Live: Ultra Music Festival & IDentity — The Road to Ultra 2012

Ultra Music Festival: three li’l words that bring such a huge smile to the faces of all who fully understand what they mean — and we’re not just talking about basic comprehension of the definition of words, here. We’re speaking to what they define once strung together in that a perfect chord of a phrase: “Ultra Music Festival,” the Mecca of electronic music festivals.

What more could one so inclined to obsessing over these three little words want more than to find out that the progeny of the Titan that is UMF is to be travelling through their small Southern town like a self-contained spectacle of epic musical proportions? Think along the lines of Something Wicked This Way Comes. In this case, though, think “Wicked Cool.”

IDentity, the appropriately-surnamed “Road to Ultra Music Festival Summer Tour,” is set to descend upon The Woodlands Pavilion this Saturday, August 27th. The US’s first-ever travelling electronic music festival, IDentity boasts such superstar headliners (depending on the city and date) as Steve “thamothafuckin” Aoki, Afrojack, The Crystal Method, Kaskade, Nero, Rusko, Skrillex, DJ Shadow…the list goes on and on. (And along with it comes a taste of something bigger, something grander lying in the wings, awaiting the turning of the tides and the pages of a calendar to March 2012.)

Having experienced the wonder and joy that is UMF, naturally we were stoked to hear that a mini-UMF would be headed our way, dead-smack in the middle of the hottest part of this auspicious Houston summer. Miami in March is one thing, but Houston in August? Now that is a completely different story. Luckily for the promoters of IDentity, they’ve packed in a lineup so worth the pain and suffering we had no choice but to acquiesce and pull out our battery-operated spray fans, umbrellas, SPF 113 sun screen, ultra UV-repellant sunglasses, portable sun shades, and string bikinis. Yes, it really is worth bringing a U-Haul into the festival to carry all of one’s anti-heatstroke provisions and paraphernalia. Truly.

Don’t believe us? We didn’t think you would. If you’ve been here long enough, you know from experience. Houston is hot as hell, and you learned ever so quickly and thoroughly how to avoid sweating even one little drop more than you have to. You couldn’t possibly see how driving outside not one but two loops could possibly be worth it. Well, you’d be wrong.

Now, since the IDentity Festival is being billed as the “Road to Ultra Music,” we’re going to look backwards a bit to give you a preview of what to expect Saturday, be you willing to take the chance and make the hike — complete with pictures for those of you who think blogs look better in color.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in an earnest attempt at luring you away from the quiet humdrum of your air-conditioning and into the loud, sweaty, awesome fire, we proudly present a brief reminiscence on our experience at Ultra Music Festival 13, Miami Edition, 2011. Our own personal “Road to Ultra,” if you will. Don’t blame us if you miss out on all the fun.


It’s always a tad unsettling when a long-awaited vacation to the Mecca of music festivals starts with an unannounced flight cancellation due to a fire in the receiving airport’s fueling station. “Is this an omen?” we wondered? A sign that the journey ahead is to be wrought with complication? A warning that we might have to endure endless trials and tribulations and prove to ourselves and to the universe that we are deserving of basking in the glow of such an astounding array of electronic musicians? For surely, we are the unworthy. “Nah,” we decide, after much pontification on the matter at hand. It’s more likely that some tool lit a cigarette to close to a 747’s gas tank.

Last-minute flight cancellations, flight rescheduling, running through Intercontinental like headless chickens, bonding with strangers caught in the same boat and successfully getting our butts in the air and en route — minus a slight three-hour detour. We gots this. All this hullabaloo might be more of a blessing than a curse. Right?

T-minus one day: [clever designation]
Eight o’clock PM, Wednesday, March 23
Get off the main gig after 11 hours of frantic, scattered work, trying to get everything done that needs to be done for the next three days. Did we succeed? Not really, no. Our bladder (sarcastically) thanks us for our lackadaisical attitude in our attention to its gas gauge. Arrive at co-conspirator’s place of residence at 8:15 to scarf down Pei Wei, pack, and make a mad dash home before the witching hour. Stay up till 4 AM packing, doing laundry, consoling kittens, and asking the magic F-ball (Facebook) why we’re still awake.

