Afrojack was the other DJ whose Ultra Music Festival set was put in jeopardy due to sudden hospitalization, but unlike Avicii, his show went on as planned. The Dutch producer and DJ didn't look worse for the wear, though, leaping high as he triggered drops throughout his set, and even at one point hopping onto the DJ booth.
He also debuted a number of new songs, including a stomping new track with Martin Garrix that was eerily reminiscent of a new track the latter debuted on the same stage a day earlier. Afrojack also played a song from his forthcoming album that featured a dollop of disco strings.
When Cut Copy frontman Dan Whitford strapped on a guitar to play tracks off last year’s Free Your Mind, it was the second time we’d even seen one of those all weekend (the first was during MGMT’s performance on Friday). “We’re not DJing right now,” Whitford told the crowd, though he and bandmate Tim Hoey are a formidable DJ duo in their own right. Ultra’s massive bill boasted a diverse roster of knob-twiddlers, but it was nice to hear actual stringed instruments again.
It takes a certain sense of humor to fill in as a festival headliner in less than 24 hours notice, and Deadmau5 let his shine through his Saturday night set. (Read our full report here.) Called in after Avicii's hospitalization forced him to pull out of Ultra, Deadmau5 played a set heavy on winking jokes, most noticeably when he played "Old McDonald Had a Farm" into Martin Garrix's "Animals."
Riff Raff’s show reflected the candy colored Tumblr-come-to-life aesthetic that’s made him Internet-famous: Women paced the stage like boxing ring girls as they held up giant cut outs of his face, his dog Jody Husky’s face and (inexplicably) Katy Perry’s face. Dancers writhed in neon wigs and his own cornrows were an oversaturated green. Despite all of the visual stimulation, the rapper’s set began to lag as his drawling delivery became slightly monotonous—that is, until Far East Movement burst onto the stage.
Jumping up and down and interacting with the audience in a way that Riff Raff hadn’t, their lyrical skills and sheer exuberance on “The Illest” breathed new life into our afternoon, and we were a little sorry to see them go.
Been Trill is a super-hip streetwear collective that has expanded its reach into DJ sets, and at Ultra on Saturday three of the crew deftly revealed the connective tissue between street rap and EDM. They curated a playlist of popular new rap songs like Kendrick Lamar's "m.A.A.d city" and Jay Z's "Tom Ford" that mimicked the controlled clatter of Ultra while still remaining purely hip-hop.
Just as we predicted, Wes Pentz was not a solo act at his Friday afternoon set. First Riff Raff came out to rap along to “Dolce & Gabbana”, a single off his long-delayed Neon Icon album from Diplo’s Mad Decent label. Waka Flocka walked on next, fresh off of his own show on the Live Stage. He was followed by Sean Paul, who graced the audience with “Gimme The Light,” and then Walshy Fire and Jillionaire appeared to give the audience a small dose of Major Lazer. It all happened so fast, but it was tons of fun.
"We're just up here f-cking around!" yelled The Chainsmokers from atop their perch at the awkwardly located Stage 7, which is really less a stage than it is a platform hovering over one of Ultra's main thruways. And that is exactly what they did, triggering phallic jokes over beats that popped like bubbles, sampling the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and liberally incorporated referee whistles. Melodic but eclectic, the duo split the difference between Avicii and LMFAO, and had enough swagger to drop their sudden smash "#SELFIE" just 20 minutes into their set.
Two-thirds of the way into M.I.A.’s Ultra appearance—a sweaty dance party full of bamboo bangas—she launched into “Y.A.L.A.” That’s when Maya decided to up the ante: After signaling the DJs to stop the track, she said “I need all my ladies on the stage with me.” Within minutes the stage was at capacity, and M.I.A. was surrounded by excited female fans. It was both sweet and fun, a high point of one of the weekend’s most exciting sets.
EDM as a live experience is powered by the childlike exuberance of DJs who jump around wildly right after pressing a single button. But Martin Garrix is literally a child, still 17 years old and riding the wave of his ubiquitous single "Animals." So his childlike exuberance during a Saturday afternoon set was that much more exuberant than anyone else this weekend, especially when fiddling with a glitchy re-fix of "Animals" and debuting a new track with huge blurting synth riffs.
Nevermind that Chance the Rapper was playing to a crowd small enough that when he began to tell individual audience members that he loved them during his performance of "(Interlude) That's Love," it seemed like he might address every single person in the crowd. The Chicago rapper worked tirelessly during his set on Friday, playing a quarter-full amphitheater like it was sold out, sliding across the stage wildly like he was on ice and pushing his band The Social Experiment to the brink. He didn't have to say "I love you" for everyone to know it.