Electronica's Kingdom Comes

Depending on your perspective, Miami's Winter Music Conference (WMC) is either the annual gathering of the electronic dance-music industry for a week of high-powered networking and taste-making, or it's simply an excuse for hordes of pasty Europeans and pale Midwesterners to hit South Beach on the corporate tab and get fried, both in and out of the sun. The truth lies somewhere in between, particularly because the electronica revolution (hyped to absurdity three years ago) never came to fruition -- at least not at the cash register. Instead, as the rock and roll milieu finally crashed and burned, the sales bailout that the major-label record companies were desperately searching for came not from a troop of faceless DJs, but from the resurrection of meticulously choreographed teenybopper acts, as well as rock's successor as our societal common tongue: hip-hop.

Still, despite the dream of hitting platinum being more distant than ever, the conference soldiers on -- sometimes surreally so. One joke making the rounds quips that though the WMC's location has shifted from the Fontainebleau to the Radisson Deauville, most participants still are expected to flock to the poolside schmoozefest at the Fontainebleau, contentedly oblivious to the change. While this aside certainly points up the regard with which many hold the WMC's numerous workshops and panels (and considering that stacks of blank ballots for the conference's awards presentation have been spotted all over town, it's a little hard to take that "prestigious" honor too seriously either), it also underscores a larger point. Namely that the WMC has taken on an autonomous life of its own, regardless of what its official organizers have planned; much could be said of the world of electronica itself.

Consequently the real action this week occurs 60 blocks south of the Radisson, where an army of outside promoters and labels from around the globe have rented out South Beach's nightclubs for a veritable smorgasbord of showcases. For music fans it's an unparalleled opportunity to catch some of the most exciting sounds percolating through DJ culture right now, particularly since the bulk of these artists will not be returning to Miami until 2001's WMC. Next week clubland returns to normal with the de rigueur velvet-rope shenanigans and oh-so-tired beats. This week, however, there's an embarrassment of musical riches on hand. Following are some of the highlights.

Saturday, March 25
Last year's craze for all things French is beginning to look a bit stale, a point not-so-subtly driven home by the release of Dimitri from Paris's latest mix CD, A Night at the Playboy Mansion. Dimitri's neococktail lounge overtures and self-consciously kitschy protodisco grooves apparently are just what Hugh Hefner conceives of as the ideal rebranding element for the Playboy empire, or at least the appropriate aural accompaniment for lounging around the house in one's pajamas and ogling nineteen-year-olds. Witness this somewhat creepy collision of Playboy marketing savvy and rave culture firsthand tonight at the Living Room. Authentic Playmates will diligently work the room and smile on cue as Dimitri, Romain, and DJ Deep do their best to re-create the house-focused Parisian Respect nightclub.

Wolfie's Diner remains one of the few holdovers from the South Beach of old, a restaurant still steeped in the vibe of the Jewish deli culture, with waitresses more focused on keeping the tables stocked with fresh rye and pickles than mulling over their next modeling audition. So if you happen to eat at Wolfie's today, rest assured the throngs of teenage ravers clogging up the joint are most decidedly not regulars. They're simply en route to (or decompressing from) the humongous Ultra 2000 shindig being thrown a block east, outside on the beach at 21st Street.

Purists may scoff at trance's ascendancy, with its resultant bleaching of electronic dance culture, but the kids, particularly here in South Florida, couldn't be more thrilled. And if last year's Ultra party is any barometer, expect thousands to slide into their baggiest pair of jeans, strap on their tiniest backpacks, and then converge on this site for a daylong lineup of shiny, happy Euro-style trance (leavened by some Orlando-derived breaks). The roster includes heavy-hitters Paul van Dyk, Sasha and Digweed, Tall Paul, and Rabbit in the Moon. The Rabbit's appeal is as much visual as musical; in the words of one veteran partygoer, given the proper state of mind, watching a sparkling eight-foot android-cum-bunny cavort onstage is just "too much, dude, too much." Concerned parents fearing an epidemic of "Why Johnny Can't Blink," fret not. While one policeman who was assigned to the site last March conceded with a laugh that the half-dozen or so passed-out people who left the event on stretchers "were definitely not suffering from heat exhaustion," he also stressed the crowd as a whole was remarkably well behaved and trouble free. Music begins at noon. Wear sunblock and bring plenty of water.

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Brett Sokol
Contact: Brett Sokol