REVIEW: Ultra Miami Was An Exercise in Letting Expectations Go

Music festivals are disappointing. There, I said it.

Every few weeks or so, somewhere in the world, people spend a ton of money on plane tickets, festival tickets, and hotel rooms, then spend a ton of mental energy figuring out what to pack and what to wear for some festival that will probably disappoint them.

My recent trip to Ultra Miami epitomized this experience.

As usual, I lost a ton of sleep with the planning. I spent half an hour on the phone with my life coach discussing whether to go (I’m admittedly neurotic). I looked up hotels after I booked one just to reassure myself I got the best deal possible (I didn’t). I checked ticket resale sites every day as I anxiously waited for my press credentials to not be approved.

Then, the ticket I paid double the price on didn’t arrive when it was supposed to. I spent three mornings in a row on the phone with the company, eventually pulling the journalist card and threatening to ruin their reputation if they didn’t come through (hey, it worked). Exhausted the night before the festival, I slept through the Above & Beyond concert I’d gotten tickets for. Then, the friend who’d convinced me to come to Miami got out-of-his-mind high and disappeared, and the only other person there I knew didn’t have time to see me. The interviews I’d planned to do fell through. Almost nothing I went there for actually happened.

The festival itself didn’t live up to the hype. The grounds were small and the stages were basic — nowhere close to the gorgeous artwork of EDC or Tomorrowland. Even Armin van Buuren, who consistently kills it, fell flat. My friends and I agreed he lacked a certain energy.

Still, it had its magical moments. The highlight was Marshmello, who brought up Will Smith for “Welcome to Miami.” After him, The Chainsmokers also put on an entertaining show, and Jauz gave a high-energy performance as always with a set that incorporated the intro to Martin Garrix’s animals and Internet Friends’ “You Blocked Me on Facebook.”

When most people come to music festivals, they’re set on which artists they need to see, which friends they need to meet up with, and what parties they need to go to. The irony is, you can’t control your way toward losing control. Sticking to an agenda completely defeats the purpose of a festival: to let go of stress and have fun. Ultimately, many people leave festivals just feeling more stressed out.

I refused to leave Ultra this way. So, at around 7 p.m. on the last night, when my body was telling me it could not continue even though I was dying to see Above & Beyond at 9:30, I called a Lyft, headed back to my hotel, ate some tacos, and played Above and Beyond from my computer. And it was fucking fantastic. Above & Beyond may be what I came there for, but what you come somewhere for is not always what you stay for. Our desires change, and isn’t the whole point of a music festival to live in the moment?

“When I say ‘life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you,’ I don’t really know if that’s true,” Jim Carey once said in a commencement speech at Maharishi University. “I’m making a conscious choice to see challenges as something beneficial so that I can deal with them in the most productive way.”

That’s exactly how we have to act when things don’t go our way: entertain the possibility that they did go our way; we just didn’t realize it. I didn’t get what I came to Miami for, but I did gain some valuable self-discovery. Perhaps that’s the best we can hope for, no matter where our journey leads.

How EDM Helped Me Heal from Anxiety

It’s June 2016 and I’m testing how low I can get before breaking down. I’ve worked until midnight and gotten up at four to churn out more writing assignments. Seeking comfort from the stress, I reach for the chips in my cupboard, eat more than I intended, panic, and make myself throw up. Unable to focus on an empty stomach, I do it all over again. I move my laptop to Starbucks and order iced cold brew after iced cold brew, telling myself to focus until I’ve finished my 18th article of the day. My stomach feels like negative space.

I write a resignation email for my most stressful job and fantasize about sending it, knowing I’ll never have the courage. I don’t need the money, but the thought of turning down work makes me recoil. I must be successful and success means more bylines and more money.

This is a pattern I’ve become all too familiar with. But at least this time, I have something to look forward to. After another four hours of sleep and 15 articles, I’m headed to Vegas for Electronic Daisy Carnival, an electronic music festival I’d never heard of until the press trip invitation arrived in my inbox.

To accommodate my crazy work hours, I fly in the night before and pull an all-nighter. I sign in for my shift at 3 a.m. from a casino cafe and churn out 7 articles until it ends at 11. Just when I think I’m done, my editor keeps me late to post an update on the Orlando alligator attack.

Meanwhile, a college friend’s blowing up my Facebook chat, begging me to join her in Ibiza in two weeks. I can’t because of this goddamn job. Getting time off is impossible.

Skrillex and Diplo’s “Where Are U Now” wakes me up from a three-second, sitting-up nap. Emboldened by the catchy riff punctuating Justin Bieber’s refrain and fantasies of Ibiza opening parties, I write another resignation email. This time, I type my supervisor’s email address in the “recipients” box.

I still can’t hit “send,” but getting close makes me feel wild. I pack up, put on a tiny $3 romper, and walk along Las Vegas strip. As I pass Serendipity and hum along to Calvin Harris’s “This Is What You Came for,” I visualize myself lounging by the fountain, eating over-priced, calorie-packed ice cream. That would be self-indulgent. Unproductive. Bad. Glorious. Free. How freeing it would be to be bad. I don’t dare enter, but the thought alone loosens my mental shackles.

