The inaugural edition of the EDM music festival took place outside Marina Bay Sands, attracting thousands of ravers and top DJs of the world; here’s what we have to say about it
On 19 September, 2015, music festival history was made when Singapore became the newest city to open its arms to Ultra. To the uninitiated, the Ultra Music Festival is unequivocally one of the biggest dance spectaculars in the world, having originated in Miami in 1999 and spreading its ravey reach worldwide ever since. While EDM-centric punters had a mere, bite-sized sampling of this festival’s stratospheric reputation at last year’s Road To Ultra showcase, their ardent support was rewarded just a few days ago at the inaugural full edition of the Ultra Music Festival. But like most first-time events – especially when they’re of such a humongous scale – there was always room for improvement.
This isn’t going to be a whine-fest on our parts; we staunchly salute the Ultra organisers for giving it their all and bringing down top heavyweights of the EDM industry, stellar live acts and even left-field elites. But if you were on the ground, like us, you wouldn’t have been able to ignore certain aspects that could’ve been executed better. With that said, was Singapore’s first Ultra Music Festival one of the most exhilarating dance events of the year? Oh heck, most definitely. With ears blissfully ringing and all, we’re gonna dive into some of Ultra’s most memorable highlights (happy birthday, Kygo!), though, as festival fans, we won’t turn a blind eye to areas that could’ve gotten a bit more love. Here are the euphoric highs and crummy lows of the Ultra Music Festival.
Low: “Are we there yet?”
Ask anyone who attended the first day of Ultra, and the biggest gripe is undoubtedly a universal one. Queues into the festival area – a massive 30,000sqm space outside of Marina Bay Sands – stretched for over an hour if you arrived before sunset, and that paled in comparison to the monstrous lines for the food and drink booths. Sets were missed, and the patience of punters was gruellingly tested – not the best way to kick off Ultra’s first day given the sweltering heat. But on the flipside, this crisis was rectified on the second day, with plenty more staff and smoother payment processes in place. Good recovery from what could’ve been a disastrous stumble.
Low: U didn’t light up our lives
Granted, the stage designs were magnificent, even the sheltered Resistance Stage catered to underground acts (the side screen panels were trippy) and the sizeable Live Stage. The Main Stage, however, was the crown jewel; this was where the headlining EDM acts were spinning, set against a marvellous backdrop of three giga-sized screens, and the Marina Bay Sands building in the background. So naturally, fans were a bit dumbfounded when the giant U structure – the centrepiece of the Main Stage – failed to remain lit during day one’s performances. Sure, it wasn’t essential to the performances of acts like W&W or DJ Snake, but considering that it was the largest ornament of the entire stage setup, its failure to dazzle stuck out like a sore thumb. Like the queues though, this was too repaired in the second day, thankfully.
High: Mystery man Marshmello – More than a gimmick
We caught Marshmello, with, admittedly, more than a little scepticism after Tiesto’s prank ‘reveal’ of himself as the mystery DJ at this year’s Electric Daisy Carnival. The masked man, however, proved himself as more than just a publicity stunt to local partygoers, blazing through his original tracks and signature synths with unwavering high-energy. The crowd lapped it all up, dutifully fist-pumping and singing along to tracks like his monster hit “Alone”, and the closing remix of Adele’s “Hello”.
High: ZHU’s splendid Ultra debut
Over at the far end of the festival grounds was the Live Stage, where formerly-anonymous Chinese-American, ZHU, electrified the crowd with his winning combination of wispy falsetto vocals and genre-bending mish-mash of future bass, nu-disco and deep house. He far surpassed the expectations of a headlining act by bringing out the big guns: a guitarist and saxophonist joined him through his live set. The crowd dutifully responded to his dedication, throwing shapes and singing along to the massively dark “Faded” and the Skrillex/They collab of “Working For It”.
Low: Alesso stayed safe
Alesso’s an excellent performer; we know this from catching several of his sets in Singapore, including the Road To Ultra preview just last year. And while he played many of his go-to anthems that’ve helped cement his young career, we were just hoping to see a lil’ more diversity from this Swedish star. Under control? A bit too much, Alesso.
