In the sea of neon fishnet stockings, tutus and fluffy boots that is the Ultra Music Festival, Michelle Casares stands out.
In fact, when the three-day Ultra global phenomenon overruns downtown Miami this weekend, spotting her in the crowd will become like a case of "Where's Waldo?"
She is Lady Casa, and she's the one usually wearing the combination bikini with thigh-high stockings, neon eyelashes, colored contacts and some type of flashy adornment on her head, like a feathered headdress or a long, rainbow-colored ponytail wig.
Her calling: To spread the raver’s mantra of PLUR, or "Peace, Love, Unity and Respect," through the exchange of plastic beads known as kandi.
"Ravers are known for being very accepting of all different types of people, of all races, classes, sexual orientation, just very welcoming of everyone in the human race," says Lady Casa, 25. "When you arrive at Ultra, you kind of let down those walls that we all build to separate ourselves, and you just become one with the rave family, one with each other, one with the music."
This year, Ultra will run from March 28-30. Last year's Ultra attracted more than 330,000 people from 95 countries over two weekends jam-packed with electronic musicians, deejays and parties. The crowd often receives attention for the popularity of recreational drugs like Molly, the street name for an ecstasy-like stimulant drug. But for the ravers known as Kandi Kids, there’s much more to PLUR culture.
Exchanging kandi is part of it, and it comes with a ritualized handshake: Kandi Kids put their hands together in two peace signs, then make a heart shape representing love. They move their hands palm to palm, representing unity, and end with clasped hands for respect. With embraced hands, they exchange the bracelets.
"It's a lot more than just the fashion behind it. It's the heart, and the vibration, and the soul behind it," says Lady Casa, who works as a dancer with a club promotions group. "You can really feel it, when you lock hands with that person, the vibe that you are giving to each other."
Danh Le, 22, of Miramar, spends six hours working on each bracelet, some with up to 1,600 beads.
"I love making [kandi] for people and trading with people," Le says. "Everything I make, I give away."
This is the fourth year Casares will visit Ultra as Lady Casa, and she plans to carry as much kandi as she can — 30 in each arm, 10 around her neck and 50-100 hanging from a belt around her waist. Her friend, German Muñoz, 27, will carry the rest for her, to replace them when she runs out.
"I was with her the first time that she was bombarded," Muñoz said. "We couldn't walk more than 5 feet and people wanted a piece of kandi and people wanted a picture. People wanted a hug."
Though her PLUR message resonates within the electronic dance community, she also reaches those who don't listen to the music. She has more than 69,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter combined, and she calls them PLUR Warriors.
"Some people say, 'That's an oxymoron. How can you be a PLUR warrior? A peaceful and loving warrior?'" Lady Casa says. "Well, it's not a PLUR world, so to incorporate peace, love, unity and respect into your lifestyle … you need a warrior spirit."
PLUR Warriors is a lifestyle movement that goes beyond the raver, she says. It’s also a side business. For the past year, she and Muñoz have been selling T-shirts and apparel with the PLUR Warriors logo. So far, what they’ve made is going to more inventory and promotional items like stickers and kandi.
"I have people on my social media from across the country that are farmers that call themselves PLUR Warriors because ... they love the message," Lady Casa says. "They don't care for kandi, they don't care for the music, they are doing it because of the message."
Just like Lady Casa, other Kandi Kids try to spread the PLUR culture outside the festivals too.
At least twice a month, Concetta Lestingi, 26, drives from her West Palm Beach home to Miami Beach for an electronic dance music event — a party or a kandi picnic where ravers meet to craft their bracelets.
"I like having something to do using the creative side of my brain," said Lestingi, who works in West Palm Beach as a project coordinator for a printing company. "It's super-rewarding when you get to trade with somebody, and seeing their reaction of how thankful they are to receive something that has no monetary value. It's a physical display of PLUR."
Jacob Cope, of Miami Beach, also attends the picnics to craft enough kandi to cover one of his arms (he saves the other arm for the kandi he will receive from others). He always makes one special kandi with the phrase "Everybody loves you here," he says, and saves it to give it to someone who looks sad, lost or lonely.
Cope managed to drag his mother, Carol McCaffrey, 57, into the scene. He first took her to an electronic dance music festival in New York.
Now she describes it as the best day of her life. And although she doesn't handcraft her own kandi, she loves the music and the people she meets at festivals, and is flying from New Jersey to join her son at Ultra this weekend.
"People have such a bad perception of the rave scene that is just not true," McCaffrey said. "They kind of gave me a renewed face to the young generation … Everybody is so respectful with each other, it's a whole different attitude."
Javier Morejon, 32, who works as a barber in Miami, implements PLUR in his life with Food4Thoughts, a personal charity project to feed the homeless.
About once a month, a group of people, mostly Kandi Kids, gather at his home to make sandwiches and distribute them to the homeless in downtown Miami. He is planning the next Food4Thoughts to coincide with Ultra, the morning of March 30.
"The whole thing is just about being the change you want to see in the community and being the person you want to see in others," he said. "Trying to implement PLUR on a daily basis."
The lineup for Ultra, from March 28-30 at Miami's Bayfront Park (301 N. Biscayne Blvd.), includes Tiesto, David Guetta, Avicii and Krewella, as well as Fort Lauderdale's own rising DJ Diplo. VIP tickets are sold out; some general tickets for $399.95 are still available?. Go to ultramusicfestival.com.