The Winter Music Conference spanned seven days, more than 200 "official" and "unofficial" parties, and several thousand people. By its end most of them had "hit a wall," the inevitable result of drinking, drugging, and partying for a week with little or no sleep. But there were a handful of parties worth remembering, if only for the sake of justifying what has become, for many, an exercise in excessive consumption.
Music sounds better with you: There were more than a few people aimlessly wandering around the poolside area of the Raleigh Hotel, where New York label King Street Sounds hosted WMC's official opening-night party, but not nearly as many as expected. The sound system was horrible, and Gaelle Adisson's microphone wasn't even turned on properly. But Adisson's Ananda Project, a collective of musicians led by producer Chris Brann, still managed to turn out a slow, simmering rendition of their club hit "Cascades of Colour," captivating those willing to forego networking and drinking for a few minutes.
You could find similar moments taking place at other clubs, too, when DJs and musicians braved the mediocre crowds to pump out astonishingly energetic sets. At Tantra John Beltram played a brisk mixture of unpredictably broken beats and house grooves during Ubiquity Records' Candela Bar Art and Music Party; New York DJ Astroglyde spun a gleefully cheeky Steve Porter remix of Jan Hammer's 1980s chestnut "Theme from Miami Vice" during the Bring Your Own Records party at the Marlin Hotel; and DJ Genesis cued up Angie Stone's magnificent "Wish I Didn't Miss You" during the Chicago vs. Detroit party at World Pie.
WMC vs. DanceStar, part II: On Wednesday night Lummus Park was jam-packed with people wearily trying to figure out how to get into the DanceStar Awards show. A tree with multiple signs directing them toward several different entrances didn't help, so most simply crowded and pushed their way into the makeshift venue while event staff, clearly overwhelmed, tried to establish order. The ensuing confusion delayed the show's scheduled start at 8:00 p.m. by over an hour. Finally DJ-producer Roger Sanchez and actresses Roselyn Sanchez and Juliette Lewis appeared onstage to a slew of empty seats and a few hundred attendees loitering around the back lawn, a far cry from the 3000 attendees DanceStar had hoped for. While good-looking and well-dressed people from the back lawn were being recruited to be seat fillers, Lewis asked her fellow hosts: "Are you guys related?" Roselyn Sanchez seemed lost, but Roger Sanchez coolly assessed the proceedings when he commented, "Hey, somebody's got to do it."
What about WMC's "official" awards ceremony, the International Dance Music Awards (IDMA)? Well, when taxis full of WMC conference badge-wearers pulled up to the Jackie Gleason Theater on Thursday night, they found a sign taped to the glass door that read, "The International Dance Music Awards venue is poolside at the Radisson. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused and look forward to your participation." Meanwhile at the Radisson, a meager crowd of 250 assumed the Abraham Lincoln Memorial position in their lawn chairs: stony, hands on legs, and staring ahead with stiff, arched backs.
God bless Ultra Naté, one of the IDMA's co-hosts that night, for challenging a lethargic audience. "You don't have to sit there all stiff anymore. This is a dance community, you should be dancing!" said the legendary house vocalist. Unfortunately she was fighting a losing battle. Later that night, one word mysteriously appeared on IDMA flyers posted around the Radisson: "Poop!"
Was it worth it? Most conference attendees said that parties were much easier to get into this year. But during Wet Grooves '03 at the Shelborne Beach Resort on Wednesday, the entrance table inside the hotel happily ushered in partygoers while the gatekeepers at the outside door shut down their velvet rope for twenty minutes. "We're not letting anyone in!" growled a tank top-clad enforcer who flexed his arms with all the enthusiasm of a speed freak, ignoring ten lovely ladies fitted with matching white bodysuits. But once inside, there was little evidence of the sea, sun, and sex Wet Grooves' promoters had promised, and people loitered around in a drunken haze as DJ Mark Grant pounded away on the turntables. It wasn't until Jenniffer Gertman and Mery Brinkman, together known as Fierce Dancers, worked themselves into a frenzy for the crowd's delight that the party's malaise was temporarily broken.
