Safe's Diego Martinelli on the State of Dance Music: "This EDM Thing, It's Atrocious"
During Winter Music Conference and Miami Music Week, there will be no shortage of big names taking over nightclubs and getting the crowds moving at Ultra Music Festival. Still, there are some people who don't want to listen to Avicii's "Wake Me Up" on repeat.
That's why, since 2007, Safe has been bringing the kind of dance music acts that aren't so interested in chasing Billboard Hot 100 dreams to Miami. You might call it underground, but acts like Joy Orbison, Optimo, James Holden, Ben UFO, Paul Woolford, Roman Flugel, and Ron Morelli aren't exactly unknowns. They don't exactly fit the EDM label -- despite EDM standing for electronic dance music, a catchall term for anything popular that goes bleep-bloop. Instead, they are pioneering new sounds in techno, house, electro, and more.
If that sounds like more your speed, Safe, along with Toronto-based promoters Embrace, have a weeklong lineup that you'll love. Go to these parties if you want to hear the music that everyone will be dancing to three years from now.
We here at Crossfade spoke to Safe founder Diego Martinelli about what sets his parties apart, the state of Miami's dance music scene, and whether or not WMC has remained true to its original mission.
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Crossfade: Safe has been providing Miami's go-to parties for underground music for years. Are you surprised by the success you've had?
Diego Martinelli: We're pleasantly surprised at the simple fact that people respond to the work, and this enables Safe as a night to continue evolving.
Other aspects are also surprising, like meeting kids that are barely in college and they're into obscurer works, labels, and acts. I get emails often enough from really clued-up niche electronic music junkies with praise, questions, and suggestions. It's a very nice thing. We feel very fortunate we've made it this far and the future keeps us quite excited.
You are partnering up with Toronto's Embrace again this year. How did that partnership start up? And has it been beneficial to Safe?
Adam Gill, who owns and runs Embrace, and I met in 2002, and we became good friends. We decided to start doing shows together in 2005, so this marks the tenth year of us collaborating. We are drastically different as organizers and in our personal nature, but our differences have been complimentary to one another. We found a great synergy shortly after becoming friends, and we're fortunate to have enjoyed much success together doing all kinds of events.
Safe is doing parties everywhere on either side of the causeway this year -- Trade, Electric Pickle, Cafeina, Ice Palace. Why not just stick to one venue?
Settings and the way they each feel are important to the work. In my opinion, Trade is the runaway best big room for dance music in all of Miami, while the Pickle continues to be the best intimate space. Both of their sound systems, also, are currently second to none when they are tuned. Cafeina and Ice Palace West provide two of the best outdoor party experiences available in Miami. One thing is for sure, people love their techno outdoors. I know I do.
What do you think sets the Safe parties apart from the rest of the WMC offerings?
We take pride in producing tightly executed shows that turn into great music experiences for people. We get the system sounding great and get the atmosphere feeling right, that's it. We don't get concerned with trying to be different.
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The music at your events has always been underground, never veering into EDM territory. Do you think the whole EDM trend has helped or hurt underground dance music?
Underground is a perspective that often suggests the work is not widely relatable. The term now means something different to most people. We can live with that, we do embrace independent thought. It's simple, in our case, we work with music that just feels right. We don't fuck with music that doesn't feel right. The intention behind the music is at the crux of what we do. We love music that intrigues while it challenges. Music is the most interesting thing in the world to us.
When it comes to this EDM thing, yeah, it's atrocious. But you must take the good with the bad. All media is now mostly an ocean of garbage. The way I see it, some of this cheap dance music may introduce young people to the ideas of dance floor culture and loop-based compositions. Some may evolve and develop more discerning palates for music. I've seen it happen a lot, it happens all the time. I always tell people eager to get involved in dance music that they should get to know where it all came from.
Do you think the original mission of WMC, an exchange of ideas and new music, still exists?
Those days are gone. Attribute this to a compound reason comprised partly of sad realities. Greed, digital music, industry barriers of entry falling to shit, the explosion and mass distribution of cheap EDM, shitty agents, opportunism, capitalism. I could go on. I've paneled several times in the past at WMC, and even in those very settings was called to address issues straining dance music that hurt establishments like WMC itself.
What was founded in 1985 by Bill Kelly was an exciting idea, it was the first thing of its kind in the short history of the dance music business. Artists and labels used to come here to trade and sign records. It was mostly a promotional time. The parties were about the music, they were for exposure and for fun, not for maximizing profit. You should hear the old-school guys talk about it. I'm only old enough to have really felt the tail end of its golden age, I'm grateful for that.
Now WMC is really MMW, and it is mostly a corporate shit storm infested with bad music and LED screens. It's about several types of electronic music that I don't care to relate to. It's about DJ logotypes. DJs are brands now, did you know? There is virtually no new music coming to Miami this year. Several old favorites are coming, sure, but little to zero new credible acts. Lots of artists no longer care to be here in March. Maybe this will change again, I hope it does, we simply don't know. For now, music continues to become more hyperspecific and the universe continues expanding.
