While popular electronic music has become synonymous with hugely inflated ticket prices, tables full of empty bottles, and mindlessly overproduced big-room bangers, Miami's own Jonathan Cowan keeps the fire burning for the South Beach's long-lost underground.
For Winter Music Conference 2012, The Shelborne Hotel and Shine, alongside DJ Mag, will host ten days of unmitigated musical exploration with more peaks and valleys than a drive across the Himalayas.
We here at Crossfade spoke with Cowan about musical integrity, WMC, a monster called Ultra, looking out for the locals, and why Swedish House Mafia sucks.
Crossfade: Watsup dude, how'd you get started with all this?
Jonathan Cowan: Really, I started doing events in 1994 at Groovejet. I was musical director and a DJ there from around 1994 till 2000, and I ran and owned Nerve when that was open.
What's your history with the Shelborne?
My grandfather built the Shelborne in the late 1930s. But I never got too involved with it. They were renting it out to sub-promoters, and the events weren't too solid.
When did you come into the picture over there?
I took over about seven or eight years ago and I've just grown it ever since. The DJ Mag partnership that we've done for the past five years has just taken it to the next level.
How'd that come about?
I'd already been DJing for a while, knew the editor, and had already started with Shelborne. We were in the lobby bar having a cocktail late in the week during WMC. There were tons of people coming and going during the crossover time betwen the pool and Shine, she looked around and was like, "We should just brand this as DJ Mag." It just made sense to join forces and it's been a real success.
From the schedule, it looks like you're going to be working 26 hours a day. What's that like?
Well, I think it will be easier than last year when there was the break between WMC and Ultra. Like, just when your body was starting to recover, you'd go kick it again. This year, it's just ten days straight. I'll move into the hotel until a day or two after it's all over, sleep till 2 p.m., then get out to the pool.
What's the best room in the Shelborne?
The townhouses are really good. And the penthouse has an unbelievable view, floor to ceiling glass walls. You can see all the parties up and down the block.
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What are you looking forward to music wise?
My style of music is that tech-house Cadenza type sound -- Luciano, Loco Dice. Not that big Swedish House Mafia sound.
What do you think about that?
It's not artistic. I can't see it lasting. Anybody can play big record after big record. And you can make one of those songs in 45 minutes. Traktor almost makes it for you. They've been a real hype machine. But I can't see it having longevity.
So you think it's bullshit?
I think it's bullshit. I do. I gotta give em props and I can't take respect away from them. But it's not so hard to play anthem after anthem, especially through a computer with auto sync. You just hit play.
What's good at the Shelborne?
I'm really excited to welcome Marco Carola to the crew. It's always been Tenaglia, a legend in the scene. But it's gonna be nice to show the changing of the times. At Shine, we've got Jamie Jones. He's ranked as the number-one DJ in the world. He's doing a back to back set with Cajmere who's a big '90s guy from [Chicago].
And even with all the out-of-towners, you still look out for the local heads right?
We always run a special for locals. A free-for-locals party with Sander Kleinenberg. A lot of the places like the Surfcomber charge $150 to get in. Same with LIV. We try to keep it realistic and affordable.
It's not just the VIP table. And don't get me wrong, we want their money. But we want the people who are just there for the music to be able to get in as well.
What do you think of Downtown vs. the Beach, and a place like the Electric Pickle?
I think EP is the one club left in Miami with any real musical integrity. When the super clubs came in, everybody started trying to outbid each other. That drove up the cost for the DJ, and made it difficult for the consumer. They eliminate the real music fan by outpricing them. The Electric Pickle stays true to the fan, and it reminds me of how Miami used to be.
What do you think about Ultra?
I don't even know what that is. I don't think 85 percent of the Shelborne crowd even steps foot there. It's a big monster, with diverse talent, no doubt. But for all intents and purposes, it's a rave.
Do any of the contractual stipulations interfere with your parties?
For a couple years, they tried to do exclusivities, and that got to be difficult. But we got around it with our DJ Mag partnership. A lot of the artist management have wised up too. For instance, Ultra has an exclusive on Armand Van Helden as Duck Sauce, with one gig outside of that on his own, and that's for us. I've never understood paying so much more for artists like they do.
Who are some local artists to look out for?
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Oscar G, his new stuff is proper old-school house music. An up-and-coming guy is Lazaro Casanova. And me. This will be my seventh season as a Pacha Ibiza resident. I have three new tracks out now, and five set for release on Stereo. That's Ceballos' label.
What do you like better, throwing parties or playing music?
I get a lot more enjoyment out of being a DJ than promoting. That's what keeps me in it, the love of the music.