Something has to change this weekend. Either life as I know it will be destroyed, or I will. Either the part of me that forbids eating ice cream and dropping work will die, or the part of me that wants it will. I secretly root for the former.

As I enter the Las Vegas Motor Speedway that night with a parade of EDM heads in wings, animal faces, and bathing suits, that little voice in me that wants to fuck work and go be an ice cream eating fairy kitten princess says, “Hey, there. I missed you.” I pass giant glowing flowers, foreboding owl statues, and a tiny schoolhouse where people are coloring. This is the closest thing adults have to Disney World.

My pace picks up. I don’t know where I’m running, only what I’m running from: everything outside this land over the rainbow the Nevada dust had dropped me in.

In a pavilion where Russian DJ Julia Govor is playing, I make timid, barely detectable movements, flashing back to middle school dances. Then, I see a dude doing a little catwalk in a floor-length fur coat and bull horns.

Oh, OK, so nobody gives a fuck. This is not middle school. This is not a networking event. Toto, we’re not in New York City anymore. No matter what I do, someone next to me will be crazier.

But nobody’s judging the crazy person either. I want to be the crazy person. The one people compare themselves to so they can shed their misdirected shame. I run from stage to stage doing exaggerated moves I learned in zumba class or ballet or wherever the hell I picked them up. I smile at everyone, not caring if they smile back, but they do.

A cute guy intercepts me to ask where the bathrooms are. I tell him I don’t know, and his glance lingers on me. “Can I kiss you?” he asks.

“Sure,” I shrug, because why not, and we make out amid the blending cacophony of DJ sets. He gives me his number and tells me to let him know if I come to LA.

I can’t believe this is actually a way to live, I think. This is a world where I don’t have to prove anything to be accepted. Where I don’t need a pretentious OKCupid profile to get a kiss. Where don’t need a job to feel good about myself. Where my only job is to have fun.

The next morning, I hit “send.” Three minutes later, my boss asks if she can change my schedule to keep me. Maybe, I think, but not if that rules out Ibiza. “I’ll come,” I Facebook chat my friend.

On the bus to the next day’s festival, I spot a woman with rainbow hair. I see something in her I want to bring out in myself, so I sit beside her and recount my spontaneous makeout sesh.

After flirting with a new guy in line, I see her again at Anna Lunoe’s show. Then, as the neon lights glow against the blackening sky, she gives me molly on a rooftop overlooking the ferris wheel.

On my way back to the stage, the guy from the line asks why I didn’t answer his text. I hug him and walk on, throwing off my shirt. I can do better.

I meet the LA guy by the bathrooms, and we make out again. After chugging his water bottle, I say with honesty I didn’t know was in me that I’d like to go off by myself again. Stupid boys. I’ll have more fun alone because I’m fun. I’m a fairy kitten princess, dammit.

I merge with a crowd jumping and shouting through JAUZ’s mix of System of a Down’s “BYOB.” This is the best moment of my year, I think, and then I think about how contrary that is to everything I believed. The thing that made me happiest was not when my income hit six figures or when I published 20 articles in a day or when I lost five pounds or even when Whoopi Goldberg discussed my writing on The View. It was when I was was doing something so incredibly unimpressive (unless screaming “why do they always send the poor?!” louder than anyone else is impressive). Maybe you don’t have to suffer for the best things in life.

The next day, I realize that in an attempt to film the festival, I accidentally recorded my trip. “The themes in my life,” I listen to myself telling my rainbow-haired friend, “are discipline and deprivation. Whether it’s food or work, it’s all the same.”

When I hear that, I know hanging onto that job would be just as destructive as hanging onto my disordered eating. As Anna Lunoe and Chris Lake’s “Stomper” fills my hotel room, I tell my boss that if she wants me to stay, she has to pay me more. As I anticipated, she can’t.

I panic with the urge to go work on other jobs to make up for that one’s loss. Instead, I return to Serendipity, get an ice cream sundae, and don’t throw it up or keep eating after I’m full. I chuck the half-empty cup in the trash and call up a guy I’ve been crushing on as I walk along the strip. Then, I stop inside Sephora and buy makeup, something I’d always considered too indulgent. On the way, a guy sees my arm band, says “EDC fam!”, and hugs me like we’re long-lost relatives.

Over the next two weeks, I jog around my neighborhood listening to Elliphant’s “Not Ready”:

“I guess I’m not ready for reality / A young woman in a new world / I have a big responsibility / to live life wild and free like a bird / Now is the time to be dancing.”

My first night in Ibiza, as Chris Liebing fills the Amnesia opening party, I ask a German guy I would’ve deemed too hot for me before if I can bite him. We fall in love in just two days, and I leave in tears. But on the plane home, I realize New York and I are over anyway. I’m going to travel the world like I’ve always told myself I couldn’t, and Germany’s my first stop. I spend my flight to Dusseldorf transcribing an interview with Mexican DJ Jessica Audiffred, who told me,

“People want to experience a festival. People want to get crazy. They just want a place where they can let their emotions go. They just want to have fun. They just want to get wild and electronic music can give that and a lot of other things. Just to be in the festival scene, you realize why people go. You realize why people are interested. I think electronic music is a way for people just to be free and just to be themselves and have fun and let everything go.”

