It has been two years since dance-music fans last dipped their toes into a bonafide Miami Music Week pool party. Since the early '90s, back when the week was better known as the Winter Music Conference (WMC), South Beach hotels have hosted DJs poolside, inviting them to spin vinyl under the warm South Florida sun.
Though the days of DJs lugging around crates and CD binders have waned, two stalwarts are bringing the party back to its historical origins during this year's Miami Music Week. British-born Neil Evans and Florida native Jonathan Cowan's success as event promoters began in the early 2000s when the duo curated parties whenever the global event series Renaissance would come to Miami.
"I was musical director and resident DJ at Groove Jet starting in about 1996," Cowan tells New Times
. "I can't tell you exactly when Neil and I met, but we started working together during the Renaissance shows, and I later became the resident DJ there."
After founding the record label Bliss Productions, Cowan started hosting events at Club Space and Crobar.
Along with Evans, Cowan began to hone in on events after his family purchased the Shelborne hotel on Collins Avenue. The pair dug deeper into booking parties around the nascent Winter Music Conference.
"We were always renting the pools to outside promoters during Conference," Cowan recalls. "So we built a club in the basement and turned the pool into a pure party week. Neil and I formed a really good friendship over the years with doing the bookings and the party set."
After Cowan's family sold the Shelborne in 2012, Cowan and Evan relocated to Ibiza, where Cowan DJ'd eight seasons at the iconic Pacha nightclub.
At the same time, Evans coordinated the global Renaissance events and soon became the musical director and head of business affairs at Amnesia in Ibiza.
"Without people like John, I probably wouldn't be where I am now," Evans tells New Times
. "About four or five years ago, we went on the idea of having the parties at a different location. We had one show at Brickell at the Epic before COVID-19, but now we're back on the Beach. We got history, and we do it because we love it."
Over five days at the Sagamore Hotel, Cowan and Evan's Epic Pool Parties series returns with label-branded events and special guests from noon to 11 p.m.
"John and the Miami team is about operations and productions and making sure all the i's are dotted," Evans says. "From my side, I work with John on the lineups and marketing. It's a collaborative effort between Miami and Ibiza."
The events also symbolize the nostalgia of WMC's heyday in the '90s and early 2000s.
"It felt kind of right to go back to South Beach," Cowan says. "We were at the Shelborne for so long, and then after the Shelborne, we did a year at the Delano. The stuff we've done historically has always been on the Beach. So we were looking around and met the staff at the Sagamore, and it seemed like a fit to what we were doing at the Shelborne: trying to recreate that magic."
Beginning Wednesday, March 23, Britsh-based publication DJ Mag
takes over with Andrea Oliva
, Vintage Culture, John Summit, Layla Benitez
, and Eats Everything
"It's a collaborative effort across the Atlantic and about 12 weeks in the making — constantly having phone or Zoom meetings," Evans says.
The following day, Thursday, March 24, features a Beatport takeover in conjunction with DJ/producer Lee Foss and his Repopulate Mars
label featuring a special back-to-back.
Then comes the weekend.
Friday, March 25, brings Sonny Fodera Presents Solotoko, featuring a yet-be-announced back-to-back set and the return of the genre-blurring producer, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs
"TEED is an amazing DJ," Evans proclaims. "He became available, and we went for him. I booked him seven years ago, and he's one of those DJs that will always surprise you."
Jamie Jones' label Hot Creations takes a turn at hosting on Saturday, March 26, featuring Alan Fitzpatrick and Skream
. Evans and Cowen also recruited two of Club Space's resident DJs, Layla Benitez and Ms. Mada, to add local flair to the weeklong festivities.
When the exhaustion is in full force on Sunday, March 27, partygoers can rejoice in a final event dedicated to disco, where the bass is turned down and the funk is maxed out. Legends like Carl Craig, Danny Tenaglia, and Skream will be taking the decks to spin their bygone favorites.
"The reason why we picked this party is that by the end of the week, people are done with the house and techno," Evans explains. "It's not a normal Miami party, but the ones in Ibiza are fun. People are dressing up, there are wigs, and just really having a fun time. It's local friends and fun in the sun."
"I'm excited to see what someone like Tenaglia has in mind or what he would classify as disco," Cowan adds.
For Cowan and Evans, the Epic Pool Parties series is not an attempt to get rich quick or garner social media kudos — it's a homage to the celebration.
"We're very blessed to have great relationships with the artists and their management, and that side doesn't change much," Cowan says. "We have so many friendships that go through the years. We do it because we love it."
Epic Pool Parties
. Wednesday, March 23, through Sunday, March 27, at the Sagamore, 1671 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-535-8088; sagamoresouthbeach.com. Tickets cost $60.55 to $246.81 via eventbrite.com.