*Original Post on the New Times – “Photo by George Martinez”
When Prince decided to party like it was 1999, little did he, or anyone else for that matter, understand the significance of the year. For the purposes of his song, it was the end of the century and thus a reason to celebrate. However, for electronic dance music, it was both the culmination of a decade’s worth of the genre creeping into the mainstream and only the very beginning of a massive takeover of an industry.
Conceived in 1998 and launched the following year, Ultra Music Festival just blew out the candles on its 18th birthday this past weekend. A look at the lineups that year and in 2000, when Ultra was just 7,000 people at an 11-hour rave on the beach, reveals something interesting.
Despite the nearly two-decade gap and the explosion of EDM on the radio, some of the names haven’t changed. Carl Cox, John Digweed, Sasha, and — reuniting specially for Ultra — Tampa natives Rabbit in the Moon all returned in 2016. The Prodigy, another influential ’90s act, was also on the bill but had to pull out for medical reasons. Still, it all goes to show the everlasting impact of their contributions.
Aside from RITM, all of those artists are imports, as were the majority of the superstar DJs who kick-started events such as Ultra and its predecessor, Zen Fest in Central Florida. They opened the doors for today’s DJs, who often strike gold before they can even legally drink at their own parties. Case in point: baby-faced 19-year-old Martin Garrix, who landed the coveted headlining spot on the Main Stage on Friday night.
Thanks to import CDs and the internet, the latter half of the ’90s was a boon for dance-music fans stateside as they were able to listen to Pete Tong’s BBC1 radio shows, namely the Essential Mix and Essential Selection and the compilation series Global Perspectives. These portals into the worlds of house, techno, and trance familiarized us with the likes of Basement Jaxx, Deep Dish, Paul Oakenfold, Paul van Dyk, and locations that have become synonymous with dance — Ibiza and the Creamfields brand of festivals worldwide.
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.
Because of their involvement in the Florida scene and having the honor of being the first major headliner at the inaugural Ultra, Rabbit in the Moon are prime candidates to explore this question. And while artists such as Deadmau5 and Hardwell get the bulk of the fanfare and press, RITM drew its fair share of bodies to the dance floor.
We ran into one couple, Taylor, age 30, and Tim, age 40, who were decked out in gear featuring RITM’s signature tribal logo. Over the constant, beating hum of the UMF Radio stage, they recounted how RITM had brought them together. The psychedelic, breakbeat duo was the first show either of them had ever seen, in separate states, on separate dates. Seven years ago at another RITM concert, they met, fell in love, and eventually got married.
Clearly, if there’s one thing they’ll always agree on, it’s the merits of RITM. “They’re creative, artistic, and unique,” Tim said. “It sticks with you when you start at a younger age,” Taylor added. As for the robust presence of ’90s artists at Ultra 2016, Taylor says nostalgia plays a key role as generations begin to mingle more and more. “It’s coming full circle. It’s cyclical,” Tim adds.