Yes, Ultra Music Festival was born of and remains true to the best and the brightest in DJ culture. But the fest's preeminence goes well above and beyond two turntables and Serato. According to UMF codirector Russell Faibisch, this year's lineup numbers nearly 260 artists and runs from the Satellite Radio Stage of up-and-coming DJs to main-stage heavyweights such as Tiësto, the Prodigy, and Paul van Dyk.
Here are some of the highlights, broken down by days and stages. If you truly know how to keep a beat, you just might catch most of them.
Ultra's first day may not begin till 4 p.m., but that doesn't mean you won't be floored by its midnight close. Dutch trance master Tiësto is the ultimate main-stage headliner, but everybody seems to be talking about the booking of three-time Grammy Award-winning supergroup Black Eyed Peas. It seems this coup came about after Peas leader will.i.am approached Ultra and asked to play so the fest's highly influential multitudes could get with his band's electronica-laced latest LP, The E.N.D., before everyone else.
But pop and trance are not the only things main-staging on this night. British indie darlings Bloc Party, their dance-pop countrymen the Ting Tings, and Northern English export the Whip will hit the stage. Can't-miss house heavies include Deadmau5, Steve Lawler, and David Guetta. Better yet, there's gonna be a set from everybody's favorite American sensation, Santigold, who brings her blend of punk, electro, and dub. And don't think for a second that you're gonna see any of the above anywhere else during WMC: Their performances this week are all exclusive to Ultra.
The Bayfront Live Stage runs from drum 'n' bass heads Roni Size & Reprazent and Pendulum to stutter-edit king BT to Oklahoma-born modern rockists Shiny Toy Guns to perennial Ultra players Rabbit in the Moon.
Of course, some Ultra Fest fans couldn't care less about stages, live or otherwise, and instead flock to the tent helmed by head-spinner Carl Cox. A dozen years ago, Cox was named DJ magazine's best in the world, and if last year's reception was any indication, he remains at the top of a crowded heap. Tonight the original "Three Deck Wizard" will be joined by tech minimalist Richie Hawtin, German über-girl tINI, and Swiss mixmaster Luciano, who goes up against Tunisian-born, Düsseldorf-based badass Loco Dice.
Naturally that's not nearly all. But if you wanna wild through the Amnesia Ibiza Arena for the Swedish House Mafia, the Biscayne Stage for the Bloody Beetroots and LA Riots, or the 50-plus turntablists manning the decks in either the Eco Village or the Day Glow Arena, that's on you.
As everyone now well knows, dance-rock masters the Prodigy are back, and if you've not caught them out under the stars among 20,000 crazed dance fans, well, you just haven't been festing. Former trance man Paul van Dyk will also be main-staging this night, right before the Prodigy, and before him will be Dutch kingpin Armin van Buuren (DJ mag's number one in the world for two years running). There's also German electro-house duo Booka Shade, British trance trio Above & Beyond, and America's own Kaskade. In other words, be prepared to be propelled right outta your mind.
Saturday also happens to be the day that the Carl Cox tent truly explodes. Moby's spinning again; so are Pete Tong and Argentina's Elio Riso. Carl's on board too, of course, but this year's prime-time 5 to 7 p.m. slot goes to Colombian-American Erick Morillo, who's gone from Strictly Rhythm to Subliminal without missing a beat.
This night, the Bayfront Live Stage breaks meaty, beaty, big, and bouncy, with Deadmau5 (again), Cut Copy, Simian Mobile Disco, Crystal Castles, and MSTRKRFT. But we've got a sneaky suspicion that much of the throng will be drawn to New York DJ Andy Butler's magnificent Hercules and Love Affair. As you've undoubtedly heard somewhere over the past year, Hercules' DFA debut brings dance back to an era when singers made a song and melody was more than a stolen sample. Perhaps that's why Pitchfork named the group's "Blind" the Best Song of 2008.
Sydney-based dance band the Presets and Brit four-piece Late of the Pier also grace the Bayfront Stage on Saturday, and both know how to show and show strong. BT's bringing his Laptop Symphony over to the Biscayne Stage, and Goldie's got it goin' on in the MidPark Arena that night too. Then there are another 90 acts split among the Eco Village, the Day Glow Arena, and something swingin' called the UMF Collective, but we wouldn't know where you'd wanna begin, so we won't even try to tell you. Check it out and see the rest for yourself.