So this happened. I attended the Ultra Music Festival in Miami. A sentence that I hadn’t expected to type. Ever. An event at the apex of the mountain of baffling decisions I’ll ponder upon while on my death bed. I cannot comprehend EDM – the commercialized strain of dance music that’s all the rage. And believe me, when I say, I have tried. My body doesn’t react well to it. Instead of raging, all the muscles in my body go on a strike, only allowing my mouth to work up a scowl. Needless to say, I enjoy it less than I enjoy chewing my own hair. But I wanted to have a peek at the rave scene everyone was raving about, get pissed with my buddies in Miami, and maybe miraculously ‘get’ the music like some flu. And with these discombobulated thoughts, I flew to Florida.
I touched down at the Fort Lauderdale airport to a sunny afternoon and the largest collection of senior citizens per square mile I have ever seen. Though Florida’s famous as a retirement haven, the multitude of the elderly at the airport was slightly disconcerting. It gave the impression they were trying to flee from something, maybe the impending EDM ear drum evisceration.
In contrast, the Bayfront Park in Downtown Miami was packed with millennials -dancing, energetic, and startlingly underdressed. Throngs in thongs took over the roads. As per my expert economic analysis, the rise of EDM festivals doesn’t bode too well for the clothing industry. On the other hand, it does create an excellent market for gym owners and steroid manufacturers. Guys walked around shirtless with juiced up arms the size of my waist. They seemed to be mass produced on an assembly line inside a gym, every unit designed, sculpted, and released after being dropped headfirst into a cauldron of hair gel. The girls were decked in colorful makeup and sparse outfits but suffered from the case of the fashion paradox where everyone tries to attain that look that’s in vogue and end up being indistinguishable from the million others who followed the same fashion advice.
The music blared out from among various tents housing the stages. I have to say there were some pretty good beats streaming out from the ‘A State of Trance’ stage which caused a lot of the crowds to stream in. So, we staggered with other revelers to the main stage where the headliners were to hold the fort. The main stage was indeed a fort – built out of led screens and bulbs and flashlights and lasers; spectacularly designed to dazzle the visual senses and ensure the cameras were taken out and clicking. A sight for the eyes even if the music made your ears sore. There were pyrotechnics so intense that soot lined up every nose in addition to other substances that were being snorted. The arena was tightly cramped with crowds possibly high on MDMA but struggling to move. For a dance party, this can be a bit of a bummer. To prevent an all out electronic dance brawl, the dance moves had to be watered down, just like the liquor being served. A good rule of thumb was to imagine yourself to be straitjacketed and riddled with arthritis while attempting any dance move. Buying a VIP pass would probably afford some room. However, if you were female and attractive, you could save the money and perch yourself on the shoulders of the aforementioned gym-droids for free, and sway about like a Florida palm tree in a hurricane.
Regardless of the spatial problems, people seemed to be having fun. There was a diverse group of people from different countries draped in their flags. I’m no nationalist but wearing your country’s flag while listening to David Guetta should surely count as treason? David Guetta, as expected, continued with his jihad on the ears of every living organism. As awful as he is not self-aware, he spun the turntables of irony in a moving tribute to himself with a song called ‘Bad.’
According DJs the same cult of personality as rock-stars doesn’t actually translate well. The DJs have to be anchored to their machinery and thus sectioned to the same spot, bouncing there like a directionless kangaroo. Since the music typically lacks vocals, they feel a need to make their voice heard which leads to a torrent of platitudes like ‘make some noise’ and ‘put your hands up in the air.’ The latter repeated more than in all police procedural TV shows combined. The point was proven when Guetta called out his fellow aural assaulter, Martin Garrrrrix to join him. He emerged, they hugged, he pressed a couple of buttons, asked everyone to ‘put their hands up in the air’ – which were already in the air since Guetta had blurted it out already, before vanishing in the blink of an eye. There wasn’t an iota of charismatic aura to lift an expectant crowd; he lasted for less time than a man with chronic premature ejaculation would around Scarlett Johansson.
As expected, I wasn’t taking all this quite well. I had reverted to a state of zombie paralysis with the enthusiasm of a man on death row. My apathy was so radioactive that I was simultaneously offered and solicited for MDMA. The former presumably to make me slightly more cheerful and the latter probably based on my dead-eyed solemnity that’s exhibited only by drug-dealers. My brain had to be sedated to enjoy this. The plan was to pump myself with alcohol instead of water. But the festival organizers poured water on those plans by literally pouring water in every liquor can. So, I was hydrated, sober, and sane – words that are commonly denied entry at any EDM festival gate.
I spent most of the three days losing count of the number of times Adele’s ‘Hello’ was played. I did get to observe the EDM scene at the main stage like an amateur behaviorist. The entire atmosphere has a cultish ring to it which vibes well with the cult of personality around the DJ. The EDM song structure uses some drum beat sampling which starts off slowly. It rises to a steady rhythm. It stays there for some time. Then it suddenly rises again. It picks up speed. It reaches a crescendo like some harrowing soundtrack to an alien invasion or a mass exorcism. The devotees already out of their mind feel like they’re about to lose their mind, fearing the worst. At that crucial moment, the savior DJ slides some buttons and the beat switches suddenly to a whole different sampling. Everyone is now redeemed. They see the light(s) and are possessed by the soul of Jesus, Buddha, and Batman fused together. This sudden transition leads to a very visible shift in the tone and mood and is apparently called a ‘beat drop.’ This happened more or less.
An important takeaway I gained from those three days is to avoid the main stage like the plague. The visuals are eye-popping, but the lights seem to attract overrated wankers like moths to a bulb – that includes the ‘artists’ as well as the crowd. Other stages – especially the trance stage served up better stuff with more soul by underground performers still a bit away from being sucked into the vortex of fame.
EDM like most commercial art is predominantly packaged for and lapped up by the impressionable college-going crowd. It’ll be interesting to see how long the craze lasts. Will the fad fade away like disco or will it mutate? Robots(not Daft Punk) replacing DJs and their MacBooks, mixing stuff using super intelligent algorithms. Creating sounds that blow off ears. Sending out high-intensity laser beams that burn holes through the ravers and melts their faces. But the ravers rise again because they are robots too. And that is how they rage. All this while the surviving humans cower in their underground bunkers waiting for John Connor to arrive and the beat to drop…