On March 29, something happened, something that can never be rectified, something that will live on in dance music history forever. It was an act so heinous, that from now on everything that happened before and after shall be referred to as B.KFC and A.KFC.
Let us set the scene, but be warned, what you’re about to read may be disturbing for those with a nervous disposition. Ultra Music Festival of course is one of America’s biggest and most popular electronic music events. It takes place during WMC (Winter Music Conference) and attracts around 70,000 people every year.
Despite the addition of the fairly-recent Resistance Stage, which welcomes the biggest and best underground artists in the world (ie. Carl Cox, Marcel Dettmann, Marco Carola, ANNA), Ultra’s biggest talking point has always been its retina-burning, main stage performances.
The behemoth has had acts like Avicii, David Guetta, Martin Garrix all play historic sets and can propel an artist to new levels of fame and popularity. It can essentially send a DJ from mid-tier performer to headliner in the space of a few hours.
Despite the level of opportunity that an artist has up on that stage, what happened at 3:55pm on the first day of this year’s festival, is completely and categorically unacceptable. When looking through the timetable for Friday’s proceedings, people noticed a five minute slot given to Colonel Sanders.
Yes, Colonel Sanders, the white-haired, creepy-grinned founder of KFC, was down for a five minute performance and no-one knew what to think. What could possibly be in store? Was this going to be a hilarious, audience-participation interlude before more festival-sized music? Hell, were people getting free chicken? None of the above happened.
The announcer bellows on the microphone that DJ Colonel Sanders is coming on stage and the crowd reaction is muted. Someone takes to the stage wearing an absurd mask of the KFC spice enthusiast and this is where things take a turn for the preposterous. Emojis of the Colonel flood the LED walls and a hideous, generic EDM track pipes through the system.
“Hellooo Kentucky, oh wait, Miami”, the caricature jokes. “I am Colonel Sanders, I am everywhere”. These words alone spell some sort of dystopian nightmare realised, as if the Colonel will insert himself into our everyday lives through the mediums of music, art and politics. If that doesn’t send shivers up your spine then you need help. It's literally some George Orwell shit.
Five minutes of trashy, out-of-time beats plod around the Miami stage before Nora En Pure arrives, confused and bewildered as to what's unfolding and rightfully so. Onlookers watch on in disbelief. Every video we’ve seen shows the crowd stood still, trying to process what’s happening before them.
In the space of 300 seconds, the way we consume product and brand-messaging changed right in front of us. The Ultra crowd and indeed anyone who’s seen the video, was force-fed a KFC advert in the form of a DJ set and ultimately a very worrying precedent has been set: Companies are literally buying stage time to promote themselves.
Naturally people have kicked off, DJs are shocked, fans are horrified and the music world is reacting in the only way they know how: Twitter outrage.
DJs donning helmets isn’t anything new, Daft Punk are heralded as two of the best to ever do it, Deadmau5 and his mouse head have become household staples and Marshmello has now played a set within the video game, Fortnite.
The latter actually called out the Colonel, stating that he “can think of a lot of other artists actually deserve to be on that stage instead”. Not really sure ol' Marshmello can stand upon his ivory tower while he plays with a giant light up monstrosity but that’s besides the point.
The point he does make is that other artists, who are working hard to make music and be heard, are being sidelined so that a mega-rich, worldwide brand can pay its way onto the main stage of a festival, one of the biggest in the world, no-less.
Ultra has always aimed to showcase the best in all genres by bringing them to the masses, so it seems like a step in the wrong direction to promote a fast-food brand on its heralded stage when they could be giving an artist who has genuine talent more time to shine.
This sort of thing can’t and shouldn’t happen again and judging by the outcry, it doesn’t look like it will. Brands advertising at festivals is the norm, most events are powered by the money from these partners, but to use a platform, as widely-seen as a main-stage, to push something like that isn’t funny, it’s genuinely damaging.
Hey Colonel, your chicken may be ‘finger lickin good’ but your advertising strategy is laughable and after everything electronic music has endured over the years, much like your chicken, this isn't going to fly.
Funster is Mixmag's Global Brand & Content Editor and after this performance, he will now exclusively only eat Popeyes, follow him on Twitter
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