It turns out 1999 was a very good year for partying like it’s 1999. While Moby enraptured us all with Play, his tableau of gospel-tinged trance, Russell Faibisch and Alex Omes founded Ultra, an over-the-top outdoor electronic dance music festival on the sands of Miami’s South Beach. Since then, the day-long and on-until-the-break-of-dawn outdoor party has moved to Biscayne Bay and become an annual March mecca, drawing 45,000-plus from all over the world to see the major gods in electronic music stand triumphant on 12 laser-saturated stages.
But last year Faibisch, 29, and Omes, 34, decided to take their enormously commercially successful festival on the road, partnering with New York–based Ultra Records (no relation) to sponsor Ultra.NY, the first outdoor electronic music festival of its kind in Gotham. Though considerably smaller than the Miami show—only two laser-saturated stages—the demand far exceeded the capacity of Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield last year. All 5,000 tickets sold out in advance. “We had to turn away people who came the day of the show,” Faibisch recalls. And that was with the Chemical Brothers headlining. This year’s lineup includes Belgium’s Soul Wax, Italy’s Benny Benassi, Junkie XL, the U.K.’s John Digweed, and as a headliner, New York’s own mega-producer Moby. It’s a modest lineup compared to Miami’s, but that’s not the point. “Ultra Music Festival Miami is Ultra Music Festival Miami,” Faibisch explains. “Nothing is ever going to be as massive as that. But it’s our second year in New York, and it’s really a great honor to be able to go up there and work with the city to give the people of New York a taste of what we do here in Miami.”
Ultra’s other mastermind, Omes, just happens to serve as musical director for both the New York and Miami versions of the nightclub Crobar, so the NYC branch will host this year’s after-party—Felix Da Housecat will be there. “Last year I left the after-party at one in the afternoon,” Faibisch recalls. “Danny Tenaglia was still spinning.” The two New York DJs on this year’s Ultra.NY bill—Boris and David Waxman—are also Crobar favorites. As for Moby, he’s considered “one of the big boys,” the enshrining term Faibisch uses to describe guys like Paul Van Dyk, Carl Cox, Erick Morillo, Tiesto, Paul Oakenfold, and Ultra.NY ’06 participant John Digweed—icons chiseled in Mount Rushmore fashion on the psyche of electronic music.
“I think we’ve booked every dance music artist out there over a nine-year period,” Faibisch says. “After talking to everyone, it just ended up this year that Moby and Digweed were the ones we built the show around.”
One criticism: There indeed seems to be a short list of heavy hitters at these festivals—a very short list. All the same guys making all the big money for the past eight years. New York’s Erick Morillo was featured at Ultra.NY last year, but David Morales, Roger Sanchez, or even godfather of house Frankie Knuckles deserves a shot. In fact, Moby headlined Miami’s Ultra fest last year. But Faibisch says Moby deserves his hosannas: “He’s done a hell of a lot for electronic music in helping it get recognized in the mainstream.” Dance music fans are very loyal to their DJs, after all, and once they attain a certain status, it’s almost impossible for them to “fall off.”
There was a moment during last year’s Miami extravaganza when Dutch techno god Junkie XL stood on the main stage, facing a setting sun and 45,000 reverent electronic music fans on Biscayne Bay. He was smoking a cigarette, miming the words to “Breezer,” and making huge arm motions to the song’s initial ambience, as if the trio of Technics before him were a podium. Hypnotized by strobes, we were waiting for him to let the beat drop—when he finally did, all hands flew up involuntarily. “It’s really amazing how many thousands of people are out there that are not kids: young attorneys, dentists, doctors, all kinds of young professionals having a great time partying—even families,” Faibisch says. “It has nothing to do with drugs whatsoever.”
Ultra.NY takes place Friday night at Rumsey Playfield at 4:30 p.m., $49.75 presale, ultranewyork.com.