Taming the Winter Music Conference Monster

Like most of the snowbirds, I was at Miami’s annual Winter Music Conference for some sun, beach, dancing, and schmoozing. As often happens, my first night descended into a series of mix-ups: was Gui Boratto playing or not? Was I “sorted” at Danny Tenaglia‘s marathon? Fortunately, I’d caught both of them last year, so calling it a night (especially after a two-hour flight delay) came easy.

Thursday afternoon, I headed to an early meeting with NextAid, a nonprofit organization that works with DJs, musicians, and engineers to provide sustainable solutions to problems faced by Africa’s AIDS orphans. “OM Records just adopted this building,” said director Lauren Segal, pointing to a glossy photo of a modest structure. “It could be used for anything from a school to a clinic.” Asked where she got the idea, she chirped, “On the dance floor, of course!”

NextAid t-shirt in hand, I walked up Ocean Avenue to the screening of a Carl Cox documentary. After the movie, Cox held a quick Q&A to discuss his gregarious family, his motorbikes, and an Entourage type show called DJ Diaries. At WMC, as in life, you sometimes miss a boat. In this case, it was a Sasha & Digweed yacht party. Later that evening, back in Downtown Miami, I walked up Biscayne Boulevard, well after midnight, in search of an “Electric Pickle.” King Britt and Q-Burn were both spinning there and twittering about it. The small bar on North Miami Avenue just past the railroad tracks was swaying with an organic, broken-disco vibe.

As I was heading to the Ultra Festival press tent on Friday, the Blackberry buzzed. The Prodigy‘s flight was canceled; they were going to be three hours late, and not doing press. As I was waiting, Pete Tong‘s manager called about rescheduling my interview at the BBC party. These things happen. On the main stage at Ultra, I caught a raucous set by UK electro-rockers the Whip and a block party featuring Santigold. Decked out in a gold jumpsuit made of dollar bills, the latter hollered, “Nobody’s got any, so you might as well wear it.” The Ting Tings managed a similarly tight set, though it felt a bit rushed and perfunctory. At one of the other tents, Swedish House Mafia killed the kids with a finale mash-up of ’90s throwbacks. You’d swear “Show Me Love” just dropped out of the sky in a beam of white light.

The show I was most looking forward to was a live set by Roni Size/Reprazent. After a six-year hiatus, the drum-n-bass pioneer was back with a full band and a new stack of tunes. But it was the classics that got the biggest response during a blistering set. It gave me that warm and fuzzy, “remember when jungle was going to take over?” buzz. That buzz, and the relatively chill vibe at Ultra exploded when, under a flurry of popping flashes, the Prodigy ran up the backstage stairs and were greeted with thundering applause, ripping straight into “Firestarter” with the vengeance of irritated, globe-trotting punks.

Out of my own desperation and frustration at Miami’s “public transportation” system, I shared a cab with a journalism student who was a “major electro head.” I made the trek from Bicentennial Park downtown back to South Beach in the hope of catching Daedelus at the Black Eyed Peas party for Fergie’s birthday. After much red-carpet ado, I waited an hour or so to no avail, before cabbing back to the Design District for a late-night set by Matthew Dear as Audion at a tiki-themed joint called Grass. As cool breezes blew, stars peeked through clouds and Dear swigged Patron, while dishing out slinky funk.

Saturday, at Ultra’s Bayside stage, electro-pop duo the Presets had just launched into their set, when in-between verse and chorus, lead singer Julian Hamilton muttered, “Get that girl off the fucking stage,” pointing to a go-go dancer in a tux bikini and stilettos. In their bus later, confused, the duo asked, “What is that about? Is that an American thing, or a Miami thing?” Unlike Britt and Q-Burn, the Presets were all about their MySpace. “We were really excited when we hit 1,000 friends,” said Kim, who was spinning later that night as well, before heading off and continuing the US tour. To hear them tell it, becoming avant-pop darlings is a click and a snap.

Also at Bayside, angular dance rockers Cut Copy and prog-house iconoclast Deadmau5 had the crowds jumping. On the main stage, none other than Timbaland had the ravers throwing their hands up in the air. Inevitably, I closed out the night, and pretty much WMC in general, at Carl Cox’s tent. Parties continued through the evening and all day Sunday. Recession or not, as long as there were a faithful few shaking it till the break of dawn, in the skies above Miami, the music echoed on.