So in case you live under a rock, it’s been something of a interesting Ultra so far. On the first night, thousands of partygoers were forced to walk miles to their respective hotels after shuttle lines stopped running.
On that same night, a literal fire broke out, and the festival was forced by the city to cease its use of fireworks for the remainder of the weekend.
On Saturday, Cash Cash got so frustrated with a faulty mixer, they rage-hucked it into the crowd.
And throughout that whole circus, none of those things are what people are talking about most, thanks in large part to a brilliant — albeit bizarre — bit of product placement by KFC.
During a five-minute changeover on Friday, a man in a Marshmello-esque Colonel Sanders head appeared on stage, much to the confusion of the crowd.
The “performance” that ensued was… well, it was a thing. The good Colonel went through the motions for a five-minute mini-set that could only be described as music-adjacent.
In the end, a handful of DJs raged about it on Twitter, social media exploded as it’s often wont to do in these types of situations, and nobody was quite sure what to make of anything.
And you know what? It was a stroke of fucking brilliance on KFC’s part.
Over the course of a festival weekend where Ultra was literally on fire, a fast-food chain managed to dominate the news cycle by cramming a Colonel Sanders head on a DJ too ashamed to show his real face, and having him play out the fried-chicken equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Tunnel of Terror in real-time to 20,000 baffled ravers.
It sure as hell sets some frightening precedents for the future of commercialized EDM, but at least from KFC’s perspective, it was a slam dunk piece of native advertising.
As for the social media rage that quickly followed the performance, festival photography superstar Rukes took to Twitter to weigh in.
Just noting that the Colonel Sanders set was part of a 5 minute changeover. So if he didn’t DJ, there would be silence as usual with changeovers. Didn’t take any room away from any other DJs.
— rukes (@rukes) March 30, 2019
So, yeah. It was a changeover, it otherwise would have been five minutes of dead air, and there were evidently no plans to have anyone else occupy that slot.
That said, the “well, at least it was music and not no music” defense comes off as a tad specious. Sure, you could pipe in five minutes of didgeridoos slamming their way through Slipknot’s back catalog, but at some point, maybe we need to rethink our options here.
Now what does this mean for those of us still trying to sort through our own personal brand of outrage sparked by all this?
Notwithstanding the fact that corporatized EDM is nothing new to large-scale festivals like Ultra, this glorious Hindenburg of product placement was a whole different animal.
The doors have now been blown open on pretty much any kind of advertising that can be stuffed into your run-of-the-mill major festival experience.
While it’s definitely a “no press is bad press” situation for KFC, there’s also no scenario in which this looks good for the larger image of the music scene.
“Ultra selling ad space on the EDM Main stage at one of the most commercial festivals feels like some horrendous logical conclusion to the direction that part of dance music has been heading,” Alex Metric aptly brought up in the wake of the stunt.
In the end, mainstream EDM got a little bit more mainstream this weekend. I’m also not here to act surprised that a corporate festival entity did corporate festival things, but that doesn’t make this whole thing any less cringe-worthy.
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