Held alongside the Winter Music Conference and Miami Music Week the festival, Ultra Music Festival (also known as UMF) is an annual outdoor electronic music festival taking place during March in Miami, Florida. The festival is a major annual event and a destination every EDM music fan dreams of visiting at least once in their lifetime.
In this article you’ll learn all about the founders, how the festival started and how it grew. We’ll also have a guide to help you enjoy the festival to the max plus our insider tips to survive the full Ultra weekend!
Ultra Music Festival was created by Russell Faibisch and Alex Omes and is named after a Depeche Mode album. The festival faced numerous setbacks throughout the years was nearly banned from Miami but it also is a huge profit generating approx. $995 million in economic impact at one time.
The story of Ultra is one filled with great ups and downs, death and of course a lot of growth.
Let’s dive right into the juicy details!
History of UMF
How It All Began
The festival was founded in 1999 by Russell Faibisch and Alex Omes and is named after the 1997 Depeche Mode album, Ultra. First held on Miami Beach, at Bicentennial Park, the festival was briefly also help at Virginia Key in 2019 and has primarily been held at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.
The festival started as a one-day music event from 1998 to 2006. Since 2011, Ultra has taken place across three days from Friday through Sunday during the month of March of each year. To celebrate it’s 15th anniversary in 2013, the festival took place across two consecutive weekends and featured a combined attendance of 330,000 people.
The first Ultra Music Festival was held as a one-day event on March 13, 1999. The festival hosted artists like Paul van Dyk, Rabbit in the Moon, Josh Wink, and DJ Baby Anne. This first event was held at Collins Park in Miami Beach and proved popular, with an estimated ten thousand concertgoers in attendance. However, Faibisch and Omes still saw a financial loss of between $10,000 to $20,000 during the festival’s inaugural year.
Fast forward to March 2000, the festival returned to South Beach’s Collins Park and was met with even bigger success. The festival was immediately renewed for a third year and as they say, the rest is history.
To showcase how much the festival has grown, it is important to note that the city of Miami has estimated that since 2012, Ultra has “generated approximately $995 million of economic impact”, with $168 million in 2018 alone.
Alongside the flagship event in Miami, Ultra has developed a larger series of international franchises under the blanket branding Ultra Worldwide, which have included locations such as South Africa, South Korea, Singapore, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and others.
Due to the massive rise in attendance between 1999 and 2000, the festival organizers decided to relocate to a bigger and better location which can help them in production and better management of the event: Bayfront Park in Downtown Miami. Ultra Music Festival continued to bring the biggest names in electronic dance music to Miami with performances from the likes of Robin Fox, Tiësto, EC Twins, Paul van Dyk, Paul Oakenfold, Sander Kleinenberg, Pete Tong, Erick Morillo, and Rabbit in the Moon from 2001 to 2005.
In 2005, Fabisch met with Adam Russakoff, who has since been the executive producer, director of business affairs, and talent buyer for Ultra Music Festival and Ultra Worldwide. 2005 was also the year that Carl Cox and Ultra worked together to curate the Carl Cox and Friends Arena, formerly known as the Carl Cox Global Arena, which has been a mainstay at Ultra Music Festival for the past several years.
With the record-breaking attendance of the seventh annual Ultra Music Festival in 2005, the producers have now established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in that business. Moving forward to 2007, the festival was now spanning for the first time over two days at Bicentennial Park with more than 50,000 people in attendance, which was another record at the time for Ultra. The festival celebrated its 10th anniversary during March 28–29, 2008 with performances by Tiësto, Underworld, Justice, Paul van Dyk, Carl Cox, Armin van Buuren, MSTRKRFT, deadmau5, Annie Mac, Eric Prydz, Ferry Corsten, Calvin Harris, Moby, The Crystal Method, Boys Noize, Benny Benassi, Armand van Helden, The Bravery, David Guetta, and many more.
With the growth of the production and undertaking of such a massive event, the festival faced numerous setbacks throughout the years. On March 28 2014, a security guard was left in “extremely critical” condition after being trampled by a crowd of people attempting to gate crash the festival by breaking down a chain-link fence. This didn’t stop the producers from moving forward with their plans for 2015, they instead did a comprehensive review of the festival’s security arrangements with the involvement of the Miami Police Department, which assessed how security could be improved to “prevent a criminal incident of this nature from happening again.”
By then, the festival was facing a lot of backlash from the Miami commissioners who wanted to ban the festival from happening in Miami. Organizers did several moves to increase security measures, take more control over lewd behavior, drug use and unexpected incidents from happening. They also hired the retiring Miami Beach Police Chief Ray Martinez to oversee security for future events. Security officials stated that the 2018 edition of Ultra was the “safest” in recent years, reporting only 27 arrests in total during the festival (related particularly to narcotics, ticket counterfeiting, and an attendee physically attacking a police officer) and no “major” incidents.
