Bonanza!

Everyone wants to carve up the WMC cash cow

What about WMC, the organization that started this whole mess back in 1986 with a modest three-day soiree at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Hotel? When I spoke with Bill Kelly -- who founded the conference with fellow DJ and record pool owner Louis Possenti -- over dinner at the Lincoln Road eatery Cafeteria, he sounded conflicted.

Charitably, he says, "In the end, they're here for WMC. The name has meaning to them." But when confronted with M3's contention that professionals don't attend the conference's sundry panel discussions and forums, he grows angry. "The people who don't do business don't do business because they don't want to do business," he says. "People like David Prince have a place here, but they should show respect here. They come here as investors, so they're dollar-driven. I believe I have more passion for what I do."

Nevertheless several people, from local nightlife promoters to national magazine editors, say that success has made WMC a surly behemoth. They accuse the organization of turning away and alienating prospective business partners, as well as being unable to deal with the conference's astronomical growth over the past several years. They wonder why WMC proper hasn't been able to garner a larger financial share of an event that generates a reported fifteen million in consumer dollars for the City of Miami Beach.

In a separate conversation, Possenti says that the organization often turns outsiders away because "we want to keep it pure." But Kelly is less sanguine. Responding to complaints about his sudden decision last December to change the conference dates from the third week of March to the beginning of the month -- at a cost of thousands of dollars in lost bookings to some of the better-known DJs who fly into Miami every year to throw showcases -- he says, "It's my conference. I can do whatever I want."

Point taken. But WMC, for better or worse, has evolved into a cultural experience far greater than the intimate networking affair its founders once imagined. Many fans who spend a week going to parties rediscover the communal, utopian values (and exorbitant prices for drinks and drugs) and emotionally compelling music that made them fall in love with the dance scene in the first place. Even M3's Prince admits that when he attended the conference during the Nineties, back when "electronica" acts such as the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim were peaking in popularity, "it changed my life." If the WMC organization wants to shepherd its jewel past the corporate raiders and entrepreneurs who are threatening to turn the conference into a meaningless marketing vehicle, it needs to find a way to accept the thousands of attendees -- many now respected industry leaders in their own right -- who have made it so special.

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