Ultra Music Festival 2008 - Day 1 at Bicentennial Park
Richie Hawtin (if you squint) at the Ultra Festival
For the most part, Ultra proves to be the biggest waste of time at the conference. The candy ravers and goth kids kind of make me feel old—the median age of attendees must be somewhere around 17—but the sound is the biggest problem here. Out in the open, it all bleeds together to the point where you can’t distinguish Erol Alkan from Boys Noize from Justice from Tiësto from…ok, well, Tiësto clearly sucks no matter what. But either way, this whole setup is just an aural and logistical clusterfuck, which is a shame because there are some great musicians on the bill.
Inside the Carl Cox & Friends tent, this proves to be especially true: Carl Cox, of course, Josh Wink, Danny Tenaglia, and Richie Hawtin, who just blows me away. I’ve never seen someone be such a cocktease with bass, but he knows exactly how to do it right. Characteristic acid and techno gives way to a fist-pumping old-school house finale before Tenaglia takes over. And when Carl Cox comes on I feel bad for hating on those kids earlier, because this shit makes me feel like I’m a teenager going out to clubs for the first time, and it feels awesome.
One Night Only… an AM Only Event at Karu & Y
Misstress Barbara at Karu & Y
It turns out that Karu & Y is exactly the kind of place I’ve been dreading we would end up at eventually. The line to get in is down the block, and it’s a full-on dress code, bottle service crowd. Some of them are nice enough, like the blonde who gushes over Lisa and insists they’re best friends when she lets her bum a cigarette. I overhear some disconcerting chatter, though, specifically the fact that the cover to get in tonight is $70—which, in a way, is justifiable considering the lineup, but still. I decide to see just how useful this press pass of mine is.
Turns out, not very. I take us to the front of the VIP/press line and smoothly tell the woman with the clipboard that I’m with PopMatters, assuring her that, even though she can’t find me on the list, my editor has made the proper arrangements for me and my photographers here. When that doesn’t work, I mention that the site gets millions of hits every day (it doesn’t), so if the club wants the publicity they should really let us in, because what difference is three more people anyway?
She looks us meaningfully up and down and doesn’t budge. I try to retaliate, but the six-hour energy drink I had at Ultra is starting to wreak havoc on my digestive system, so my arguments quickly deteriorate into inhuman snarls of desperation and finally, into surrender. Seventy bucks poorer, I make sure to take my vengeance upon the bathroom once we’re inside.
Of course, it ends up being totally worth it. While I’m murdering the bathroom, Lisa runs into Philly’s own Dave P, whose earlier set we missed. The outdoor room where he played is the one that’s completely stacked, though, so we end up camping out there for the rest of the night, ignoring both indoor douchebag-filled rooms.
Misstress Barbara plays a block of funky techno, and Green Velvet follows by adding even more bounce. Around 4:00 or so, Matt and Lisa head back to the hotel, but I resolve to go all out tonight and still be here when the sun rises. Steve Bug inadvertently provides the soundtrack to my decision, opening his set with the Carl Craig remix of Sebastien San’s “Rising Sun”; when that yields to the Dubfire rework of “Spastik” by Plastikman, everyone loses their shit.
I’m still going strong for Guy Gerber, and when he plays “Belly Dancing”, it has the effect of a Jäeger bomb. The sky is getting steadily lighter now, and rather than thin out, the crowd is swelling, both with exiles from the now-closed indoors and with brand new arrivals looking for the early morning action. By the time Richie Hawtin and Magda hit the stage, the whole place is jammed.
I’m starting to feel fatigue now, relying on pure adrenaline to keep my body locked into the inertia of non-deliberate dancing, and Richie’s bass-withholding habits aren’t helping me to maintain a steady groove. He and Magda switch off every couple tracks, though, so it’s fun to watch, until the whole system shorts out, eliciting thunderous applause. It’s not long before they get everything up and running again, but when it happens again, and then a third time, my fragile nerves can’t take it, and I stumble out into the blinding 9 a.m. sun and hail a cab.
The Odyssey: A Yacht Party
Jarred awake by sub-par dubstep, the bass pummeling and reverberating off every surface in the room. I’m exhausted and my legs are sore. The Hi-Tek Soul party with Kevin Saunderson is not even an option. It’s going to be enough of a struggle to get to the yacht before it sets sail.
Matthew Dear doing his Audion thing
Of course, by now it’s common knowledge that the Odyssey ultimately only sailed for about 45 minutes, if that, due to a busted generator. This, after getting underway two hours late thanks to Homeland Security all but cavity-searching everyone before boarding. Yeah, Homeland Security was there. Because if I were a terrorist I’d go straight for the techno parties; that’s how you break America’s spirit!
No matter. The tracks Kate Simko plays are perfect sunset minimal as we slip away from the dock, and Pär Grindvik goes even deeper with his live set. By the time Matthew Dear gets on, the boat is no longer sailing, but that doesn’t mean it’s stopped moving. People are literally swinging from the rafters, hanging upside-down and screaming. Richie Hawtin is posing for pictures. Seth Troxler is wearing booty shorts and grinding up on girls. Dear plays an edit of “Mouth to Mouth” that causes a collective orgasm. Seriously, I can’t do this anymore; look for a clip on YouTube.
His last track, and essentially the last thing I hear at the Winter Music Conference, is brand new and a seeeeecret, according to one of the label reps onboard. A few weeks later, Dear’s hard drive will be stolen literally right out from under his nose at a Brooklyn gig. I hope to God he has that track backed up somewhere.
And so our trip comes winding down. We have a flight at six in the morning, so we decide that the Odyssey is as good a place as any to end it. We spend our last night in the hotel room and in the pool, drinking and making our own playlist, going without sleep until it’s time to throw everything in a suitcase and hail a cab to take us to the airport. I suppose it was poor planning to leave before Sunday School for Degenerates, but we’ll be back next year, seasoned professionals.
Outside it’s still dark. We put our bags in the trunk of the cab, take one last look into the lobby of the Miami Beach Resort & Spa and speed away to the airport. I fall asleep immediately after boarding the plane, and when I wake up I’m back to reality, sunny but in the 40s.
// Notes from the Road
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