Notes from the 2006 Winter Music Conference in South Beach Miami
Text by Charles Donelan - Photos by Tamer El-Shakhs
In the 21 years since Winter Music Conference began, contemporary dance music has changed and spread more rapidly than any other form of music in history. As the record industry faces profound challenges to its fundamental business models, the juggernaut that is dance music consistently outpaces all other genres in its appetite for innovation, not only in terms of content, but also in the ways in which it is created, listened to, disseminated, bought, and sold. The WMC, held annually in South Beach Miami, is where all the players in the grand international web of dance music come together to do what they care about most, which is get down and share music. We arrived on Sunday, too late for many of the biggest events like Ultra, but right on time for what we came for, which were the dozens of small-venue parties that dot the clubs and lounges of South Beach from Thursday until Tuesday. After checking in to our wonderful beachfront oasis, the excellent Beacon Hotel on Ocean between 7th and 8th, we wandered one and a half blocks to 8th and Collins where the United Divas were gathered in the 808 Lounge of the Whitelaw Hotel for their 808 Diaries party. Featuring DRC (SF), Michele Bass (LA), and organized by Lady J (Jan Tompkins), this was our favorite event, and really made the whole trip worthwhile—not bad for the first party you walk into. United Divas is a loosely organized coalition of women artists. Most are in the music industry, and many are DJs and producers. All of the United Divas subscribe to a collective philosophy of dignity, empowerment, and community for women in the arts. The 808 Diaries party lived up to its name, bringing out the spirit in dance music’s favorite drum machine through various innovative, funky, and sometimes delirious tracks served up to a tight and appreciative group of friends and dancers. While DJing remains among the world’s most male of professions, the percentage of women taking to the decks and appearing at WMC rises every year. The United Divas party was truly great, a perfect introduction to WMC’s loose, ever-changing, and blatantly utopian mindset. The hottest sets were by Michele Bass and DRC. Michele dropped some old looped hip hop vocals onto a bed of break beats that resulted in a surprisingly fresh and friendly sound, nothing like the lame hip house of the late 80s and early 90s. DRC drove the dancers wild with a blend of trance, techno, drum and bass, and break beat, all delivered with a playful sense of humor and incredible skills on the decks. The most amazing thing about United Divas is the way that they take their art making and community building beyond the music while keeping things active on the dance floor. This party succeeded completely on the bottom-line level, as it had dancers fully engaged with the music and each other. Everyone left with huge smiles on their faces. After a very few hours of much-needed sleep we were back on 8th and Collins again, checking out the gorgeous, subtle sophistication of Todd Oldham’s design for the hotel. Formerly known as the Tiffany, the hotel retains the spire from its original incarnation, and has the most incredible rooftop pool and bar in the neighborhood. As much as we loved the Beacon, we have a yen to return and try this one out. This is a must-see spot. Shopping on Collins and people-watching on Ocean filled what was left of Monday’s daylight hours. Collins offers all of the familiar Fred Segal alternatives you may recognize from trips to New York—Barneys Co-op, Intermix—and some Miami specials, like Leo, that will gladly fill your bags and empty your wallet. Over on Ocean WMC hotel pool parties were going all day. We picked one at the Clevelander and heard Chicago house while eating jerk chicken and drinking Red Stripe. One of the most impressive things about WMC is the genuine, seemingly effortless diversity and integration of all the parties. There’s something about the fact that people come from all over the world to share their fiendish obsessions with such maniacal sub-genres as gabber and ghettotech that makes the fact that, for instance, you’re black and gay while I’m white and straight seem irrelevant. In any case, the WMC crowd is surely among the most tolerant and easygoing I have ever witnessed. Monday night took us to one of South Beach’s most satisfying restaurants, the awesome (and awesomely filling) Big Pink. At 157 Collins Ave.. Big Pink is smack in the middle of the so-called SoFi (South of Fifth) area, which is coming up right now as the place to be in South Beach. The food here is amazing, and the service destroyed our impression that everything in SoBe takes at least half an hour. When we got out of there it was just a quick skip across the street to Privé at the Opium Gardens. Former stomping grounds of Ingrid Casares and Chris Paciello, the club is well appointed and was full of the glamorous types one associates with the South Beach club scene, but somehow it failed to latch onto the magic of WMC, and we were soon on our way to nearby Nikki Beach. The door people were friendly and accommodating, and on this Monday night, the party inside was ferocious. Dancers gyrating to hard house were illuminated only by an intense, intermittent strobe, which made just crossing the dance floor to get to the large outdoor beach and patio area difficult. Of course, in the right “mood” this might have been a pleasure. The patrons were a mixed bunch, but the overall impression was that Nikki Beach fulfills its mission, which, as stated on their website, is to the “surreal beauty and hedonistic lifestyle” appropriate to “the Sexiest Place on Earth.” At least they know what they are about. If you go to South Beach, whether it’s for next year’s WMC or just for a vacation, take the long walk up Washington and over Espanola to the Lincoln Road, and don’t miss the spectacular WPA mural in the Miami Beach Post Office. It’s three dramatic scenes of first contact in America, and you’ll need to know about how to handle the tribes if you are going to make it in South Beach. Our final night brought us to the spectacular Shine at the Shelborne Hotel for a party sponsored by residentadvisor.net, a terrific website for all things to do with the international dance music scene. The main room featured Argentine house monster Hernan Cattaneo, among others, while the lounge was occupied by the crew from Robots, and East Village (NYC) collective known for their distorted beats and pirate radio activities. It was a gorgeous night, and the music lasted later than even we could stay awake. Next year in Miami Beach, there will be no sleep till Wednesday.