A few hours before the annual Power 96 (WPOW-FM 96.5) blowout at the American Airlines Arena, DJ Eddie Mix eases down among the empty seats and adjusts his backward baseball cap. As music director for "the most listened-to station in South Florida," Eddie lives up to his name by mixing the distinct urban sounds of hip-hop with electronic dance music. Tonight Power House 2K1 brings on boy bands, dancing girls, thugs, and high-profile MCs, all animated by the subtle synergy of two sampling styles that have one thing in common: the DJ.
"What do dance and hip-hop have in common?" asks Eddie as sound checks blare. "Two turntables and a mixer," he smiles. "I see the DJ as a modern-age conductor. He dictates the tempo and guides the mood. Whether he's in the studio making a track or guiding a crowd on a dance floor, it's the same."
Eddie grew up in Queens, New York, watching legendary DJs Larry Levan and Jellybean Benitez in action and honing his own skills at hip-hop gigs. Now, however, he chooses to up the beats per minute when he's at the mixing board. "I like hip-hop, but when I spin I much prefer dance," he explains. "In clubs you play more on emotion. But when I'm in the studio, I look for an overall vibe when I'm remixing. I like to put myself in the listener's perspective. And when I do a mix CD, I'm always thinking six months down the road, like, Will we play this on the radio?"
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That litmus test has made Mix focus on radio-friendly elements often missing from electronic dance music. "I think it's very important to use vocals," he says pragmatically. "Songs need to be artist-oriented and have actual structure, or most people won't like it. Radio is critical to the success of this music. If we can get it on [Power 96] then I know PYO [WPYO-FM 95.3] in Orlando, KTU [103.5 FM] in New York, KTFM [102.7 FM] in [San Antonio] Texas, and WILD [KYLD-FM 94.9] in San Francisco will get on it, too. That's how it spreads."
Mix is spreading his own work around with two recent releases, Miami Power Mix (Ultra Records) and Trance Stimuli V.2 (Neurodisc). Each disc smooths the hard edge of electronic to make dance music that slides easily down the throats of his station's listeners. Power Mix especially steers a safe course through radio-friendly hits, while Trance Stimuli allows Eddie to experiment with the nonpop tracks that will keep fickle listeners paying attention.
"Trance Stimuli is more club-oriented and has more of an epic sound," he says. "I do try to keep a commercial flavor in order to bridge that gap between fans and newcomers. I'm trying to draw people into it, so I can't be too left field."
The DJ pushes the Power 96 set left of center by broadcasting late-night gigs from Voodoo Lounge, Café Iguana, 609, Baja, and Radius. "The crowds love it," he says of the on-air party, "and every Saturday we do a show called Late Night Lab from 2:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. The problem is, electronica is more a vibe and feel, and on radio you have 30 seconds to hook your listeners. Now, when you got an eight-minute trance song, well, it's just not going to happen."
Not unless electronic music narrows its eccentric scope. "Look at Missy Elliott," Eddie offers. "That song "Get Ur Freak On" was basically a jungle track, you know, with the drums and all. People like her and [producer] Timbaland need to continue leading by example, 'cause that's what dance music needs in order to expand."
What it also needs are artists who can step out from behind the decks and give audiences something to identify with, the way the young kids milling about the arena show their allegiance to rapper Trick Daddy with their white headbands emblazoned with the popular slogan "I'm A Thug."
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"We try," shrugs Eddie, "but hip-hop is a lifestyle. For the kids it's like a culture. You got the music and the clothes. Dance music is getting there, but it isn't at that point yet. The last time it had that vibe was during disco, when a culture formed around it. It all tied in."
A culture can't form without a catalyst, and right now, after Moby's defection to quasi-arena rock, electronica needs photogenic trailblazers. "This music needs groups like the Chemical Brothers and the Crystal Method to get out of the studio so the fans can put faces to them," Eddie argues. "Once that happens, then the culture will develop."
The lights go down and screams echo through the cavernous arena. The mere mention of headliner Snoop Dog meets with raucous approval. But during the interim, when the sets and acts change, the Power 96 DJ army takes to the decks and peppers the crowd with peak club cuts.
"What I'd really like to see is the music coming together," says Eddie Mix with satisfaction. "Miami is like a melting pot of cultures, and it would be great if the music could do the same."