Ultra Europe kicked off the first of its three days on Friday afternoon, inside the Poljud Stadium in the picturesque city of Split. While the scale was modest compared to the Miami event that inspired it, a sprawling crowd of international party people filled the arena. On night one, the event really did feel ‘new’, recreating the North American EDM experience on another continent. Beyond theming and staging (the mainstage, while not as colossal as the Miami version, still came equipped with rattling production), the main way Ultra Europe achieved this was with its line-up. With only two stages, there was no room for filler in the programming.
The stadium mainstage hosted a majority of the crowd for the day, and the first heavy-duty headliner was Russian prodigy Arty, who played a rolling medley of hits on the housier side of his discography. Recent single Together We Are, both of his Mat Zo collaborations Rebound and Mozart, as well as his epic remix of Zedd’s Spectrum showcased just how perfectly his work sounds on a mainstage.
Meanwhile, Guy Gerber was warming up the Carl Cox & Friends Arena early in the day, with his new offerings like 25 To Life complimented beautifully by the Croatian mountains visible from every angle behind the stage. Sander van Doorn showed the mainstage once and for all that he’s shaken off the tech-trance, his sound not too indistinguishable from the other stadium house heard on Friday.
However, it was U.S. young gun Porter Robinson who stepped up for a powerhouse performance that will be the one to beat for the rest of the weekend. Earlier in the evening, Robinson told inthemix that he didn’t feel like a flag-bearer for American dance music in 2013. “I feel like I’m doing my own thing,” he said. “And I’ve been writing electronic music for ten years, well before there was anything called EDM.”
At Ultra Europe, though, he was the artist who best showcased the dynamism – and yes, daring – possible in an ‘EDM’ mainstage set. Working through his selections at a furious rate, his opening was thundering and heavy, before finally releasing the tension with Easy, which proved the night’s resounding anthem. From here, there were plenty of about-turns; turbo-charged hip hop interludes, full-throttle hardstyle blowouts and the hug-a-friend Language finale.
Knife Party took over next to try send the seizure levels even higher, though it was the Carl Cox & Friends stage that became the drawcard for a few hours, with a unbeatable succession of DJ titans. Adam Beyer delivered a characteristically heavy set of driving, percussive techno that built masterfully, while Luciano was in proper, pulsing techno mode. Cox also weaved a slick and entertaining set of house and techno that kept his arena rammed until 5am.
While Nicky Romero was tasked with closing the mainstage, it was Avicii before him who played at the peak of the night. While smartly stadium-sized, this wasn’t a ‘Beatport Top Ten’ set, nor was it a repeat of Miami’s kazoo-gate. No-one was Tweeting this time about Avicii turning Poljud Stadium into a ‘redneck carnival’, but you could recognise shades of the experimental side that will show up on his upcoming album. He managed to both bend the rules and play it safe. And what safer bet than Levels as the closer?
Stay tuned for more from Ultra Europe as inthemix returns for night two.