As part of the voting process for our annual Top 100 Clubs poll, powered by Miller Genuine Draft, we asked you a bonus question in a bid to seek out The World’s No.1 Festival. And this year we have a new champion! ULTRA Miami topped the list from almost half a million voters, toppling last year’s winner Tomorrowland in the process. We caught up with the ULTRA team to break the news…
Russell Faibisch is the Co-Founder, CEO, President, Chairman and Executive Producer. Adam Russakoff is the Talent Buyer, Business Affairs Manager, a Director and Executive Producer. Charles Faibisch is a Director and Executive Producer.
Congratulations on being voted as this year’s No.1 festival? How does it feel?
Russell: “It’s an honour to have been voted No.1. It’s a great opportunity to say a huge thank you to everyone who recognises and appreciates our hard work and dedication to the festival space and beyond.”
Adam: “Thank you! Feels absolutely unexpected and amazing. This is a very special award because it recognises the whole team and all of our efforts as a collective. It takes a village to produce any event, especially one of the magnitude of ULTRA, and unfortunately sometimes people fail to recognise that.”
Charles: “Amazing! Very happy to have been voted No.1 by those who make all of this possible — the fans!”
Do you think this has been your best year yet?
R: “There was something special from the kick off on the Friday that made the entire team truly believe we were delivering an incredible event. Although 2015 was fantastic, this year was definitely even better.”
What do you think people are looking for from a festival experience these days?
R: “Fun. Quality. Value. From all spectrums of the festival experience, starting with the line-up and programming, top-notch production, great soundsystems, professional organisation and continuing all the way down to the smallest logistical detail — everything matters. The right energy is also key. That unique vibe which cannot really be explained in words, but rather is something that needs to be experienced to understand. That feeling of excitement in the air that is shared organically by tens of thousands of people at the same place and at the same time.”
You have always been very progressive with your booking policy — supporting the underground scene in addition to the mainstream. How important is it for you guys to represent the full spectrum of electronic music?
R: “It is very important. It’s what we work so hard on, continuously challenging ourselves to do better than we did the year before. Adam and I program the entire festival, that’s the creative and fun part. He then takes on the challenging next phase and handles all the bookings. Since our inception more than eighteen years ago, ULTRA has always presented incredible, diverse, forward-thinking line-ups — it’s our signature. Sure, some DJs repeat over the years, but that’s normal when you have a festival that consistently programs just about every known DJ on the line-up each year. It’s important to look at the line-up ‘as a whole’ and explore the programming on all of the individual stages.
Sometimes we find ourselves ahead of our time. For example, in 2004 we had the Electroclash Live Stage with LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, Miss Kittin, 2ManyDJs and some other live acts. At the time, there were maybe only twenty or so people at that stage during its peak because that sound hadn’t hit the masses yet, but we believed in what we were doing and kept pushing the live dimension of ULTRA. Fast-forward twelve years, LCD is now headlining Coachella and ULTRA Miami has seen just about every live performer from the electronic music spectrum and some very special, select crossover artists who have all collectively played a role in setting ULTRA’s live music offering apart from any other electronic music festival.
Same thing with the underground scene. We’ve been booking the best since 2000, when Sasha & John Digweed were the main stage DJ headliners that year. Then we started programming underground music specific stages in 2001 with the Twilo Arena. In 2005, Carl Cox, Lynn Cosgrave and I created the Carl Cox & Friends Arena concept which has been running for twelve years strong. Later came the Amnesia and Space Ibiza stages, and now we have RESISTANCE, which complements Carl’s arena in Miami, and is the underground stage of all ULTRA Worldwide festivals.”
You have a very unique venue — a large park surrounded by skyscrapers. How much do you think this location adds to the experience?
R: “It’s a huge factor. No other festival venue is quite like it. There is a very special feeling when you’re at ULTRA, with the surreal backdrop of downtown’s towering skyscrapers, where Biscayne Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Miami is the Magic City for a reason, there is just no place like it anywhere in the world. Being born and raised in Miami, it is extra special to have the opportunity to produce ULTRA in my hometown. It’s very exciting to bring so many international people each year from every corner of the globe to visit our city and experience the festival. Miami Music Week is the ultimate destination festival location."
What has been your all-time UMF highlight?
R: “It is impossible to choose one single ‘all-time highlight’ over eighteen incredible years in Miami. Each edition brings its own unique and very special memories and highlights. Lately, and with the expansion of ULTRA Worldwide, my highlights have been watching our core team in Miami and our global family of partners unite and work incredibly well together. That for me is the ultimate highlight.”
A: “It's a tie between the closing slot of weekend two in 2013 for the final curtain, which was the last Swedish House Mafia set because of our history with the guys, AND the 2015 closing slot with Skrillex, Diplo, Puffy, CL, and many many other special guests as it helped resurrect [Justin] Bieber’s career — and ULTRA was certainly the only place that could have happened. The people who knew thought our team was crazy but that moment will live on in infamy forever.”
Tell us a bit more about Ultra Worldwide — which markets are you in, and how does the Ultra experience translate internationally?
R: “The ULTRA Worldwide journey began in 2006. We had just taken a massive financial hit with the festival in Miami. It then became very clear to me that for this dream to continue and evolve, global expansion was key. So I went overseas to explore the possibilities and viability of expanding ULTRA around the world. Brazil was my first stop and it marked where the expansion began. Since then I’ve personally travelled extensively throughout Asia, Europe, South America, Africa and beyond, to carefully select each and every ULTRA Worldwide destination. In addition to the US, we are now in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Croatia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Paraguay, Peru and the Philippines… with more to be announced. “It is amazing, beyond words, to witness hundreds of thousands of ULTRA fans throughout the world attending our events, understanding and appreciating that they are all a part of the international youth culture music movement known as ULTRA Worldwide.”
How much work goes into running Ultra Miami — when do you start planning and booking for the following year? And how many people are working with you on putting the event together.
R: “So much work, time and dedication goes into producing the festival. The team behind the scenes is incredible! We are all working year round on Miami, plus all of the other ULTRA Worldwide events. Sometimes, we are looking at possible headliners two to three years ahead of time. It’s a 365-day business that never really feels like work. We all love what we do very much, often too much sometimes, it’s genuine passion.”
You’re probably mad busy working during Ultra weekend, but which acts will you always make time to see at the festival?
R: “This year I was really looking forward to seeing the Main Stage (the Pulsar) and Mega Structure stage designs come to life, as well as the RESISTANCE stage powered by the legendary Arcadia Spider installation. The Live Stage was stacked all three days. The Pendulum reunion was huge. Deadmau5 played a big role at the festival this year with three performances across the weekend. I was with Carl Cox for his closing sets, and at Rabbit In The Moon’s reunion performance. RITM played a huge role in the early years by headlining the first two ULTRAs on the beach in 1999 and 2000. I have so much respect for those guys.”
A: “Our team makes it a huge priority to have someone at every set. We like for the artists to feel like Miami in particular is a coming home of sorts, so we want to make sure to welcome everyone back and spend as much time as possible with our extended family.”
Finally, what’s next for Ultra in 2017 and beyond…
R: “To continue to grow organically — the right way, for the right reasons and with the right people. Always remembering it is all about the music. We’ll continue to develop and nurture our amazing relationships with our Ultra Worldwide Family. To work harder than ever before as a team; to be more focused than ever before, and to continue to do the best we can to bring high-quality ULTRA music festivals and events to select, global destination locations.”
See ULTRA Miami’s 18-year programming history here.