Day One: The Pursuit of Happiness?
Seven o’clock AM, Thursday, March 24
Awake to find co-conspirator’s phone dead. Panic. Snooze button. More panic. Begrudgingly get up. Mad dash to co-conspirator’s house. Mad dash to airport. Mad dash to terminal. Mad dash to check-in. Mad at flight cancellation. Deliberate on just how awful it would really be to fly into a not-so-neighboring city and drive to our ultimate destination. Executive decisions made. Mad dash to new terminal. Arrive sweaty but on time. Negotiate seat rearrangement with kindly co-travelers. Get wasted. Take goofy, drunken photos. Meditate on level of amusement at being drunk at noon on a Thursday on a plane. Discuss Las Vegas and AVN Awards with kindly co-travelers. Say highly inappropriate things, drunkenly, loudly. Land four hours from final destination. Road trip time!

We always wondered what lay on the road betwixt the great cities of Orlando and Miami. The vast vastness of Texas, littered with cattle, Buc-ee’s, and pickup trucks three times their normal size in our review mirror, that we are accustomed to, almost bored with. What uncovered treasures lay awaiting discovery, scattered along the highways of America’s most phallic state, we wonder?

What “treasures,” indeed. Trees. Trees. Trees, trees, trees. Landfill. Trees, landfill, trees. Treeeeeeees, trees, landfill. Vultures. ACME dairy tree farm (what?). A freeway running parallel to a tollway (thanks, GPS). Trees. Miami.

Six o’clock PM, Thursday, March 24
Arrive in Miami, head to Surfside Beach. In accordance with our Facebook and Myspace “likes” portion of our profiles, engage in one of our favorite activities, a long walk on the beach at sunset (accompanied by co-conspirator). Collect seashells. Marvel at the blueness of the water and how we forgot water could be blue. Check in at hotel and head to South Beach for tapas at midnight. Arrive back at hotel and prepare for the festivities ahead.

Day Two: Party like it’s 2011-99!
Nine o’clock AM, Friday, March 25
We arise with the sun (PST) and collect the Nectar of the Gods to get amped up on a sugar high, in preparation of keeping up with the synthetic high we expect about two-thirds of the remaining denizens of the festival to be powered by. After scarfing down far too many donuts than should be legal for two people to consume in one day, we pack up our to-go bags and head back to South Beach for shopping, traversing the beach — now with even more Girls Gone WildTM — and sub-par Cuban food.

Four o’clock PM, Friday, March 25
After trolling South Beach for the better part of the afternoon, we make our way from South Beach to Bicentennial Park, where Ultra Music Festival, version 13.0, is opening its flood gates. After a parking cluster-fudge of epic proportions, we get parked, get in the slaughter line and wait. [Insert Jeopardy theme song] The wait’s not too terribly horrid, luckily, and we enter the festival, prepared to have our minds blown.

First impressions on Ultra Music Festival, 2011: personal bubble fail. The promoters must not realize how big 150,000 people really are when they’re corralled into an enclosed, labyrinth-like space, or they feel tradition and image is more important than comfort (sound familiar, ladies?). After getting over the initial, “holy shit, we’re at ULTRA” moment, we collect our composure and head to the ID tent to get our beer passes. Age validation, check! Next stop, merch booth. Thank the Gods they take cards. We acquire our customary obligatory supply of merch — one authentic festival t-shirt each to prove we really were here — and move on to explore the layout of our home-away-from-home (away from home) for the next three days. First stop, the Live Stage to check out Designer Drugs.

Starting our festivus off with a bang, Mr. Drugs kills it with a steady stream of beats reminiscent of many a night of our youth, oblivious and lost in a musical afterthought, at any one of a number of miscellaneous raves or late-night parties. Thirty minutes in, and we’ve already decided — this shit rocks. After flailing wildly, bopping our heads, and marveling at the allowance of yet again, an overabundant number of fuzzy leg warmers and pink tutus — we must have missed the boat on the pink tutu fad — we head over to the Main Stage to catch Fedde le Grand before Benny Benassi takes the stage.

