Miami of the North

Debate the WMC's relevance if you like, but it still inadvertently drags plenty of DJs to town

Miami's Winter Music Conference has lost some luster since its inception 22 years ago. The week-long festival once showcased up-and-coming acts, but over the years dance music (and the conference) stagnated, relying on the same old headliners—the Sashas, the Oakenfolds, the Van Heldens—with only a small smattering of more underground artists. And even then, many of those events now take place away from central South Beach and/or find themselves relegated to after-after-parties. ("Dude, you going to the [insert Hot Artist of the Year here]? He goes on at 6 a.m.!")

That might be why some die-hard conference veterans are opting out of this year's model, held March 20–25. Peter Wohelski (who spins under the moniker Peter Anthony) was the director of a&r at Astralwerks "during the glory years," he jokes, from '95 to '99, and has gone to the conference 14 times. "I don't want to say I'm over it, but Miami is done," he says now from his new position as marketing manager for GCI Technologies, a DJ products and pro audio manufacturer. Dance music "in the last seven or eight years hasn't developed artists to succeed the big acts like the Chems, Prodigy, or Underworld. We haven't developed artists so massive, they can't be denied." For him, the last meaningful year was 1998, when "Music Sounds Better With You," the blockbuster hit by Thomas Bangalter, Alan Braxe, and Benjamin Diamond, emerged from the event.

A few peers, including Ruff Club's Spencer Product and longtime house label Defected, agree with Wohelski and have opted not to go. Others think the WMC has lost its luster, but are going anyway. "WMC is definitely no longer a groundbreaking affair—it's no longer a place to do business and make deals," says Cielo head honcho Nicolas Matar, who's attended since 1990. "It's merely an opportunity to see friends and like-minded people from all over the world congregating in one place for a big party. The problem is that it has become overly saturated, with far too many events happening simultaneously, making it difficult to have enough quality people at a single party, creating a vibe."

Moderate carousing at the DJs Are Not Rock Stars party
Tricia Romano
Moderate carousing at the DJs Are Not Rock Stars party

"It's mislabeled as a convention—in reality, it's a music marathon," says Brendan Gillen of Ectomorph fame, who's been making the trek since the '90s. "I go because I love the actual Miami people, the indigenous music of the Miami kids—Miami bass and laptops fueled by years of psychedelia and a deep appreciation for the avant-garde, where Autechre, Der Plan, and Luke Skyywalker hold equal sway. It is really a refreshing and inspiring view."

Others, like Halcyon's Shawn Schwartz, still love it. "It ain't stale. It's actually gotten more underground in the past three years," he says, citing the London-based Kubicle party at Goldrush in downtown Miami (a few blocks from the famed Pawn Shop) with Mr. C and Clive Henry. Even a superstar DJ such as John Digweed still sees value in it: "For someone who has been going to WMC for over 10 years, it is a real chance for me to meet up with fellow DJs and producers, hear some great music, and check out some new and up-and-coming talent."

Liquid Sound Lounge's Jeannie Hopper, another longtime attendee, continues to look forward to it. "Miami renews my batteries to hear how everyone is dealing with the changing technical side and club business of the industry," she says. "MySpace is cool, but there's nothin' like in-person mingling and interaction to inspire and carry on."

If you're not going, you're in luck: Many artists are making pit stops here on their way to or from the event, creating our own impromptu New York Winter Music Conference. We might be missing some key components (like hot chicks in string bikinis, warm weather, and something called "the beach"), but in the six years I've gone to Miami, I've made it to the beach for a sum total of eight hours.

A guide to WMC in NYC:

Get crunchy electro, funky techno, and everything in between at DJs Are Not Rock Stars, Alexander Technique's revived weekly with Junior Sanchez, hosted by the inimitable Sophia Lamar and held every Tuesday at Mr. Black (643 Broadway). So far, they've had Stretch Armstrong, Denny LeNihm, and Princess Superstar, with more local heavy hitters to come, including Larry Tee(March 27), Harry "Chi Chi" Romero (April 17), and Tommie Sunshine (April 24). Rumors of a future international special resident might be justified.

Camp out at Studio B (259 Banker Street, Brooklyn) in Greenpoint and pretend there's a beach on that murky waterfront instead of industrial buildings. This month, Cut's party features Ellen Allien and Miss Kitten March 24. It's gonna be a techno and electro diva-off, but instead of melismatic vocal battles à la J-Hud and Beyoncé, it'll be a contest of who's got the best beats. Electro duo Adult stop by April 7.

With its pretty, peachy inside lighting and outdoor garden area, Cielo (18 Little West 12th Street) is the best approximation we'll get to South Beach. Enjoy sets from residents Nicolas Matar and Willie Graff (celebrating their Seventh Heavenrecord release) March 30. The next week, Mike Bindra's Made Events welcomes tech-house refugees Mr. C, Adultnapper, and Martin Buttrich April 6. And one of the biggest conference draws of the past few years, M.A.N.D.Y., plays the club April 5. The following week, catch blue-eyed techno soul from Junior Boys April 11 at the Bowery.

Over at Pacha (618 West 26th Street), superstar DJ John Digweed plays with Canadian indie darlings MSTRKRFT March 31; on April 7, another progressive house mega-DJ, Danny Howells, takes over.

Danny Krivit will be at Miami's Shelborne Hotel during WMC, but before then, catch him at his monthly 718 Sessions jam at Club Deep (16 West 22nd Street) March 18 for a little body and soul rejuvenation. Local favorites and funky soul brothers Turntables on the Hudson (a/k/a Nickodemus & Mariano) take off for Miami and return just in time for their Turnstylz residency at Element (225 East Houston) April 9. Another local act, LCD Soundsystem, is playing twice here (March 30 and 31 at the Bowery Ballroom) but isn't hitting Miami at all. (So there.)

There are a few acts double-dipping in New York. Rave on March 30 at the Ruff Club, held at the Annex (152 Orchard) with Swedish duo Lo-Fi-Fink and their synthy swoops and coy, catchy vocals—then catch them the following night at Studio B. (Ruff Club celebrates its one-year anniversary April 6 with Trash Fashionof "It's a Rave Dave" fame.) Meanwhile, the Presets hit both Hiro Ballroom (March 29) and Studio B (March 31 with Lo-Fi-Fink) for a little post-conference action. And the Klaxons bring their nü-rave-and-roll tunes to the Bowery Ballroom April 10 and Studio B April 13.

Finally, drum'n'bass maniacs (yes, they still exist) can hit the infamous World of Drum'N'Bass with Shy FX, Kenny Ken, and DJ Seoul (yes, they still exist) on March 29 at Tonic (107 Norfolk). And one of the most anticipated tickets of the season will be the Ed Banger TourJustice, Medhi, Sebastian, and Busy P will bring their Parisian post–Daft Punk beats to GBH's Cheeky Bastard party at Hiro Ballroom (363 West 16th Street) March 29. Who need a beach when you've got Justice?

flylife@villagevoice.com

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