What are the acts you're most excited for on the Safe lineup?
Michael Gracioppo and Mano LeTough are two talents I'd go out of my way to catch. Both are genius. They're playing at Last Resort.
Outside of your own events, is there any other party you hope to escape to even if just a little bit?
I'd really love to catch MATOM, which is Matt Edwards (of Radio Slave, Quiet Village) and Thomas Gandey (of Cagedbaby) together as a live performance. Edwards is a huge inspiration to me.
Outside of WMC, where do you see Miami's dance music scene going?
Into a weirder and further polarized beyond, which should not necessarily be taken as a bad thing. It's interesting to think about this with exposure to music now being so widely enabled by the Internet. I do think Wynwood and other areas need to be granted 5 a.m. liquor licenses for it to have a real chance at thriving.
Despite Miami's affinity for the megaclub and bottle service, do you still think there's room for underground music in the city?
Only if more project- and idea-oriented organizers and operators rise to the occasion. There aren't too many of us here, to be quite honest. The big money sure isn't in techno, but it's the only way to live for some of us.
Safe's Full WMC and MMW 2014 Party Lineup
Exploited Records Showcase. With Claptone, Adana Twins, DJ Shir Khan, and Joyce Muniz. Presented by Safe and Embrace. 10 p.m. Wednesday, March 26, at Trade (Downstairs), 1439 Washington Ave., Miami; trademia.com. Tickets cost $20 plus fees via ticketfly.com. Ages 21 and up.
Cajual vs. Relief. With Tiga, Julio Bashmore, Pleasurekraft, Weiss, and special guest Joris Voorn. Presented by Safe and Embrace. 10 p.m. Wednesday, March 26, at Trade (Upstairs), 1439 Washington Ave., Miami; trademia.com. Tickets cost $20 plus fees via ticketfly.com. Ages 21 and up.
Dirtybird BBQ. With Claude VonStroke, Justin Martin, Eats Everything, Catz n Dogz, and others. Presented by Safe and Embrace. 2 p.m. to 4 a.m. Thursday, March 27, at Cafeina, 297 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-438-0792; cafeinamiami.com. Tickets via residentadvisor.net. Ages 21 and up.
Ultramajic Party Temple. With Boys Noize, Danny Daze, Jimmy Edgar, Louisahhh!!!, Matrixxman, and others. Presented by Embrace and Safe. 10 p.m. Thursday, March 27, at Trade, 1439 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-531-6666; trademia.com. Tickets cost $20 plus fees via ticketfly.com. Ages 21 and up.
Last Night on Earth With Sasha. With James Teej, Simon Baker, and Hunter/Game. Presented by Embrace and Safe. 10 p.m. Thursday, March 27, at Trade, 1439 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-531-6666; trademia.com. Tickets cost $20 to $25 plus fees via ticketfly.com. Ages 21 and up.
Flash by Night. With Doc Martin, Frank & Tony, Daniel Bortz, and others. Presented by Embrace and Safe. 10 p.m. Thursday, March 27, at Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-456-5613; electricpicklemiami.com. Tickets cost $10 to $20 plus fees via ticketfly.com. Ages 21 and up.
Social Experiment Miami. With Art Department, Dennis Ferrer, Jimmy Edgar, and others. Presented by Embrace and Safe. 10 p.m. Friday, March 28, at Trade, 1439 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-531-6666; trademia.com. Tickets cost $20 plus fees via ticketfly.com. Ages 21 and up.
Maya Jane Coles & Friends. With Kim Ann Foxman, J.Phlip, and Lauren Flax., and others. Presented by Safe and Embrace. 2 p.m. to 4 a.m. Friday, March 28, at Cafeina, 297 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-438-0792; cafeinamiami.com. Tickets cost $20 plus fees via residentadvisor.net. Ages 21 and up.
Turbo vs. Spectral: Miami Fever. With Tiga vs. Audion, Julio Bashmore, Clarian, Matrixxman, and others. Presented by Embrace and Safe. 10 p.m. Friday, March 28, at Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-456-5613; electricpicklemiami.com. Tickets via residentadvisor.net. Ages 21 and up.
Dusky, Midland, and Matthew Dear. Presented by Embrace and Safe. 10 p.m. Saturday, March 29, at Trade (Downstairs), 1439 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-531-6666; trademia.com. Tickets cost $20 plus fees via ticketfly.com. Ages 21 and up.
Born Electric With James Zabiela. Featuring Tom Trago, Huxley, Jackmaster, Iron Galaxy, Drew Hill, and others. Presented by Embrace and Safe. 10 p.m. Saturday, March 29, at Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-456-5613; electricpicklemiami.com. Tickets cost $20 plus fees via residentadvisor.net. Ages 21 and up.
Last Resort. With Maceo Plex, Solomun, Tale of Us, Maya Jane Coles, Mano Le Tough, and others. Presented by Safe and Embrace. Noon. Sunday, March 30, at Ice Palace West, 71 NW 14th St., Miami. Tickets cost $70 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up.
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