Though the EDM festival scene continues to bloom, Miami's Ultra Music Festival remains the ultimate destination, 16 years since its inception. For the 2015 edition, the organizers have crowd-pleasing down to a science: Pretty much every Vegas-level resident you can think of is booked on the main stage and carefully themed smaller stages appeal to other big-room tastes. There may not be as many wildcards as years past, but there's still plenty of room for discovery across its three days. From up-and-comers to radio staples, we picked 15 artists you need to catch.
At just 21 years old, Alesso enjoyed a co-sign from Madonna herself, when, during her most recent flirtation with EDM, she invited the Swede to open a few dates on her MDNA tour. He probably didn't need her help, though. In the same big-synth, big-room thread as peers like Avicii and Sebastian Ingrosso, he's headlined clubs from Ibiza to Illinois with an unapologetically pop-friendly sound. Now, however, he's trying to prove himself as an album artist — his debut is due out soon.
These days, Steve Aoki's sets are about full-on sensory pleasure, if not overload. A rock & roll kid at heart, he brings the same kind of energy to his festival sets, from crowd-surfing to his infamous cake-smashing. He's certainly not for dance music purists, but throngs of kids with energy to burn couldn't care less.
Swedish House Mafia may be over, but two thirds of the group continues on as the Def Jam-signed Axwell ^ Ingrosso. Like their previous group, their sound goes relentlessly upbeat, euphoric and sing-along-friendly. The duo come stadium-trained and fest-ready.
In his early twenties, this Norwegian producer repped his native country as a battle DJ on the DMC contest circuit. Now, he's brought that knowledge of hip-hop and bass sounds into a slinkier, sexier world — one so alluring that pop stars are barging their way in. Ariana Grande is currently sounding all grown up on their second collaboration, "Adore," and he's got at least one track on the upcoming new Kanye West album, too.
Effectively razzing everyone who's written off dance music as computer oontz-oontz, this London group's live act combines — gasp! — real, classical strings with house, garage and breakbeats. Earlier this year, they snagged a Best Dance Recording Grammy for "Rather Be," the inescapable radio hit that made it to Number 10 on the Billboard 200. Hitting Ultra as part of their second U.S. tour, this show will mark how the group transitions from clubs to more cavernous spaces.
Hinging on a phrase that launched a sea of novelty T-shirts, DJ Snake's collab with Lil Jon, "Turn Down For What," most certainly thumped at a club, block party or sporting event near you. Without Lil Jon, though, this Frenchman does fine tearing off roofs on his own, going loud and brash with a similar blend of hip-hop-inflected electro. And it looks like "Turn Down For What" won't just be a pop blip — his new single with Major Lazer and Mø, "Lean On," is currently winding its way up international charts.
Though just 18 years old, Garrix has already got a couple of years of dance-music domination under his belt, with his breakout 2013 single "Animals" hitting the Top Ten on basically every international chart (and 21 on the Billboard Hot 100). Since then, Garrix's star continues shine — his brand-new single, "Don't Look Down," features no less than Usher on vocals.
A close musical cousin of Seth Troxler and Maceo Plex, Jones is another one of the formerly underground acts to poke up on a major stage at Ultra. While his DJ sets often go minimal, deep and tech-y, he's also seen mainstream success via his act Hot Natured, a collaboration with Lee Foss. Things are going so well in their camp, actually, that the two have just launched their own home for vocal-centric deep house, Emerald City.
This Canadian-born singer started out as a folk artist but later cut her teeth on the London and New York club scenes. She's accomplished the rare trick of pulling those underground sounds into the bona fide mainstream: Her breakout single "Hideaway" brought bubbling, R&B-inflected deep house to the Top 40, taking off so meteorically that it landed Kiesza on hit-parade bills like the Jingle Ball tour. Fans can likely expect the reveal of a few new — and probably unapologetically poppier — songs at her Ultra show. It comes just before the release of her forthcoming album, which features work from Swedish Eurovision finalist Loreen.
One of the past year's most meteoric success stories, this 23-year-old Norwegian went from bedroom producer to big name almost overnight. A large chunk of that is due to his remix of Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire," which boasts more than 25 million plays on Soundcloud. But another is his refusal to bow to easy, ear-pummeling formulas; instead playing a relatively chill, sunny, tropical take on house. Give him extra props for also refusing to just press play on his hits — which include "ID," Ultra Music Festival's official theme song — and instead actually performing on the festival's live stage.
It finally happened: Punters got tired of the nonstop drops and, perhaps looking for a more nuanced replacement, started to make deep house almost trendy. At the forefront of this grown-and-sexy sound is Spain-based smooth guy Maceo Plex. Though he's been going after-hours deep for almost a decade and a half on labels like Crosstown Rebels and his own imprint, Ellum, he's finally ascending to quasi-mainstream status, boasting more than half a million likes on Facebook.
Before teen mega-sensation Martin Garrix, there was Porter Robinson. The self-taught wunderkind broke out of the OWSLA roster around 2010 with a quiver full of massive bass drops and bangers. Now at an older, wiser, age 22, Robinson's dropped the bro-ness and transitioned to a more introspective sound. Unlike DJ slots past, at Ultra he'll offer the latest iteration of his new, totally live show, full of real-time sampling and a responsive light show.
At this point it wouldn't be Ultra without bass music's erstwhile boy king. Each new Skrillex release sets the main stage trends that others follow, and the most recent ones have signaled that wub-wub brutality is out; a hint of soul is in. While he won't get away without dropping some neon-tank-top favorites, fans can likely expect material from his recent Diplo collaboration, Jack Ü.
Rolling Stone named Terje's full-length, It's Album Time, one of the best electronic albums of 2014, noting its "vision of the future…filtered through the past." Indeed, Terje's ice-cool Nordic disco promises groovy musicality and an alternative to fist-pumping. With his recent remixes of artists like Bryan Ferry and Dolly Parton, his performance might also promise a history lesson.
Troxler's appearance at Ultra is either ironic, genius or both, as the Michigan native's long been an outspoken opponent of the commercial EDM scene. Still, he's become a headliner in his own right by refusing to go cheesy or compromise, forcing thousands to dance to pure techno and house via finely honed, traditional DJ skills. Troxler's a good bet for purists, even in a muddy field — and he may even crack out some actual vinyl.