By: Kyle Pineda/Columnist
I was not expecting our plan to succeed. It was tough trying to keep up with Jorge, my partner in crime for the evening, better known on-air at WRGP Radiate FM as Mamey Disco, as he stalked a photographer down a long stretch of road behind several stages.
We had finally arrived at Ultra Music Festival XIV to watch New Order and Kraftwerk perform on the Live Stage. We had just picked up our Will Call tickets when Jorge approached a photographer with all the credentials (neon-colored wristbands) with the full intent of trying to sneak in backstage; the plan did not seem so far-fetched.
I had my WRGP T-shirt on, which looked official enough to most people, but we reached a snag trying to pass security, as they told us we had to pick up our neon-colored wristbands if we wanted access. So much for that.
I was new to the whole Ultra scene, watching it as an outsider in my own city, as it grew each year, and hearing all the excitement from my peers—mostly stories of drug-fueled evenings. A close friend of mine described his experience one year leaving a Miami HEAT game as a “battlefield”: crying in the streets, bodies lying on the floor and sirens in the distance. Ultra sounded pretty damn cool to me.
With our game of media-pretend over, we decided to just wait in line like everyone else. After 20 minutes or so of hopping rails to whichever line was moving fastest, we finally got in—and that is when it all hit. The sights, the sounds, the “untz untz untz.”
Surrounded by people in all shades of neon colors, cut-up overalls, laces and striped stockings, it was enough to impress perhaps the most hardcore experienced ravers. After all, Ultra Music Festival was expecting 250,000 people through the gate, making it the largest music festival worldwide in the last year.
With half of an hour to go before New Order hit the stage, we wandered around towards the Live Stage, where Neon Indian were taking the stage. Perhaps it was because I was off in the distance circling the concourse, but the actual sound set-up left me unimpressed. It left me concerned that New Order and Kraftwerk just might sound awful in this open-air environment, surrounded by several other stages producing their own cacophony of noise and rhythm.
Once Neon Indian finished, Jorge and I rushed down to the stage where a small contingent of fans had already gathered for New Order. Leaning forward on the railing, I could see the roadies setting up the stage. We met a fan from Ecuador wearing a “True Faith” T-shirt, who flew all the way just for New Order; talk about dedication.
After a final sound check, the band casually strolled onto the stage: Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Phil Cunningham, new touring bassist Tom Chapman (replacing founding member Peter Hook) and original member Gillian Gilbert, who was joining the band once again after a battle with cancer.
With all fans screaming and crying out the names of the different band members trying to get their attention, the drums and guitars of “Crystal,” off their 2001 album “Get Ready,” drowned everyone out. For the next hour, fans got a dream setlist.
If there is one thing I have always felt bands should do at festivals, working with shorter setlists, is to play mostly hits, popular songs and a couple of deep cuts from an album. New Order certainly “get it,” as they did their best to play most of their hits such as “Bizarre Love Triangle,” an extended version of “True Faith,” the fan favorite “Temptation,” and of course, the iconic “Blue Monday,” which happens to be the best selling 12” single of all time.
Once “Temptation” ended, I felt satisfied having seen one of my favorite bands perform an energetic set. Had it all ended there, I would have called it a fine evening. But little did I know, the night was just beginning.
Incidentally, Jorge’s sister was also at the show with a friend, who got VIP tickets via friend and New Order’s Cunningham. We join his sister and her friend as the crowd started to disperse and made our way to the VIP backstage checkpoint which had plenty of traffic going both ways. A gentleman in a yellow shirt, signaling his role as event staff, checked for green VIP wristbands.
He OK’d Jorge’s sister and her friend while we sort of waited around. And then, seconds later, we found our opportunity. By virtue of being in the right place at the right time, or just sheer luck, the event staffer turned around. Something had his attention for a good three seconds, and that was all Jorge and I needed to walk in casually, in a split second decision that we did not even need to look at each other to approve.
We could not believe it. I stuffed my naked wrists in my pockets to hide the fact that I lacked the official green VIP wristband. The last thing I wanted to do was throw away a lucky opportunity by having a savvy staffer spot my lack of credentials. As Jorge and I followed his sister and her friend backstage, we arrived to the back where trailers, presumably belonging to the acts that night, were all parked.
There were already some people gathered next to the New Order trailer. After an introduction, they were from Manchester, England, the home of New Order, of course. They were Cunningham’s friends, and while waiting for the band, we struck up some conversation.
Prefacing my question about recently expelled bassist Peter Hook, I mentioned, “I know it’s a touchy subject and all…,” and the fellow immediately knew where I was going. “Oh, no, oh, no, don’t mention that to Bernard at all. That’s a very touchy subject,” he said.
He explained that “Hooky” had begun to DJ around the world during the last hiatus under the New Order name, and that it “brought the band down” image-wise. He also alluded that this disconnect between Hook and the rest of the band had been growing for quite some time. This was when Cunningham walked out of the trailer and approached us.
After complimenting his set and asking to get a recorded station ID drop out of him, he pointed toward Sumner, who was also making his way out of the trailer, and said, “You should get one from Bernard, not me,” and called him over to introduce us.
So there we were, shaking hands and meeting Sumner. I imagine me and Jorge had the look of giddy schoolchildren; at least, I could see that Jorge did. I could feel my grin stretching wide across my face, but I had to compose myself otherwise I would just look like a rabid fanboy.
We discussed TB 303s, an ‘80s synthesizer used in several songs, and other effects on their songs. When I requested that the band play “Fine Time” more often, a track from their 1989 release “Technique,” Sumner said that it would require some revisiting and practice from the band. Seeing as the set has remained mostly the same since reforming again last year, the same could probably be said for most of the New Order catalogue.
We asked Bernard for a WRGP station ID drop, which he agreed to do. With a drink in his right hand, and Jorge’s iPhone recording, he quipped, “I came up with a really good idea for a riff, for a song, I recorded into one of these machines today…I was on the toilet when it happened.”
Hearing the man behind New Order reveal that he was still creative (and in some unusual places to do so) prompted me to ask him if they were planning on any new releases soon, to which he replied, “This year is all about touring,” describing the last few months as the band played Australia for several dates and plans to play Isle of Wight later this year.
He recorded our station ID, shook our hands and made his way back to the trailer where his friends were gathered around, talking and drinking, everyone in a joyous mood. Jorge and I hung around, talking to friends and wives of the band, toasting to a great night. With a few risks, we had made it.
Though the original plan to sneak backstage as media failed, we succeeded in sneaking in as friends of the band, and funny enough, for a couple of native Miamians who had nothing to do with Manchester, we felt quite at home with our new Mancunian friends.