On another hand, in 2015 new underground stage called “Resistance” was introduced. It focused upon then lesser-known “underground” electronic musicians in genres such as deep house and techno, and featured a 360-degree stage installation known as “Afterburner”.
Also with the growth of the festival and the increase in the number of attendees, there were concersn over transportation on the first night of the festival in 2018. As the closed down at 2:00 a.m., an influx of leaving attendees resulted in disorderly lines of shuttles back to the mainland. Attendees reported that staff members were also unhelpful in guiding them towards the correct pickup points, while many decided to take a roughly 2.5 miles (4 km) walk down the causeway’s William Powell Bridge (plus additional travel time needed to make it back to their hotels, or transport hubs awaiting taxi or ride sharing service, as they were not allowed to perform pickups directly on the island). This, in turn, prompted the shuttles to eventually suspend operations due to the influx of pedestrian traffic on the causeway.
The next morning, Ultra organizers apologized for the issues, stating that they had been working with the city to address shortcomings in its transit plans (including clearer signage, and a dedicated bus lane on the bridge), and that it would keep concessions, vendors, and additional programming open past 2:00 a.m. (including “secret” performances) for the remainder of the festival. While lines were still reported, the transit situation was considered to have been improved on subsequent nights.
The festival became officially 18+in 2015, and featured additional security measures, crowd control measures and lineups that were not only limited to EDM DJs, but also included mainstream superstars like Ariana Grande and Usher bringing everyone into the new structure of Ultra.
The Co-founders Split
As Ultra turned 10, organizers decided to focus on EDM music to pay homage to the genre where it all began. After this event, there was a rift between the founders Alex Omes and Russell Faibisch on whether there’s a need to separate Ultra Music Festival from The Winter Music Conference in Miami. One founder was for the change while the other was against. This long-standing disagreement caused the business partners to split.
Omes sued his former partner for $33 million. Such an issue had to be taken to court to finalize the details and split the shares of the company, but a few days before the court date, Alex Omes passed away. An autopsy report by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner revealed that a toxicology report found amphetamines, ketamine, cocaine, and traces of the date-rape drug GHB in his blood.
While Omes’ death was unfortunate and ill-timed, the battle for Ultra has continued on without him. The court ruled in Ultra’s favor, concluding that because there was never an employment contract between Omes and the festival, Omes’ estate does not have rights to the event.
Ultra Goes Worldwide
In 2008, Ultra began Ultra Worldwide — starting with Ultra Brasil, which took place in São Paulo, Brasil, and then moved to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Since then, Ultra has debuted worldwide festivals in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Ultra Buenos Aires); Santiago, Chile (Ultra Chile); Seoul, Korea (Ultra Korea); Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa (Ultra South Africa); Tokyo, Japan (Ultra Japan); Bali, Indonesia (Ultra Bali); Singapore, Singapore (Ultra Singapore); and Ibiza, Spain (Ultra Ibiza).
In July 2013, Ultra Worldwide debuted Ultra Europe, also known as Destination Ultra, which takes place across the span of a week throughout different venues across Croatia.
2012 saw the beginning of the event concept entitled Road to Ultra, which are single-day, single-stage events. Road to Ultra events have taken place in Thailand, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Colombia, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Macau, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru.
In 2017, Ultra also began to expand the Resistance brand into its own event series, beginning with an 11-date international tour headlined by Sasha and John Digweed in 2017, along with an eight-week, Tuesday residence at Privilege Ibiza.
In May 25 till 27 2018, a three-day Resistance Mexico City festival took place.
With all this list of events and festivals, it is quite obvious how massive the Ultra Music Festival brand has grown to become.
Guide To Spend The Best Hours At UMF
Start With The Small Stages
Congratulations! You just made your way through the massive line outside of the festival, and you’re finally in!
Once inside one of the biggest festivals on Earth, your temptation might be to jump right into the huge main stage madness, but we highly recommend you to ease into it. Why not check out one of Ultra’s many smaller tents, like the Underground Story stage? This is where artists like Boston funky house duo, Soul Clap will probably be throwing down an early afternoon set.
On To The Bigger Sets
Once you’ve got yourself in the mood, you might want to check out some other smaller stages and work your way toward the massive main stage area. We recommend you take some time to discover some new music, meet new people and make new friends. A great strategy would be moving from the more quiet stages to the busier ones. Progressively, you’re putting yourself in the mood for a bigger release, and a more massive production show. Your body and mind will thank you for it!
