Electric Avenues

From March 13 to March 17, DJ culture looms large as more than 4000 participants descend on Miami for the annual Winter Music Conference, a worldwide gathering of the dance-music industry. During the day most of the action centers around the Fontainebleau Hilton, home to the conference's many workshops and panels that delve into everything from the business of electronica to the nuts and bolts of programming drum machines. By night the activity shifts to South Beach, where more than a dozen different clubs host showcases featuring an array of DJ talent, much of which rarely hits this town.

Club showcases are often organized independently of the conference and admission is not necessarily included with the registration fee. Be sure to call ahead to check, and be warned: Lineups are notorious for their last-minute fluctuations, and starting times are likely to change.

Following is a selective guide to the best buzz from visiting spinmasters who take control of city turntables during the next week.

Saturday, March 13
If anyone is responsible for the word "jazz" being bandied about in drum and bass circles, it's England's ltj bukem, whose own records in 1993 and 1994 marked a dramatic break with the then-dominant hip-hop and reggae currents. In bukem's hands the aggression, vitriol, and machismo -- all elements associated with drum and bass -- were exchanged for a dreamy sense of meditation. The jazz sampled on bukem's records (and on the output of legions of admirers that sprang up in his wake) was a far cry from classic Miles Davis and John Coltrane, however. Instead the fusion of the Seventies held sway, with thick washes of synthesizers, chimes, and airy guitar notes all floating above double-time breakbeats. There's a certain irony at play here in watching what was once considered the scourge of the avant-garde -- jazz acts such as Weather Report and the Yellowjackets -- re-emerging as a source element in one of electronica's most progressive paths. Still, taken in short, set-length bursts, it clicks, as demonstrated on Progression Sessions 3 (Good Looking), a new release that features MC Conrad and MC DRS rapping in rolling cadences over the top of bukem's new-age vibe. That union performs this evening at the Ultra Beach Music Festival (877-54-ultra), a daylong event beginning at noon and featuring a laundry list of DJs spinning inside tents on the 21st Street beach. Notables include Beatcamp drum and bass resident Marco, local breaks fave Merlyn, New York City jeep-beat specialist Armand Van Helden, and Tampa's Rabbit in the Moon. The latter's live show is particularly popular on the national rave circuit, though that may have less to do with the group's music than with their famed unleashing of a seven-foot sparkling rabbit over an acid-drenched crowd.

Drum and bass is often thought to be a British phenomenon, but tonight at Zanzibar (615 Washington Ave., 305-538-6688) American practitioners will try to prove otherwise. South Beach's own grrl13 and t.farmer tag-team as boosted, spinning dark, bass-driven tracks they've recorded and released on their own label. They will preview future releases as well. (For more information see "Welcome to the Jungle," March 4.) Also appearing are Mr. Mendez and Element, two Fort Lauderdale figures about to launch their Evil Base record label. Their beats are dipped in the late-Eighties industrial scene. The end result can sometimes be more goofy than the ominous vibe they strive for, but it does answer the question as to where all those Skinny Puppy fans disappeared. San Francisco's Phunkateck Crew also perform, as well as Trace and Fierce, formerly of the influential British No-U Turn collective.

If you've been looking for an early title to hang on 1999, consider "the year of Fatboy Slim." Certainly Norman Cook (the weight-ambiguous boy in question) throws his music around everywhere, producing electronica's first genuine mainstream success story. Turn on the radio -- there he is. Turn on MTV -- there he is. You're not even safe during commercials, with no less than three songs from his most recent album, You've Come a Long Way, Baby (Astralwerks) cropping up as the soundtrack for three different Madison Avenue campaigns. Overexposure aside, you can't really blame those ad execs for flocking to You've Come. His everything-and-the-kitchen-sink sampling approach is just too catchy to resist, with delicate gospel piano breaks crescendoed into a full-on barnstormer, or bubbly reggae toasts mutated into cartoonlike chants. Anything for a killer hook is the modus operandi. It is a song-building approach alluded to on the cover, where dozens of shelves buckle under the weight of Cook's sprawling record collection, threatening to come crashing down on his busy display of electronic toys and gadgets. If you still haven't gotten your fix of the man, drop by the Cameo (1445 Washington Ave., 305-532-0922) tonight for a DJ set.

Also appearing: France's Daft Punk, spearheading the neo-disco revival, fellow Frenchies Cassius, working within a similarly pro-glitterball sound, Orlando's Q-Burns, and New York City's Todd Terry.

Sunday, March 14
"People -- when you meet him, please take precautions with his hands when you greet him./He's Rob Swift!" That's the chorus on "Turntablist Anthem," a cut from Swift's new CD, The Ablist (Asphodel), and it's only partly in jest. The man does some amazing things with just ten fingers, cutting back and forth between two turntables and creating a veritable symphony out of his record collection. You'll want to be right up front to catch a good view when Swift appears tonight at Club Zen (1203 Washington Ave., 305-673-2817), along with fellow abstract scratcher Q-Bert. Another famed character from the creative margins of hip-hop also spins: Prince Paul. He's known for his groundbreaking production work on the first three De La Soul albums, 1996's delightfully deranged Psychoanalysis ... What Is It? (Wordsound), and the brand-new Prince Among Thieves (Tommy Boy), on which he ropes in a cast of oddballs from Chris Rock to Kool Keith to rap along to his skits. Also appearing are England's Jega, producing schizophrenic Aphex Twin-styled chirps, Iceland's Gus Gus, and Chicago drum and bass DJ Phantom 45.

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