Did you miss it? The pounding bass? The bright blue sky? The smiles of friends and strangers from across the globe gathering for three days of music and merriment in beautiful downtown Miami?
We sure as heck did, and we’re happy to report that Ultra Music Festival is back, baby — exactly where it belongs.
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After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 precautions and a really weird and uncomfortable stint on Virginia Key Beach, UMF returned to its home at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami and reminded us all why it’s one of the premier destinations for dance music — not just in the United States, but the whole world. With daytime highs of 79 degrees, nary a cloud in the sky and soft bay breezes blowing, the weather couldn’t have been more cooperative for the three-day fest, which launched Friday and wound down Sunday night.
After a tough few years for the festival and humanity itself, the rave gods were smiling on Miami this weekend, and we were all the better for it. Whether reuniting under the Carl Cox Megastructure, playing “name that flag” at the main stage, buying an ice-cold beer straight from a wheelbarrow, or celebrating the triumphant return of Hardwell, the roughly 50,000 daily attendants at this year’s Ultra found plenty to enjoy.
Here are 10 reasons why Ultra Music Festival 2022 returned the festival to its rightful status as a world leader.
After a Rough Run, Ultra Is Back, Baby
Before we dive too deep into the details, we want to honor the fact that Ultra Music Festival even happened at all. It’s been a rough few years for Miami’s flagship music festival. After two decades in downtown, organizers found themselves in a fight with the city which ultimately led to the ill-fated Virginia Key event in 2019. Ask anyone who spent an hour walking across the bridge at 3 a.m. how that one went.
Thankfully, the city had a come-to-Jesus moment and realized hosting one of the world’s best electronic music festivals in beautiful Bayfront Park is actually a great cultural hallmark. Then Ultra had to contend with COVID-19 cancellations, angry ticket-holders suing for refunds and every wave of COVID variation that came after. The fact that we got to gather once more to enjoy this festival, in its best form, is a magical moment, and organizers came ready to play with speakers blasting.
Positivity, Despite It All
The world is in a strange place. COVID-19 is not exactly over, Ukraine and Russia are in the midst of a horrific war of attrition, and the United States continues to wrestle with a culture divided. Still, for three sweet days and nights during the fest, partyers from as far as China, Canada, Croatia and beyond made space for love, light, laughter and celebration through music and community. DJs who haven’t touched a major festival stage in years hollered from the rafters about what it meant to be back after so much time alone. Alison Wonderland traveled all the way from Australia to wow the crowd with live drums and passionate singing. Zeds Dead leveled heads with a maniacal mix of melodies and bone-crushing bass, getting on the mic throughout the set to say what it meant to share this moment with the masses.
It was also heart-warming to see many folks flying the Ukrainian flag across their shoulders, or to see this flag flying here and there among the stage structures. (We spotted one tucked among the truss at the Worldwide Stage.) One of the high-rises in downtown Miami was lit up with the country’s blue and yellow colors every night, a solemn yet soulful reminder that we’re all so fortunate to be together enjoying the much lighter side of life.
The roots of dance music go back to its place as a safe space for underrepresented individuals, and while the scene has certainly expanded to include all kinds en masse, being out there among the near-naked men and women who felt free to get as weird as they wanted emphasized that the scene is still an important haven for self-expression and the soul nourishment found therein. To wit, we saw a guy dressed as a milkman carrying a gallon of actual milk. No idea how he got it through security, but the effect was delightful.
Speaking of all that ails us, there were plenty of reminders of a sweeter, simpler time. So many sets were sprinkled with classic dance tracks that it felt like we time-traveled to the golden years of the EDM era. Austin trio Wavedash served a serious helping of fun, churning out a megamix that included Swedish House Mafia’s “Greyhound,” A-Trak’s remix of “Heads Will Roll,” Ian Van Dahl’s 2000s hit “Castles in the Sky” and more. Whethan absolutely slayed his set at the Worldwide stage, dropping Daft Punk’s “One More Time” and funky N64 graphics.
Still, no one mastered the art of the throwback quite like our Dutch house king Afrojack. While the rest of the electronic producer world flocks to the so-called “elevated” sounds of house, tech-house and techno, Mr. “Turn Up the Speakers” kept things real down and dirty with a mind-blowing main-stage performance that brought all the 2010’s bleep-bloop screeches in proper form. It was the classic power hour that our nostalgic souls needed, including a tribute to Avicii when Afrojack dropped “Le7els.” No one sets the roof on fire like that dude.
The Live Stage
Whether you were looking for familiar favorites or something totally new, the live stage continued to deliver some of the best programming on festival grounds. Where else can you get up-close-and-personal with Madeon’s eye-watering Good Faith Forever tour, or creep so close to Pendulum’s live performance that you can actually catch one of the superhuman drummer’s sticks at the end of the set? Alison Wonderland gave what must have been one of the most intimate and powerful performances she’s given in years, and Elohim had the whole crowd walking the concrete steps like a runway. Sofi Tukker turned the stage into a tropical jungle, inviting us to let our wild sides shine, Oliver Tree had us cracking up, calling the festivaa “EDC” from the first song to the last, trolling the audience as only he can while delivering his off-kilter hits.
Hardwell’s Secret Set
Some things never change, and then some things totally do. After taking a much-needed hiatus in 2018, Hardwell returned to the Ultra stage on Sunday evening for an announced headlining set. Rather than come back strong ready to bang all his big room hits, the Dutch producer unveiled a new, darker sound, filling the night air with pounding techno beats. His set directly addressed the emotional journey that brought him to this new sonic identity, and the Ultra audience welcomed the hard turn with open arms.
Reuniting With Friends
More than anything, the greatest energy of the weekend came when friends who haven’t seen each other in years finally embraced. Dance floors are only as good as the people who populate them, and this weekend’s Ultra crowd radiated pure joy. High fives were shared, booties were shook, fists were pumped and friendships were sealed. Everyone had each other’s backs, and the vibes were indeed immaculate. Sure, the lines for drinks were long, but people were mostly polite, cracking jokes with strangers and making the most of every moment. For that, Ultranauts, we salute you.
Link to the source article – https://www.billboard.com/music/music-news/ultra-miami-2022-review-1235050428/