Take A Break
Music festivals can be exhausting, especially when you’re dancing all day under the blazing Miami sun. So don’t ignore this and seriously consider that there are thousands of people all over the place, constant dashes from stage to stage and enough impromptu dance circles to make you weak in the knees. Moving around and enjoy such a massive festival requires a lot of energy and being the smart and savvy festival-goer you are, sometimes you got to know when it’s time to take a chill-out break. Ultra is in a park, and believe it or not there are trees AND grass all over the place! Take an hour to lay-out and hear some beats while you’re taking a break from jumping around. You don’t have to get away from the music at all, it’s just a chance for you to rest your body and take care of yourself in order to better be able to last throughout the festival and experience as much of it as you can.
After this brief time resting, the choice is yours! You’ll have much more energy if you’re going for the main stage, or even if you’re aiming to jump from one stage to another. But keep your eyes and ears out for our next recommendation, this one is a must not miss!
Lose Yourself To Some Techno
Whether you’re a fan of the music or not, this one will definitely be worth it.
Let’s talk a little about the legendary Carl Cox. He’s one of the few names that have had a mega influential presence at the festival. This is a guy who has been with the festival from the very beginning, curating some of the best that techno has to offer in his iconic Carl Cox & Friends tents throughout the years. Our advice is simple, give yourself the chance to spend (at least) an hour getting hypnotized to Carl—or some of his friends like Luciano and Marco Carola’s—energetic techno blasts. You’ll also be hearing some of his famous lines like “fantastic!” or the infamous “oh yes, oh yes.” We guarantee a fun time there, and it’s one music escape you will remember for life!
Tips To Survive The Festival: An Insider Guide
In this guide, we’re focusing on Ultra Music Festival’s edition in Miami, Florida which is one of the biggest EDM festivals in the world.
It’s a daytime event that spans across days and long hours in the Miami sun. Make sure you’re protected before, after and during the event.
This is a marathon, not a race. Mix up the drinks with a lot of water as the humidity, dancing, and jumping around will eventually get to you. You will be on your (dancing) feet for 11+ hours under the blazing Miami sun and needless to say—you’re going to be sweating, a lot! Although the best thing you can do to prolong the dancing is drink down as much H20 as possible.
But who wants to hold a bunch of water bottles while trying to throw down an award-winning dance performance?
The solution? Get yourself a Camelbak. If you’re a frequent music festival attendee, this thing will change your life. They come in cool colors, hold enough water to satisfy an elephant and have little pockets for all your little items.
Charge Your Phone:
This doesn’t need much introduction, we’ve all faced the dreaded situation when we’re in the middle of something so awesome, we take out our phone only to have the battery die on us mid-recording. Too frustrating no?
Luckily, in today’s world of advanced technology, there are ways to avoid this situation. One option is to get one of those awesome Solar Portable Phone Chargers. A second option is to check out the charging stations in the EcoVillage, which offer charging options that are compatible with up to 15 different devices. They’ll also have Wi-Fi and a refreshing misting system that will cool you down, while your technology charges up. How awesome is that?!
While there are credit card options available, it’s best to carry cash with you. It’s very safe, so don’t worry especially when you’ve got a handy fanny pack or secure wallet on you. We highly recommend this Smart Wallet. It has a special “Alarm GPS Map Bluetooth Anti Lost” system and at the time of writing this article it is available with FREE SHIPPING.
Do not bring bags:
For the safety of all attendees, Ultra does not allow bags (unless clear) onto the festival site. Make sure to check the specifics of what is and is not allowed before going to the festival. You don’t want to have problems before even stepping into the festival grounds.
Get there early:
To get the most bang for your buck with all the headlining artists like Nicky Romero, Don Diablo, KSHMR (Live), Dubfire, Hardwell, Martin Solveig, the list goes on and on and on! Having so many artists to check out during the event will be a sort of a juggling act. Enjoy the event early-on so you can catch as much of the fun as you possibly can.
If you’re looking to see as much music as physically possible, we recommend bouncing between stages. You will want to be super organized for maximum benefit, it’s usually a good idea to craft up your own custom schedule including who you want to see and where they’re playing, before going to the festival. That way, you’ll have your days mapped out for you for maximum efficiency!
In Miami, you have a great transportation system called the Metromover and it’s totally free! But, like most things that are free, there’s somewhat of a catch. The Metromover closes at 1AM, an hour or so after the last beat is dropped on the mainstage of the festival.
Yes, that means at this time, you’ll have around 25,000 people attempting to get on a small train that fits about ten percent of them. Needless to say, the station, train, and surrounding area is a total scene and if you plan on using this as your means of transportation—you better be prepared. On the other hand, we recommend you leave a few minutes before the end of the festival (say, five minutes before) and you just might avoid the madness and stream of people trying to leave. You’ll thank us later.
If you’re driving, make sure you’re aware of speed traps. The county will write tickets! And if you are young and heading to Miami over Ultra weekend they WILL try to ask you questions about drugs and potentially search your car. So watch out!