Fame without Passion Kills

Subtle Observations on Ultra

Just about everyone who is into EDM is familiar with the Ultra Music Festival. This year, I’ve been keeping up with Ultra through their live broadcasts and I’ve noticed something: It doesn’t matter how big you are… your performance matters. This includes your attitude.

If watching the stream has an advantage, it’s that you can watch the performers up close. In the crowds of thousands of attendees, there’s no way you can more than a few hundred can really see who is behind the decks. For the attendees, it’s all about being seen by the Ultra camera and dancing to the music. For the most part, every DJ could be playing a pre-recorded set and nobody would notice in the crowd. The sync button doesn’t matter either. The real story though isn’t about who’s really performing or not, but rather who’s in it for their fame rather than in it for the music and entertaining others.

The first set I saw was Goldfish’s on March 15th. These guys really impressed me. They had an early slot and they had a crowd of about 50-100 in a stadium that could hold several hundred if not a couple of thousand. These guys though played their hearts out. They played harder than anyone would expect really. They had a real fire in their eyes and were playing their tunes passionately. Yes, playing. If you’re not familiar with Goldfish, they have a hybrid live act/dj performance that involved flute, soprano sax, upright bass and more. Eventually, toward the end of their set more people showed up… for the next band. They didn’t care. Actually, they got excited that a few women finally showed up. All that said, what Goldfish didn’t know at the time was that more than 32,000 people were watching the Ultra stream. So, while they may have thought they had a small crowd at the time, they were playing to a much bigger one and their energy and passion paid off in ways they couldn’t fathom at the time.

Later, I had a chance to catch the end of Carl Cox’s set and the start of Fatboy Slim’s. These guys are an industry veteran’s veterans. Nobody would ever accuse them of being unprofessional. There was also one other thing helped them to stand out in their performances. Despite their positions in the history of EDM, there was nothing about their performance to suggest that they were their own benefit. Everything they did was for the enjoyment of the crowd. They played their hearts out with huge smiles on their faces. Everything was on the line and they played joyful sets to a joyous crowd. Everything was taken with a light-hearted atmosphere and was all about pleasing the crowd.

I won’t get into naming some of the other acts that I saw. Needless to say, many of the main stage acts there accepting the worship of the crowd. Their mixing was sloppy. They got away with being lazy about their track selections. They didn’t take any risks. At times, they made their sets all about them rather than the music they were playing. And… just because it needs to be said: cakes were thrown and mouseheads were removed and then put back on again… breaking character.

I know that many of the guys who gave self-serving performances have rabid followings. I get that their big. Then again, isn’t that also the point? Being big isn’t an excuse for getting lazy. Being big makes you a leader and being a leader means that you lead. It also means that you set the standard, you don’t lower it. It means that you remember all of the hard work that you had to put in for years prior to making it and you keep putting it in. Your fans didn’t come with you this far to give you up because you became an industry sellout. Nor did they become fans to watch you slowly stagnate and fade way.

What happens when leaders in the scene like Carl Cox and Fatboy Slim finally retire? Is the next generation of leaders really willing to lead as their predecessors have or are they really just in this for just the fame and money? I don’t really have a problem with the fame and the money, but the passion that the current leaders have is critical and a lack of it will tear the scene down faster than build it up. When we arrive at the point where our headliners could care less about passionately performing, pleasing an audience or challenging themselves, we’re swimming in dangerously stagnant waters. Stagnation is something that everyone deals with from time to time, but unless you have access to fresh water, the stagnant water will kill you. Fame without Passion kills. Always remember to embrace your passion.