UMF documentary primes the pump for Miami bacchanal
This week, scores of thousands of fans will head to Florida for Miami Music Week, an annual beats-and-booze-athon that's anchored by the massive Ultra Music Festival, a three-day extravaganza featuring 300 boldface DJs representing virtually every corner of the dance-music spectrum — from David Guetta and Tiësto to Seth Troxler and Maya Jane Coles. For those who can't afford the pilgrimage, or who missed out on tickets to the sold-out Ultra, UMF Films will be bringing the rave to more than 400 cinemas nationwide on March 22.
Well, kind of. To be screened the day before UMF Miami kicks off, Can U Feel It: The UMF Experience isn't a live stream of this weekend's festival, but an hour-long film recapping Ultra's 2011 edition, combining performance clips, adrenaline-charged crowd footage, and interviews with scene kingpins like David Guetta, Laidback Luke, Avicii, Carl Cox, Afrojack, Fedde Le Grand, and Boys Noize.
Given that UMF sold out of its 200,000-odd allotment of tickets for the festival back in mid January, the film is essentially an infomercial for next year's edition, as well as a brand-builder for events in Korea, Argentina, Poland and elsewhere. Plus, it's not a bad revenue opportunity in and of itself: If UMF can gather even 200 ravers at each of the estimated 400 theaterss, at $12.50 a head, they'll gross a cool $1 million.
Taking the rave to the silver screen is a popular strategy for promoters these days, as the demand for electronic dance music outgrows a North American nightclub and touring infrastructure that's ill suited to EDM. Electric Daisy Carnival did something similar last summer with Electric Daisy Carnival Experience, a high-octane adver-mentary that was slated to project letterbox PLUR on 520 screens nationwide. (Unfortunately for EDC, a Tweet from Kaskade sparked a riot at the film's Hollywood premiere in July, and Regal and AMC Cinemas canceled their screenings, leaving only about 80 theaters to spread the positive vibes.)
In fact, this is Ultra's second film foray: Previously, they put together The UMF Experience 2004, a two-hour encapsulation of the festival that was broadcast on DirecTV and released on DVD. But the difference between the new film and the old one couldn't be greater. The trailer for the 2004 clip has an anodyne trance soundtrack and production values you might expect from German public television coverage of a late-'90s Love Parade. The new film, directed by Final Kid's Charly Friedrichs, is a high-tech extravaganza of booming sound, incessant motion, and clever edits that's designed to capture the overwhelming, hyperkinetic totality of an event like Ultra.
Scale, in fact, is one of the new film's main topics, from the gargantuan proportions of the Carl Cox and Friends Arena to David Guetta's fondness for the comparative and superlative forms. Nearly everything about the Ultra experience is the "biggest"; if it's not, it's still bigger than everything else.
Ultra probably deserves a victory lap. Last year, they wrested control of Miami's late-March dance shenanigans from the Winter Music Conference, which had served as the hub of the annual club-music pilgrimage since 1985. When WMC moved its dates up by two weeks, Ultra stood its ground; hundreds of events sided with Ultra, and fans voted with their feet. Insiders still refer to the Miami gathering as "WMC," but that's a little like old-school San Franciscans referring to César Chavez as Army Street (well, minus the racism). Even leading up to last year's schism, WMC, its attendance dropping, had been reduced to a symbolic presence at the city-wide party it created.
Still, you can't help but be amused by the breathlessness of The UMF Experience, especially given the effusiveness of Guetta, EDM's self-appointed pied piper. "I'm glad that it's finally happening," he beams, sitting against a lime-green backdrop. "Big time! And it's actually bigger! It's America, so you always make it bigger. It's probably gonna be even bigger than us!"
Will.i.am also gets in a few knee-slappers, or at least head-scratchers, like his suggestion that "electronic music is taking off because it's the truth. There's no middle person. There's no politics, there's no record company, there's no industry." (The quotation actually accompanies a shot of him backstage, striding into the camera’s view, clutching an open MacBook Pro and surrounded by festival staffers.) "The industry is, hey, I made this beat, and you bought it on Beatport. Or you took it for some freakin' website for free, but you like it."
While most of the film is spent luxuriating in the epic spectacle that dance music has become, it briefly attempts to address the reasons why rave music and culture have ballooned to such proportions. David Guetta adjusts his philosopher's scarf: "The main reason it's globalizing is we're going through some difficulties around the world. There's economic crisis everywhere, and people were tired of negativity. I think the kind of message we're bringing, it's all about love and peace and being together and sharing a magic moment, leaving your problems behind. Our music is very positive."
In that spirit, here's a little drinking game to keep your experience of The UMF Experience bubbling with positive vibes. (When tee-totaling, substitute 5-hour Energy for spirits.) Have fun, and for goodness sakes, if a DJ tweets about the film opening, and madness ensues, don't throw glowsticks at the cops.
* Someone says "energy": 1 drink
* Someone says "massive": 1 drink
* Someone says "big": 1 drink
* Someone says "bigger": 2 drinks
* Someone says "biggest": 3 drinks
* David Guetta says any of the above: drink while flipping your bangs
* Shot of kandi beads spelling out "ULTRA": 1 drink
* Shot of scantily-clad go-go dancers: 1 drink
* Shot of girl in bikini top: 1 drink
* Zoom in from above on girl's bikini top: drink for length of the zoom
* Zoom in on quasi-orgasmic expression during musical breakdown: 1 drink
* DJ makes a heart shape with his (it's always a his) hands: 1 drink
* Audience member makes a heart shape with her (it's always a her) hands: 1 drink
* Three blonde women jump in a convertible against the twilit sky, in what might be an outtake from a Bud Light commercial: 2 drinks (less filling)
* Miami is compared to Ibiza: 1 drink
* WMC is mentioned: doesn't matter, never happens
* Boys Noize takes his sunglasses off: doesn't matter, never happens
* DJ takes a photo of his own stage/crowd: 1 drink
* Subtitle renders Carl Cox's "ecstatic" as "extatic": 1 drink
* Shot of Palestinian and Israeli flags waving side by side in the crowd while Guetta talks about "love and peace and being together": set the bottle down, because our work here is done!