No matter what you tell yourself, there is absolutely no way to catch every act that you want to see at Ultra Music Festival. Never mind the overlapping set times; just trying to traverse Bayfront Park is a daunting task once it's crammed with 100,000 ravers.
Our advice: Find a stage (or two) with lineups that you like and hang 'round till you're ready to call it a night. Another piece of advice: Avoid the main stage. Instead, stick to the smaller stages and tents like Underground Story or Carl Cox & Friends, which offer a wide variety of acts that are more than just button-pushers.
Here are our educated recommendations for whom you shouldn't miss at Ultra 2014.
2manydjs. The only thing that could make a 2manydjs performance better is if these brothers, Stephen and David Dewaele, were performing as Soulwax, their alternative electronic project. But they aren't, so get over it. And anyway, the Belgians have proved their DJ'ing is nearly as good as their live sets. It isn't mere luck that the Dewaele bros have been on top for almost two decades; they're constantly ahead of the curve while other acts seem to be chasing trends. Oh, and they've actually promised a new Soulwax album for 2014. So who knows? Maybe 2manydjs' set at Ultra might be the perfect time to preview some new material.
Art Department. Canadians Jonny White and Kenny Glasgow have been electronic dance music hot shots in their own right for a while now. But in 2009, at the urging of Crosstown Rebels label head Damian Lazarus, the pair brought their styles together to form Art Department, which they debuted live during WMC 2010. Blending everything from house to techno to hip-hop, White and Glasgow achieve both critical acclaim and an envious cult following. If you have not listened to the duo, you'd be remiss to pass up the opportunity at Ultra.
Cajmere. Curtis Alan Jones is known by several aliases, including Cajmere and Green Velvet. Under the latter moniker, he achieved dance-floor success with cuts like "La La Land" and "Shake & Pop." But his Cajmere brand has served him well for more than two decades. Tracks like "Percolator" and "Brighter Days" show a different side of Jones that's deeper and more soulful than his electro-pop-oriented Green Velvet efforts. But here's hoping his Ultra set shows all sides, because we'd be torn if we had to choose one over the other.
Claude VonStroke. While American fans eat up Dutch and French EDM, they seem to consistently overlook what is available in their own backyard. But Claude VonStroke doesn't really need to prove he's worth a listen. He's more than earned respect, both as the cofounder of Dirtybird Records and as the producer behind iconic cuts like "The Whistler" and "Who's Afraid of Detroit?"
Diplo. While the majority of festivalgoers salivate at the chance to catch dance music megastars at Ultra, we don't typically get too excited about the headliners, especially since they tend to stop by Miami on a pretty regular basis. Still, Diplo is probably reason enough to take a peek at the main stage. You can call him a sellout all you want, but oh how quickly you've forgotten his Hollertronix days. And while last year's Major Lazer effort, Free the Universe, was a dud, Dip and crew's 2009 debut, Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do, remains a landmark dance record. Only thing we ask of Wesley Pentz is to cool it with the onstage antics and just stick to manning the decks.
Jamie Jones. As a DJ and producer, Jones is an object of adulation to both industry peers and dance music fans. But his lasting legacy will definitely be the founding of his Hot Creations label with Lee Foss, which pioneered the scene's current affinity for deep disco and soul. Of course, his imprint's warm, melodic sound is also pervasive in Jones' own work, including his latest cut with Digitaria, "Planets, Spaceships." The tech-house track buzzes and wobbles without ever overwhelming the listener. It's the kind of track you can dance to for hours. And if you need a 305-till-you-die reason to love Jones, he also happens to be responsible for releasing Danny Daze's "Your Everything," which brought the Miami-Dade County native international attention.
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Oliver. Los Angeles' Oliver may not always put forth the most progressive beats. But this duo tends to remember something a lot of other acts forget: that dance music should be fun! These days, it seems as though every DJ wants to either phone it in or completely destroy the sound equipment. Yet Oliver keeps its melodies squarely on the nü-disco and electro tip — and we'd like to wholeheartedly thank them for that dedication to enjoying playful party music, letting go, and just enjoying the company around you.
Pete Tong. Few people in the electronic dance music industry possess the sort of wide-ranging influence Pete Tong enjoys. As host of BBC Radio 1's Essential Mix and Essential Selection, he's been dictating the course of popular dance for more than two decades. Naturally, he's expanded his brand stateside with an iHeartRadio partnership that includes the EDM channel Evolution and a two-hour program, All Gone Pete Tong. Today's EDM acts owe a lot of gratitude to Tong, because without his support, who knows if dance music would've risen so high, so fast in these past few years?
DJ Snake. Who knew that a Frenchie could deliver the bro-iest brostep track ever? But "Turn Down for What," featuring Lil Jon, just might be the track you'll hear nonstop during Winter Music Conference, Miami Music Week, and Ultra 2014. And with a video that screams viral — taking a page right out of the "Harlem Shake" handbook — we can imagine Snake's latest topping the Billboard charts soon enough. Still, we've got to give props to DJ Snake for injecting life into a genre that we thought (hoped?) would die this season.
Tale of Us. Germans do it better. That's true about a lot of things but especially techno. And this Berlin tag team, consisting of Matteo Milleri and Karm, believes music should tell a story, and it has been spinning ambitious, narratively evocative tech tunes since 2010. The two had a massive year in 2013 thanks to their Another Earth EP, which propelled them to the number-two spot on Resident Advisor's Top DJ poll. Along with residencies at Richie Hawtin's Enter. at Space Ibiza and Circoloco at DC10, Milleri and Karm have kept plenty busy. More recently, they were at the Vagabond during Art Basel Miami Beach for the Life and Death showcase. So if you stupidly missed that opportunity to catch the Tale of Us guys, here's your makeup session.