Reflecting on III Points’ 2021 return

III Points has always been an unlikely proposition. When it started in 2013, Ultra Music Festival was at the apex of its cultural dominance, EDM was a phenomenon happening in the present rather than past tense, and there was nary a luxury condo to be found in Wynwood. Amid these strained circumstances, the festival brought a lineup brimming with left-field — or as they would’ve been deemed back then, “hipster” — acts, invited attendees to spend time in a burgeoning neighborhood, and gave Miami artists a prominent platform with which to share their craft.

A lot has changed since then, but III Points’ tenacity has not. After overcoming hurricanes, accompanying cancellations by headlining acts,  Zika virus, and more, the festival got pretty good at rolling with the punches and ensuring that the show would go on.

Which, inevitably, brings us to the pandemic. If all had gone as intended, III Points would have returned in May 2020 and Miamians would be fondly reminiscing on two iterations of the festival by now. But man plans and God laughs, so we patiently waited as the lineup morphed several times over (let’s pour one out for the alternate timeline where Robyn was warmly welcomed back to the 305, Chromatics never broke up, and Ariel Pink wasn’t party to an unprecedented coup attempt) and dates were pushed back.

By the time the blessed day of Friday, Oct. 22 rolled around, anticipation had reached a fever pitch even as foreboding clouds materialized on the horizon. Whatever the forecast, there was no way festival-goers or III Points itself was going to let a little something like torrential downpour get in the way of a good time.

Mokibaby’s art installations were a big hit with festival attendees. (📸: @adiadinayev)

Even with the first day’s rain-caused delays, sogginess, and unfortunate performance cancellations, this year’s III Points was a triumphant comeback for a much-missed ritual. Now situated entirely outside and stretching across several blocks of Wynwood (rather than just in and around the Mana complex like most years past), the festival was a potent reminder of live music’s healing properties and the power of communal gatherings.

Although the weather threw a wrench into the itinerary, Miami’s music scene was able to shine brightly through the storm. Shaking off the soak from the preceding hours, Donzii’s brand of erotic post-punk was a highlight of Friday night. Accompanied by a troupe of onstage performers pantomiming intimate acts, the band shredded through an evocative, electrifying show featuring the first live performance of the group’s new single “Pattern 26.”

Nearby, the S3QU3NC3 stage was being carved out as 305-claimed territory. With sounds provided by some of Miami’s most inventive DJs, the industrial area was kept in perpetual party motion across the festival’s two-day span. Saturday’s consecutive stretch of local selectors — Daisy Cutter, SEL. 6, Bitter Babe, Nicholas G. Padilla, Pressure Point, Ashley Venom, INVT, Nick León, and Jonny From Space — spoke to the deep reservoir of electronic talent in the Magic City right now, and the communal vibes only reinforced the sense that the scene is in the midst of a very exciting moment. Once Miami’s own Sister System assumed control of the decks from Detroit techno legend Robert Hood to close out the festival, it seemed as though our sunny corner of the underground universe had been formally sanctified by one of the culture’s pioneers.

Beyond the dance floor, III Points’ international acts brought a treasure trove of sonic riches along with them. Despite having their set bisected by rain that seemed to be falling from heaven itself, Yves Tumor handily put on one of the best performances of the weekend. With the backing of a glammed-out band that matched its lead vocalist’s virtuosity and stage presence, the “Gospel For A New Century” artist exuded swagger in the classic rock star tradition while exerting effortless control over the crowd. It was a far cry from some of Tumor’s past Miami performances — just ask anyone who watched them unleash a noise and feedback-heavy sonic assault alongside an onstage gimp at The Ground back in 2018 — but their range only spoke to their status as one of the most compelling artists of our time.

Jamie xx’s DJ set acknowledged the momentous nature of this year’s III Points. (📸: @adiadinayev)

It’s only fitting that the weekend’s most moving moments came courtesy of Jamie xx, one of the headlining acts at III Points’ inaugural edition. When the English DJ-producer last visited Miami without the accompaniment of his group, The xx, he put on a party for the books — for many who were coming of age or dipping their toes into electronic music’s warm waters for the first time, his DJ set during Miami Art Week 2015 set an ecstatic standard for what dance culture could be. 

 Last Friday night’s closing performance at the Main Frame stage was decidedly not that. 

Even though there was plenty of fun and smiles to be had — shout out to the unexpected appearance of Ludacris’ “What’s Your Fantasy?” — the III Points veteran wasted no time pretending that things hadn’t changed since his previous Miami jaunt. Mixing on vinyl against the backdrop of the oversized disco ball that’s become his stage signature, Jamie xx wove together a set that was as melancholy as it was life-affirming and cathartic. Dance floor heaters were regularly countered by classics like Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” and contemplative tracks; one selection’s spoken word segment acknowledging our shared right to lead happy, healthy lives cut straight to the audience’s collective heart, making an explicit nod to the miracle that is attending a live music event post-2020. Not a single foot was shuffled as he dropped “I Hear The Voice Of Jesus” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, but the gospel tune’s sheer emotional force underscored the spiritual nourishment that comes from sharing music with others in a physical space, to say nothing of just how much that practice was missed during this very difficult year-and-a-half.

As anyone who’s been to far too many music festivals, DJ sets, concerts, or any type of musical gathering can confirm, few settings compare in terms of the deep reservoir of emotions that can be tapped into. Against all logic and odds, III Points was able to bring that experience — and all of the love, goofiness, and passion that comes with it — back to Miami. Here’s hoping it won’t take as long for the next one to come around.