Miami Sound Machine

Music, mayhem, materialism: Experiencing the rhapsody and the industry of Miami's Winter Music Conference

In the span of 24 hours, I saw a near-naked midget, several drag queens, and a 70-year-old man walking down the street in a red thong. No, this was not a post-party for the Adult Video News Awards. Rather, I was convening with dance-music festival freaks.

Here's the deal: If you're a metalhead, you can find your festival friends headbanging with the motley crew at Ozzfest. If you're an indie rocker, you can find them crooning along with the jaded folks at CMJ. If you're a beat junkie who really wants to get--as Will Smith so eloquently put it--"jiggy," you can find them singing "Welcome to Miami" as you get your groove on at WMC, the Winter Music Conference.

Still, the one group you won't find at WMC is the young ravers. For four days at the end of March, the chaotic mass of promoters, producers, and DJs who congregate in South Beach, Florida, are decidedly older and wealthier than the usual bunch of kids that gathers at your typical warehouse show. During the past 15 years, WMC has attracted label reps who want to sign the hottest talent, promoters who want to book the hottest talent, and the hottest talent, who want nothing more than to promote themselves. Depending upon whom you ask, the festival provides either a space for those involved in the music industry to make business deals with one another, or, as Chicago house DJ Bad Boy Bill would later tell me, a place "to fuck around."

Beat blanket bingo: Felix, one of the cool cats who make up Bassment Jaxx, matches his beats for an oceanside audience at WMC
Beat blanket bingo: Felix, one of the cool cats who make up Bassment Jaxx, matches his beats for an oceanside audience at WMC

"I've been coming here for 12 years," says the Bad Boy, "and at first I came to network and meet promoters. Now it's all about hanging out and letting the newer guys do their thing."

This year, "the newer guy" in the audience was me. And this is my WMC journal.


Barbizon Beach Suites, 12:04 p.m. Saturday, March 24

Stepping out of the taxicab and onto the urban playground that is Ocean Drive, I half expect the Fresh Prince to greet me with his lyrical tribute to the city of excess. Instead--and not to my objection--I am instantly approached by several shirtless guys who are handing out flyers for various parties. In the 80-degree heat, my hoodie-and-jeans ensemble--which stands in opposition to the surrounding flesh-fest--blows my cover. I am an obvious outsider: I might as well be bundled up in a parka wearing a "Hello, My Name Is..." sticker.

"Where are you from?" one of my topless suitors inquires, shoving a flyer for a fancy DKNY fashion show/DJ showcase in my face.

"Minnesota," I answer, peeling off the sweatshirt that had barely kept me warm just hours ago. The sweatshirt is the first of three layers.

Laughing as he walks away, the flyer boy shouts after me, "Well, then you're going to have a great time here!"

At this point, I'm not so sure. I have been in Miami only 15 minutes, and already I'm seeing more than my share of Barbie clones arm in arm with their Kens, at least one of whom gives my phat-pants-and-hoodie getup the evil eye. I can't imagine any of them being passionate about anything other than Gucci. Cars roll by that are bumping either cheesy trance anthems or Notorious B.I.G. tracks. Still, amid these superficial displays of wealth that seem to obscure the conference's musical purpose, Biggie speaks to me: "Mo' money, mo' problems."

I miss the Twin Cities, where the dance-music scene remains focused on the music and the community rather than the materialism. If WMC were held in Minneapolis (preferably in summer), I think, the energy would come from the stripped-down musical fundamentals. Here, it is the people who are stripped down.

If anyone could join me in my Miami-targeted tirade, it would be the no-frills DJ Donald Glaude. I pass the Seattle breaks/techno artist on my way up to my hotel room. Wearing a simple T-shirt that reads "RESPECT" in bold letters, the dark-skinned, flaxen-haired Glaude seems to have his priorities straight. He doesn't have any hired help to aid him, so he is hauling his luggage around like everybody else.

WMC seems to bring out the laborer in everyone: Over the next 96 hours, I will work the festival as hard as I can, and WMC will take its toll on my sleeping patterns (ten hours total), my ears (decibels at tympanum-endangering levels), and my ego (little-fish-in-a-big-pond syndrome). Which is all to say: I will love every short, surreal minute of it.

Since this is my first time attending the conference, I rely heavily upon my WMC-veteran roommates--including half of the Minneapolis Soul Music DJ collective and the entire Siren Mpls. female DJ collective--to show me the ropes.

My first lesson: The clubs are open until 7:00 a.m. Do not attempt to conduct a normal daily routine.

Donning some Seventies shades and a baby tee, I try to blend in despite my snow-toned skin. Taking my first South Beach stroll, I walk about seven blocks down Ocean to find the penthouse where the Om Records label representatives (who promised me new releases) are staying. On my way over, someone starts yelling my name. I turn around to find Twin Cities house-music hero Alexander East, who looks just as relieved to see me as I am him. He tells me about a gig he has lined up for tonight, so after my meeting with the Om crew, we herd a sizable hometown posse toward the Blue Lounge, where East spins with renowned DJs Ron Carroll and Mazi. Twin Cities DJs Monte Hilleman, Bryan Gerrard, Bionic, Jason Heinrichs, and Jezus Juice are also in attendance.

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