When Ultra Music Festival launched in 1999, it might have been hard for organizers to imagine what the event would be like today. The festival recently wrapped up it's 18th birthday celebration in Miami with a remarkable resemblance to that inaugural event, dance music legends from yesteryear taking the stage once again.
Artists like Carl Cox, John Digweed, Sasha, and — a special reunion specifically for Ultra, Rabbit in the Moon all came back to Ultra this year and all were performers at that very first event, which hosted 7,000 patrons at an 11 hour showcase on the beach. Even The Prodigy, one of the most influential acts of the 90s, was on the bill, although had to cancel due to medical reasons. No matter, the impact of their influence is greatly felt and is testament to the effect they have on our beloved culture.
The significance of having these iconic figures performing at Ultra once again is something that can't be ignored. Dance music has evolved over the years, but there is still something extremely relevant to those, now classic, sounds of the 90s. Angel Melendez of the Miami New Times offers up an intriguing analysis:
"But aside from operating as just a tether between then and now, why precisely does '90s dance music persist? It isn’t a one-off thing that comes and goes the way so many fads do. It has a legit chokehold on the dance community."
As the first major headliners at the initial Ultra Music Festival, Rabbit in the Moon are an important musical act to explore in this discussion. Sure, today's headliners like Hardwell, Deadmau5 and Martin Garrix get most of the attention, but the crowd that gathered at RITM's set is a clear indication of their significance.
RITM are truly distinct musical acts. Their sound consists of breakbeat rhythms and psychedelic textures that spawned in the early underground rave scene and expanded genres like Drum and Bass, Electronica and even House. Their performance at Ultra this year seemed to be a snapshot into the past, but didn't feel out-dated or stale. In fact, they played mostly new material. It was as fresh as ever.
So again, why is the culture from the 90s still very much in the spotlight? Tony "Smurphio" Laurencio of Afrobeta, who has seen many trends come and go, sees it as simply being timeless. Festival organizers who experienced the beginning of the culture know how important it is to get that sense of nostalgia. “I’m more into the '90s now than I was then, ” Laurencia says. "[Ultra] always book something from the '90s. They’re big '90s people themselves; they’re '90s ravers. I think it’s more an honor to their roots.”
Of course those who lived through it know, but seems like more new fans of dance music are digging deeper into the past to understand what about the scene's foundation gave way to what we know it to be at present.
"Although the decade itself has long since passed, the spirit of the '90s is still with us today, and the musical foundation laid by the underground artists who went on to become EDM legends is as relevant today as it was then. Yet, due to its inherently futuristic and revolutionary nature — and because it’s a genre that has always been forward-looking — perhaps so much time is spent digging into the past, through vinyl store crates or our own memories, as Christophere [of RITM] put it, as a way to define ourselves, from now until the party is over."