Electronica's Kingdom Comes

Miami's annual Winter Music Conference

LTJ Bukem's first few singles in 1993 and 1994 were dramatic departures from the then-dominant ragga-tinged and hip-hop sample-heavy currents in drum and bass. Instead Bukem stripped his tracks down to crisp, rattling breakbeats and then layered them with ethereal washes of synthesizers and chilly organ arpeggios. A '70s jazz fusion feel proliferated, as if Chick Corea suddenly had decided to bust a move. It was a left-field approach, made even more novel by the steady rolling cadences of MC Conrad,who rapped through the atmospheric holes that seemed to float in and out of Bukem's constructions. Repeat any formula enough, though, and no matter how striking it first appeared, it soon becomes cliché. Such was the case with Bukem, who quickly was reduced to endlessly rehashing himself. Fortunately his long-awaited new full-length album, Journey Inwards, sees the artist setting out on a new (and long overdue) stylistic path. The only question is, will his fans follow? Journey Inwards retains its creator's signature air of champagne-sipping refinement, but to call it a drum and bass record is a bit of stretch. Bukem now seems drawn to the slinky blaxploitation-era soul-jazz that colored so many vintage cops-and-robbers flicks. As "Rhodes to Freedom" hits its stride, with the Rhodes electric piano chords name-checked in the song's title pushing forcefully against an insistent snare drum, it's easy to visualize Dirty Harry jumping from rooftop to rooftop in hot pursuit.

The title of Roni Size's 1997 New Formsalbum may have been a bit of an overstatement, but it certainly alludes to what Size was attempting: to drag drum and bass from the margins square into the center of popdom, drawing on vintage soul, throwing everything from acoustic guitars to caterwauling divas into the mix. He even had the conceit to enact the whole shebang live, assembling an organic band and touring America with a phalanx of hooded keyboardists and drummers furiously pounding away in real time. "We're a jazz group, we're a sound system, we're hip-hop, we're house, we're Aretha Franklin, we're James Brown!" exclaimed Size in an interview with this writer. "We're just trying to put all the things we love up on the stage. The turntable is as important as the drummer as the keyboardist." Three years on we're still waiting for a New Formsfollowup; a sneak peek may emerge during Size's DJ set, spinning alongside fellow accomplices from his Reprazent crew: DJ Krust, DJ Die, DJ Suv, and MC Dynamite.

For Miami's own DJ Craze, drum and bass isn't an end in itself. Rather it's simply one more element to be artfully chopped into smile-inducing feats of turntablism. For tonight's tag-team set with DJs A-Trackand Z-Trip, expect an ample display of the kind of showboating and behind-the-back scratching that has earned him the DMC title with that competition's bragging rights to the deftest hands in the world.

Blackaliciousrounds out the night, and while they have no overt connections to the evening's drum and bass theme, their singular take on hip-hop is all too rare these days. Originally coming up alongside and collaborating with DJ Shadow in the college town of Davis, California (they've since relocated to the Bay Area), the collective has always bowed before the altar of the MC, putting an artful verbal flow and dexterous word-slinging above all else. Add in a taste for '70s funk-infused beats, and you've got a mixture that's notably out of step with today's rap marketplace. Which seems to suit Blackalicious just fine. On their new album, Nia, they practically revel in their outsider status, tossing out pointed barbs at the larger hip-hop scene while gleefully bobbing and lyrically weaving around head-snapping rhythms.

Sunday, March 26
The philosophy most commonly associated with the WMC is unbridled hedonism, so this evening's benefit for War Child (a charity focusing on tykes caught in war-torn nations such as Guatemala and Kosovo) is a welcome change of pace. The $10 soirée unfolds around the pool at the Raleigh Hotel, with music beginning at 6:00 p.m. First up is Chicago's Ron Trent (recently relocated to NYC), who hasn't received the high-profile rep of many of his Chitown peers, but was nonetheless a well-regarded player in that city's early '90s house scene. Thanks to a solid new release on England's Peacefrog label, which collects some of Trent's tracks from that time (as well as his most recent output), he looks set to receive some long-overdue recognition. One could carp over the all-too-familiar irony of it taking British fans to remind Americans of their own homegrown talent, or just concentrate on not falling into the pool as Gilles Petersonand Norman Jaytake the helm. The two are famed for their radio and club slots back in England, where they've consistently championed all manner of vintage grooves, from gritty '60s soul stompers to sleek acid jazz. What's in their DJ bags for tonight is anybody's guess (Peterson's stint during the New Times/Planet E wingding last year featured a set of manic Brazilian batucada workouts), but considering the typical Miami Beach definition of old-schoolis the first Madonna album, whatever they choose should be a treat. Also spinning are French disco deconstructionist Bob Sinclair, Pete Heller, DJ Yellow, and Julius Papp.

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