Meet the Guys Who Make Ultra Tick
by jon warech
Two dreamers with a passion for music, Russell Faibisch and Adam Russakoff take the Ultra party to the next level, with a global music phenomenon born right here in Miami.
Ultra Music Festival producers Russell Faibisch and Adam Russakoff at the Ultra office in Miami.
Russell Faibisch was a 19-year-old bail bondsman who threw afterhours warehouse parties in Miami when, in 1999, he and some business partners decided to take their love of electronic music to the sands of South Beach, where they launched what they called Ultra Music Festival.
Originally timed to coincide with the already popular Winter Music Conference, it was an instant success. The event grew every year, moving to downtown Miami and turning the underground rave scene into a very visible component of the music industry. In 2005, Faibisch met Adam Russakoff, a licensed attorney and electronic dance music party producer who, after helping produce Ultra New York in Central Park, pushed Faibisch for a meeting that would ultimately lead to the partnership they have today.
Together, they turned Ultra Music Festival into a global phenomenon—with roughly 330,000 people from more than 80 countries gathering to celebrate the festival at last year’s 15-year anniversary—and made Miami America’s home for house music.
People talk about Art Basel and SBWFF, but where does Ultra rank in the hierarchy of Miami events?
Russell Faibisch: Our event has had an economic impact of $242 million—it speaks for itself. Plus we’re showcasing the city to over 11 million people live on YouTube.
Adam Russakoff: On top of that, last year for our final show, Swedish House Mafia, we had—between in-house and watching live on YouTube—over a quarter of a million people who shared that moment globally. It’s massively impactful for the city of Miami, for Ultra, for the artists, for our fans.
What do fans want now that they didn’t want 10 years ago?
AR: Fans want more access. They want to be able to move around quicker. They want to see bigger production, see all their favorite artists. They want to be surprised with special guests, and they want to see new talent, too. They’re willing to trust us to see that they can help break new acts and do new things, and they look to us for that. I think for a lot of the other festivals, because we’re so early in the year, we’re the pace setter. We cherish that pressure. It motivates us.
French DJ Martin Solveig at last year’s Ultra.
Throughout the years, Ultra has been a breeding ground for young, new talent. What acts have taken their careers to new heights at Ultra?
AR: The first one I think of is deadmau5. We were close to programmed on the show, and my friend who’s an agent said, “You should really listen to this guy’s stuff,” and I listened to it and I loved it, but we were kind of full. The next thing I know, I got a video sent to me by the artist—and I still have this video to this day—that had this epic track in it, and right before the drop it cut out and basically the e-mail said, “If you want to hear the end you’ve got to book me.” So we found a way. He got dressed in my trailer that year because we had nothing else. I gave him a small spot on the main stage. You can still see it on YouTube. From that moment forward, he was deadmau5.
Electronic music has grown exponentially since the start of Ultra. Was that a bit of luck or did you see this wave coming?
AR: I think luck is a function of skill. We obviously believe very much in this music and saw its potential. Plus there are no language barriers. The same music transfers to any other country in the world because the spoken word is so little in it. Whether it’s Russia, China, Central America, Australia—anywhere, I’ve never seen anything in history where there’s one language that everyone speaks: dance music. No matter who it is, they all know David Guetta. They all know Tiësto. It’s an incredible thing that has happened globally.
The crowd facing the main stage during a set by Avicii, March 2013.
You’ve taken Ultra global now. Is there one location that has a chance to grow even larger than Miami?
RF: Miami is the mothership, but I can tell you Korea is doing really well, Buenos Aires is doing really well. But the one that I see that has potential to match Miami, and maybe even one day surpass it, is Croatia. In the summer, everybody travels Europe and the festivals, and this is a completely unique festival. No other major music festival had ever been there before. The country just entered the European Union last July, so we decided this is going to be the home for Ultra Europe and we won’t have the festival anywhere else.
What’s the one difference you see between each of these festivals around the world, whether it’s Asia or Argentina?
AR: We have meetings with a local team and go through what their desires are lineup-wise, and we work together to curate each festival. It’s different in every market. As for the crowd, wherever we go with each of these festivals we expect a difference, and the one thing we find is that everywhere we have a beautiful, sexy crowd that loves EDM.
With a full year of festivals on your plate, do you have dreams of retirement someday?
RF: I’m looking forward to Ultra 50. I wouldn’t even know what else to do.
AR: If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.
Ultra Music Festival runs from March 28–30
photography by nick garcia
We go behind the scenes with musician and actress Zoë Kravitz at her Ocean Drive photo shoot.