Slowly, my inner fairy kitten princess takes power back from the workaholic, money-driven person I never wanted to be. Now, nine months since EDC, I’m partying in a new country practically every month, I haven’t made myself throw up since last summer, and am still with the guy from Amnesia. And I’ve got rainbow hair.

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The right photo was taken the week before EDC; the left was taken the week I arrived in Germany.

My world used to extend from the Kips Bay studio apartment where I worked myself to the bone and stuffed my face to the 28th Street Starbucks where I filled my empty stomach and heart with cold brews. Now, it’s expanded through the beaches of Ibiza, the nightclubs of Berlin, the casinos of Vegas, and the Brooklyn clubs I used to pass by because I was “too busy.”

But there’s much more fairy kitten princess left in me, telling me to chuck it all and be a DJ, and she grows louder every time I hear “Stomper.”




Over the past couple decades, EDM has gone from a small subculture to a mainstream, worldwide craze. Artists like Diplo and Calvin Harris constantly pop up in celebrity news headlines, and a long roster of celebrity DJs from Elijah Wood to Joe Jonas (and wannabe DJs like Kylie Jenner) are taking up the practice. The frenetic dancing of EDM audiences rivals the energy only of heavy-metal moshing, if even that. Basically, DJs are the new rockstars. 

I say this now, but I was years late to the game. Until last weekend, I thought of DJs as the people who spun beats at nightclubs or curated songs on the radio. 

What lifted this rock I’d been living under? 

I attended one of the most epic music festivals in the world, Electronic Daisy Carnival. EDC springs up every year all around the world, from New York to Brazil. But Las Vegas was the perfect place to lose my EDM virginity. Electronic music booms through the city’s famed hotels and casinos, screens on the insides of cabs advertise DJs, and it’s home to posh nightclubs like Omnia, where Calvin Harris performs. 

Famed Vegas hotel Caesar’s Palace was packed with people from all over the world waiting hours on line to procure passes. Mountains loomed in the desert sky as they paraded by the thousands — some in animal costumes, others in wings, and some just in bathing suits  — toward the entrance to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where carnival rides, art installations, and majestic-looking sets stood.


It felt like the Nevada dust had swept me to another land. Feathered creatures marched around on stilts. People in circus uniforms climbed light poles. Giant sculptures resembling space crafts shot flames. In a small house labeled “School House,” attendees colored with crayons and old-fashioned schoolteachers distributed gold stars. And as the event’s name would suggest, technicolor electric daisies bloomed from the festival grounds. 


From the top of the stadium bleachers, I heard a cacophony of electronic music styles emanating from the varied stages. At a pyramidal pavilion called Neon Garden, Russian DJ Julia Govor set the tone early Friday evening with sensual, outer-space-like techno beats. Meanwhile, at the playground-like Upside Down House, hip-hop mixes got festival goers jumping.

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A mini festival within the festival took place at the Smirnoff House, a home/art installation where select DJs performed and guests colored on the walls. The packed crowd went wild as Martin Solveig, a French house DJ who rose to international fame with 2011’s “Hello” and has released hit after hit since, played upbeat tracks like “Do It Right.” 

But it was the main stage, Kinetic Field, where the fuse burning throughout the night exploded. On a stage guarded by two enormous human-owl hybrids, eclectic up-and-coming electronic artist Jauz remixed songs ranging from Queen’s “We Are the Champions” to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World.” The night reached a climax when he asked the audience to get out their metal horns and banged out a punchy rendition of System of a Down’s “BYOB.” 


Kinetic Field was also where the innovative Australian DJ Anna Lunoe became the first female artist ever to take the main stage at EDC Vegas. Saturday’s highlights included her infectiously harmonized “Stomper,” Tommy Trash’s haunting version of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang,” and Axwell Λ Ingrosso’s swaying electro-house.

Despite the eclectic lineup, the stages had one peculiar thing in common: No matter where you were, you were likely to hear a remix of either INOJ’s “I Want To Be Your Lady Baby,” The Chainsmokers’s “Don’t Let Me Down,” or, of course, Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” One cool thing about EDM is that it reflects the current state of our culture’s music right back to us.


In EDC tradition, weddings were held in a 400-square-foot “Chapel of Nature” between stages. For the first time this year, legal same-sex marriages took place there. One couple named Chris and Skye’s wedding was live-streamed and given a reception at the Smirnoff House. The officiator asked that they “take good care of each other and rave on forever.” 


That could be the slogan for EDC as a whole. Festival-goers doled out high fives as they danced past one another. Strangers asked me if I was staying hydrated. Another guest spotted my pass around my wrist by the hotel the day after and greeted me as part of the “EDC fam.” On my flight back, I was already planning my next EDM festival. 

If EDC is not on your bucket list, pencil it in right this minute. Whether you even have a bucket list or not, just go. Because even when you have not slept for two days straight and you’re being evacuated from a stage because it just caught fire and your legs are collapsing because you’ve been jumping on them so hard, you will love every second of it, the 5 a.m. end time will still feel too soon to leave.