Ultra Music Festival 2017 Was Strangely Apolitical
Last year, Ultra Music Festival attendees made overt political statements, but this year they steered clear.
Photo by George Martinez
Music has always been a way to escape, and dance music embodies this mission more than any other genre.
Following the "disco sucks" movement of 1979, marginalized groups — black, Latino, and gay — were once again pushed outside the mainstream. Genres like house and techno were born in the warehouses in which these groups sought refuge.
Of course, that early stuff is a far cry from today's whitewashed, male-dominated EDM machine, but sometimes you see glimmers of its rebellious past. Take, for example, the time in 2015 when rising Lithuanian DJ Ten Walls compared gays to pedophiles and called them a "different breed." The dance community reacted swiftly and angrily. The backlash so severely damaged his career that it still hasn't recovered.
And last year's Ultra Music Festival was filled with activism. There was plenty of "Fuck Trump" ethos from performers such as MAKJ, the Chainsmokers, and Rabbit in the Moon and from fans' homemade signs.
So one might have expected some politics at last week's 19th edition of Ultra. Barely two months have passed since Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States, and tensions are still running high. Despite assurances that he'd work to bring Americans together after one of the ugliest elections in U.S. history, Trump continues to separate us with his policy and social media.
Perhaps because of political fatigue, festivalgoers stuck to dancing all weekend long, leaving their ideologies at home. Where were the pussyhats and "Not my president" signs? Why was 2017 so drastically different?
Of course, presidential elections tend to galvanize a lot of voters who otherwise cast ballots only to choose a new winner of The Voice. And although Ultra 2016 happened a couple of weeks after Trump swept Super Tuesday, he was still a national punch line, with the media believing Hillary Clinton would win the November election handily. So perhaps it was easier last year to tell Trump to fuck off.
Photo by George Martinez
Activism is alive at other music events. The recent Okeechobee Festival had a whole section dedicated to social action, dubbed Participation Row, which included feel-good liberal causes.
Ultra's equivalent is the Eco Village, which usually gathers a diverse group of nonprofits to hand out condoms, talk to attendees about substance abuse, or advocate for music in developing countries. At the Nature Conservancy booth, a chatty but pleasant woman named Sofia offered the possibility of helping the developing world get clean water for $20 per month. After all, the number of people without access to clean water is projected to rise in coming decades. But really, who wants to give out their credit card number at a festival?
There were a few cases of overt political expression at Ultra this year, red "Make America Rave Again" caps notwithstanding: A young white man who cut a "Trump 2016: Make American Great Again" T-shirt into a muscle tee made his way through the crowd gathered at the main stage during Tchami's set. And a man with a "Taxation Is Theft" tank was spotted crossing Biscayne Boulevard, a road that is maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation through tax dollars.
But make no mistake. Ultra 2017 was apolitical. That was obvious the first day when two men made their way through the crowd: One was wrapped in the LGBT rainbow flag and the other in a tank top emblazoned with the mug of Donald Trump sporting a hot-pink "Make American Great Again" cap. The tank's background had the words 1-800-MAKE-AMERICA-GREAT-AGAIN repeating in a pattern across the fabric, similar to Drake's visuals for 1-800-HOTLINE-BLING that became a thing last summer.
The whole ensemble seemed to be dripping in vaporwave irony that jabbed at Trump.
But when someone blurted out, "We still have Obamacare! High-five!" the two men just smiled awkwardly and rolled their eyes.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.