My rating for the festival: 3 out of 10
Ultra Music Festival (UMF) is one of the two most important festivals for electronic music lovers in North America. Held annual in March in Miami, it marks the arrival of “festival season” in addition to hosting industry-wide events throughout the city for a week. I was lucky enough to go twice, in 2012 and 2013, and the festival holds a special place in my heart. Ultra is a renowned brand/label for dance music, and in recent years they have been running editions of its flagship festivals in other countries – for example Buenos Aires, Santiago, Seoul, Cape Town. Earlier in the year, I had gone to UMF in Buenos Aires in February. In July, I got to go to UMF Europe, in Split, Croatia. Unfortunately, for me, despite the beautiful setting of Split, the festival was a disappointment for me in terms of organization and lineup.
I will start with the good part. The festival was in the Poljud Stadium, which is a beautiful stadium by the beach. Some people do not like festivals in a stadium, because they do not want to dance in seats, but I actually enjoyed it. There was a main floor in front of the stage for those who want to be in the crazy dance floor, but the stadium seats make for a great spot to chill and enjoy the show with a great view. It is not often in festivals that you get to sit and dance around on chairs.
The other thing I loved was the sunrise seen from the stadium. The Croatian sunrise was AMAZING!! Watching the sunrise while exhilarated on music is one of my favorite feelings in the world.
Unfortunately, my good words on UMF Europe end here. My first complaint is on the lineup. the Lineup was NOT up to the UMF standards. The artists they booked were mostly commercial and mainstream artists, without the genre-diversity that makes Ultra a great place for musical exploration. There were three stages – the Main Stage, with big room talents (Alesso, Armin, Above and Beyond, Hardwell), Ultra World Wide or Carl Cox Stage (Techno or Trance, with Carlo Cox, Aly and Fila, Paul Van Dyk), and the UMF Radio stage (which was like a discovery stage with little-known talent). Maybe to some, they like the lineup, but none of the artists on the lineup particularly excite me. I would have thought that the UMF Radio stage would have more alternative talent, but no, every time I passed by it they were playing extremely commercial sets, identical with one that they play in any club with commercial house music. For such a large festival, I feel like they definitely should have set up more stages and booked a more diverse set of talent.
My second and equally large complaint was that the festival was poorly organized, and it really detracted from my festival experience:
- To get into the main stage, you have to go through a narrow corridor all the way to the top of the stadium, then make your way down the stairs into the main stage dance floor. These routes were always extremely congested. When you are at the main stage, there are no bathroom inside the stadium, which means you have to walk a lot to get out of the stadium and then make your way back through the crowds, probably losing your friends in the process
- There were not enough bathrooms. The bathrooms by the stadiums always had a line, as was really gross – the floors were all wet and covered in mud, and you do not even have to enter the bathroom to smell the mixture of urine and poop. I always skipped that bathroom despite having to walk a long distance to the outdoor porta-potties. I am fairly experienced at using festival bathrooms so I do not think I am being unreasonable here to say that those were the grossest festival bathrooms I have ever used
Thirdly, I was not thrilled with the crowd. It seemed to just be like a party people went to while on vacation over the summer, not an event that people went to because they love electronic dance music (probably because of the weak lineup). I definitely was not feeling the “PLUR” with people there, maybe just a handful. It was my first European festival, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but something tells me that the European crowd should be better than this. It seems like most people were from Western Europe, there were also a fair number of Americans and Canadians there, and few locals.
My fourth complaint is on the location selected, Split. While Split is beautiful and it is one of the hottest European destinations these days, I found that it was teeming with foreigners and European spring-break party types. I thought it was not a very authentic destination, and things were on Western-Europe level prices which detracted away from being in Eastern Europe.
Ultra, I love you but please step up your Europe experience for the Ultranauts!!!