With Ultra 2016 in the history books, it's time to look back at just who exactly came out on top, and who walked away from Bayfront Park with nothing but regret and a T-shirt soaked in other people's bodily fluids. This year, like every year, we end the weekend with both winners and losers.
First, the good news.
Winners: The Arcadia Spider
Rave Spider. It will eat your children and steal your soul. Okay. Not true, but the 50-ton, 65 foot tall Arcadia spider at the heart of Resistance stage and it’s nightly Landing Show felt like it was capable of that and more. It was truly a visceral experience that affected every one of the senses thanks to a combination of lights, motion, sound, and theatrics. Between the lasers emanating from the eyes of the spider (eyes made out of recycled jet engines), the hellish fireballs you could feel singeing your neck hairs, and the people in the crowd being kidnapped and swooped high in the air by terrifying alien warriors, the first ever U.S. incarnation of the Arcadia Landing Show took the Ultra experience to another world.
The '90s Rabbit in the Moon, Duke Dumont, Sasha, the Prodigy (almost). A healthy chunk of this year's Ultra setlist looked like someone dug it out of a time capsule. Why are the '90s in such high demand again? Perhaps EDM has folded in on itself, or maybe the early days of dance music — before EDM festivals cost hundreds of dollars to get in — is beginning to get the recognition it deserves. Either way, it's a good thing. Rabbit in the Moon put on one of the weekend's best sets and every other '90s act came out strong. If nothing else, it's educational to the 18-year-olds in attendance who can only remember the good ol' days of Tiësto.
This year, like the year before, 7-Up spent the big bucks to be just about everywhere this Ultra. In truth, the gaudy monstrosity of the always too loud 7-UP stage was really nothing more than a glitzy, tricked out advertisement for the brand sponsoring it. So then why were people lining up for an opportunity to rage on its hilariously tiny dancefloor? It may have attracted the moths with its copious amounts of neon, brighter than every sign in Vegas combined. It also housed legit DJs such as Alvin Risk. Festival goers wanted on so bad, some were happy just to dance on the concrete outside the elevated platform, fist-pumping with their free, green, flashing 7-UP wristbands while juicing their mobiles on the free 7-UP phone charging station. Wait. We've now mentioned 7-UP’s name like 40 times. Shoot. Advertising is sneaky. Well played, 7-UP. Can we have free soda now?
When just a couple hundred people showed up to Peaches' set at the Live Stage on Sunday, it wasn't looking good. The Live Stage consistently draws smaller crowds than some of its counterparts, but this — this was bad. We held our breath as Peaches emerged, half expecting her to survey the few dozen in the stands, shrug, and walk away. But instead, she put on a clinic in making the most out of any situation, and proceeded to perform one of Ultra's most exciting sets. God bless ya, Peaches. You're the hero Ultra deserves. The Live Stage
The Live Stage is always an interesting place to hang out during Ultra. This is where Ultra houses its live bands and more unconventional acts. Last year we saw Paris Hilton watching Die Antwoord from the front row. So, yeah: unconventional. This year some of Ultra's best sets took place at the Live Stage: Peaches, AlunaGeorge, Rabbit in the Moon, Chet Faker, Purity Ring. The list goes on. Plus, there were seats. Ultra's Live Stage adds some welcome diversity to the festival and it's always a smart place to camp out for those who can't handle the orgy of chaos that is the Main Stage.
Losers: The Live Stage
Now for the bad news re the Live Stage: no one showed up. It's always been one of the most under-attended stages at Ultra, and we get it. People pay money to see the big stages and the big names. This is, after all, an EDM festival. And it's hard to compete when some of the biggest names in EDM are just a few hundred yards north. Still, watching performers give some unforgettable performances to a crowd full of stragglers and folks taking a pizza break is slightly heartbreaking, even if there is more room for us.
This is a no-brainer. There is one group of people who had it worst than anyone else this Ultra, and that's Prodigy fans. Part of what made the news of Prodigy's cancellation so hard to swallow was just how last-minute the announcement was. Coming just the night before the group's performance, fans had a whole lot of time to get pumped for the set before it was pulled right from underneath them. We can't blame anyone for it. Prodigy is simply following doctor's orders and health should always be a top priority. Still, it stings.
Yeah, yeah, this tired old argument again. We know you've heard it a million times: where are all the women in EDM. Well guess what? Not one female DJ graced this year's Main Stage, so we'll say it again: where are all the fucking women in EDM? Is Ultra to blame for EDM's lack of diversity? No. The problem would have existed with or without Ultra. But, as one of the biggest dance music festivals in America, Ultra is in a position to initiate change. Imagine, for a moment, if, next year, Ultra devotes a day to highlight nothing but women on the Main Stage. Or, if that's simply too much estrogen for you, how about simply picking a woman to headline the Main Stage. It would make a statement, and it would push EDM in the right direction. It's a shame it hasn't happened yet.
This was a much more political Ultra than we're used to. And by political we mean that people told Donald Trump to go fuck himself. MAKJ got the crowd to chant just such a thing over on the Main Stage. Rabbit in the Moon flashed Trump's big orange head on the screens above them while David Christophere shot two middle fingers Trump's way. And, on all three days of the festival, a "F*ck Donald Trump" sign could be seen waving from the center of the crowd. Sorry, Trump, but Ultra hates your guts.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.