Two days later, 75 people were stuck behind the velvet rope guarding Ian Schrager's Shore Club and the Southern Fried Records Party. "Listen, you have to come get me -- you do," ordered a chick with a French accent to someone inside from her cell phone. Meanwhile a drunk blonde cherry-picked groups of putatively important people, telling the bouncers to let them in. As the line descended into chaos, some people left in disgust, while others sneaked in by sliding through the space between the bamboo planted outside the club and the venue's wall. This latter tactic worked for a few minutes before the bouncers got wise. A bouncer who looked like a dark-skinned Mr. Clean with a Latin accent snarled: "I don't like jokes. You want to play with me? Respect my path."
Return to New York: Miami's Revolver crew threw two major parties at the Soho Lounge, Return to New York and a special edition of Revolver. The second was rumored to be a coke-laden affair, with hipsters chopping up lines of booga sugar on their free copies of Vice magazine to the sounds of electro-punks Adult. and Miss Kittin. But Return to New York was less sinister, instead offering the redoubtable Peaches. The former Canadian folk singer entranced those who watched her dangle a microphone from her crotch, flipping it around like a penis, and lovestruck girls frequently made their way to the stage to slip dollar bills into her panties.
Outside on the patio, fashion-conscious kids danced around to the sounds of A-Ha's "Take On Me." One man in a white T-shirt with no sleeves stared pensively into space, lost in his own preteen memories of the cheesy yet essential mid-Eighties track. Then the DJ played OutKast's "Bombs Over Baghdad." "This song is going to get a resurrection for sure," someone said. "It's the obvious choice."
"It" parties: There were several invite-only, porn-themed parties this year, but most had to settle for the relatively egalitarian Chill at the Playboy Mansion, which offered poolside decadence and a fashion show for ten bucks. Inside the Raleigh Hotel, guys and girls in swimming trunks and bikinis floated around the pool while more inhibited journalists cooled their legs in the water. As the DJ lazily cued up an innocuous downtempo track, several models strutted onto the catwalk in fluorescent bikini tops strapped tightly against their plastic breasts and bottoms with the Playboy bunny logo printed into the crotches. Prancing and preening, the models gamely tossed out free U.S.-themed inflatable beach balls and Kangol hats to the crowd, who happily cheered them on and tossed down free bottles of VitaminWater.
The Diesel U Music bash actually lived up to its hype as one of the conference's must-attend events. Everyone from dance music stars like BT, Goldie, King Britt, and countless others to celebrities like Rose McGowan showed up to watch British producers Metro Area deliver a well-received live set fusing minimalist house beats, a string orchestra, and vocalists. As the music played on, Naked News reporter Lily Kwan, wearing nothing but panties and high heels, interviewed Peaches by the pool, while onlookers gawked at her breasts. "I really like her shoes," commented one female partygoer.
Finally, the future: WMC had its share of musical highlights, but it offered little that had not been seen, heard, or done before by an experienced clubber. Until, that is, Richie Hawtin's jaw-dropping set at B.E.D. on Saturday night. Both closing out and effectively shutting down the last night of the conference, Hawtin used Final Scratch technology to hammer out a uniquely jarring blend of minimal techno and industrial tracks that enraptured everyone with its startling beauty and percussive brutality. It's nearly impossible for me to describe what it sounded like. All I can say is, fuck retro wave, fuck electroclash, fuck dance. This is the future.
Celeste Fraser Delgado and David Holthouse also contributed to this story.
Quotes of the Week
"Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity." -- Crazy Town's Shifty Shellshock commenting on the U.S. war on Iraq
"Here, [the music] is playing much louder. Too loud." -- a Finnish DJ who was asked to compare Scandinavian clubs to Sabor's Shameless on the Beach
"I hate the ones that go bang bang and then they stick a saxophone on it and call it jazzy house." -- British DJ/producer Keb Darge on WMC's undying love for dance music
"I hate house, I hate jungle, I'm not a big fan of techno." -- Nicola Kuperus from Detroit electro duo Adult.
"I think it's cool that people want to get together and party. Not all of the music is good ... but it's totally fun to be in a club with good energy." -- Erika Sherman, one-half of Detroit electro crew Ectomorph
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"I'm glad we didn't win this year. Last year was a little more underground. It's always the more credibility they get, they say, 'Let's go cheesy and commercial.'" -- Felix da Housecat on the DanceStar USA Awards
"This party's stale. There's a war going on. You have to be thankful for the day." -- Ultra Naté at the International Dance Music Awards
"We don't really have anything like this in Kentucky." -- Deep House Soldiers' Matthew Bandy
For a related story Click here to read about Richie Hawtin