal Castles) Alice Glass & Ethan Cath hit the stage in a think cloud of smoke.

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They dove right into their glitchy, synth-pop catalog as Glass sang (er, screamed) away into her mic while smoking a cigarette (that has to be good for the vocal cords).


Often known to be less than warm when it comes to the media, Crystal Castles was very engaging with the audience. Glass moved to the front of the audience several times from the stage to be closer to their adoring fans.

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Sunday night came to a close in much the same way Friday and Saturday nights did, with a huge fireworks display and a mass exodus of fans from Bayfront Park into downtown Miami and South Beach for any number of after parties.

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All in all Ultra 2013 (weekend 2) was a blast. As always it was often difficult to choose between sets as many of our favorite DJs were playing at the same time on any given day. The sets we did hear were almost all fantastic with lots of new music being debuted. There is no place we’d rather be each March and no substitute for being there in person to take it all in. We’ll miss you Miami, see you next year!

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[Photos by: D. Jacob Miller Photography & Jeanette Alexandra Wons]

You can view an expanded photo gallery from all three days of Ultra 2013 (weekend 2) below (click thumbnails to enlarge):

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