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15 Most Ne Plus Ultra Things We Saw at Ultra Music Fest 2014

Eric Prydz goes intergalactic, Steve Aoki goes wakeboarding and young people go wild in our roundup of Ultra highlights

Ultra music Festival 2014, Tiesto, Winter Music Conference

Ian Witlen

Nothing disabuses you of any so-called principles or pretensions or prudishness like dunking your head in the EDM end of the musical pool. Here we have the Business of Young People Partying – a three-day pass to Ultra Music Festival 2014 cost $399.95 plus roughly another $100 in fees – and anyone not guzzling the Kool-Aid is simply ass-out on the sidewalk, barred from the steamy room where the most essential transactions of Young People Partying are being conducted. I’m not complaining – except in the usual way I complain about virtually everything except the elegant poetry of Dequantes Lamar (look it up). 

Make no mistake, any opinions uttered about Ultra-plus have been micromanaged, massaged and medicated by a plucky armada of Young People Partying publicity teams, promoters, managers, marketers of every imaginable hustle, A&Rs and VPs of Whateverthetwerk, et al. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to still write your true feelings about the EDM pageant, but only after acknowledging that the Business of Young People Partying is the only reason we’re here. And more nakedly than in any other genre, if you’re not interested in the Business of Young People Partying, then you, my friend, need to remove yourself from the pool and return to your adult lawn and kick back with some Peej.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s board the spaceship of the imagination that is EDM: The Ultra Odyssey, transmitting again this year (though not necessarily next) from downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park, as well as the surrounding galaxy. So, the journey begins… By Charles Aaron

Ultra Music Conference 2014, Winter Music Conference

Andrew Rauner

Eric Prydz Goes Intergalactic

The giganto stage set brought along by the Swedish-born, Los Angeles-based bloke Eric Prydz looked like something that Ridley Scott would’ve discarded as too overly ambitious for Prometheus. Exiting the bathroom gauntlet and rounding the corner of the main stage, one was truly startled and unnerved by the progressive house DJ’s looming, radiant, skyscraping superstructure. From his position onstage, Prydz appeared to be a small boy piloting the Death Star. The music was fine, but I kept methodically moving as far away as possible. Granted, I didn’t see any super-laser cannons trained in my direction, but why take chances? (Hear Prdyz's exclusive RS Dance mix here.)

Ultra Music Conference 2014, Winter Music Conference

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Vello Virkhaus Lights Up Krewella

The Chicago-based trio Krewella are an outwardly rebellious bubblegum EDM project that mainly spotlights the are-you-ready-to-rage? antics of sisters Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf, who are prone to shout-outs like, "Put your middle fingers in the air" and "Yeah, motherfucker, yeah." But the real mastermind behind their Saturday main-stage extravaganza was visual artist and installation designer Vello Virkhaus, founder of V Squared Labs. Just for this performance, Virkhaus devised the "Crystal Volcano," an elaborate set which he shepherded from sketch to fabrication to stage. Perched behind the soundboard on his own platform with tables full of production gear, including 11 laptops, Virkhaus conducted the show’s visual barrage, even pressing keys on a synth to trigger transitions. At one point, while a giant skull was being electrocuted until it started smoking, a voice intoned from the PA, "We are eight million miles away from home… come and get it." It was an ominous interlude, especially given the rain clouds approaching, but the high-spirited Virkhaus simply smiled and fiddled with his controls, the proud papa of a festival of lights.

Ultra Music Conference 2014, Winter Music Conference

Andrew Rauner

DJ Snake

Simply put, raucously raunchy producer DJ Snake was the festival’s most obvious new star. Whether dropping his volatile Lil Jon collabo, "Turn Down for What," or unleashing cut-and-paste booty ballistics with Olympic grandeur, Snake kept his bro-trap groove herking and jerking, basically coming off like an aggro version of A-Trak (who made a cameo) or Flosstradamus or Diplo or anybody else who’s tried to bring nasty hip-hop attitude to house and techno tracks. Except Snake is far more unhinged and not the least bit ironic. As DJ Times’ Jim Tremayne observed mid-set, "He wouldn’t be doing this if he weren’t French."

Ultra Music Conference 2014, Winter Music Conference

Andrew Rauner

Old MacDeadmau5 Had a Farm

Joel "Deadmau5" Zimmerman has never hidden his feelings about EDM’s almost rabidly slobbering chase of the pop charts, so when he was asked to replace pop-crossover wizard Avicii as the main-stage headliner on Saturday, one can imagine his eyes sparkling devilishly. Of Avicii’s single "Wake Me Up," the Mau5 once cracked on Facebook, "Wake me up when this song’s over." And indeed, he had something mischievous in store: While playing EDM’s current pop splash, Martin Garrix’s "Animals," Deadmau5 replaced the song’s drop with a snippet of the children’s song "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." Then he played Avicii’s "Levels" in its entirety, as if to mock the throng by saying, "Gobble it up, kiddies, I know this is what you really want." Avicii mentor Tiësto was not pleased, engaging Deadmau5 via Twitter. But on this occasion at least, the Mau5, along with his barnyard friends, had the last word.

Ultra Music Conference 2014, Winter Music Conference

Andrew Rauner

Gesaffelstein

If this was truly the last Ultra Music Festival in Miami – which I doubt, but let’s just say – then French techno provocateur and Kanye West sidekick Mike Lévy would probably be happy to perform last rites. Closing out the Live Stage on Saturday with a starkly monochromatic assault (a video of a black-and-white American flag undulated behind him), he enacted his Gesaffelstein persona, standing in a black suit behind a tomb-like DJ platform, body vibrating intensely, arms chopping the air. Deploying dying sirens and shuddering, gasping beats like he was re-scoring Martin Scorsese’s macabre memory-fuck Shutter Island, Lévy stood in a cloud of dry ice, smoking violently and hurling the butts to the ground. Hostile, nasty, no fucks given. You could imagine him muttering under his nicotine breath, "Nevermore, Edgar Allan Bro, nevermore."

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