The electronic dance music festival that begins Friday will draw internationally renowned disc jockeys, producers and tens of thousands of revelers as one of the largest dance music gatherings in the world super-sizes to two weekends. It also will draw the expanding genre's great unknowns, the next big acts who catch the attention of the 330,000 revelers expected to attend.
"Ultra Fest is important because a lot of kids who go there don't even know who's playing," said the producer Diplo, who will be performing with his group Major Lazer. "Two years ago Skrillex went and played for free. He just wanted to be part of that lineup, part of the Ultra thing. Then next year he headlined. That's how big you can get in the DJ world within a year."
This year's festival attracts most of the genres top names, including Swedish House Mafia, which will be playing its final show as a trio Friday night three years after making their North American debut at the festival. David Guetta, DeadMau5, Afrojack, Avicii and scores more were scheduled to perform — though preparation of the festival's main stage remained incomplete following an accident Thursday that injured three workers.
The festival is now in its 15th year, but has gained rapidly in prominence as EDM has flourished. Long popular in Europe, house music has taken root in popular music in the U.S., climbing into top 40 radio and propelling DJs, once faceless figures behind the turntables, center stage. Pop artists like Rihanna, Pitbull and Lady Gaga have found enormous success incorporating the electronic sound into their music.
The proliferation of hits has changed the way some artists present their music at Ultra, said Chad Cisneros of Tritonal. DJs still come to the event to showcase new tracks, but more frequently they play sets their fans already know well.
"It's changed from a technology and a fan perspective," Cisneros said. "They know what to expect. And they know what tracks they want to hear."
Ultra has served as a taste-making force during EDM's ascent into the popular consciousness.
"Without the input of Ultra, I doubt EDM would have become the established culture and mainstream success it has become today," said Rick Snoman, a producer involved in dance music since 1989 who has done remixes for artists like Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue.
It was unclear Friday afternoon how long the main stage might be delayed. One of the three workers hurt suffered critical injuries when one of several large LED screens fell while being hoisted in the air. City engineers, fire rescue officials and Occupational Safety and Health Administration representatives were inspecting all of the stages at the festival Friday as a precaution.
"The main stage is still not operational," Miami Fire Rescue spokesman Lt. Ignatius Carroll said. "There's still no work being done there. "
The festival will attract a strong police presence. City of Miami police said they have more than 200 uniformed officers on patrol, as well as undercover officers within the event. The increased security was part of the festival's agreement after city commissioners raised objections to the event's expansion into a second weekend. There have been multiple drug arrests in previous years and for many who live in the downtown area the festival is seen as a major nuisance.
Last year, a video of an Ultra partygoer dancing, clearly inebriated, with a palm tree went viral on YouTube, symbolizing the revelry that's become associated with the festival and the music.
Festival organizers insisted the event will be safe.
"We got together and addressed everyone's concerns and spent a lot of money on extra security and police," said Russell Faibisch, one of the founders of Ultra.