Amazingly, somehow, we manage to make our way to the front — don’t ask; if we tell you how, we’ll have to kill you — and fight through the throngs of sweaty bodies to get a worm’s eye view of the magic happening on stage. What is a worm’s eye view, you ask? One where you are right at the peak of the action, but not able to see a damn thing because the podium the DJ is performing on is taller than he is. We had a great view of a bunch of lights and a bobbing head every few beats. Despite our decidedly less-than-stellar view, Fedde and Benny rock the early evening away, and soon it’s time for legends Erasure to take the stage.

The most amazing and horrid thing that could ever happen at a music festival or concert occurred when Erasure takes the stage: everyone leaves. Yes, damn near all 150,000 people rocking out to the hypnotic, powerful beats of the preceding DJs leave once Erasure takes the stage, to find a musician they had “actually heard of.” It’s shameful. The whole absurd situation was summed up rather precisely as Erasure was announced and took the stage by one young concertgoer, whose response was to cry out to anyone willing to listen, “Who?” Ah, the folly of youth…

After jamming out like an aged rock star to Erasure’s footloose and fancy-free performance, we make our way back to the Live Stage to watch Röyksopp perform. We receive quite a treat when Karin Dreijer Andersson — lead vocalist of The Knife and Fever Ray and probably most well-known in the mainstream for Fever Ray’s recent contribution to the movie Red Riding Hood in the form of the song, “The Wolf” — pops up on stage for their final song, “Tricky, Tricky.” Decked out in her traditionally unconventional concert garb, complete with grotesque half-mask and either an overly fluffy fur shrug or mass of faux intestines, we’re not quite sure which — knowing her style, it could very well have been either — the surprise vocalist takes the crowd by storm. That in and of itself was worth the trip. Trentemoller follows with a mellow set of electronic rhythms smooth enough to soothe even the most savage of the festival’s wigged-out patrons.

It’s inevitable. The time has come. It has to be done. Mission Find The Port-O-Johns: success? Note to event planners: PLEASE, for the love of all that is humane, do not put all your waste disposal facilities in one little U-shaped tube resembling a high school hallway all of 100 feet across when you expect 150,000 people consuming gallons upon gallons of beer and water and who knows what else to attend your event. To call it a clusterfuck is putting it lightly. Needless to say, we decide to hold it for the remaining three hours and moderate our liquid intake for the following two days, with the hopes that we would sweat out any excess liquid rather than having to try to fight through the piles of drunken and disorderly crazies doing the pee-pee dance to prevent potential organ explosion. The movement makes it harder to navigate through the hordes, you know.

We wander around a bit longer and check out the remaining stages in lieu of relieving our bladders. The Carl Cox and Friends dome, with its fanciful Cirque du Soleil décor dangling from the rafters, is lit aglow with a thousand brilliant lights, filled with smoke, heavy beats, and gyrating bodies. The UMF Korea Stage, later to be known as the “Tower of Ultra,” is thumping with the low, screwed-out sounds more of the dubstep variety. Back towards the entrance, the Root Dome Society, later known as “UMF Ibiza,” later known as “UMF Brazil,” is less populated, and though inclusive of cage dancers, not really hopping enough to keep our attention from the goings on at the Main Stage, namely first night headliner Tiësto.

Now, don’t get us wrong. We love us some Tiesto. But feeling like an un-popped kernel in an oversized tub of popcorn does not make for an entertaining time. So after a few thwarted attempts to get anywhere near the same zip code as the stage, we decide it would be best for all parties involved if we retire for the evening.

Day Three: Practice Makes Perfect
Two o’clock PM, Saturday, March 26
The next day, we awake proportionally late in the day to the early hour that we crashed. Donuts are again consumed in copious quantities. New SD cards are acquired, as we learned early on that 8MB of memory simply would not be enough for our trusty point-n-shoots and all the fabulous — read “horrific” — outfits that we simply had to take pictures of.

