For its 13th-annual edition, the Ultra Music Festival has expanded to three full days of electronic excess with a 200-plus-act lineup that's just as stacked as ever, featuring dance music legends like Underworld, Carl Cox, and Moby as well as crossover stars like Crystal Castles, Jinder, !!!, Cut Copy, Röyksopp, and Disco Biscuits — not to mention pop larks such as '80s new-wave godfathers Duran Duran. Add the fact that the fest sold out a full month and four days before its scheduled start date and 2011 has been Ultra's most massive triumph so far. Here are spotlight interviews with Röyksopp, Moby, Simian Mobile Disco, and !!! — all of whom are expected to have a huge impact this weekend.
Röyksopp. Friday, March 25.
Röyksopp albums, like all good things in life, come to those who wait. The duo of Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland began experimenting with synthesizers together as kids in their small, subarctic hometown of Tromsø, Norway.
Ultra Music Festival. Friday, March 25; Saturday, March 26; and Sunday, March 27, at Bicentennial Park, 1075 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are sold out. Click here.
"I remember seeing this documentary when I was 7, I think, about robots. And the sound for that specific documentary was the track 'The Robots' by Kraftwerk," Berge recalls. "All that put together in the mind of a small child who was fascinated by Luke Skywalker and whatnot — it kind of connected." That cosmic, expansive take on music, as well as a habit of eschewing the latest studio tricks, has allowed Melody A.M. — and its 2005 follow-up, The Understanding — to age particularly well.
Then, after an average four-year interval between albums, Röyksopp released not only another album, Junior, in 2009, but also Senior in 2010. Conceived as companion pieces, they differed widely in mood and composition. Where Junior was often relentlessly upbeat — heavy on chirping female vocals and danceable tempos — Senior was the polar opposite: moody, dubby, almost minimal.
So which side of Röyksopp will come out when the band arrives to play Ultra Music Festival, its first Miami gig in about seven years? Well, probably both — and some other side too, considering the band's famous costumed onstage antics and its knack for surprise.
"Obviously, we're not in the Elton John league," Berge says. "We don't want it to turn into some kind of cabaret from 1926 or a rock opera kind of thing." Arielle Castillo
Moby. Saturday, March 26.
You won't find wabi-sabi at your local sushi bar. Though it sounds like a spicy condiment, it's actually a Japanese worldview centered on acceptance of transience, and it's the way New York-based DJ, singer/songwriter, and producer Moby determines the aesthetic value of his recordings.
"When things are kind of broken down and entropy has entered the system, oftentimes things become more endearing and more sympathetic," he explains. "I kind of want to make noisy, endearing, broken-down records using old, broken-down pieces of equipment. I'm 45 years old, and I'm kind of a broken-down piece of equipment, so it makes sense to me."
That stands in contrast to Moby's 1999 pop-friendly album, Play, which incorporated loops of old, static-washed gospel and blues field songs with arrangements so impeccable that the album became a breakout success, certified ten times platinum. But the Moby of the early '90s was a producer of deep, tribal acid house, and he transitioned from ecstasy-rich funky techno to aggro-industrial before hitting on the Play formula. From the beginning, he loved a mangled analog synth bass line. And his upcoming full length, Destroyed, encapsulates Moby's production initiative to show how "the familiar can sometimes be strange and disconcerting, and conversely the strange and disconcerting can sometimes be familiar."
When DJing at events such as Ultra Music Festival, though, Moby confesses that old tendencies can supersede his respect for subtlety: "I tend to just play big, over-the-top, bombastic rave anthems as loud as possible. That either makes me complicated, schizophrenic, or hypocritical — I don't know." Tony Ware
Simian Mobile Disco. Saturday, March 26.
By the mid '00s, Simian Mobile Disco was among the leaders of the indie-dance crossover pack. Its in-your-face, heavily vocal pump-ups were largely responsible for getting rock kids out on the floor again, thanks to the infectious sass of monster tracks such as "Hustler," off the 2007 debut, Attack Decay Sustain Release. And the 2009 follow-up, Temporary Pleasure, only further cemented this genre-straddling.
So when the duo of James Ford and James "Jas" Shaw this year released its latest full-length collection, Delicacies, some fans were understandably confused. Unapologetically deep and dubby, the nine tracks are, essentially, pure techno and don't offer a single sing-along hook.
But those who listen carefully and have followed the pair's extracurricular activities will note it as an evolution. "We've always had kind of a techno leaning. But it's almost like a Jekyll and Hyde thing with the pop stuff," Ford says.
Still, fans missing the other side of the Simian Mobile Disco spectrum shouldn't despair. Ford and Shaw are working on another album that will bring back some of the old pop flair. And at Ultra, the group will duly play the old hits, reworked to blend seamlessly with the new.
"We still play 'Hustler' in the live show to be fair, though we've got a bunch of different versions," Ford says. "And we still play stuff from the first album. We probably will play, like, 50-50, but they mix together quite well. You'd be quite surprised how it feels like one bunch of music." Arielle Castillo
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!!!. Sunday, March 27.
The art-pop maestros of !!! (pronounced chk-chk-chk) are a rowdy, snarky blast punctuated by rippling bass sweeps, woozy synth codas, and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. But the outfit faces more competition than ever in the realm of rhythm-oriented indie rock. From Hot Chip to the Klaxons to Cut Copy, many of the liveliest bands these days have an unmistakably dancey pulse.
"It was a natural progression from blues-based rock 'n' roll to '70s and '80s black rhythms," says !!! vocalist Nic Offer, taking a break from rehearsals in his native Sacramento, California. "There are more possibilities there." As the band members gear up for a 16-date tour that will include an appearance at Ultra Music Fest on Sunday, they seem eager to continue honing their sweaty, dizzyingly paced brand of dance rock. Although well-received, !!!'s summer disc, Strange Weather, Isn't It?, failed to garner the enthusiastic acclaim that greeted both the 2005 EP Let's Take Ecstasy/Get Up and the 2007 tour de force Myth Takes. The songs were fun but lacked the outfit's usual sprawling sense of atmosphere, sometimes feeling shallow or undercooked next to the greatest !!! tunes, such as hypnotic Myth Takes highlight "Bend Over Beethoven."
"We want something a little more raw," Offer continues, noting that !!! has a new album due this fall. "We're always trying to make a record that matches our live show." But he shouldn't be hard on himself. These smirking bad boys never fail to induce dance-floor hysteria. M.T. Richards