The threat of thunderstorms wasn’t enough to keep people away as tens of thousands flowed through the streets of Miami towards the festival gates. My second day began with Dyro, a 23 year old Dutch producer, DJ, label owner and radio show host – what an underachiever. Despite the sweltering heat at two in the afternoon, a healthy crowd had gathered to see his set. He delivered a heavy-hitting set filled with mostly bangers and incorporated tracks from his latest Set Me Free EP. We had the chance to sit down with him for an interview after his main stage set to talk about what it was like growing up as a DJ (he had an interesting and mature outlook on it and said he wished he would have waited longer before “making it” at 18) and where he’s taking his WOLV empire, so stay tuned for that.
Thomas Jack was a nice change of pace. The cherubic icon of tropical house hit the live stage at five alongside two big fruits: a banana that played sax and flute and an orange with a violin. The Australian producer and DJ has a handful of originals and remixes under his belt and has done guest mixes for Pete Tong and others, as well as graced the stages of Coachella, TomorrowWorld and now Ultra. His music is in the same vein as Kygo and he’s definitely worth checking out if he’s on the lineup of a festival you’re attending. I’ve also never seen a DJ smile as much as Thomas Jack, but if his music is any indication as to what’s going on in his head, he has no reason not to.
The first time I saw AlunaGeorge was back at iii points in October. I’d heard a few of their songs before, but didn’t make the connection until I heard them perform. The british duo is fronted by Aluna Francis and the beat is carried by George Reid and they’ve been featured on songs like DJ Snake’s “You Know You Like It” and Jack Ü’s “To Ü”. Know who we’re talking about now? Good. Having seen them before, I knew what to expect and they lived up to the hype. Aluna’s vocals were on point and she seductively sauntered around stage in a short white mesh skirt and sports bra while George kept the rhythm and beats tight. A must-see act.
Tiesto was slotted for a 7:15 sunset session. The father of house music needs no introduction and with over 20 years of experience, knew exactly how to put the massive sound system to use. If you haven’t heard of Tiesto, you’re probably a cave-dweller and while never having seen him perform is only slightly less troglodytic, now you have no excuse.
I was surprised to see a handful of acts on the lineup and DJ Sasha was one of them. At 46 years old, the same age as Tiesto, Sasha has a large discography and long list of accolades, including being voted the #1 DJ in the world, winning a handful of dance music awards and earning a Grammy nod. His remix of Grand National’s “Talk Amongst Yourselves” remains one of my all-time favorite tracks. He was scheduled to play the Resistance stage – a giant metal spider structure with laser eyes that spit fire and held the DJ directly over the crowd in a booth that was attached to its underside. Sasha drew a smaller, but intimate crowd and played a fierce techno set that demonstrated and reminded people of his capabilities.
Afrojack was next up on the main stage. I’d recently seen him at TomorrowWorld and was a little underwhelmed. His set seemed kind of generic and lacking in energy or enthusiasm. This time it seemed like a completely different person. The lights of the main stage went dark as he came out, announcing how happy he was to be here tonight. The dozens of LED screens and lights lit up in a brilliant blue as he kicked his set off with “Ten Feet Tall“, which had the hungry crowd screaming along. That was followed by his latest release, “Unstoppable“, a big room banger that had a huge contrast compared to the happy feels of the prior song. His set was off the charts and made me reevaluate my opinion on him as a DJ.
Avicii returned to the main stage this year following Afrojack. From what I saw and heard, his set from Ultra 2015 had a great start, but the last half left something to be desired. Ultra 2016 must be the year of redemption because he killed it. He opened with “Without You“, an ID track from his next album. “I Could Be The One” followed, which lead into “Faster Than Light”. To say he delivered would be like saying UPS moves a few boxes.
Another big surprise on the lineup was the announcement of The Prodigy playing the live stage. The group has been around in one form or another for over 25 years and was responsible for introducing me to EDM with their breakbeats and industrial techno with their Fat Of The Land album back in middle school. I never got the chance to see them live and was excited to finally be able to check them off, as “Firestarter” and “Breathe” were essential skate tracks back in the day. I was a little let down when I overheard the whispers on the press boat that they’d canceled at the last minute. I wasn’t the only one. Those were some massive shoes to fill and the savior of the set came from an unlikely source: Deadmau5.
While I’m a huge fan of his music, I’d heard so many mixed reviews about his live sets that I tried going into it with no expectations. What I saw blew me away. A “ghost” in a sheet came out on stage and most were under the assumption this was some sort of prank or trolling, which he’s notorious for, until the man in the mau5 mask stepped out on the stage and shooed the ghost away. He opened with some synth heavy tracks and his set bounced back and forth between deep and dark techno and melodic trance. The mau5 head only stayed on for a few songs, which is understandable considering it was still probably 85 degrees out, even though the sun had set a few hours ago. Deadmau5 played a handful of classic and familiar tracks like his remix of “Longest Road” and “Ghosts n’ Stuff”, which he smashed up into The Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” while he poured some water out onto the ground to pay respect to the homies that couldn’t be here tonight. A class act and one of the best sets of the weekend. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do on the A State Of Trance stage, but more on that tomorrow.
Fireworks exploded signaling the end of Hardwell’s mainstage set and a close to day 2 of Ultra Music Festival.