Ultra Music Festival 2017: Ten Throwback Sets You Need to Hear

Since 1999, Ultra Music Festival has served as a summit for the finest talents in electronic music to broadcast monstrous and groundbreaking sets to fans. For years, the sounds of Ultra were confined to Bayfront Park in Miami, and only those fortunate enough to be in attendance could hear the sounds of the trending artists at the time. For over 10 years, the magic that took place in Miami stayed in Miami; a testament to the Ultra family’s desire to keep the festival grounds  sacred place, with absolutely no alternative or replacement. Until recently, fans either forked over the hefty face price for a pass to the festival, or missed the magic entirely. Thanks to changing times, radio broadcasts and online streams have brought the festival to the international stage, giving fans around the world having access to some truly incredible sets.

Whether it be the 2011 mainstage performance from the legendary Chemical Brothers, the 2013 live show from Disclosure in front of a nearly non-existent crowd, or Jack U’s festival debut with plenty of fresh productions from electronic music’s most recognizable tastemakers, Bayfront Park has served as home to sets that set the tone for the following year — and often changed the face of electronic music forever. It would be wise for you to check out any and all sets available from Ultra artists in preparation of the quickly approaching festival, but we’ve nailed the list down to just a handful of performances to assign as some last minute homework before you head to Ultra.

© Photography: EDMkevin.com / Kevin Verkruijssen

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Armin Van Buuren 2010

An Ultra mainstay since its major expansion, the father of modern day trance and the creator of the A State of Trance brand Armin Van Buuren crushes yearly performances on Miami’s biggest stage. In 2010, Armin took to the mainstage to show North American fans that there was certainly no reason to fear a jacked up BPM; trance took over the hearts of mainstage fans with its uplifting melodies and mesmerizing vocals. Just a year before Armin brought his ASOT 500 celebration to Bayfront Park, the warrior slashed through the progressive big room and brought his A game. Today, the artist is given his own stage under the infamous ASOT tent on day three of the festival, but Armin never fails to give fans an aggressive mainstage performance as he will on day two of Ultra 2015.

Carl Cox 2010

There’s simply no denying the talent of master DJ Carl Cox, and his reign as the head-honcho of his very own Ultra stage has been unbelievable. While mainstream fans have long flocked to the towering mainstage, those with a refined taste for the techno and tech-house offerings of the European electronic music scene make their way to Carl Cox’s tent. Providing fans with a roomy dancefloor, minimal fistpumping, and sets that last far longer than the expected festival stage go, the Carl Cox tent, and its “oh yes” leader, has been and still remains the place to be.

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Skrillex 2011

Just months after the dubstep boom in the United States, a young man with crazy hair took to the now-defunct Tower of Ultra to bring More Monsters and Sprites to the masses. None other than Skrillex would climb on stage and unleash a single hour of nonstop bass-in-your-face explosive tunes. Recordings of the original performance are scarce, but his set from the SiriusXM lounge provides a sneak peek as to what exactly bounced around in the OWSLA leader’s head during his initial touring excitement. In anticipation of his mainstage set this year, tune into this one.

Fatboy Slim 2012

There’s something theatrical about any Fatboy Slim set that other artists simply fail to capture, and whether you are a diehard fan of the English DJ or simply warming up to the refined sounds of his “big-beat” style, his 2012 Miami performance is simply a must-hear. Touching on a number of classics and diving deep into a selection of tracks you may not be familiar with, Fatboy Slim represents the true meaning of a disk-jockey; the talent seamlessly mixes party tunes, recognizable vocals, and deep grooves to bring the next level of musical appreciation and electronic talent to Bayfront Park. While Fatboy Slim won’t be gracing the festival with his talents this year, his influence in both his live performance style and musical offerings can be seen around every corner at every stage.

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Andrew Bayer 2012

In 2012, Above & Beyond brought their Group Therapy brand down to Miami for a brand new performance in partnership with Ultra Music Festival on an amphitheatre-style stage, known simply as Ultra Live. Today, we know this area as the Live Stage, the stage that has been home to talents such as Gesaffelstein and Infected Mushroom over the past few years, and will hold the highly-anticipated live performance debut from Kygo in 2015. But before all the glitz, Anjunabeats’ own Andrew Bayer took to the stage to show his talent as one of the few talents that Above & Beyond would give their official endorsement to. What came next was a performance that has earned him returning rights since. Before he climbs on stage during Armin Van Buuren’s ASOT tent takeover, check out the Ultra set that put him directly in the spotlight.