High(?): Afrojack played all sorts of stuff… and we’re not sure what to feel
When this Dutch dynamo made his breakthrough as one of the hottest DJs in the industry, he was celebrated as a champ of Dutch house. But as he erratically dropped everything from prog-house to trap – and even some of Desiigner’s “Panda” for good, hip-hoppy measure – we couldn’t help but feel we were at some average night out with an innocuous open-format DJ. He was definitely a crowd-pleaser, but what we wanted was a riotous, guns-a-blazin’ Afrojack, just like the good ol’ days.
High: Carnage lives up to his name
Carnage killed his afternoon set on day two with his characteristically aggressive, stadium-style bangers laced with trap swagger, hardstyle, hip-hop and throwback big room tracks. It also had an element of surprise that had festival-goers ‘turnt’; his set featured remixes of Bhangra smash hit, “Mundian To Bach Ke”, and our fave reggaeton track (and guilty pleasure), Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina”.
High: About damn time we had a female DJ headlining a stage
Providing more than just a shelter from the unforgiving heat, the Resistance Stage was a sanctuary for those who wanted an escape from EDM; for underground house and techno, this was the place to be. Homegrown DJs like Maurice Simon, Godwin P, Zig Zach and Oliver Osborne did us proud, as did other international guests like Technasia and Matador. But if there was one leading lass who stole the show, it was Nigerian techno veteran, Nicole Moudaber. Not only was her set through the roof with deafening kicks and belligerent grooves, but it was an absolute triumph to witness a female DJ headline an Ultra stage. For two whole hours, we were in her church.
High: Kygo’s sublime sunset set was a fitting birthday celebration
The tropical-house God brought his A-game, beginning with crowd fave “Stole The Show” and his renowned remixes of Seinabo Sey’s “Younger” and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. With ocean-inspired visuals and relaxed beats from his Cloud Nine album, the crowd was instantly transported from (the temporary) downtown dance city of Marina Bay to a Caribbean-style beach party. Everyone around us was shuffling and shimmying with huge smiles on their faces. But it was, naturally, his breakout hit of “Firestone” that brought the house down and more than a few tears to our eyes. It was the perfect way to celebrate the Norwegian DJ/producer’s homecoming to his birthplace of Singapore, and his 25th birthday – watch as the crowd dutifully sings him a birthday song in this stirring clip.
High: Music Above and Beyond the young masses
Grammy-winning and trance legends, Above and Beyond, brought their signature live-typed text, spellbinding visuals, and heartfelt tracks to exhausted partygoers. Plenty trickled out for drinks and a sit-down before Axwell’s set, which worked fine for the duo (third member Tony McGuinness was absent); the crowd that remained were either a) more mature, b) trance devotees or c) both. Notably, “Sun and Moon” – the group’s most famous track to date – was amiss from their entrancing set. But the closing soulful track of “Thing Called Love” made up for it; it was an impeccable embodiment of the group’s famously uplifting messages of love and hope.
Low: The polarising effect of deadmau5
You would’ve either loved or hated it. Closing the Main Stage of day one after DJ Snake’s cutthroat, bass-blistering set, was the helmet-donning deadmau5. Some would say that his set mellowed the high of the frenetic crowd, who embarked on an exodus to Far East Movement at the Live Stage. While others would argue that his set was spiritual and sensational; a welcome change of scenery from the gung-ho audial artillery from prior sets. Amongst day one’s talents, deadmau5 definitely had the biggest star power. But too confusing an act to put your faith in as a closing headliner? This time, perhaps.
High: Electro euphoria even sans Ingrosso
Despite Ingrosso’s (the other half of the slated Axwell Λ Ingrosso) absence due to an ear infection, Axwell closed the festival on a high with a power-packed set of non-stop bangers, extravagant confetti showers and the best visuals of the two-day fest. The second night ended with their colossal and infectiously optimistic hit, “Sun Is Shining”.
To sum up, Ultra accomplished something that’s much easier said than done – it listened to its fans, and didn’t rest on its laurels. Despite harsh criticism surrounding travesties that plagued day one, these were, for the most part, resolved the next day – and everyone could see, hear, and feel the difference. This is what, we think, is crucial for a festival to survive, even for a big-time player such as Ultra that isn’t invincible against scrutiny. Witnessing its quick recovery and overall production value, we’re more than certain the next Ultra Music Festival will ring in an even bigger victory for the EDM scene, and we already can’t wait to be a part of it.
Ultra Music Festival Singapore 2016 was reviewed by Nafeesa Saini and Kevin Ho.