Winter Music Conference

WMC Cofounder Bill Kelly on Three Decades of Dance

With the mayhem of Ultra Music Festival and the endless parties at local nightclubs, it's easy to forget that none of Miami's March EDM madness would be happening if weren't for Winter Music Conference.

This year, the WMC list of events includes a Q&A with Hardwell, a panel on the influence of indie music on dance, a seminar about remaining underground despite EDM's popularity, and a talk on "how to be Paul van Dyk." But that's just a drop in the conference bucket, which also includes official parties, exhibits, and workshops.

So why hang up your party hat for a few hours and attend WMC? We'll let cofounder Bill Kelly tell you.

New Times: It's been 29 years since the first WMC. How do you think the conference has evolved in that time?

Bill Kelly: The very first WMC was held in Fort Lauderdale in 1985, so it's really evolved from essentially a small music business conference into a global forum, which encompasses all aspects of the dance culture. With Miami Beach blossoming into an international hub for the arts, our growth has been equally cultivated.

Why do think the conference is important for dance music?

WMC is simply a reflection of how dance music has become a collective global phenomenon. It's a celebration of life.

With the rise of EDMBiz in Vegas and South by Southwest, what is WMC doing to make sure it remains a pivotal event for dance music in North America?

WMC is unique because Miami Beach is such an international oasis of club culture, reflected by our DJs, recording studios, and even the music programs at our local colleges and universities. This is an optimum setting and why WMC has worked with the community so respectfully.

What's new at this year's conference?

Well, in addition to our annual review and updating the conference meetings and seminars (which we do by incorporating feedback from attendees), every year brings an exciting unknown element, because no one knows who the new breakout artists or which performances will be the big takeaways of the year.

What do you say to the critics who say the week of WMC has turned into nothing but nonstop parties?

Clubgoers are the engine that drives the dance music scene. WMC has developed a well-organized schedule of business seminars, DJ meetings, and very informative panels for the actual nuts-and-bolts parts of the biz. By celebrating the musical side of the club culture, the WMC experience is the ultimate event of its kind in the world.

How important do you think dance music has been to Miami?

To be honest, dance music has always been a part of the illustrious history of the Miami music scene. In the '50s and early '60s, Overtown was the hub for afterhours performances by iconic black performers, who were not allowed to stay in the whites-only beach hotels where they were headliners. During the '70s, TK Records began the Miami sound with KC & the Sunshine Band, George McCrae, Peter Brown, et al. — with Gloria Estefan adding the Latin perspective. Then the '80s and '90s saw the renaissance of South Beach, and it continues today stronger than ever.

Are you surprised that EDM has become a chart-topping genre?

I have seen the boom in the biz since the first WMC. EDM and today's DJs are extensions of what was happening in the '80s. Ostensibly, New Order's "Blue Monday" was an early EDM element, and you had the beginning of star international DJs in clubs like the Limelight in New York, the Copa in Fort Lauderdale, Salvation in Miami, and the Hacienda in England.

What are your most memorable WMC moments?

The year we held WMC at the Fontainebleau hotel was memorable, because the DEA was holding a conference there at the same time. That was a bizarre cultural mix on all levels.

What do you think the future holds for dance music and WMC?

Change! Next year marks our 30th anniversary. Today's performers, DJs, writers, labels, promoters, and all the components of the dance music industry grew up and developed during these years. So, at this point, given the global success of dance music, I feel proud, confident, and humbled to watch the next generation create their own artistry and carry on.

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Jose D. Duran is the associate editor of Miami New Times. He's the strategist behind the publication's eyebrow-raising Facebook and Twitter feeds. He has also been reporting on Miami's cultural scene since 2006. He has a BS in journalism and will live in Miami as long as climate change permits.
Contact: Jose D. Duran