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Hardwell 2013

In 2013, a fascinating movement steamrolled its way through mainstream “EDM,” and that sound quickly established itself as the current day definition of big room house. Aggressive synth stabs, thunderous percussion (of course, with the assistance of Eric Prydz’s infamous ‘Pryda Snare’) and furious melodies dominated the mainstage in 2013, but no artist tackled the emerging genre in the way that the soon-to-be world’s number one DJ Hardwell did. From the moment he stepped on stage, Hardwell’s performance was permanently penned into history; the energy that the “Spaceman” DJ took to the hoards attending the three day festival would set the tone for future mainstage sets across the world. Before Hardwell makes his triumphant yearly venture to Bayfront Park this year to tackle the mainstage, check out the set that really brought him to the top.

Adam Beyer 2013

In 2015, Ultra, and Miami Music Week as a whole, will be absolutely overrun by the infectious techno sound that has finally made headway in North America after dominating overseas for years. The question of who will emerge this year as a hot talent in Miami is still adrift, yet many agree: the Drumcode father Adam Beyer will make his mark this year at Ultra Music Festival. Beyer is no stranger to the American scene, though; the artist has been touring around the country for years, and even graced the Carl Cox Arena in Bayfront Park in 2013 with an hour-and-a-half set that pushed techno as a genre forward. Watch out – Drumcode is a serious problem, and Adam Beyer wants to show you what the next step in dance music is all about when he goes b2b with Ida Engberg, his partner in music and life, on day one of Ultra.

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Avicii 2013

Avicii’s 2013 performance is arguably the most peculiar, and certainly the most polarizing in the history of Ultra. After opening his set with a few Avicii classics intertwined with the trending big room sound at the time, the LE7ELS superstar was off to a monstrous start when he briefly went dark before emerging with a number of musicians with folk-centric instruments in tow, and Aloe Blacc with a mic. What came next shocked just about everyone – following the smash hit “Levels,” Avicii went on to debut a number of tracks from his forthcoming True album. Fans were left on the dancefloor of the mainstage in a mixture of awe and confusion, and even a fair amount of anger; Avicii’s performance was highly anticipated, and his performance was extremely unorthodox to say the least. But oh how the tables turned – the same tracks that fans met with angst, including “Hey Brother” and “Wake Me Up,” would soon become some of the world’s most recognizable productions. After a 2014 mainstage performance cancellation, Avicii will return to Miami’s biggest festival for a sneak preview of what’s next for the Avicii brand – and we’ve been told this performance will certainly not disappoint.

Eric Prydz 2014

The stage was set in 2014 for Eric Prydz to put on a groundbreaking performance, bringing his famed EPIC hologram to Bayfront Park for a special live performance production that would shake up the standard of electronic music live shows. However, due to an unfortunate battle with the weather, Eric Prydz’s performance went on without the holographic display. Fans were left stunned in the crowd, searching for the towering hologram that was promised, but few people truly cared; Eric Prydz absolutely rocked with mainstage with a powerhouse progressive set that brought a new set of sounds to those that have only experimented with the big room style. Unsurprisingly jam-packed with yet-unidentified tracks mixed in with classics, the set was a much needed change of pace from his peer performers. While the hologram never came, Eric Prydz’s work on the decks was enough alone, and bringing the cultured progressive house sound to the mainstage was remarkable in and of itself, pushing the genre forward year after year.

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Deadmau5 2014

Whether or not you’re a fan of the mau5, you can’t possibly have a conversation regarding Ultra’s defining moments without speaking on Deadmau5’s 2014 spur-of-the-moment performance. Replacing Avicii following him falling ill just a few days prior, Joel Zimmerman approached the mainstage without a care in the world, and from the first track of his set, seasoned Deadmau5 fans knew what they were in for; Trollmau5 had arrived. Speaking on the mic about Above & Beyond’s set immediately before him in which they were forced to play under cover backstage due to inclement weather, and eventually making his way to spoofing Martin Garix’s “Animals” and an untimely crack at Avicii’s “Levels,” Deadmau5 was out in full force. Apart from the attention grabbing headlines that focused on his joking tendencies, though, there was much more to be said regarding Joel’s performance and the shockingly minimalistic approach that he took to the mainstage. Combining progressive house, tech house, and minimal techno, Deadmau5 went on to debut a number of tracks from his then-forthcoming album and slaughter all expectations for his sudden Ultra performance. While the mau5 will always be the mau5, and there is no escaping his often outspoken opinion on dance music tendencies, his set was truly something special.