Bright Lights, Basketball Jerseys, & Bass
Ultra Music Festival (UMF) has a way of fixating itself in your memory, which is why I find it so easy to recall miniscule details from the event like a basketball jersey (I’ll get to that) some weeks after it went down (and not a drug reference…seriously). Held in Miami annually, Ultra is one of the world’s largest electronic music festivals, and can best be described as three days of bright lights, fist-pumps, and neon outfits coalescing into one massive, polychromatic shit show. Being in Miami for the past 4 years, I felt like it was something I had to experience at least once.
Sidenote #1: I was introduced to electronic music indirectly through The Matrix Reloaded soundtrack in 2003, and started listening to artists like The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, and Paul Oakenfold. Hip Hop was still far and away my genre, but this new sound satiated my need for new music and gave me the sense of superiority that went hand-in-hand with knowing that most of my peers didn’t know about it. I remain a fan of the music to this day, but I won’t sit here and tell you I’m an EDM (electronic dance music) connoisseur by any means, I just know a little more than most.
In 2009 and 2010, I was completely ambivalent when it came to Ultra. Conjoined was something I simultaneously hated (drug-induced tales involving the word ‘bro’ too much), and loved (electronic music), and a broke college kid like myself would probably have to skip a few meals a week to afford the absurdly expensive ticket price. It’s not that I couldn’t find a ticket (they were easily attainable), it’s that I didn’t think I wanted one. Personally, I only knew a handful of people going, and most of the people who did go were a small contingent of diehards. You see, this was before the EDM explosion in popular culture. It was a time when Flo Rida sought out chicks in apple bottom jeans and the only DJ appearing on a Pitbull track was named Khaled, not Afrojack.
Then EDM, along with Ultra, blew up. Like, ‘every song on the radio is influenced by it’ blew up, and people were throwing around the names Tiësto and Deadmau5 like they were Kanye West and Jay-Z. Last year, tickets actually sold out and attendance increased by 50%. This year, pre-sale tickets sold out in 20 minutes and the official website’s servers crashed because so many people were trying to get them. My Facebook homepage was littered with the exuberance of those who got tickets or many raving with anger for potentially not being able to rave, period. (“OMG I GOT ULTRA TICKETS!!!!!!!”/”FML I DIDNT GET ULTRA TIX!!!!!!”)
For months, the UMF equivalent of buying a factory full of Wonka bars couldn’t have gotten you one of those golden tickets. But as the event drew closer, those precious commodities strangely started to lose their value. For as many “I got/didn’t get an Ultra ticket” Facebook statuses there were when they went on sale, there were just as many “selling a 3-day Ultra pass, message me if interested” ones right before the festival started. I was still wary of buying somebody’s ticket, even for just one day, because anything that isn’t on the McDonald’s dollar menu is usually out of my price range. Turns out, I had a spontaneous ‘it’s now-or-never’ moment a couple of days before the festival started, and managed to cop myself a pretty cheap ticket from one of my brother’s friends who couldn’t go on the last day. I would go in his stead, and I was pretty excited about it.
A couple points of interest before I begin: 1) I had never been to anything you’d consider “a rave” up until that point. I’ve seen DJs spin in clubs, and I like to throw on “Sandstorm” off somebody’s iPod at parties, but that’s about as close as I’ve come to a rave. I’ve always had a mental image of what to expect from one, but this was Ultra, likely the craziest of them all. The way people described these transcendent, life-changing experiences they’d had at the music festival made me entirely rethink any preemptive judgments I was making. 2) I was going completely sober. Rolling, which is taking ecstasy for those of you living under a rock, in a nunnery, or over the age of 25, isn’t really my thing (but if it was, I would have been saying this a lot). Plus, getting drunk to stand in 85 degree weather for 10 straight hours in the middle of a sweaty mosh pit of ravers would be a terrible decision when the alcohol wore off, and my inebriation was replaced with a migraine and a sudden urge to nap/kill myself.
Sober or not, I was ready to begin my techno excursion, but let’s just that it didn’t start off on the right foot. My excitement was quickly transformed into a mix of anxiety and embarrassment the moment I first set foot on the train to Ultra. This happened to be the first of three aspects of my Ultra experience that I look back on negatively. The other two being a hot dog purchase for $8 and buying two pieces of watermelon, although delicious, for $5. But yeah, back to the train.
I imagine the Miami Metrorail is generally a dull and forgettable means of transportation on most Sundays, but it was anything of the sort that afternoon. Hundreds of Ultra-goers resplendent in their rave-wear were packed from wall to wall to like crayons in a Crayola box. Looking at some of the regular passengers’ perturbed expressions was more than enough to tell how they felt about my peers. As I looked at one lady holding her baby crammed up against a wall by a slew of neon shirts, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed that I was apart of this mainstream, commercial bullshit. I hoped those ordinary passengers wouldn’t lump me in with the rest of them, since I was conservatively wearing a basketball jersey and not a frat tank top with “Drop Tha Bass” on it in hot pink lettering. Even if I liked the music, I wasn’t an Ultra person, I was a Rock the Bells guy…raw, underground, poetic. I felt like I was betraying my musical roots taking part in such douchebaggery, and if I could have looked in the mirror, I would have given myself a SMH.
“If that’s a JR Smith jersey you’re wearing right now, that’s fucking awesome.”
