In October 2011, good news came early for beat freaks when Winter Music Conference announced the 27-year-old event would be growing -- not only with new events but also with an expanded ten-day itinerary. Even better, organizers also eliminated the Sophie's Choice they'd created last year by squabbling with Ultra Music Festival and shifting the affair back to the third week in March.
If we had to call a winner in last year's battle, Ultra seems the obvious victor. Redubbed Miami Music Week, it boasted attendance that was noticeably higher than WMC's.
But in hindsight, there was also a clear-cut loser -- and no, it wasn't WMC. Fans of DJs and EDM lost out by having to chose between the pragmatic conference and the spring break atmosphere of MMW. Early March saw acts and parties focusing on the more traditional genres of dance music at the noticeably anemic conference. Later in the month, the newer sounds of electro, dubstep, moombahton, and nu-disco filled the flashier parties at the city's larger venues.
The one-year split brought a glaring realization: In years past, WMC, Ultra, and the satellite parties all worked together to create a single week in Miami that celebrated dance music. What fans got instead in 2011 was a civil war.
Whenever there's a war, there are lessons to be learned. Heading into this year's festival season, the question is: Did WMC learn anything from last year's experiment?
Yes and no.
Organizers have finally given into one of the fans' biggest demands: holding the conference's seminars and panels closer to the action. Past years saw the event take place at the Eden Roc and for a while at the Miami Beach Resort & Spa -- each of which is a ten- to 15-minute cab ride to the heart of South Beach. And while 2011's venue choice, the Miami Beach Convention Center, definitely put attendees closer to the party scene, the environment wasn't as inspiring as lounging poolside at the Eden Roc.
Perhaps that's why the event this year is happening right on the sands of South Beach at Collins Park (21st Street and Collins Avenue, Miami Beach) inside a temporary structure appropriately named the Beachplex.
"There is no greater opportunity than the flexibility to design this structure specifically to suit the needs of the WMC participants and no better location than directly on the sand at the center of South Beach," WMC cofounder Louis Possenti said in January.
The Beachplex is slated to host an incredible array of events, from industry seminars to International Dance Music Awards (March 22). There is also the not-to-be-missed event for vinyl enthusiasts, the Record Collectors Show (March 24).
And the WMC badge's cred also gets a big boost this year, granting attendees free access to major parties such as the WMC Opening Party with Boris at Space (March 16), Be Yourself with Danny Tenaglia poolside at the Surfcomber (March 17), Welcome to Miami with Sander Kleinenberg and friends at Nikki Beach (March 21), Fixed with Simian Mobile Disco at the Vagabond (March 23), and Om: Miami 2012 with Maxxi Soundsystem at Villa 221 (March 24). The access alone almost justifies the $485 registration fee. Almost.
There is one still notable omission. Until last year's falling-out, WMC badge holders were guaranteed admission to Ultra. That dry spell continues this year.
Also of concern is the conference's inability to silence critics who say the Miami gathering is outdated. It's difficult to defend the gathering when there is another, much more prominent, March music festival that has clearly begun to embrace electronic and dance music acts: South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.
Figures for 2011's WMC ticket sales weren't made public, but in 2010 the conference reported 3,763 registered attendees. Last year, by comparison, South by Southwest reported 16,353 participants from 54 countries, with more than 2,941 members of the music media in attendance and 2,098 acts showcasing.
One big reason for the Austin gathering's success is its panel discussions, which this year included the lectures "2012: The Year Dance Music Killed Rock & Roll" and "Value of Vinyl: Production, Pressing & Promotion," as well as a mash-up master class with DJ Z-Trip and a clinic on using the Ableton Live sequencing software.
South by Southwest understands that input encourages new ideas and promotes discussion. Since 2010, that music conference has invited the community to submit ideas for panels and workshops through its PanelPicker system -- an idea from which WMC could greatly benefit.
What is WMC's idea of fresh and new concepts this year? A panel on radio exposure and foreign markets -- both of which have been largely made nonissues thanks to the advent of the Internet. Where are panels on social media and music-centric blogs?
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Glimmers of hope, though, remain with the announcement of events such as WMC Rocks, an indie-rock-meets-electronica (better known as dance rock) event. Still, as of press time, no announcement has been made about who will be on the bill, when WMC Rocks will take place, or if it's actually happening at all.
We're glad you're back, WMC. But it's time to start thinking about entering your 30s in style -- for the sake of dance music itself.
Winter Music Conference 2012. Friday, March 16, through Sunday, March 25. The Beachplex, 21st Street and Collins Avenue, Miami Beach. Registration costs $485. Call 954-563-4444 or visit wintermusicconference.com.