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The Killers headline dance-music fest

Ultra Music Fest is a celebration of DJs, electronica and techno
/ Source: The Associated Press

It’s no surprise that this year’s Ultra Music Festival will have superstar DJs unleashing electronic beats from their computers and turntables for gyrating dancers.

But the Killers? A rock band headlining a dance-music festival?

A lineup usually dominated by electronic artists such as Paul van Dyk and Paul Oakenfold now includes what organizers call “alternative bands with dance culture influences,” such as the Killers, co-headliner the Prodigy and Canadian synthesizer-based combo Hot Hot Heat.

As indie rock crosses over into dance music, Ultra is evolving to embrace those artists and their fans, said Russell Faibisch, who co-founded the festival that takes over Miami’s Bicentennial Park on March 25.

“The Prodigy is one of the few bands, if not the only band, to bridge that gap between dance music and cool, grungy rock and roll,” Faibisch said. “The Killers, they’re not a dance band per se, but they do have a lot of dance elements.”

Ultra exploded from a beachside gathering eight years ago to a 13-hour festival expected to draw 50,000 people. An “after-party” at the American Airlines Arena, where the Miami Heat play, keeps the music going until 5 a.m. the next morning.

That’s still only a sampling of the beats pulsing nonstop from downtown clubs and hotels and poolsides on Miami Beach during the five-day Winter Music Conference.

The festival, with hundreds of artists performing on 14 stages, has become the musical anchor for the annual conference, an industry networking event that draws DJs worldwide to its technology demonstrations, remixing workshops and business seminars.

‘The DJ’s the star’DJs descend on Miami in late winter each year to debut new material and play around with older songs.

“It’s kind of like remixing, rearranging a track live, influenced by the audience and the vibe in the venue,” said German dance star Paul van Dyk, who will be performing in his eighth Ultra festival.

Ultra has always been known for its dance music, blended onstage on computers or scratched out on turntables. The festival’s shift to rock this year shows how much electronica is pulling other genres into its mix, said Jamie Keogh, director of the Scratch DJ Academy in South Beach.

“It’s a monumental thing for electronic music, showing all kinds of music because ... now there are DJs that are mashing up everything,” said Keogh, who will be teaching turntablism at a scratch-instruction booth at the festival.

“The DJ’s the star, but now he’s got dancers, backup singers, guitarists. It’s taking this art form in a whole new direction,” Keogh said.

Take a break from technoSome see the bands in this year’s Ultra lineup as a reprieve from 13 straight hours of house and techno.

“I think it’s good to have a band that can relieve people of the same sound all night,” said Liam Howlett of the Prodigy.

The DJs are crucial to the dance scene, but it’s the music that moves the audience, not the technology.

“Just because it’s a guitar, doesn’t mean it’s rock,” Howlett said. “There should be more live influence. That doesn’t mean making it more rock influence, it means making it more live.”

Electronic music has room for rock bands, van Dyk said. “Electronic music was always about breaking the boundaries on the technological side as well as the musical side,” he said. “It’s a very tolerant scene, no one is getting pushed away.”

In addition to van Dyk, Oakenfold, Hot Hot Heat, the Killers and the Prodigy, Ultra’s notable acts include: Hard-Fi, Perry Ferrell, Danny Tenaglia, DJ Rap, Grooverider, DJ Keoki, Richie Hawtin and Peter Hook of New Order.