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On Decks

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.

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