After 18 years in the industry, one would presume that Ultra Music Festival has done it all.  Well, that certainly is not the case for the “World’s Premier Electronic Music Festival” as we attended the world-renowned festival along with an estimated 165,000 other dedicated music fans from over 87 countries!

Here are nine of our favourite aspects of Ultra Music Festival 2016.

(Words by Jacqueline Gottlob, Images by Greg Bowser)

1. Unparalleled stage production

We have got to give major props to the jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring work of Arcadia and SJ Lighting for delivering Ultra-goers with the ultimate stage and lighting designs which complimented the already gorgeous festival grounds. Ultra and its partners provided us with 8 stages and installations to explore, which included the Main Stage, Live Stage, Megastructure, Resistance, Worldwide Stage, UMF Radio Stage, Stage 7, and Oasis.

Arcadia describes its work as “fusing groundbreaking spectacle, cutting edge technology, sculpture, engineering, adrenaline, and bass into vivid sensory experiences.”  This year’s Resistance “Spider” Stage, curated by Arcadia, most certainly did not disappoint.  Heavily promoted for months before Ultra 2016, the Arcadia Spider exceeded expectations by offering a 360-degree stage which hovered above the crowd.  It truly elevated our senses by delivering a combination of aerialists, dancers, pyrotechnics, lasers, and an amazing drum ‘n’ bass soundtrack as part of the Arcadia Landing Show.  At 8:30 each night, we gathered around the marvel with other curious fans to witness a one-of-a-kind festival experience, followed by performances by techno and deep house heavy-hitters.

The Live Stage featured genres that ranged from dubstep to tropical house with artists like Nero, Thomas Jack, AlunaGeorge, Destroid, and Purity ring.

Photo 9 Greg Bowser

The Megastructure and Main Stage were true masterpieces designed by SJ Lighting’s Stephen Lieberman, who served as production and lighting designer.  SJ Lighting explains that “with the team at SJ Lighting, Stephen works to engineer, construct, and build unique production environments by using creative inspiration.”  Placed within the center of the festival grounds, the Main Stage’s design each year seems to improve from the last.  We made so many great memories partying among that stage!  Fireworks, pyrotechnics, lasers, strobe lights, water displays, and CO2 cannons were staples at this year’s main stage.

The Megastructure, which hosted Carl Cox and Friends and A State of Trance, featured more LED-screens than ever before.  The lasers had a hypnotic effect on us, and LED-screens had the ability to lower themselves to meet the top of us as we were grooving to the sounds of Nicole Moudaber, Richie Hawtin, and Armin van Buuren!

2. Gourmet food options

After all of the dancing, we made sure to keep ourselves well fed, and one definitely could not go hungry amongst all of the food options at Ultra this year.  We thankfully never had to wait in long lines for our food, and with unique choices like made-to-order grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese, wood fired pizza, shish kebobs, and Asian-inspired noodle dishes, we were in a foodie’s paradise!  In addition, various homemade frozen fruit ice pop stands were stationed near many of the stages throughout the festival grounds.

3. Live art and non-profit organizations

Ultra featured a Live Art showcase and invited talented street artists from around the globe to show off their technique.  Artists like Demsky, Kazilla, and Cern were among the many who showed off to passersby.  We were able to witness Demsky create a spray paint mural from its inception to its finish!

Photo 3 jac

For the twelfth consecutive year, Ultra Music Festival welcome its “Eco Village”, which hosts multiple booths featuring the world’s most influential nonprofit organisations.  Electric Family, Bridges for Music, and Kiwanis International made appearances to help raise awareness of important global issues and inspire Ultra fans to play an active role in making the world a better place.

Photo 4 EF and B4M

[Courtesy of Bridges for Music and Electric Family, Twitter]

4. Free water

To ensure the health and safety of its attendees, Ultra offered two free water stations to all.  Miami is known to get H-O-T and with temperatures in the upper 80s paired with sunny skies, we took full advantage of this amenity!

5. Back-to-back techno bliss

Not solely a visual masterpiece, the Resistance Spider Stage by Arcadia hosted a massive lineup, which included some back-to-back sets that we could’ve only dreamt about.  On Day 3, Skream and Lee Foss shared the decks and served up groovy deep house tracks in the afternoon that boomed through the sound system.  To close out the weekend, The Martinez Brothers and Seth Troxler teamed up for an unforgettable performance, as the Spider spewed its strongest flames.

6. deadmau5 overload

When the unfortunate news broke that The Prodigy were unable to perform due to illness on Day 2, deadmau5 stepped up to the Live Stage as their replacement.  He played a set that can hardly be categorized.  His song selections ranged from tracks off of his latest album, while(1<2), to unidentifiable and underground techno jams.  Once Day 3 was upon us, we witnessed deadmau5 troll the ASOT stage by opening his set with a slew of heavy metal songs!  Rest assured that the crowd was thoroughly confused.  He later returned to shock Ultranauts on the Main Stage with Pendulum!  Even after three appearances, we still can’t get enough of deadmau5.

Photo 6 Greg Bowser

7. Tiësto’s Sunset Set

We all know that Tiësto has been an industry leader for years, and somehow has never lost his magic touch to wow electronic music fans across the world and across all ages.  On Day 2, Ultra veteran Tiësto performed an extended 1 hour and 30 minute “Sunset Set” on the Main Stage that began at 7:15 in the evening.  He strategically increased the energy of the crowd by playing tunes that served the setting.  As the sun slowly set, his performance encompassed a future/deep house vibe.  Tiësto opened his set with Secrets featuring live vocals by Vassy.  Oliver Heldens then joined the Main Stage as Tiësto played their collaboration Wombass/The Right Song.   Towards the middle of his set, Tiësto amped up the energy as sparks, literally, began to fly, as fireworks constantly shot upwards from the stage, making us cheer each time.  He played various ID tracks and premiered a tune made with DallasK titled Your Love.

Photo 7 Greg Bowser

8. Laidback Luke

We were able to swing by the Worldwide Stage on Day 2 to jam out to Laidback Luke’s awesome performance. He played an eclectic and unpredictable set, defying genre boundaries.  We heard dubstep, Melbourne bounce, future house, and many Laidback Luke original tracks.  The crowd’s energy was infectious and got us dancing backstage! He also added flair and interest by scratching on the CDJ’s.

9.  The amazing crowd

Although every massive festival may be faced with a handful of its attendees causing trouble, this year’s Ultra-goers truly came together as one respectful and peaceful entity.  As mentioned earlier, Ultra reported that over 87 countries were represented this year!  Ultra Music Festival served as proof that music has the power and strength to unite people from all backgrounds, races, religions, and cultures.  We had the privilege of being a part of this amazing crowd; we witnessed strangers helping others and new friendships forming.  In the political context of today, Ultra accomplished the improbable.

Photo 8 Greg Bowser