Nick is usually known as a lawyer in Detroit but when he travels the world’s electronic music festivals he takes on a new persona — he shaves tribal figures into his hair and sprinkles glitter over his biceps.
His latest occasion to live out his alternative life is taking place this weekend in Miami at the Ultra Music Festival, where dance music megastars including Tiesto, David Guetta, Steve Aoki, Martin Garrix and Major Lazer are spinning.
“You work hard and you play hard,” said the 27-year-old lawyer, who shied away from using his last name for professional reasons.
Chatting in between a hawker selling plastic penises and a group of young Spaniards decked out in Spider-Man costumes, Nick explained how he has explored the world’s electronic festivals and discovered “the coolest time you can possibly have.”
“It’s crazy,” he said. “Everybody is having a good time and welcoming you like a family. It doesn’t compare to a rock concert. Best energy possible!”
The Ultra Music Festival is one of the world’s premier events for the booming scene of electronic dance music, or EDM, along with Tomorrowland in Belgium and the Electric Daisy Carnival, which takes place in Las Vegas with editions around the world.
Some 165,000 revelers descended on Miami for the Ultra Music Festival — some from as far away as Europe, South America and Japan. Many adorned their heads with flowers, horns or rabbit ears. Young women sported bikinis with fishnet stockings and Converse sneakers, while other fans dressed up as superheroes or even as human bananas.
With the exception of some neighbors who will struggle to share space with the three-day party, virtually everyone appeared in upbeat spirits.
“Everybody is kind. It’s a place where everybody gets together and there’s no hate, there’s no differences, there’s no race, nothing matters anymore,” said James Tirado, a 21-year-old American student.
“Everybody is going to have a good time Everybody is loving each other,” he said.
Scalpers outside offered tickets for $600, as inside the choreographed LED lights and the intense mixes whipped the crowd into a sweaty, jumping, skin-exposed mass.
– Will the EDM bubble burst? –
Of all the world-famous DJs who were spinning, Tiesto has been among the most loyal performers at the Ultra Music Festival. He has performed all but one year at the festival since its inaugural edition in 1999, when trance music dominated EDM.
The 48-year-old Dutch DJ was one of the biggest figures in trance in the 1990s. Then a subculture at do-it-yourself raves, EDM has grown into a massive phenomenon that draws youth — and is also frequently associated with synthetic drugs such as MDMA.
“It’s amazing what they have achieved. Now they have a bigger production and they do it all over the world. It’s impressive,” Tiesto told AFP, referring to Ultra’s global editions that started in Brazil and have spread widely.
While most festival-goers were aware that the EDM boom was recent, many did not realize that the music was gaining an audience in the 1990s — when some in attendance at Ultra had just been born.
In a paper presented last year to an annual International Music Summit in Ibiza, Spain, analyst Kevin Watson estimated that electronic music was a $7.1 billion global industry, soaring by 60 percent since 2012.
After sweeping North America and Europe, Watson pointed to strong growth for EDM in emerging markets such as China and South America.
One key factor, he wrote, is the rapid growth of streaming which has made EDM increasingly accessible to fans who are not discovering the beats on the dance floor.
But EDM has plenty of high-profile detractors. Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, who founded the alternative rock extravaganza Lollapalooza that takes place in Chicago, last year regretted EDM’s prominence at festivals and said the music had lost the meditative quality of early house music.
“I hate EDM. I want to vomit it out of my nostrils,” he told the Chicago Tribune last year.
Pitchfork, the influential music site that avidly chronicles the indie scene, ran a piece last year that forecast a bursting bubble for EDM.
It dated the start of EDM’s downfall to the 2013 viral craze of the producer Baauer’s song “Harlem Shake,” saying it marked electronic music’s continued “transformation from subculture into mass-media meme.”