What Does It Mean?

As usual, the prospect of too many parties, alcohol, drugs, and fake tits (one friend complained that he felt as if his eyeballs were about to explode) drove many men and women to feel burned-out, overwhelmed, and dehydrated. Compounding matters were several complaints about the cavalier treatment some doormen, particularly the fine fellows at Opium Garden and Rokbar, were inclined to dish out to their would-be patrons. Such a combination of 24-hour partying and rude behavior from South Beach natives led many to wonder: What does it all mean?

Not much, at least to an industry that calculates winners and losers according to their Soundscan sales totals. Of the thousands of DJs, musicians, and vocalists who performed here last week, only John Legend, who headlined an M3 Sunset Session Wednesday, saw his last album go platinum -- unless one counts P. Diddy's surprise appearance with Felix da Housecat at the Revolver party, where he reportedly "jacked his body" like a metronome.

For now there isn't an American festival that has supplanted WMC as the premier showcase for electronic music. Most critically acclaimed artists flirting with mainstream success, however, are making South by Southwest (SXSW), the Austin, Texas industry conference that took place a week before WMC from March 11 to 20 (and turned journalists who had to attend both into burned-out zombies); or Coachella Valley Music Festival, which takes place from April 30 to May 1 in Indio, California, their major priorities. Unfortunately WMC is losing its reputation for featuring breakthrough performances by new and interesting acts, though M3's Sunset Sessions can count Brazilian Girls last year and Mylo this year as part of its growing list.

One prime example is Astralwerks Records, which decided not to host a WMC showcase this year. Astralwerks general manager Errol Kolosine notes that four of its artists -- newcomer Juliet, dance-rock hybrid Radio 4, Ben Watt, and the aforementioned Fatboy Slim -- made appearances in Miami last week. But he admits that others on its roster were more interested in playing at SXSW, where Astralwerks mounted two popular showcases, than WMC. "In all honesty, this year we didn't have the availability of enough of our artists to build a big event," he says.

Winter Music Conference is usually blamed for this lack of enthusiasm and disinterest. Over the past two years, however, co-founders Bill Kelly and Louis Possenti have tentatively begun to work with local nightclubs and add value to the badges -- that is, cut deals so badgeholders can get into parties for free or at a discounted rate. Though the laminate badges still wouldn't get you into most nightclubs, I saw several people wearing badges at exclusive, difficult-to-access VIP events such as the BBE joint at Skybar and the Defected Records pool party at the National Hotel. Perhaps Winter Music Conference is drawing more industry hustlers than people think.

If the good folks behind WMC, M3, and now Remix Hotel want to return WMC to its onetime role as one of the country's premier showcases for new music, they will have to continue to tame South Beach. They will need to do a better job of attracting young and hot musicians who want to actually sell records, not just mature into thirtysomething "superstar DJs." They will have to make financial deals with the city's premium nightclubs, from the towering Mansion to the opulent Mynt, and even downtown Miami's Pawn Shop Lounge and I/O. Then they will have to ensure that record-industry people who fly into Miami from around the world won't have to deal with overzealous bouncers, drunk meatheads looking to kick some hapless guy's ass or molest various women, and velvet-rope bullshit. It's a tall task that will keep WMC from drifting into irrelevance, if not necessarily obsolescence.

After twenty years of surprising growth and disturbing complacency, Miami's much-beloved music festival still has the ears -- and hearts -- of thousands. But, like the hundreds of industry folk who have already turned their attention toward SXSW and Coachella, many of us are wondering if WMC is merely full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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