THOUGH I'D NEVER attended a music conference before, I'd read enough about Winter Music Conference, the dance music f괥 held annually in Miami Beach, to get some idea of what I was in store for. As I'd imagined, it offered a staggering amount to choose from: I averaged four shows a night and still didn't see nearly as much as I'd have liked. Most of the pleasure I derived from WMC had less to do with the music itself than with its social accoutrements: seeing old friends, making new ones, meeting the well-known critic who introduced himself by saying, "I disagree with you constantly!"
Winter Music Conference
Miami, Florida, March 25-29
Miami Beach provided plenty to disagree with by itself. Arriving Saturday night, I soon realized that the beginning of the conference coincided with the end of another bacchanal: spring break. I found myself competing for sidewalk space and entrance privileges with an astonishing array of jocks, bimbos, litter (trash extended three feet out into the street), and locals who leered and jeered at the tight dresses and excessive cleavage. At first this was amusing, but it stopped being so when my sloppy T-shirt and unimpressive build earned me the cold shoulder from the door staff at the Living Room, where I was on the guest list to see Dimitri from Paris. After an hour, I finally gave up, resolved to lick the problem next time around: For WMC 2001, I'm getting implants.
From Sunday on, however, the chaos was mostly limited to inside the clubs. Unfortunately, the major exceptions to this were the two DJs I was most looking forward to seeing. While New Yorker Armand Van Helden, headlining Level on Monday (one of three clubs he played during the conference), is one of dance music's finest producers, his decks skills proved annoyingly unfocused. Van Helden's constant screwing around with EQ meters and filters started out promisingly, like he was about to take it somewhere, but devolved into pointless noodling. For an hour. The conference's other great disappointment, Norman Cook, a.k.a. Fatboy Slim, didn't play with the knobs too much, though maybe he should have. Instead of the endlessly peaking kineticism that has made him my favorite DJ (check Astralwerks' just-out On the Floor at the Boutique, formerly an import), Cook sounded decidedly half-baked, never really building on his own momentum and never really creating any either. If he's ever played a duller set, I don't want to know about it.
IN SHARP CONTRAST, Danny Tenaglia, whose marathon 13-hour set at Club Space in downtown Miami from Monday night to Tuesday morning was WMC's unquestionable highlight, played epic-length tracks (some as long as 10 minutes) that built on themselves instead of endlessly looping. Of course, the New York hard-house jock, celebrating his 25th year DJing, did not a little of that building up himself, adding sound bites, remixing on the fly, and cutting between two copies to increase the tension.
Not that I knew any of this when I took my place in line at 5am. All I knew was that the music sounded great from outside, and that my friends and I had waited in line for nearly an hour. When we finally entered, the atmosphere was so overwhelmingly joyous I found myself yelling, "Holy shit! It's 1992!" It combined the energy of an early '90s rave with the commitment to hedonism of a gay circuit party (like that of Tenaglia's core audience at his Friday night residency at Manhattan's Vinyl), and we got in just as the party was peaking. When we finally staggered out of the room at 10am, Tenaglia was still going strong, spinning a set of remixed classics, inciting the audience with a hand-held spotlight, and typing song titles on an LCD board so the trainspotters in the audience would know what to buy.
It was, in a word, inspirational, and though nothing could have topped it, I want to at least mention some of the other sets that satisfied me nearly as much: "Little Louie" Vega at the Bar Room on Tuesday night (Latin-flavored vocal house tracks made over into displays of soulful technique, and an older, blacker and far less industry-heavy crowd than the WMC norm); London 2-step garage spinner M.J. Cole at the Living Room on Tuesday (infectious, tap-dancing beats and rhythmic/melodic riffs reminiscent of African thumb-piano music); Minneapolis's Woody McBride at Level on Monday (barnstormingly funky techno); San Francisco's DJ Emily at Level on Tuesday (smart, eclectic house); and Mr. C of the Shamen, whose tribal techno on Wednesday morning at Club Space soundtracked my sole chemical excursion of the trip (apologies to anyone who had to endure my brief stint as Captain Backrubs). With any luck, see you there next year.