At its best, the Winter Music Conference is a sprawling six-day party in the gentle Miami winter with 10,000 of your closest friends and the greatest DJs in the world, all found on a two-mile stretch of sandy beach.
At its worst, WMC is a sprawling, disorganized, and overpriced mass of parties and people with no way to track down the all-important business contacts you traveled 5000 miles to meet.
Those seeking a reprieve from 40,000-watt sound systems and glow stick-wielding rave kids could do worse than decamping to a cool, dark movie theater and checking out the M3 Film Festival. Working with the Miami Beach Cinematheque, the film fest is small but mighty with two excellent music-related documentaries: DIG! and Tom Dowd and the Language of Music.
Fresh from its grand jury prize for best documentary at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, DIG! follows over a period of seven years the exploits of two of the country's best indie rock bands to emerge in the late 1990s: the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. The film cuts from late-night grainy shots of squalid parties to prescient comments by indie music insiders.
But what makes the film so compelling is the fly-on-the-wall perspective that director Ondi Timoner is able to get and the intimate look at two influential indie bands, warts and all. Obviously the musicians didn't give a shit the tape was rolling. By the end of the film you're convinced of the genius of Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe (equal parts Jim Morrison, Syd Barrett, and that weird kid down the street growing up) while lamenting his self-destructive tendencies.
The second film is a documentary on the life of the most important behind-the-scenes man in music in the last half-century. Tom Dowd was the man in the booth for Atlantic Records, a recording engineer and producer, but he possessed such a nuanced understanding of music and people that artists trusted him as an unofficial musical director and honorary band member. Dowd was responsible for getting on tape some of the greatest jazz of the Fifties with John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Dizzy Gillespie; R&B acts like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin; and blues rock greats like the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton, recorded at the famed Criteria Recording Studios in North Miami.
The M3 Visual Arts Festival, as it's dubbed, is an attempt to bring visuals to the conference with film screenings, video installations and projections, moving video graphics, live video mixing, and live painting, all of it created for or about music.
"My background is in film and video so I wanted to bring a whole film video aspect down because I felt it was missing at this conference," says Willie Mack, a producer of film and video especially for the music industry, who is in charge of the multimedia wing of M3. "The DJs are here, the producers are here, the indie labels are down here, that means we should have a structure for what's going on [in multimedia]. We wanted to provide a forum to showcase video that ties in really well with music."
With offices in the trendy SoHo district of New York, M3 is no weekend project for Mack but an ambitious attempt to make film and video a regular part of the Winter Music Conference. And despite a desire not to do anything "too aggressive" in this inaugural year, Mack has put together a full slate of intriguing events.
One of those is a showcase of music videos and moving graphics. Curated by Tatiana Arocha, the show includes high-end videos from directors such as Spike Jonze as well as the latest moving graphics from some of the hottest names in design, such as Mario Stipinovich and design studios such as Smile Faucet and Freestyle Collective. And while some of the videos go back twenty years, chosen for their novel technique and storytelling, all of the 65 graphic entries were created in the last year -- many of them expressly for the conference.
"How the Winter Music Conference was working before, there was not a lot of emphasis on graphics," says Arocha, voted best graphic artist for 2003 by XLR8R magazine; she also runs a Website that showcases the best and latest in graphic art (www.servicio-ejecutivo.com). "And right now there's a lot of collaboration with musicians and artists and there's a lot of involvement with both things. It's like a first step to say 'Hey, these people work together' and to also look at what's going on in the industry."
The videos and graphics will be shown on screens poolside at the Surfcomber Hotel, but also on cell phones provided by Motorola in a program titled "Cinemoto." In fact Motorola's presence will be felt all over the Surfcomber and Nash hotels with two other programs: "Motoglyph" (sound created through a stylus pen) and "Motomasher" (mixing personal cell phone ring tones from MP3s).
While this convergence of art and commerce smacks of corporate synergy and flies in the face of dance music's indie spirit, guys like Mack have built their own very indie, freelance careers working with big companies and advertising agencies. So instead of a corporate takeover of the conference, they simply see it as a chance to both tinker with the latest tech gear and get the artists together with the suits, so everyone gets more work.
"That's one of the goals, to keep it revolved around electronic music," says Mack. "But also redefining how electronic music is viewed. We're trying to provide a platform for people to get in touch with each other, bring them together. We're saying 'Hey, we're all down here, let's get the right people together who want to make this thing work.' And let's bring new people who never even thought about coming to Miami, who know electronic music but from a context that's different."
The Winter Music Conference can be woefully out of touch with the fast-changing dance music industry and the technology used to drive it. With all those tech-hungry, creative types gracing our shores during the fest, it was only a matter of time before some enterprising person like David J. Prince started the Miami Master List, a Web listing of the entire week's parties. Launched five years ago, the Master List quickly became the indispensable bible of conference events and had conferencees wondering why no one had thought of it before. Together with a few associates, Prince formed M3: Miami Music and Multimedia to address the changes to industry and technology, while providing a structure for people to make business contacts.
Now the multimedia segment of M3 is making, for the first time, the visual aspects of the music industry part of this year's conference. Which again begs the question: Why had no one thought of it before? Visuals have always been a big part of music shows and club events, starting with the psychedelic Sixties. And it's especially important with today's DJ productions, where there is otherwise nothing else for fans to watch except a guy dancing behind his decks.
Whether film and video catch on at the Winter Music Conference as they have at the indie music fest SXSW in Austin, Texas remains to be seen. But as long as the void is filled with quality picks that interest party and business people alike, M3 could be around for some time.
DIG! screens 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 6, and Tom Dowd and The Language of Music at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 7, at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, 512 Española Way, Miami Beach. Tickets are $10. Call 305-673-4567.
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