I looked up at some bro in Ray-Bans talking to me as I stepped off of the train heading to Ultra. While clearly not the most profound of statements, it just put me in a great mood. The faint sound of bass resonated from blocks away, and whatever thoughts I had on that train, stayed on that train. I was pumped…I had been waiting for this experience for the last four years, and deep down I always knew that. Before this starts to sound any more like something Kevin from American Pie would say, I’ll save myself by going on a quick tangent about that jersey I was wearing, which was actually a Danilo Gallinari jersey:
Sidenote #2: You can literally do no wrong if you’re rocking a #8 Knicks jersey from any time after 1998. Ignoring the fact that Ime Udoka was #8 on the Knicks for a year, or even on the Knicks for a year, everyone will respect that jersey. It could be Latrell Sprewell, who choked out a coach, has spinning rims named after him, needed more than $15 million to feed his family, and led the Knicks on one of the most improbable NBA Finals runs in history. It could be my boy Danilo Gallinari (fan favorite for this…this…and yes, this) whose send-off to Denver is fresh in the minds of all Knicks fans…I miss you Gallo. Or it could be JR Smith, who hasn’t really done too much for the Knicks just yet, but the fact that you actually own a JR Smith jersey makes you a great man.
Anyway, there are only so many ways you can say, “________ (DJ name) killed it”, and it would be repetitive and boring to bog you down with the details of every single set I was there for. In the end, they’re all pretty similar in most ways and it’s hard to differentiate one from the other in so many words. I saw Steve Aoki, Knife Party, some randoms in side tents, Kaskade, David Guetta, and Armin Van Buuren, and they were all great. But the DJ stands there, plays songs, waves his hands in the air, everyone in the crowd rages, and depending upon whether or not the sun is down yet, there’s an amazing array of light everywhere. Steve Aoki throwing a massive cake in some girl’s face, and then proceeding to crowd surf in a giant yellow raft was about the only thing I can point out that would be an anomaly. Yes, it probably seems like I’m diminishing the incredible time I had at Ultra, but that’s because it was pretty indescribable. Something I can describe are the basketball jerseys I saw.
You can tell a lot about someone by the jersey they’re wearing. Being in Miami, I’ll use Miami Heat jerseys as an example. If you’re rocking a Harold Miner jersey, your respect for an obscure player of the past shows me that you’re the man. Heat Jerseys that also fit this mold are Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, Dan Majerle, Rony Seikaly, PJ Brown, Glen Rice, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler (which I own), etc. On the contrary, if you’re rocking a Miami Heat Shaquille O’Neal jersey, I have very little respect for you. I’m a big Shaq fan, but it shows that you probably bought the jersey the moment you hopped on the Heat bandwagon, and are such a bad fan that you probably don’t even own another Heat jersey. Wearing a LeBron or D-Wade jersey makes no statement, as they’re superstar players, and thus, not a very cool jersey to own. Wearing a Chris Bosh jersey means you tried to be different, but it backfired because you’re repping one of the softest individuals in league history. There’s also the matter of the jersey itself, in greatest-to-least order: Throwback, Champion, Authentic, Swingman, Replica. I’m about to throw a curve ball here and list the five best jerseys I encountered at Ultra:
I used to own this jersey when I was younger, so it brought back some memories. I still think the Raptors throwbacks with the actual raptor on it is one of the best jerseys I’ve ever seen. Some people think it’s a little bold, but I love it. Oh, and +1 for an obscure player like Damon Stoudamire.
Not as classic as the original Dream Team’s, but no other Olympics squad has come close to having better jerseys than these. You can’t really go wrong with any of the players from that team who won gold at the ’96 games in Atlanta, so Grant Hill is definitely a solid choice.
International jersey AND it’s a Ricky Rubio jersey? Whoever wore this must really know how to tug at a man’s heart strings. The jersey itself really isn’t that great, it looks awkward and it says “RICKY” on the back, so most casual fans have no idea what you’re wearing. Regardless, you know this guy went to lengths ($30 for a fake on eBay) to get it, and I hold him in high regard.
One of the most incredible jerseys I have ever seen. The guy wearing this is The Godfather of earning respect for an obscure throwback jersey. Jim Jackson? Wow, my mind was blown. Fun fact about Jim Jackson: He almost averaged 26 ppg for the Mavs in the 1994-95 season. A second fun fact about Jim Jackson: He played for 12 different NBA teams. Last fun fact about Jim Jackson: A living human being owns his jersey.
For a jersey to beat out Jim Jackson, it must be pretty incredible, so I give you…
Wow. One of the best jerseys in all of sports, and I was completely unaware that Mutombo ever rocked it. After some research, I learned that it was Denver’s jersey only during his rookie season in 1992-93, so this jersey is basically like a rookie card you can wear. I think my entire Ultra experience culminated in this one epic moment where my friend Cameron and I saw this jersey at the end of David Guetta’s set, nearing the end of the night. We even felt the need to document it.
Was attending Ultra worth it? Completely, and if you ever have the opportunity to go yourself, I highly recommend you doing so. Most people who went in hating EDM, left loving it, and those who went in loving it, left loving it even more. I can’t really explain why, but at least I can explain why I’ve been furiously searching eBay for a Jim Jackson jersey for the past few weeks.