"First of all, don't call it EDM," Andrew told me.
We were in the airport waiting for our flight down to Ultra Music Festival in Miami, and Andrew, our producer, was giving me the rundown because I'm a dance-music rookie. "Calling dance music 'EDM' is like calling all rock 'grunge,'" he said. "The term just doesn't apply to everything."
It's true -- at the festival we were going to see Skrillex, Die Antwoord, Bakermat and Chromeo, among others -- who, if you weren't aware, don't really sound anything like each other. To blanket them all with "EDM" just seemed unfair. Plus, it wouldn't be wrong to say that EDM has gotten a bad wrap by being closely associated with unsafe drug use and general douchebaggery. I understand why DJs wouldn't want to be labeled like that.
"Stay hydrated," my co-worker Adam said, as I trailed out of the MTV office the night before. Apparently you need to drink a lot of water when you do molly because it dramatically increases your heart rate, but obviously, I wasn't planning on doing drugs -- A. because I was working, and B. drugs are nasty. Again, you can't escape the negative connotation between drugs and these festivals. You say "EDM," and almost every time, someone will make a molly joke.
I have to admit, once I got on the ground at Ultra on Friday afternoon, no one seemed truly out of it. They seemed happy, friendly and extra-willing to take pictures with me, which was good, because I had to take lots of pics for MTV.
So, water bottle in hand, I entered Ultra, geared with only two pieces of advice: "don't call it EDM" and "stay hydrated." I approached the first stage (there were eight) to listen to some dance music (see how I labeled it?) and there was a guy cranking out some fat-ass, wailing notes on the saxophone while another guy manned the 1s and 2s. I, a band nerd, appreciated this. I can do this, I thought.
First thing I noticed that I had done wrong was that I was severely underdressed. For ladies, the attire is bikini and glitter, and for guys, the attire is shorts... and glitter. I wore shorts and a T-shirt. I forgot my glitter because I stopped wearing it in ninth grade when Claire's wasn't that cool anymore. I felt weird -- which is weird for a fest that is known for its weirdness.
Here's how lame I looked next to a taco:
I know, massive dork, right?
When it comes to attire, there are three key pieces: decked-out bikinis, outrageous outfits (there two Jesuses floating around), and kandi. Kandi, apparently, are the strings of plastic beads attendees drape themselves with. I saw kandi all over arms, kandi as bras and kandi as face masks. Kandi everywhere.
Another worry I thought I'd have was that everything would sound the same. While walking through the festival, all the sounds kind of blurred together, but I was still able to point out the different beats. I actually recognized a lot of the songs, and while DJs aren't gossiped about like the pop stars I keep track of, I realize how much of their music is in commercials, clubs and bars. Also, it's fun to hear how some of your favorite rap songs get remixed. I heard Drake's "Energy" at the Worldwide Stage, and I heard Nicki Minaj's "Feelin' Myself" at the UMF Radio stage. I quietly mouthed every lyric as I meekly made my way through the crowd.
Second mistake: being too reserved. Ultra Music Festival is not a place where you should feel self-conscious. It's a place to let go, which was hard for me. But nevertheless, I made sure to pop into a few sets I was curious about -- Die Antwoord, and Skrillex, who was joined by guests like Diplo, Diddy and Justin Bieber. And you know what? I danced. I bent my knees a little bit, but when prompted to "put my hands in the air," I still held back. I'm working on it.
To be honest, I didn't see too much of the douchiness I was talking about before. I didn't get one beer spilled on me the entire time, like I would at a rock concert. And unlike a rock or pop show, people move a lot more at Ultra. It's not like we're all standing around staring at a DJ; there will always be dancing. No one's worried about getting up in the front row. Wherever you can find a spot to dance, dance. This is quite pleasant for me, who hates being squished.
Perhaps that's why Ultra just seems so fun -- everyone is bouncing around, spinning, swirling, bobbing, fist-pumping, wobbling -- and there's no judgement. Everyone is dancing together. You're not a spectacle if you dance because everything is a spectacle.
And for three days, I was a raver.