MIAMI — When you hear the bass booming from downtown Miami's Ultra Music Festival, you know summer festival season has arrived.
That's about to happen.
From March 18-20, Miami transforms into a big dance music industry sleep-away camp, where everyone from DJs to producers, label execs, press and fans converge in the tens of thousands. It's the three-day festival that makes and breaks new superstars. For artists, it's the time to unleash new sounds and styles. Ultra has brought special guests from Puff Daddy to Justin Bieber to Madonna out to it's main stage, and it's quite possibly the most consistently diverse electronic music lineup on the modern market.
Ultra celebrates 17 years of breathtaking performances and headline-grabbing moments in 2016. It's once again sold out and ready to welcome at least 50,000 partiers each day to its seven stages in beautiful Bayfront Park, Ultra's home for the last 10 years. This year, the festival features a lot of old performers and plenty of new ones, and from the more than 150 stellar artists on the ample bill, these are 20 you shouldn't miss.
1. Snails (Friday, Worldwide Stage)
Wonky dubstep is making a comeback, and Snails is one of the fresh, innovative faces of the nu school movement. His sound is grimy and slimy, like the creature that shares his name. It's slightly alien in nature, totally freaky and full of bizarre sounds. It's weird to say it, but he makes dubstep sound exciting again, and for that, we thank him.
2. Chet Faker (Friday, Live Stage)
Australian multi-instrumentalist Chet Faker is a bearded heartthrob and one hell of a damn fine performer. His grooves are downtempo sex funk and his voice is soulful honesty. He blends electronic elements with gospellike key chords. To hear him and watch him sing is to fall in love. Get ready for sonic romance.
3. Jamie Jones (Friday, Resistance Stage)
Deep house has a lot of heroes, but this two-time DJ Award winner is one of its greatest champions. He has a distinctive, funky edge with a tinge of exotic eroticism. He's head honcho at critically acclaimed label Hot Creations and band leader in supergroup Hot Natured. He's topped the picky Resident Advisor top 100 DJ poll and is a fan favorite in hotspots from NYC to Ibiza.
4. Miike Snow (Friday, Live Stage)
Since releasing its self-titled debut album in 2009, Miike Snow has been one of dance music's most beloved bands. Comprised of Grammy-winning pop producers (Britney Spears “Toxic”), including one half of Galantis, the Swedish trio is back with a third rump-shaking masterpiece. The 10-track "iii" was released earlier this month, so listen up and prepare for electropop's triumphant return.
5. Alison Wonderland (Friday, Worldwide Stage)
If you need a trap queen, you can let Alison Wonderland be that for an hour. The singer-producer knows how to build a breakneck beat, and she's got a hyped-up energy on stage that can't be matched. She never stops jumping, and that kind of attitude is infectious. Her 2015 LP, "Run," is still giving everyone funny feelings, so expect a lot of people declaring their love from the front row.
6. Caribou (Friday, Live Stage)
It's been a couple years since Canadian composer Dan Snaith released a Caribou album — the last was 2014's "Our Love" — but that hasn't dampened desires to see him perform his music live. His sound is heavily synthesized and full of strange noises, his vocals hanging over the songs like a mist. There's an element of psych-folk to it too, at times sounding like a more straightforward Animal Collective. Watching him compose over computers is sure to be a mystifying experience.
7. Carl Cox (Friday and Saturday, Carl Cox & Friends)
This is the man, the myth, the legend. He's the only artist to have his very own UMF stage, and even though he plays at least two headlining sets there every year, he's still one of the most talked about performers on the lineup. It's almost a rite of passage to see him go ham on the house vibes.
8. The Prodigy (Saturday, Live Stage)
Ask any of the DJs at Ultra when they fell in love with dance music, and we'd bet money that at least half would point to the Prodigy's 1997 LP "The Fat of the Land." The British trio bridged the gap between punk rock and electronica, stunning audiences with wild videos for equally brash songs like “Smack My B—h Up” and “Firestarter.” The group and it's brassy approach is a rare sight in today's post-EDM scene. It's return to the UMF stage is an event to be heralded.
9. AlunaGeorge (Saturday, Live Stage)
Here's a public service announcement: Aluna is the singer; George is the producer. They are not the same person. Now that that's cleared up, you know this synthpop duo as the catchiest feel-good UK export since the '80s. Its sound caught fire on the Disclosure collaboration “White Noise” and soon stood strong on its own legs with the release of 2013's "Body Music." The follow up, "I Remember," is slated for the end of April, but we expect some track teases here.
