This may be hard for some younger partygoers to comprehend, but when Ultra Music Festival debuted on the sands of Miami’s South Beach in 1999, dance music was not a popular genre in the United States. It was quite seldom played on the radio, it was just about never catered to in mainstream nightclubs, and if you liked dance music, you were kind of the butt of everyone else’s (cough-Eminem-cough) jokes.
So, how is it that one of the most successful international dance festival brands took off in such an unpopular dance music environment? We take a look back at the origins of UMF in a special made-by UMF documentary in celebration of the brand’s upcoming 20-year anniversary March Friday to Sunday, 23 to 25.
“It was a very fun time, and it was about to go into the 2000s,” says original Ultra Miami DJ Josh Wink, who played the first festival in 1999. “A lot of these kids they’d never heard this style of music. All of a sudden, this rave culture came in and it just exploded.”
Interviews with Ultra favorites are spliced between classic footage of the first-ever event, as well as some incredibly-stylish (or not?) rave kids hanging out outside of south Florida clubs and warehouse raves to get their fix of the then-underground sound.
“It was all word of mouth,” says iconic DJ John Digweed, who first played UMF in 2000. “It was all young kids trying to discover something a bit different from hiphop and grunge and stuff like that. It was a new sound that was coming through.”
What some viewers may not know is that Miami was always a hub for dance music, perhaps because of its strong international cultural presence. Winter Music Conference was already a huge event on the dance music industry calendar, drawing the biggest DJs, producers, label heads, industry executives and fans to the sunny paradise for workshops, record buying opportunities, and of course, to test out new material.
it’s all very interesting stuff, but we won’t bore you with the details. Just watch the clip from UMF below, and do look out for more look-back coverage from Billboard Dance as the anniversary event approaches.