Road to Ultra: Macau's first big electronic dance music festival

Miami's monster EDM event is set to conquer casino city, with day of shows starring 2manydjs, Porter Robinson and Nicky Romero, plus Hong Kong's Janette Slack and Singapore's DJ Ghetto

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2015, 10:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2015, 10:41pm

Not too long ago, we lived in a music world that wasn't dominated by electronic dance music (EDM). Now, along with other millennial-driven aspects of contemporary society, the sub-genre juggernaut is impossible to avoid.

Diplo tweets a picture and the Twitter-verse goes mad; Skrillex's obscure Instagram photos rack up tens of thousands of likes; pages upon pages of Tumblr are dedicated to gifs of Deadmau5.

If it all sounds familiar, here's why: just a few decades ago, rock stars were courting the same frenetic fan hysteria, drawing massive crowds to their overbooked gigs and gleefully celebrating the glamour and decadence of their lifestyles. Now, the enfant terribles of the music industry are officially the EDM babies, spawned from the birth of the internet, social media and the new millennium.

It's been a few years coming — organisers of traditionally rock- and indie-heavy festivals such as Coachella have noticed an unprecedented rise in EDM interest, while demand for traditional instrumental groups and musicians has begun to languish.

This drive has reached Asia at full throttle, with DJs reigning the dance floors and EDM royalty such as Tiesto and David Guetta regularly playing across the region. Not surprisingly, Macau will host its own EDM festival in June, a branch of the popular Ultra music festival that originated in Miami, in the United States.

Ultra was founded in 1999 and hosted a one-day inaugural event that same year with Paul van Dyk, Rabbit in the Moon and Josh Wink, drawing about 10,000 people. Today, that same festival has expanded to a two-day event, with attendance reaching hundreds of thousands and live performances immortalised on social media — the most recent festival in 2014 was captured live by video game streaming website Twitch.

Ultra has also moved beyond Miami, from South Africa to Taipei, and the spin-off Road to Ultra (RTU) event which is coming to Macau. "Road to Ultra is a single-stage Ultra event that has the same appeal in many aspects that each Ultra festival does — world-class DJs and the highest-quality production. But we have packed all the action into one day," says Russell Faibisch, co-founder and CEO of Ultra.

A Bali festival is planned for September this year for the first time, and RTU events are already hugely popular in Japan and South Korea.

See also: David Guetta living the moment

Taking place in the 30,000 sq ft Club Cubic in the City of Dreams, RTU Macau's international highlights include 2manydjs, Porter Robinson and Nicky Romero. Simultaneously, a secondary stage is being set up at the nearby City of Dreams Soho, and will feature an all-Asian line-up including Hong Kong's Janette Slack and Singapore's DJ Ghetto.

With its history of entertainment and enviable space — not to mention its fine-tuned sound systems and tech support — Macau's Club Cubic and City of Dreams complex was an obvious choice for the Ultra team.

The four headline acts were chosen for their ties to Asia or their prominence in the electronic music scene. Porter Robinson (mtvU artist of the year) has said that his tracks are heavily influenced by the East; mainstay Nicky Romero headlined the Miami stage at last year's Ultra Festival.

"Asia has its own identity. We had to select artists that have prominent fan bases in various regions and bring them together to really represent the growth of electronic music here," says Adam Russakoff, executive producer of Ultra. "We think that electronic music fans in Asia are ready for large-scale events with top-tier talent."

Undeniably, EDM is where it's at, but are its days numbered, as many have predicted (one seer being Deadmau5 himself, stating in a Rolling Stone interview: "It'll eventually f*** itself so hard")? Music critics and listeners are asking: if EDM killed the rock star, what will kill the EDM star?

"For the past several years, various people have been predicting the death of EDM," says Russakoff.

"They forget that the term EDM itself is just one version of a much larger body of sound called electronic music, and some traditional musicians unfortunately believe that electronic music is formulaic, stale, and too easy to create since it is made without traditional instruments.

"That could not be further from the truth. In fact, many forward-thinking musicians have integrated electronic elements into their performances and they are much better off as a result. The new advances in music and performance technology have allowed talented people to express themselves more profoundly than ever before."

Much like the explosion of the internet itself, electronic music and EDM is a hallmark of our contemporary culture, of the millennial generation who swipe, tap and ping information at the blink of an eye, and is a sharp nod to where music is heading — an exciting future where technology and sounds merge seamlessly.

Festivals such as Road to Ultra support that advancement with their choice of artists and push the boundaries in illuminating live experiences with cryo jets, pyrotechnics and visuals to blow pre-millennial shows out of the water, aesthetically.

However, Faibisch and his team are, surprisingly, old-fashioned when it comes to putting on shows. "It's important to say that the music should be the first priority," says Faibisch. "But I think that the future of electronic music is very bright and that the amazing experiences of live shows will continue to be enhanced by technology that makes us feel more connected and more involved. This has truly changed the way people experience live music."

Road to Ultra, June 13, 8pm, Club Cubic, City of Dreams, Macau, HK$880. Inquiries: 853 6638 4999