Miami Sound Machine

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

Minneapolis is in the house. For the first time, I feel at home.

Barbizon Beach Suites, 9:00 a.m.; and Level Nightclub, 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 25

Whoever contrived the "New York is the city that never sleeps" cliché must never have tried to catch a few winks near the ceaseless turbulence of Miami's Ocean Drive.

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

"This is South Beach, motherfucker!" some pottymouth yells repeatedly. It is 9:00 a.m. and already my hopes of sleeping until noon are shot. It is just as well, because in a few hours the lobby of our hotel will house the Pushpac Records Industry Party, where a diverse pool of turntable talent will spin throughout the day. On the lineup are Just Honey and Bionic from Siren Mpls., as well as Bryan Gerrard and Monte Hilleman of Minneapolis Soul Music fame. I find a seat in the lobby, where an overzealous young man claiming to be "MC Infinity from Virginia" bombards me with his wack rhymes, which are done up with a fake English accent: "You know I'm a winner, I'm a sinner." An involuntary conversation with him keeps me from enjoying my comrades' sets.

After MC Infinity tries to sell himself to me, the reps schmooze with my roommates, and I make plans with some fellow Minnesotans to nurse my housed-out ears with a night of straight techno by Rabbit in the Moon and Laurent Garnier at Level Nightclub. I'm hoping that the no-frills music will attract a no-frills crowd.

Aching for some genuine company, I decide to spend some time with David Koch and Brian Zimmerman--the owner and manager, respectively, of South Beach Nightclub, a little piece of Miami back home on First Avenue. Zimmerman picks me up wearing an expensive seafoam-green nylon jacket as opposed to his usual T-shirt and backward baseball cap. I eye him with a smirk. "What has Miami done to you?" I laugh. Upon entering Level, Koch orders two bottles of Champagne, and we watch Garnier pound out a killer techno set (easy on the vocal samples) from our plush booth high above a wave of some 2,000 heads and several crowd-surfing Koosh balls (remember those?). The velvet seating throbs along with the low, funked-out basslines. From up here, I note that I'm surrounded by the dance-music elite. I also note that I like it.

Nikki Beach, 5:00 p.m.; and Sony Sky Deck, midnight, Monday, March 26

Koch advises me to check out Nikki Beach, a sprawling, outdoor club located near the shoreline. I arrive just in time to witness the annual beach party put on by Astralwerks, a prolific label best known for more mainstream acts like tonight's headliners Fatboy Slim and Bassment Jaxx. The event is free (thanks to sponsors like MTV's edgier sister network, M2), but still exclusive: The bouncers aren't letting just anyone in. Luckily, the muscle man at the door soon waves in "the redhead."

I make my way to the oceanfront stage just in time to see Slim commanding the crowd by pumping his fist to his latest single, "Star 69 (What the Fuck)." He flashes scrunched-up, goofy grins at the audience while he cues the records for his trademark breaks-meets-house set. In between records, he even bends down and hugs admiring fans. This down-home attitude is definitely not the typical persona of a DJ who appears regularly on MTV.

Twenty minutes later, the Bassment Jaxx duo takes over, throwing their quirky style at the crowd, and peaking with a surprise cut: Jakatta's pensive "American Dream" from the film American Beauty. For a moment, the breeze off the ocean seems to coincide with the rhythm of the music.

An older woman next to me is dancing to it. "This is that Jakatta track!" she tells a boy young enough to be her son. It hits me that this lady, with her brittle blond hair and overtanned skin, has just as much right to this culture as I do. Here are the ravers, I decide. They have grown up and now work day jobs. That's how they can afford to come to WMC.

I leave Astralwerks and jet off to the rooftop of the Sony building for a gala hosted by the Moonshine label. Glaude is on, and this time I work as hard dancing to his music as he had worked to move his excessive baggage through the hotel lobby. Living up to his crowd-working reputation, he yells at the audience (between beats) to "get the fuck up!" But then he makes this ancient dance-music commandment into a friendly personal greeting, and begins pointing at people in the crowd with a "this-is-between-you-and-me" look.

Christopher Lawrence follows Glaude's set, but Lawrence is forced to stop when the Miami police visit to complain of a noise violation. It is an unfortunate turn of events. But for once, we aging ravers can go to bed at a time that fits our nine-to-five schedules. Or at least we can catch some sleep before 4:00 a.m.

Radisson Deauville Hotel Presidential Suite, 7:00 p.m.; Club Goddess, 11:00 p.m. Tuesday, March 27

At 5:00 p.m. we order a very late breakfast at what is rumored to be Versace's favorite coffee hut: the News Café. About the time I finish my French toast and start in on the hash browns, I witness a spectacle. A male midget wearing a hot-pink wig and matching bikini is flashing the customers. In Miami, it seems, the entertainment never stops.

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