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Looking Back at the Ultra Music Festival: Dance Music Triumphs, Madonna and Some of Our Favorite Festival Moments

Madonna_Avicii by Seth Browarnik - worldredeye.com

David Guetta perfectly summed up the success of dance music in America when he took a quick pause during his DJ set at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami last weekend to reflect for a minute. The French superstar DJ turned down the volume and asked the crowd, "Do you realize what’s going on in the world — and in America especially? Our music is taking over and it's crazy!"

Thousands of dance music fans agreed, raised their glow sticks in the air and enthusiastically cheered him on. Guetta has been a driving force behind the triumphant rise of dance music in America and the Ultra Music Festival offered a great moment for him to take it all in and celebrate EDM together with 165,000 other revellers who all had come out to see dozens and dozens of DJs perform across 8 stages in downtown Miami. Featured performers included established dance superstars like Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Kaskade, Afrojack, Martin Solveig, Justice, Avicii, Skrillex and Benny Benassi but also newcomers like Sydney Samson, Madeon and Dev.

Even Madonna, who has always had her finger on the pulse of what's hot and about to happen, travelled to Miami to make an appearance on the main stage and introduce Avicii. Not only was the Queen of Pop's presence at the Ultra Music Festival a clever marketing move to promote her new LP "MDNA," it also represented an enthusiastic endorsement of dance music by the pop mainstream and its ruling elite.

I attended the Ulta Music Festival (that coincides with the Winter Music Conference industry gathering in South Beach) for the very first time and I was impressed by the magnitude of the festival, the passion of the fans and the musical innovation demonstrated by the event's diverse line up. Steven Siegel, ArjanWrites.com's dance music expert at large (and trusted camera man), joined the festivities as well and he summed up some of his favorite acts of the weekend.

The main stage at Ultra was clearly where the action was all weekend, but no one dropped a set that brought the crowd together like Armin van Buuren, the world’s number one DJ. While countless main headliners overlapped on much of their material, the Dutch superstar DJ brought a much needed break to the commercial house environment that was dominating the main stage. There wasn’t a sniff of "Levels," "Maximal Crazy," or "Can’t Stop Me Now," in this set. Rather, Armin rocked the crowd from the very beginning with his vocal-infused melodic trance. Huge synth breakdowns brought everyone’s hands in the air and the drops were still filled with enough head banging bass to keep the house lover happy. Van Buuren’s refreshing sound combined with his mind-awakening light show was a wise choice as the final act of Ultra. 

From the very beginning of Justice's main stage set, you knew this was going to be something different. No other DJs had setups like Justice. The stacks of Marshall amps and their lighted cross are familiar to many fans of the French House 2.0 purveyors,but most of the young EDM lovers at Ultra 2012 had probably never seen them play before. As such, Justice seamlessly weaved components of their two albums together,mixing various vocal parts of their 2007 debut album "Cross" with the instrumental tracks of "Audio, Video, Disco." Overall, their rock infused electro sound combined with their impressive technical ability made Justice one of the highlights of Ultra 2012.

Many dance music revelers impressed they were with "this little French kid Madeon." I think for Madeon, there is going to be a "before Ultra" portion of his career” and an "after Ultra" as many American fans were blown away by his set. The truth is, there are not many people out there making music like him right now. His productions feature all the little intricate elements of dubstep but are composed in a melodic way that makes his music universally appealing.

All the Madeon classics were present in his set "Raise Your Weapon," "Que Veux Tu" —along with his new remix for Martin Solveig’s "The Night Out" and his recent single "Icarus," Madeon played at the smaller UMF Korea tent this year at 4 in the afternoon. Only a year ago, Avicii was in the same exact situation, playing at the main stage at an earlier time. Could this French prodigy be the next superstar to emerge out of Ultra? I guess we’ll have to wait until Ultra 2013 to find out.

(Review of Armin van Buuren, Justice and Madeon by ArjanWrites.com dance music contributor Steven Siegel. You reach Steve and listen to his own productions on SoundCloud. Steven tweets at@steviesiegs.)

April 1, 2012 | Permalink