Ultra Newb Fest: Why EDM’s Biggest Festival Is A Damn Scam
Ultra Music Festival 2012 is right around the corner, and a lot of you have received your blinged out holographic tickets via UPS. As everyone shows off their shiny pass to pleasure, I feel somehow responsible and ashamed that Ultra is revered as this iconic dance music festival. I am a Miami native, and grew up with Winter Music Conference in my backyard. I have been a supporter of the dance music scene for almost 15 years. In that time, I have seen Ultra grow from a tiny dance party on the beach to a full-fledged powerhouse that has changed dance music forever. Although that may not necessarily be a good thing.
Winter Music Conference vs. Ultra Music Festival
It might be helpful to some of the newer arrivals to understand how it all started.
Winter Music Conference started in the mid ’80s as a global networking event for people in the dance music community. Basically, it brought every promoter, DJ, producer, A&R and media from all over the world to Miami for a week, and they throw parties around the clock. Artists showcase all their new tracks and up-and-coming talent is given center stage.
It started off as this small, tight-knit community which organically grew, as did dance music over the course of the ’90s. Most parties were thrown by individual record labels / promotion companies, and many were free with RSVP. Fast forward to 1999, and two businesses partners realize, hey every big DJ in the world is here in Miami but they all play separate parties. Let’s combine them and throw the biggest party of WMC. And BOOM! Ultra Music Festival was born.
The Good Ol’ Beach Days
Without dating myself too much, I will say that I was underage for the first couple of years at Ultra, which was a huge draw for me. I wasn’t able to get into most South Beach clubs during WMC (unless you had the right denomination underneath your id), so I went to as many all ages events as possible.
The first Ultra was one of those I attended, which took place on the actual beach. I believe I paid $40 for the ticket which was unheard of for a party at the time. They had two large tents that held about 1,000 people each, a couple smaller tents and a main stage. My fondest memory of that night was the first time I ever saw Rabbit in the Moon, who co-headlined the first year and returned a numerous times.
The second year, the party again was held on the beach, a little farther north. But this time, it doubled in size. Four large tents on a larger section of beach, two big stages and a lot more people. It was a super hot day, but you could cool off in the ocean while still hearing DJ Dara and Ak1200 play in the Jungle Tent, and a bottle of water was only $1.
The Monster Must Eat.
Organizers realized after two years they had something special on their hands, and the city of Miami took notice. Working with Ultra, they moved the venue to Bayfront Park (which is where the festival is this year). I attended year after year. The stages got bigger, the names got bigger, the crowds got bigger. It became this monster, where everyone just went nuts on the last night of Winter Music Conference.
I will admit I definitely I have had fun at Ultra, especially those first few years. In 2005 the festival was still growing, and promoters started coming up with better ways to maximize profits. That was the first year I noticed $5 bottles of waters.
Try Not To Feed It.
I went one more year in 2006, and that was the first year they tried to cram everyone in Bicentennial Park. With record breaking crowds, the smaller venue was just a horrible idea. That was the second year in a row I felt I was being gouged on everything, and spent well over $100 on water alone. On plastic fucking bottles of water.
After being rushed out of the venue at 11:45 being charged $80 for some official afterparty, I vowed to never feed the monster ever again.
WTF is MMW?
Last year, there was a whole debacle over scheduling and logistics with Winter Music Conference, and Ultra decided to part ways – at least for last year. But, a new brand was born, Miami Music Week.
Don’t ever call it that, at least to me. That’s like coming to Chicago, and calling the Sears Tower, the Willis Tower. You just don’t fuck with some institutions that are part of the culture. It will always be Winter Music Conference. Miami Music Week is rebranded to help pull in more money, and has nothing to do with Winter Music Conference.
More Days … More Dollars.
Increasing the number of opportunities to pillage the pocketbooks of the willing seems to be good strategy. The festival has now grown into a three-day extravaganza with a sold out crowd of over 100,000. That means dancefloors will be a lot tighter. Who the hell wants to go to shit where you have no room to dance? Jumping up and down fistpumping doesn’t count, bro.
Also the whole no re-entry on a festival of this magnitude is just plain silly. Instead of getting to check out Miami, most who shell out the average ticket price of $300 are going to be confined at the venue for almost 12 hours for three days. By the time most leave Ultra, they down have the resources to go check out smaller parties.
Exclusive DJ Sets
Some of you may of heard Deadmau5 griefing openly about a newer tactic Ultra is employing in regards to talent: exclusivity. The 12-minute video has since been removed from Youtube, but the Mau5 had a point. They are limiting some artists to playing only at Ultra for insane premiums. And more power to the artist in that respect. If you landed Ultra and were paid top dollar to be exclusive for the week, as a struggling artist I fully support this endeavor. But in regards to Ultra, the promoter / media side of me says this is just plain wrong. They are in effect shutting down other oppurtunities especially for the smaller labels / parties, and for the artist to promote themselves in more intimate settings for their fans.
BUT THEY HAVE IT ALL.
I’m not going to argue with you there. They do have a shit load of premium talent playing together that you aren’t going to see anywhere else on the planet. But you have to pay for it. And if money is no object, than by all means Richie Rich, go down to So Fla and throw your stacks around. It takes some serious bucks to be extremely comfortable the entire weekend. Hotels and rental cars are triple normal prices, and food and drinks in South Beach or Ultra aren’t cheap. Just remember to sit down when your credit card bill for April comes in.
The biggest thing I want to express to all of those are going this year or will in the future, is do not focus in on Ultra as the sole purpose of your travels. Go spend that money in the local bars and hotels where some of the best talent you haven’t heard is playing. That’s what it has always been about – discovering new music and new artists. Being able to jump around from club to club, party to party, and meet so many people, without being confined to one of the ugliest parts of Miami: downtown.
Go check out the daytime pool parties all along Collins on South Beach. You can find a complete list of the parties associated with WMC at the LIST. Go check out Nikki Beach, or the Perry for their beach parties. Hit up clubs like the Vagabond, Bardot and Grand Central. All of those venues have some pretty amazing parties planned!
Many of these parties are still free with RSVP so make sure you send those requests in early!