People talk about Conference no modifier as if it is a holiday on par with, say, Christmas or Halloween. Indeed the event, now in its 21st year, is just that monolithic in the minds of electronic music aficionados and the DJs, nightclub owners, liquor purveyors, electronics providers, and hoteliers who cater to them. Yet all acknowledge that Conference in its present incarnation has completely escaped and eclipsed both the control and identity of its foundation event, the convention known officially as Winter Music Conference.
Of the more than 300 parties, concerts, and showcases taking place March 18-28 (as well as a handful of fetes happening before and after those dates), some of the hottest draws are surprise, surprise performances by rock acts playing for huge crowds as well as superstar DJs spinning for a select few "VIPs."
Conference has an appropriately sweeping and dramatic backstory; tales involving overwrought musicians, tormented digital geniuses, agoraphobic millionaires, star-crossed fashion victims, and more, plus enough drama and gossip to fill the tell-all book someone will someday no doubt pen. But for the average citizen, Conference is about which parties and concerts are happening where and when, and how to beg, wheedle, and cajole into them. All of those subevents emanate from the multihead beast upon which we now elaborate:
Winter Music Conference: The lowercase conference part of Conference will take place in its official capacity March 24-28 at the Wyndham Resort in Miami Beach. Founded in 1985 by Louis Possenti and Bill Kelly as a sort of electronic answer to New York City's annual (now-defunct) New Music Seminar, the first event attracted 90 people to a Marriott hotel in Fort Lauderdale. The original concept was to noodle around marketing, promotion, and technological strategies for what was then the emerging field of DJ-as-artist. The idea of electronic music as a going pop genre caught on as much as the idea of coming to South Florida for a week in the winter did and the event grew, moved its happenings (though not its headquarters) to Miami Beach, and began snagging national music press coverage and even live BBC simulcasts.
In recent years, WMC has received its share of criticism for being distant, irrelevant, and lacking in value its costly badges buying admittance to only a handful of the week's ancillary events but over the past two seasons, Kelly and Possenti have made efforts to work out deals with some club owners and promoters, allowing holders of the laminate IDs to enter parties and concerts for free or at discounted rates.
Meanwhile WMC-sponsored panel discussions, which mostly take place at the Wyndham during regular business hours amid a notably nonparty atmosphere, continue to attract legitimate electronic music professionals, academics, inventors, and artists.
For more information, visit www.wintermusicconference.com.
Ultra Music Festival: In its eighth incarnation, Ultra scored an almost unbelievable coup, securing the Killers as headliners. Known as the premier dance music event in the United States, with dozens of acts and multiple stages, Ultra cleverly flipped the script this year by snagging not only the band that has both teens and their parents deconstructing the lyrics of "Mr. Brightside," but also a passel of other "real" bands, including the Prodigy and Hot Hot Heat.
Ultra, which hits Bicentennial Park in downtown Miami on Saturday, March 25, has its lovely waterfront setting as a drawing card as well, but festival organizers are still delivering the original turntablist goods in the form of super-super-superstar DJs Danny Tenaglia, Junkie XL, Armand Van Helden, and of course the ubiquitous Paul Oakenfold.
Then there are Ultra's tents featuring subgenre luminaries such as Roni Size for drum 'n' bass and breakbeat specialists Jackal and Hyde.
For more information, see www.ultramusicfestival.com.
Global Gathering: Like a burning and steaming volcanic island sprouting from the ocean, this Conference opener has risen to challenge the traditional summits. Starring decidedly hard-edge rockers Nine Inch Nails, Coheed and Cambria, Avenged Sevenfold, and Alkaline Trio Global Gathering cheekily mimics the Ultra everything-for-everybody game plan, counterprogramming a DJ stage with Sasha and John Digweed, George Acosta, and Ferry Corsten and a DJ tent featuring the very popular Deep Dish plus Steve Lawler and Roger Sanchez.
See www.globalgatheringfestival.com for information.
M3: Miami Music & Multimedia: Now in its third year, M3, which began as an innovative Internet listing of all events Conference-related, has earned the role of coolness ruler by breaking acts such as Brazilian Girls and Mylo for Miami audiences. Ensconced on the beach side of the National and Surfcomber hotels, M3's popular Sunset Sessions have been a festival highlight in the recent past and are sure to repeat this year with Brazilian sensation Curumin, buzzbin all-stars Hot Chip, and It Brit of the season Lady Sovereign.
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M3 runs March 22-25 and is headquartered at the Surfcomber Hotel in Miami Beach.
See www.m3summit.com for details.
The lure of so many parties and concerts, combined with alcohol, drugs, sun, and silicone, drives even veteran Conferencers to an early-week flameout of dehydration, sleep deprivation, and exhaustion, so use this guide (or some divination of empirical data) to pick and choose activities carefully.
When all is said and done, though, it's only synthesizers and turntables, so fuck analysis and let's dance.