We head back out to the festival on our now fourth different route thus far. Much like Houston, there are about 40 different ways to get from one place to another in Miami, but there, all seem to involve toll roads. Parking is a little easier, as is the navigation through the entrance gates. Beer is attained. Next stop, Main Stage to check out Afrojack.

For the second of his three sets of the day, Afrojack takes the Main Stage by storm, blasting new beats such as Wolfgang Gartner‘s newest classic, “Space Junk,” Swedish House Mafia‘s “One,” and his own super-hip, 95.7 regular, “Take Over Control,” all some of our personal favorites. The Tower of Ultra is next, to check out UK dubstep duo Nero in all of their dubsteppy glory, and then back to Carl Cox and Friends for Fedde le Grand again and none other than Moby himself.

To say that Moby’s still got it would be the understatement of this young century. Calling him the Madonna of the electronic music scene might be more like it. The comfortably overpacked tube of oontzy goodness is filled with fans, young and old, all ecstatic at the sight of the slight DJ behind the spaceship-shaped booth. Between mixes, he takes to the top of the spaceship to jump up and down enthusiastically, egging on the crowd and pumping up the energy more and more as every track plays on.

Basking in the afterglow of Moby’s performance, we head back to the Tower of Ultra to try to catch a glimpse of Rusko; alas, the Tower of Ultra is far too small for the gallant, floppy-haired lad, and we are forced to meander about the grounds in search of either a place to sit and devour our new favorite food (Arepas!) or another artist we are actually able to see and/ or hear. Either would be lovely.

Keeping in line with our yearning for a complete audio/ visual experience, we make our way through the crowd to get in place for yet another legend, Underworld. The crowd is thick, yet sparse, if that makes any sense, and we are able to achieve our goal, at least for a little while. Underworld’s set, which includes “Born Slippy,” “Cowgirl,” “Scribble,” and an epic light show, is awesome. Just plain awesome. One of many artists we’d resigned ourselves to never ever being able to see live, Underworld lives up to every lofty expectation we’d set for them and more. More like an acid trip than a show, the lasers and smoke filling the stage pour out into the crowd in time with the mellow, heavy beats pulsating out of the speakers.

Hoping to maintain our perfectly-positioned spots and view for Saturday’s headliner is a pipedream at best. By the time the faint glow of Deadmau5‘s trademark DJ cube begins to light up the stage, we are already lost in a sea of sweaty, fucked-up douchebags, hell-bent on making one of the events we’d been so excited to see defiled by a performance of their own: the amazing wall of ass show.

Ladies: make note. We don’t want to stare at your ass for an hour and a half after standing in the same spot for three hours to see one of our favorite artists of all time. Much less after a four-hour unplanned road trip, three landfills, and four different routes to and from the same place after only four excursions to and from said destination. Sitting on your boyfriend’s — or the guy who wishes he was your boyfriend — shoulders? Don’t do it. Not unless you want full water bottles, lit cigarettes, and anything else that can be found underfoot hurled at your head until you get the hint. Nobody wants to have traveled far and wide to get a bird’s eye view of your ass. Trust us. That, and really, it’s just plain rude.

A mini-mega-meltdown and execution of emergency exit strategy #101 later, we are safely away from the wall of ass and in a more comfortable, albeit far-away location. The remainder of Deadmau5’s set is spent banished to the side of the stage, where we are able to flail wildly, be enamored at our co-conspirator’s adorable, shirtless wiggle dance and LOL in sincerity at the 50-something EMT riding on the back of the ambu-wagon, jamming out to the show. As an added bonus, during the songs “Sofi’s Ladder” and “One Trick Pony,” off Deadmau5’s newest album 4×4=12, Tommy Lee and his drums — yes from Mötley Crüe — joins Mr. Mau5 on stage.

His set ends with a not-nearly-as-epic-as-“Strobe” new track, “HR 8938 Cephi” — sorry, guy, it’s just not the same. Satisfied with our attempts to thwart the wall of ass and exhausted from round two, we make our way back to our trusty rental car to head home in the hopes of not getting lost for a fifth time. We barely succeed.

