OPINION: Why Ultra Music Festival Lost its Spot on Top

March 7, 2015 -

Milli Encarnacion

This year's Ultra Music Festival will be a music experience unlike any other you've experienced, but for reasons you may not expect. Shadowed beneath notoriety after tragic events from previous years, UMF has raised new restrictions in regards to age and acceptable items, sending ravers everywhere into outrage. In addition to the (somewhat welcome) requirement of all attendees to be at least 18 years old, Ultra has issued an updated list of prohibited items, and it's longer than ever before. The typical banned fare is on the list – drug paraphernalia and weapons, for example – but the festival giants have also banned regular bags or purses (only see-through bags are allowed), totems, and face masks. See the full list here.

Half a decade ago, Ultra was celebrated as one of North America's top music festivals. Curators selected a diverse line-up of mainstream and underground acts, which interested both new and veteran attendees. Ultra won itself an IDMA Award for "Best Music Event" several years in a row, and by 2011, was heralded as a revolutionary part of the EDM world. In short, UMF was the party to go to, the créme de la créme. Tickets sell out within days of their release as loyal fans gear up for the first big turn of festival season. But rather than leading the event to wild success, its exponential growth in popularity is leading it to spiraling conditions.

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Rising ticket prices for non-changing line-up choices are one reason fans have expressed their dissatisfaction with UMF. Dance music heavy-weights Steve Angello and Tiësto headline almost every year, and instead of playing their signature styles of music, they're obligated to play fan-favorites in order to draw the dwellers to the main stage. Overplayed big-room-house tracks dominate the event at night, regardless of the side-stages that intend to explore other styles. According to long-time attendees, Miami Music Week is the real draw of hardcore music fans (and Daily Beat will be all over Miami for this!). Says three-time veteran Teddy Perillo, "Why would you pay $500 a ticket to go see an underground DJ on a small stage, when that same DJ is probably playing a show elsewhere in Miami for $30?"

Ultra's decision to ban bags and totems is symbolization that the festival might be taking a turn for the worst. Music festivals are an outlet for fans to fully express themselves, whether it be through costumes, makeup, or props. While it's understandable that all bags must be security-checked for safety, forcing fans to invest in a new bag altogether is ridiculous, and only adds to the insane cost of attending. Additionally, while totems may only appear to be decorative arts-and-crafts projects, they act as "friend-finders" that could help a lost individual find his or her group once cell phone service cuts out.

Ultra Music Festival

Zane Krezonis, another veteran, says that Ultra's line-up and location are the only things that set them apart from other festivals these days. Miami is infamous for giving partiers everywhere a clubbing playground, as long as they can afford the hefty prices. But with festivals like Electric Forest (Rothbury, MI) and Mysteryland (Bethel Woods, NY) coming up the ranks, both of which are miles and miles from any large city, it's proven that location shouldn't be the only pedestal. In contrast, the Las Vegas edition of Insomniac's Electric Daisy Carnival shows that both location and content can marry into a revered, happy union.

It's been sixteen years since the first Ultra Music Festival in 1999. EDM culture changes by the second nowadays, and I have faith that Ultra will catch up to us eventually.

One change we're happy about, besides the age restriction? The ban on whistles and "camera poles," otherwise known as selfie sticks. Those should be banned everywhere.

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