Editorial: Why Hardwell’s Ultra set was the unanimous festival favorite
From the beach to the sandwich shop, from the hotel to the pool, and all the way to the airport, everyone was talking about Hardwell during Miami Music Week. The acclaimed number six DJ in the world was fresh off his weekend one Ultra Music Festival set turned phenomenon and was the instant favorite of all three days. Fans didn’t even have to be at Bayfront Park to experience what the commotion was all about. His entire set was streamed live from UMFTV and 80,000 viewers tuned in to share Ultra’s highlight outing with those in attendance and those on Twitter who contributed to the hashtag trends of #Hardwell and #UltraLive.
After delivering music from 7pm to 8pm, a speechless and sweat-drenched Robbert van de Corput walked off stage and referred to his set as “the best gig [he’s] done so far.” That’s exactly what he said last year on the same stage, but he didn’t hesitate for a second to acknowledge that he’s topped himself in 2013. The magic was felt on his side of the booth, but what made Hardwell’s set so illustrious for fans worldwide? Hint: It wasn’t Lil’ Jon.
Quick mixing, diverse selections, quicker mixing
Opening with the gracefully anthemic introduction edit of “Spaceman,” Hardwell was greeted by the main stage crowd with a warm welcome. He moved into its Above & Beyond bootleg, an upcoming collaboration with MakJ, the vocal mix of “Calling,” and “Apollo” with two of its brand new remixes. It may appear like half of a set list, but for Hardwell it was only the first ten minutes.
Before fans could even situate themselves within the body-to-body crowd, Hardwell brought a multitude of styles and touched upon sounds from orchestral to trance to big room to progressive to melodic to dubstep. That’s right, he covered almost every electronic genre in ten minutes to craft his signature unrelenting energy. Hardwell’s quick mixing through a variety of sounds had fans itching for more after mere seconds, anticipating the next drop before they’ve finished jumping to the previous one, curious to know what’s coming next and thrilled when it does. Where most DJs play out their records in their entirety and allow an audience to lose their spark, Hardwell doesn’t let a single fan out of his grips — not for a second, and surely not for the first ten minutes.
Mashups, Smashups, and Clashups
Flawlessly mixing “Apollo” with the hottest remix of Krewella’s “Alive,” Hardwell asks,”Ultra are you fucking ready?” and takes off on another tear — or just prolongs the one that began when he stepped to the decks. Several hard-hitting tunes keep the foot-work in check while Robbert mans the action with bootlegs using the provocative acapella of Syndicate of L.A.W.’s “Right On Time.” Whats next? Only the most notable mash up of his set; beats from Jordy Dazz and Chuckie laced with Linkin Park’s “Numb” — a blend big enough to be labeled a “Hardwell Smashup,” but that would only be followed up by a “Hardwell Clashup.”
Bootleg pack after bootleg pack, mash up after mash up, Hardwell has become the Dutch Thomas Gold. Known to perfectly match instrumentals with acapellas and to weave in more instrumentals and more acapellas, he’s fit a “bootleg master” label under his broad brand of musical talents. But his mash ups don’t only work when played through headphones, they translate through crowds and evoke an unmatched party atmosphere.
The 50/50 formula
Hardwell stepped up to amplify his already big room presence to match the size of his Ultra crowd, moving into his original “Encoded,” his Showtek collaboration “How We Do,” and the weekend’s biggest track that comes from his own camp, W&W and Ummet Ozcan’s “The Code.” It may belong to him, but Hardwell wouldn’t drop “The Code” in its original form. Not when every other DJ had done so, not for his Ultra Music Festival set. After adding a splash of Daft Punk with the vocal from “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” he continued ripping through Revealed offerings, assuring that his personal taste wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle of rapid mixing. Through Skitzofrenix’s “Clap” and Dannic’s “Viper,” Hardwell’s personality bled through the booth, through the crowd, and through the viewers at home.
If you ask Hardwell about his in-set diversity or track selections, nine times out of ten he will reference a 50% mark — that’s 50% of his own material and music from his Revealed imprint. “I hate to be put in one box,” he told UMFTV. “I try to think outside the box and experiment with different styles.” Out of breathe only seconds after wrapping up his set, what Hardwell was trying to espouse was his desire to create balance — the perfect balance of tracks that reflect his style as an artist and tracks that stray from that sound, but only far enough to support the aura he aims to create.
New music, collaborations, surprise appearances… all at once
Having already premiered an unidentified track with MakJ, a brand new W&W collaboration, and a forthcoming record all of his own, Hardwell was only getting started with the new material he packed for Miami. Following his Revealed quadruple header, he grabbed his microphone; “I’m going to play this special song, it’s one of my new songs. I did it together with, in my opinion, the world’s biggest upcoming DJ,” he demanded a warm welcome for Dyro. Joined by his understudy, Hardwell dropped what may very well turn out to be his biggest track of 2013, “Never Say Goodbye.” Still with two premieres in his queue and nearly fifteen minutes on the clock, he dropped Alvaro and Mercer’s “Welcome To The Jungle” (where he was joined by Lil’ Jon) and Dyro’s “Leprechauns & Unicorns” — both set to be released on Revealed Recordings this year.
New music is standard festival procedure, especially at Ultra, but Hardwell took the premiere tradition to the next level with ten unreleased tracks. Ten unreleased tracks that offered a bit of everything we’ve come to know and love from the festival-crushing Dutchman; original productions, collaborations with friends, and new music from Revealed residents. Afrojack caught flak for allowing Lil’ Jon to MC his Ultra main stage set in 2012, but fans seemed to brush off the rapper’s brief cameo in 2013 as it was far outweighed by the experience that hosted him.
Ultra Music Festival’s unanimous favorite set of 2013
You can’t ignore how massive Hardwell’s weekend one set was. You can’t ignore how impressive it was. You can’t even hold the argument that it was anything short of either. The Twitter trends and live streams were unavoidable, as was the buzz from the 100,000 plus Ultra attendees and 80,000 UMFTV viewers. Even your unbiased friends were talking about it — everyone was.
The worldwide reaction from both the crowd and from cyberspace was no game of chance, it was well deserved. His workflow was well-prepared and well-executed. Hardwell had prepared custom mixes, mash ups, and productions for Ultra nearly a month in advance. But when he was moments away from opening his set, he still didn’t know what exactly he was going to play. Without precise calculation, he did what he does best — he brought the party that he would want to party to, the party that the world’s sixth ranked DJ is capable of throwing. It was unanimously the most popular set that came out of Ultra in 2013, it was the best set of his career, but it was just another day in the office for Hardwell.