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Three nights in Miami in the heat of June. Three DJs descend on clubland. Paul Van Dyk, David Waxman, and Timo Maas represent the history of trance, spinning out the vibe's chronology on their turntables.
Police cordon off sections of NE Eleventh Street, and traffic snarls to a stoplight standstill. Waves of European clubbers in shiny shirts and soft-hued sunglasses flow from taxis. Inside Club Space the floor is a sea of Red Bull, glow sticks, and kung fu dance moves, while the humble Van Dyk lords over three turntables lit by small overhead lights.
Since 1991, when Van Dyk fled the stagnant atmosphere of Eisenhuttenstadt for the booming rave scene in Berlin, dance music has been riveted by the melancholic body rock beats he's crafted from Germany's industrial aesthetic. Now a global DJ phenomenon, Van Dyk makes frequent stops in Miami, where he's held in high regard.
"He's the best. Hands down," says Space promoter Emi Guerra before the gig. And it's hard to argue with the bodies twisting to Van Dyk's vibe.
Decked out in glasses and a gray T-shirt, Van Dyk looks more like a college student than MixMag's 1999 Man of the Year and DJ Magazine's Best Music Maker. Occasionally he smiles, watching the crowd move in synch to his beats. Mostly he stares at the spinning records, and every so often nods along to the house rolls and techno-breaks of the drums.
Thundering across the floor, his set captivates both gawking tech-heads staring up at the booth and carefree dancers getting off on the sound.
"I don't create “trance music,'" Van Dyk insists in a recent interview. "If I had to call it something, I'd call it “electronic dance music.' This is my language. I don't want to lead people; I want to tempt them."
"A lot of people frown on the word trance, I think because DJs really hate labels," David Waxman says just before his monthly residency at crobar. "I consider myself a progressive DJ. I'll mix it up throughout the night -- you know, trance, tribal, vocals. Sets aren't just one or the other anymore."
But he concedes the label did fit at the time he made Miami his second home, after leaving New York City's Risk to become the only resident DJ at Beach legend Liquid. Waxman's ability to mix the hard edge of New York house with Miami's neo-Euro style made him a South Beach favorite. His music appeals equally to Ferrari-driving middle-age scenesters and ghetto-stylin' kids who do splits between bass-thumping speakers. Accounting for this diversity is imperative in Miami, and Waxman rose to the requirement.
"Miami has such a variety of music that DJs who play here really have to know how to wind people up and give them what they want," he observes.
Parlaying his wax skills into the business end of the industry, Waxman will press that intuition into service as A&R rep for Ultra Records, where he will search for the electro-jocks who will take dance music to the next step in its progression.
"I still love spinning, and I'm very happy with what I did on my last album [Welcome to NY]," says the DJ. "But I will be focusing more on trying to find the next big thing."
One week later the next big thing is already here. A packed house at crobar is near frenzy. Brewing a moody mix of European sustenance with liberal amounts of Yankee dressing, Berlin überstar Timo Maas makes a run for the future.
"It's funny that I should be connected with the trance scene, as at home I was always seen as being more techno," he tells New Times via e-mail a few days earlier. "True, my music is darker and moodier, but it will always make you dance and smile."
Hailed by critics and fans alike as the next superstar, DJ Maas is happy to acquiesce. His latest compilation, Connected, demonstrates his drive to carve song structures out of the dense electronic layers that saturate his sound. Making sense of the urban jungle mix is what sets Maas apart.
"Dance music moves very fast, and what was fashionable last week will be unfashionable the next," he wrote. "Although not that much changes in real terms. Most people don't care if music is cool or not; they just want to hear music they like."
Liking what they hear very much, two bleached blondes in tight black slips mount a vibrating speaker and raise their arms through the fog rolling from above. Another woman kicks off her shoes and throws acid moves in the neon lights that stream lime, blue, and violet. Beneath the booth an oblivious bloke drags on a Newport with his head rattling from the feedback. Tattooed punks and glamour kids sparkling in a chemical glow get off to the hypnotic beats that blanket the steaming air.
Midway through his four-hour set, Maas grinds the bass to a sudden halt and drops in lyrics about a god in the sky. As the beat clanks to a piercing flatline, a girl on the mezzanine overlooking the DJ booth leans over the rail and screams. Maas holds the fuzz, twisting the mixer knobs with a devilish grin.
The response is near religious. Hands rise, and feet shuffle to a stop. One purple glow stick is surrounded by many more, like a slow burst of fireworks smearing crobar with tracers of ultraviolet. Applause breaks out in the pause. As the anticipation mounts, lightning flashes above. Maas braces for the money shot and adjusts his headphones.
"Been watching you," the vocals slur. "Been watching you for a long time."
A blast of fog-yellow light freeze-frames the scene. For an instant there is darkness. Then warehouse breaks kick-start the crowd into a spray of sweat and pogo jumps.
We've been watching these DJs. And we'll be watching them for a long time to come.