Mix & Remix

Welcome to Miami Beach's annual Winter Music Conference, where the elite meet to discuss the future of the beat

Jon Berry, of the prominent German independent label Mille Plateaux, is one of a growing number of business execs who intend to fly into Miami for the duration of the conference and bypass the Radisson altogether. Berry recalls last year's "failed attempts to network around the ridiculously overpopulated Radisson swimming pool, standing in the muddle of completely unorganized club lineups at the velvet rope, waving a piece of plastic to a doorman who couldn't give a shit.... Oh yeah, did I forget to mention how wonderful it was to share the weekend with all the college students celebrating spring break?"

Berry's solution this year? "I've traded in my $300 piece of plastic for a better hotel room within walking distance to the clubs," he quips, referring to his pricey admission badge. "The WMC organizers have definitely made it their goal to turn this into a weekend Ibiza getaway, rather than a gathering of electronic music insiders developing and discussing their diverse potentials."

To Steven Castro, head of Miami's Beta Bodega Coalition, a record label-cum-leftist collective, the WMC is beyond salvation. On a recent evening, sitting outside the office of Plex, the South Beach design firm where he works as a graphic artist, Castro spoke with obvious bitterness.

DJ Stryke, out to save trance from its four-letter-word status
Peter Lieberman
DJ Stryke, out to save trance from its four-letter-word status
Beta Bodega Coalition's Rick Garrido and Steven Castro teach the Zapatistas how to dance
Steve Satterwhite
Beta Bodega Coalition's Rick Garrido and Steven Castro teach the Zapatistas how to dance

"Every year it's the same thing," he says. "People think, Oh, the conference is coming, I've got to make a demo and get it to all the labels that'll be here. And nothing ever comes of it, nothing ever happens for Miami. Well, we've got to break that slave mentality. You don't have to give your demo to the label master."

On a series of Beta Bodega vinyl releases over the past two years, Castro has made a point of crafting covers and inserts that highlight the ongoing civil strife in Latin America, offering critical support to revolutionary movements in Colombia and Mexico. Now he's turned his attention to a conflict closer to home.

On strikingly illustrated posters and flyers he's circulated around town, Castro has declared: "Although the Conference is held here in our hometown, Miami's wealth of talented musicians and innovative labels are not acknowledged nor invited. The Conference comes to Miami, sets up, and leaves without making any valid contribution to Miami's underground. Our mission has become to flip the script by becoming a parasite within the underbelly of the beast and feed off it for the advancement of our cause."

Much like the Sundance Film Festival, which originally was intended to combat Hollywood by showcasing independent filmmakers but soon became merely an adjunct to it, the WMC has become compromised, observes Castro. His choice of action is similar to that of the film enthusiasts who traveled to Park City, Utah, set up shop across the street from Sundance, and created Slamdance, an alternative film festival.

Accordingly Castro is staging Infiltrate 3.0, his own series of events during the WMC, driving home the do-it-yourself message. Although he's coyly vague on the specifics of several planned "guerrilla actions" aimed at the conference, he has announced Infiltrate's own party lineup, which highlights the rosters of not only Beta Bodega but no fewer than twelve other independent Miami electronica labels (including Phoenecia's Schematic crew). The result is a veritable who's who of the local left-field electronica scene, as well as notable out-of-towners such as England's Mixmaster Morris, Austria's Curd Duca, the Detroit Grand Pubahs, Philadelphia rapper Bahamadia, and New York City's ex-Company Flow frontman El-P.

It's a testament to the diversity of electronica that the same promoters and record company staffers whom Castro rails against see themselves as struggling against indifferent corporate forces. After all, the acts that Castro dismisses as "watered down" are still just as absent from MTV as any of the groups he champions.

Not that he finds the much-vaunted resources of the established music industry daunting. He believes the spread of truly innovative electronica to wider audiences is inevitable. "Just like computer hackers, we'll use whatever openings we can find," he says of the mainstream music world. "Whatever little crevices we can slip into, to act like a parasite and infect the host. One of two things is going to happen. Either the host becomes so sick, it dies -- and that's fine, because out of death comes new life -- or the host changes; it learns to conform to this new presence." He smiles and raises an eyebrow: "Either way, we win."

In a way the aural war that Steven Castro speaks of already has been won -- and precisely on the subterranean terms he lays out. True, from the surface it would seem that electronica's much-ballyhooed attempt to storm the Top 40 has failed. Although momentarily hit by the flagging album sales of rock, record-company fortunes have been rejuvenated by a resurgence of hip-hop and preteen-oriented pop; A&R men no longer need to brush up on rave terminology.

Moreover while rock itself may be a spent aesthetic force, a recent Billboard headline trumpeted that "Rock Touring Sees Renaissance: Diverse New Breed of Road Warriors Revitalizes Box Office." And those few electronic acts that did earn platinum-record status -- the Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers, Moby, and Fatboy Slim -- seem to owe their success to their very non-electronica nature: repeatable vocals and choruses, sampled funk breaks, rock-derived song structures. Additionally, with the exception of Fatboy Slim, all were willing to embrace the hoary concept of "live" touring; re-creating their studio work onstage in front of computer banks or via honest-to-gosh musicians.

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