10. Richie Hawtin (Saturday, Carl Cox & Friends)
This techno god should need no introduction, but just in case, he's one of the foremost producers and DJs on the whole dance music scene. This will be the set people can't stop hyping, and because it's going down in the indescribably dope Carl Cox & Friends Megastructure, it's sure to be the kind of musical and visual experience that loses a grip on time.
11. Nicole Moudaber (Saturday, Carl Cox & Friends)
When Carl Cox calls you “the most underrated DJ” in DJ Magazine, people listen. She ain't underrated anymore. Now she's what house and techno fans call the undisputed queen of the scene. Her champion Mr. Cox thinks she deserves even more shine, so he put her on his extra-special stage. Smart move.
12. AC Slater B2B Chris Lorenzo (Saturday, UMF Radio Stage)
Chris Lorenzo may not be the biggest name in bassy house, but he's ghost-produced a lot of your favorite garage-inspired tracks. At least, that's according to an interview with Thump from 2014, but we believe it. The chance to catch him and LA bass monster AC Slater will be a really awesome experience. The pair are both unafraid to try new things or bring back classic jams you forgot you loved.
13. OWSLA All Stars (Saturday, UMF Radio Stage)
We can't say for sure who will be closing out the day, but it sounds like a few big names are sure to grace the decks, maybe go in on a little back-to-back action. The Skrillex-headed label is applauded for its diverse line up and young, forward-thinking producers. Skrilly himself has been known to make unscheduled appearances at this stage, though Internet rumors think he'll be too far from Miami at the time to show out. Whatever happens, it's most likely going to be a show stopper.
14. Pendulum (Sunday, Main Stage)
Before Knife Party dropped snarling dubstep, the duo smashed skulls with fast-paced drum'n'bass bangers under the name Pendulum. It ruled the early 2000s with an iron fist. The album "Hold Your Colour" gave us more than an hour of classic tracks including “Tarantula” and “Slam.” The close-out headline performance marks the band's first time back under the original moniker, seeming to imply that, yes, drum'n'bass is actually, finally, honestly back.
15. Marshmello (Sunday, Worldwide Stage)
One of the buzziest names in the bass world right now, Marshmello is yet another masked music maker, this one obscured by a friendly marshmellow puff face. His self-released album "Joytime" followed celebrated remixes of Jack Ü and Zedd. It topped the iTunes dance charts on its first day, signaling the entrance of a new young god.
16. Purity Ring (Sunday, Live Stage)
No, it's not a Christian band, and quite honestly, singer Megan James' voice seems to honey-drip sexuality. The duo's 2012 breakthrough debut LP, "Shrines," struck a chord with electronic and indie fans alike, and the dark, atmospheric music is matched in intensity only by the band's breathtaking live show. Producer Corin Roddick manufactured some super-dope computer drums that glow individually when played, creating a scene as mystic and magical as the sound emitted.
17. Rabbit in the Moon (Sunday, Live Stage)
Tampa, Florida, spawned a regular beast when it spat out Rabbit in the Moon. The band headlined the first Ultra Music Festival on the beach in 1999, so the dudes are basically brand royalty. They stunned crowds in the late '90s and early 2000s with impressive visuals, crazy outfits and pyrotechnics. The game has advanced in leaps and bounds since the world first heard Florida breaks, but there's no way Rabbit in the Moon won't give it 110 percent. This is also the first time the band has performed at all since UMF 2010. Kind of a big deal.
18. Wave Racer (Sunday, Worldwide Stage)
It's biologically impossible to be unhappy during a Wave Racer song. It's the sound of absolute joy. It's rainbow-colored, pixelated effervescence. It's a playful romp through a 64-bit world set to pitched-up '90s R&B. The Australian producer caught attention for his feel-good remixes in 2014, and his debut release, the "Flash Drive" EP, kept the hype alive in 2015. He's a very rare bird stateside, and this set is guaranteed to give you that last boost of energy on the final afternoon.
19. Seth Troxler (Sunday, Resistance Stage)
Troxler builds on the musical legacy of Detroit and Chicago house and techno. He's known to get a little weird and is famous for his fun, over-the-top personality. His sets, on the other hand, are thoughtful, deep and complex. There's truly no one better to close out the deep-v vibes of the Resistance stage. Expect the unexpected and some truly soulful moods.
20. Deadmau5 (Sunday, ASOT)
The Canadian producer has a reputation for mouthing off, and back in 2014, he tweeted an attack on Armin Van Buuren's "A State of Trance." He called it about as much "trance” as Nelson Mandela is indie punk, so Buuren invited him to the ASOT stage to show what he's got. Deadmau5 took him up on the offer and makes his ASOT debut Sunday in the Carl Cox & Friends Megastructure. Don't miss it.