Day Four: The Final Countdown
Eleven o’clock AM, Sunday, March 27
Disenchanted with the thought of arriving early to the last day of festivities, we arise casually and decide to make our way to the Keys, where we soak up the sun for a bit, splash around in the ocean, and find what we had hoped to be a full karat diamond solitaire engagement ring buried in the sand. Worn out from the tides and getting sand trapped in every possible crevice of our bodies, we head back downtown to check out the Bayside Marketplace, where we stroll casually through the token Miami souvenir shops, nosh on Arepas, and find comfort in bitching about the crowds at the festival with a few Houston locals we manage to happen to plop down right next to at lunch. What a coinky-dink.

We re-enter the festival for the last time shortly after, striving to burn the image of the welcome sign and hordes of eager concertgoers into our minds forever. Once inside, we trudge over to the Live Stage to watch DJ Superstar Steve Aoki keep the party going. Next up is Crystal Castles and MSTRKRFT, followed by a brief exploration of festival grounds yet undiscovered, the tragedy of breaking our trusty point-n-shoot, and a trek back to the Main Stage to take our places for the final performance of the event.

The Chemical Brothers live. We never thought we’d see that. Mixing up their set with favorites new and old, we’re stoked to get to hear both “Block Rockin Beats” and “Setting Sun.” Thank goodness some of the younger crowd thins out to ride out their highs at the neighboring stages. We couldn’t have really asked for a better position. Absorbing the glorious lights and sounds emanating from the stage during The Chemical Brothers’ set in such a close and roomy spot is the perfect way to end this intense festival experience. After spending three days being squished, sweated on, bumped into, tripped over, screamed at, and stumbled upon, the approximately two-to-three-foot bubble we’re being blessed with for this performance is one of the best payoffs we ever could have hoped for.

Day Five: The Road Eventually Traveled
Nine o’clock AM, Monday, March 28
Our last day in Miami brackets our trip quite reasonably. Much as our trip began, it ends, SNAFU to the maxx. Due, again, to the yutz with the cigarette, flights are being cancelled, lines are being extended, and we miss our flight. Luckily, the next flight is a mere seven and a half hours later, and is only delayed three hours on top of that. Needless to say, our next trip to Ultra will likely be handled by teleportation only. At least the airport had a 24-hour donut shop. END

The IDentity Festival is 8/27/11 at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion and features Pretty Lights, Steve Aoki, DJ Shadow, Rusko, The Crystal Method, Datsik, Holy Ghost!, The Disco Biscuits, Booka Shade, Hercules and Love Affair, Le Castle Vania, Jessie and the Toy Boys, Afrobeta, Aeroplane, LA Riots, White Shadow, Riotgear, Doorly, Chad Hugo, Nervo, Marshall Barnes, & The Eye.

(Photos: signpost at Ultra Festival; airplane booze; Florida landfill; Ultra Festival Main Stage; Designer Drugs; Benny Benassi; Röyskopp; Carl Cox and Friends domet; Nero; Moby; crowd at Ultra Festival; Crystal Castles. Photos by Karen Hebert and David Wood.)

Live review by . Live review posted Friday, August 26th, 2011. Filed under Features, Live Reviews.

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5 Responses to “Live: Ultra Music Festival & IDentity — The Road to Ultra 2012”

  1. Oso on August 26th, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Great Article!

  2. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 2: IDentity + DiverseWorks + Folk Family Revival + The Julys + Prairie Cadets + More on August 27th, 2011 at 12:16 am

    […] who’re behind the IDentity Fest. She’s written up a cool review of Ultra Fest on over here as kind of a “preview” of sorts of this weekend’s […]

  3. SPACE CITY ROCK » Live: Deadmau5 on October 6th, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    […] goodness he read our review of Ultra Music Festival and took our advice to end his set with “Strobe.” Really, […]

  4. Chill Step on May 18th, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Wonderful work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the net. Shame on the search engines for no longer positioning this post higher! Come on over and talk over with my website . Thank you =)

  5. Karen Hebert on August 15th, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Thanks so much Chill Step! I will definitely check out your site. :)

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