Continent Divide

Dance music may never hit as big in the United States as in Europe, but maybe for these DJs it doesn't matter

Mainzer is sharing a hotel room at the Fairwinds with another client, New York-based Julie Drazen, a DJ/filmmaker who will screen Rise, her documentary about New Orleans rave promoter Disco Donnie, the following day at the Colony Theater. "We tried to re-create the experience of being at a rave," says Drazen of the film's blissed-out visuals.

By the way, whatever happened to raves? "They're being shut down by the man," explains an earnest Mainzer, an activist in the successful struggle to overturn drug charges against Disco Donnie and the owners of the theater where he promotes parties.

And that kind of persecution has kept raves and dance music out of the mainstream? "Dance music doesn't need to go mainstream," sniffs Mainzer. "It's its own economy. If you don't bite off more than you can chew, you can run your little record label and survive selling 3000 to 10,000 copies."

José Padilla longs to chillout without the Brits
José Padilla longs to chillout without the Brits
Exposed Underbelly: Green Velvet (center) and friends
Exposed Underbelly: Green Velvet (center) and friends

Formerly a major-label publicist, Mainzer became a "born-again raver" in her late twenties. Her partner, Green Galactic's Lynn Hasty, happened into the Detroit techno scene as an adventurous teen in the tony Motor City suburb of Bloomfield Hills. Both see dance music as a youth culture maturing into a broader lifestyle. "There are always transients, the kid who promotes a party in his hometown or who DJs for a couple of years after college," says Mainzer. "But we also know a lot of people in their thirties who are on the same tip as us, interested in dance music, fashion, and art."

Hasty agrees: "We're participants in the scene. Our contacts are man-on-the-street."

Just how man-on-the-street becomes clear when Hasty hits the sidewalk outside the hotel. A Los Angeles DJ passes by and hands her a stack of his debut twelve-inch. Without breaking stride, Hasty continues up the street, distributing the records to select DJs and producers roaming South Beach.

The networking hits a fever pitch at the Stuff magazine party at the Nash Hotel, where Hasty encounters a slew of clients, distributors, friendly press, and friends. Sidling up to the bar, she hugs Green Galactic client Taariq Lewis, whose New Jersey-based Bring It On! travel agency arranges tours to Ibiza, that other island overrun by dance-music tourists. A strikingly handsome Trinidadian, Lewis is something of a bridge between the U.S. underground and European glamour. But he declines an invitation to see Rise. "I have to catch up with these Ibiza people," he smiles. "And besides, I want to party!"

The little island off the coast of Spain has become synonymous with partying for many dance-music enthusiasts, a development that does not make José Padilla happy. The fortyish DJ from outside Barcelona is successful by any standard, but he's not thrilled about the mass-marketing of dance music in Europe. Credited with putting Ibiza on the dance map, Padilla invented the chillout genre at the once-rustic seaside hangout Café del Mar, spinning records to match the laid-back ambiance of the Mediterranean sunsets. At first he made cassettes of his sessions for friends; finally he put together the three-disc Café del Mar series with Universal. (He's now in a legal dispute with the label.) "It's not possible to do good work in this industry," Padilla observes wearily as he waits for a bloody Mary on the patio of the Shore Club resort. "There was a real feeling there," he laments. "But nothing lasts forever. Now all the British kids want to say they've been to Café del Mar. They show up, take a picture, but the feeling is gone."

Shirt open and eyes half-closed, Padilla has no need to hustle. His current label, Madonna's Maverick Musica (a partnership with Warner), hired a publicist to handle interviews outside his luxury hotel bungalow. Warner's lavish fete showcasing Padilla and trance star Paul Oakenfold was among the most exclusive at the WMC. Not that Padilla was pleased with the party either. "It left a bad taste in my mouth," he complains. The industry crowd who fought their way in were not open to Padilla's subtle deployment of Miles Davis and bossa nova. Sound problems delayed the show and rushed Padilla through his set. "My work is psychological," he explains. "To put the right record at the right moment -- you have to watch people's faces to create an atmosphere. I can't do that if I'm under pressure. With the technology today anybody can be a DJ, but there's no soul."

As Padilla was speeding through his set at the Warner party, Oakenfold was waiting for his turn to spin three blocks away, at the Jackie Gleason Theatre. At the first annual DanceStar USA music awards, Oakenfold barely finished his acceptance speech for winning international DJ of the year before rushing back to the decks at the Shore Club.

In sharp contrast to the official WMC awards show at Level later in the week, the winning DJs actually showed up for the DanceStar ceremony. More important for the future of dance music in America, so did an MTV crew, taping the show for a number of international MTV affiliates as well as MTV2 in the United States. "The show will be broadcast around the world," said a contented Andy Ruffell, founder of the London-based awards show. "DanceStar is creating the first platform to project dance music to the [U.S.] mainstream. America is so big. There's a difference in styles from Miami, New York, L.A. But most of the nightclubs are becoming much more about dance music. The talent in America has always been just as good [as Europe]. It's a five- to ten-year development process."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • March
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue