Ultra Music Festival, Winter Music Conference, and Miami Music Week 2013

Ultra Music Festival, Winter Music Conference, and Miami Music Week 2013
George Martinez
Ultra cofounder Russell Faibisch

Electronic dance music has conquered Miami. And America. And the world.

For more than three decades, it had remained a mostly underground phenomenon, epitomized by illegal raves held beneath highway overpasses in the UK or after-hours parties thrown in downtown Detroit's abandoned warehouses. But over the past few years, EDM has exploded, morphing into a massive, worldwide pop-culture movement that's seeped into every nook of Internet-connected civilization, from Bayfront Park to Boise, Idaho, to South Korea.

In some ways, the genre's mainstream exposure, especially in the States, has been steadily increasing since the mid- to late '90s, when crossover electronic acts such as Prodigy (1996's "Firestarter"), the Chemical Brothers (1997's "Block Rockin' Beats"), Daft Punk (1999's "Around the World"), and Moby (1999's "Natural Blues") began scoring prominent movie-soundtrack spots and seizing serious video play on MTV.

However, the genre's sudden 2010s surge in popular influence can probably be more directly attributed to big-budget, chart-topping collaborations between DJs like David "F*** Me I'm Famous" Guetta and Top 40 outfits like the Black Eyed Peas, whose 2009 megahit "I Gotta Feeling" slayed the Billboard charts, turned millions of tweens onto dance pop, and even snagged a Grammy.

The immediate aftereffect: a thousand other celebrity-jock-meets-pop-star tracks, from Rihanna hooking up with Calvin Harris to Pitbull and Afrojack demanding "Give Me Everything." And soon DJs were the new rock stars.

In just the past 12 months, Deadmau5 has gotten his masked mug splashed across the covers of Rolling Stone and Vibe, while also finding the time to meet, woo, and propose marriage (via Twitter) to reality-TV star Kat Von D. Also, Tiësto landed a job with Guess designing "NytLyf" gear for the mall set, Avicii inked an endorsement deal with Ralph Lauren, and DJ Pauly D launched Remix Cocktails, his very own ready-to-drink "pre-gaming" beverage.

In fact, the whole so-called EDM industry has become so heavily hyped and surprisingly profitable that even Forbes (a publication whose motto is "The Capitalist Tool") has begun tracking its billion-dollar profits.

"Every so often, the tectonic plates of mainstream musical taste shift," America's foremost biweekly chronicle of the wealthy explained in the introduction to "Electronic Cash Kings," its 2012 list of the world's ten richest DJs, topped by Tiësto and his $22-million-per-year paychecks.

"In the 1960s, there was the British Invasion, followed by disco in the 1970s and the rise of glam metal in the 1980s. The 1990s saw the advent of grunge and the resurgence of boy bands, followed by hip-hop's hegemony in the 2000s. Now, the tables are turning again."

Of course, the electronic dance music trickle-down is more like a tsunami in Miami, the longtime home of both Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival. And with nine local clubs ranking among the 100 most profitable nightlife venues in the nation (including LIV, earning $46 million to $60 million per year at number four), the financial boon isn't just a one-time-a-year thing either.

Predictably, though, the most intense and concentrated yearly EDM cash infusion is Ultra, which (according to a study conducted by the Washington Economics Group and commissioned by UMF organizers) has an annual economic impact on Miami-Dade County totaling $79 million, including $32 million in labor income and $50 million in GDP contributions. No doubt, that's big beat-freaking business.

"We always knew from the huge crowds we draw that we had a major impact on our local economy, but we did not realize it was this huge," Ultra founder Russell Faibisch said in a statement accompanying the report. "Last year, people in all 50 states and more than 75 countries bought tickets to attend."

Yet even with monster pop success and fast-rising profits, the surging electronic dance music movement has still inspired backlash. In our own city, the counter-reaction cropped up most noticeably when Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff introduced a resolution "disapproving" of Ultra Music Festival's inaugural two-weekend plan for 2013.

Fear-mongering and grandstanding, the politician insisted the fest would "be disruptive to the local business community and area residents due to noise, nuisance behavior of festival-goers, and grid-lock traffic." Not to mention "about 70 to 80 percent of these kids are on some sort of mind-altering drug."

Sarnoff's brief campaign against UMF was silly, misguided, and ultimately futile. But it was also the kind of moment that forced current EDM culture to transcend the chart beats, dollar counts, and oversold hype. Longtime proponents of the scene, such as DJ-producer Tommie Sunshine and Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, came to Ultra's defense. Fans pestered the commissioner via phone, email, and petition. And the resolution was defeated.

It was a real reminder of what EDM means and why the music matters. As Mr. Sunshine, in an interview with New Times for this guide, explains: "It changes your life. The more people we can get to the party, the better."


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