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We took the decision not to get to the festival too early. We really wanted to skip W&W and weren’t that fussed about Cosmic Gate, having seen them twice recently – in Sydney and Miami. But uncertain how long it would take to get downtown or whether we would stand a chance of catching the Sol Republic party shuttle, we allowed ourselves plenty of time, so that we would be in good time for Markus Schulz.

As it transpired, we got there fairly painlessly – the queue for the shuttle was too long, but we grabbed two randoms from the back of the line and split a taxi four ways. The only downside to arriving when we did was having to endure almost the whole of Dash Berlin‘s set. It was better than the rubbish he served up at Stereosonic in Sydney last year, but it was still cheesey tunes, troused-up remixes and mashes of classics (please leave these great tunes alone). He destroyed As The Rush Comes, Big Sky and Lethal Industry alongside newer tunes like Andrew Rayel’s How Do I Know. If he has to do this, I wish he (and Armin) would stop calling it trance. It’s not. Why anyone would pay $75 or more to see him play in a large shed in Homebush is utterly beyond me. Ca$h Berlin.

So at 5pm, to much personal relief, Dash Berlin wound up his set by looping out and using various effects at the end of Till The Sky Falls Down, while milking the undeserved applause several yards from the DJ console – who says you can’t be in two places at the same time? And Markus Schulz appeared at the decks, to slay as many unicorns as you can within a single hour in mid-afternoon.

I thought the set was a little unimaginative – we got Loops n Tings, Nothing Without Me (Beat Service remix), Love Rain Down, Fortuna and The Fusion – just as you’d have predicted. It was good fun and very danceable, as well as a huge relief from what had gone before. Perhaps the time slot doesn’t call for anything unexpected or out of the ordinary … I just felt that although it was a good set, the man can do a lot more – as he had done, given the time he had, on Sunday at Space.

Once Markus Schulz closed his brief set, Jono and Paavo from Above & Beyond took over. I saw them recently in Sydney and really enjoyed their 2 1/2 hour set. This time they only had 1 1/2 hours and it felt to me as if they had simply removed the best 60 minutes of the Sydney set. I thought they were awful. There was some relief with Jaytech’s Stranger and their own Liquid Love, but for the most part it seemed like a trip through the worst of Group Therapy and the lowlights of Anjunabeats Vol. 10.

And I really have had my bellyful of the twee, sugary messages that they insist on putting up on the big screen. Maybe when they first started doing this, the innovation made up for the sickly greeting card sentiments of the messages. Two years on and it’s time they thought of something new. I suppose that with the switch from Trance Around The World to Group Therapy Radio, Above & Beyond no longer claim that they are a trance act. But booked to play at a celebration of 600 episodes of a trance radio show, surely they could have done more than just play a load of uninspiring trouse? Obviously not.

Now it was dark and time for the man himself, Armin van Buuren, to stand up and deliver a set worthy of the occasion. I thought he played a great set, given the context, playing to a US festival crowd. We’d have loved him to start at 138 and move onwards and upwards from there, but he needed to bring everyone with him, especially those who were wondering whether or not to stay after Above & Beyond. He played some pretty commercial tunes early on but progressed through the set and the last 30-40 minutes was pretty banging, as he moved towards the climax with his mash-up of Photographer’s Airport with his own Shivers. He closed with his collaboration with Ferry Corsten, Brute, setting the stage perfectly for Ferry to take things on.

But Ferry had other ideas and changed the mood completely. The crowd was now thinning out as people headed towards the main stage for the final final, very last Swedish House Mafia performance (until the inevitable reunion, of course). Ferry worked his way through uninspiring remixes of Rock Your Body Rock, Not Coming Down and Digital Punk. It left me cold (figuratively, not literally, as it was still hot and steamy at the ASOT600 stage, even though there was now space to dance).

Paul van Dyk had the honour of closing the stage and he took to it with gusto. Upping the tempo back to where Armin had left it, he took us through remixes of The Box, I Don’t Deserve You and The Ocean, as well as various mash-ups of many of his classics. I really wanted to stay to the end, but I knew that getting home from the festival was going to be a huge challenge if we left with everyone else at the very death. So we skipped the last 15 and managed to get ourselves back to South Beach by 11.30 pm and time for winding down, cleaning up and packing before a few hours sleep and our departure from Miami.

Once the dust has settled, I’m planning to write a considered review of the whole week. For now, all I’ll say is that I’d love to come again, but won’t bother with Ultra. The side-shows and day parties massively outshone anything an oversold festival could deliver.

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