Winter Music Conference 1999 | Miami or bust!
by Jason and Sabrina Weil
We get ready, groggily, and pack up the car to head to the airport for our 7 am flight. At the terminal, we meet our friend Matt, who used to be the Director of Marketing for Wonderland Productions. We also run into Somaly and her two friends. The three of them are from Houston, and they're meeting Somaly's fiancé, DJ Brownie from L.A., in Miami.
The flight is full, and Somaly amuses the people near her with a Teletubby the size of a three-year-old child.
Should be a fun trip.
We scan the plane trying to figure out which passengers are going down for the conference, and we pick out about five other possible partiers. When the pilot announces, "If you're going down for the winter party this weekend, behave yourselves," we know we're in for a crazy few days.
10:00 am: We're at the Fontainebleau Hilton, and we head to registration for the conference. Our room won't be ready until 2 this afternoon. That SUCKS.
We get our photos taken for our badges. Jason's looks like a mugshot. That REALLY sucks.
10:30 am: We're sitting in the Trop-Art Café, the small restaurant beneath the Hilton. We're eating with Matt, and he tells us what he expects from this year's conference and what his previous conference experience was like.
"I'm expecting to have a good time with my friends. [On the last time he came:] It was really a blur. It's hard to fit into words!"
Our waitress is a total Nazi.
Waitress: "What sort of toast would you like?"
Sabrina: "Do you just have white bread?"
Waitress: "We have sourdough! How about the sourdough?"
Sabrina: "Do you have white bread at all?"
Waitress: "The sourdough is really, really good! Hot and buttered! You'll really like it!!"
Sabrina: "I guess I'll have the sourdough."
11:15 am: We've made our way through the pool area, which is already beginning to become crowded with conference attendees, and we're chatting with Tony from Outerlimits and his friend Don on the boardwalk.
Tony: "The first year [of the four years he's been to the conference] it was more like, 'Oh my gosh, look who that is! Oh my gosh!' And then the year after that it was like, it was kinda mellow 'cause everybody kinda started knowing me. Actually each year it gets a little more relaxing because they all know me instead of me running up to them and saying, 'Aw, man, you're John Digweed!'...It's a real vacation for me this year."
[On what he thinks this year will be like:] "This year I'm thinking will probably be the best year, because the first year was pretty intense, the second year they tried to make money off of it, the third year they realized they did bad by trying to make money off it but they didn't have good parties. So this year they know they gotta make up for having bad parties last year so they're gonna have good parties. And try not to make money off of us, so this year should just be the bomb...This really should be an exciting time this year."
[On what Outerlimits has planned for the rest of 1999:] "Yeah, actually we are still trying to display new talents from around the world, and you know we have a nice event coming up, May 22nd, at the Atrium. We also have another one lined up July 24th, and we're working on something in August/September...but yeah, we're still going to do a few more things, trying to keep '99 strong in Atlanta."
"...We take pride in like, booking people who have good energy and good vibes and a positive theme for the scene. Because when they spin, the crowd feeds off of that...All our parties are, I'd say, a hit because we try to, you know, use positive dj's. If they have any negative things about 'em then we won't book 'em. And actually, everybody should think like that."
2:20 pm: We are walking towards the Fontainebleau Hilton on the boardwalk. Away from the Ultra Beach Party, which is sponsored by MTV and has us all curious. We tried to walk to the site of the party, the beach at 21st Street, and then realized that we would be walking for 22 city blocks or so. And, to top it off, Sabrina's new sandals were not cooperating with her feet. She already had blisters.
"But at least your shoes are cute," Jennifer consoles her.
We're headed back to the car that Jennifer, Alainna and Kelly drove for eleven hours to make it here. With no AC. We're just going to drive down there.
3:00 pm: We're nearing the area of the Ultra Beach Party, and traffic is stupid. The parking situation is even stupider. And everyone walking down Collins Avenue looks like they're going to this stupid beach party. We're becoming annoyed.
3:40 pm: After fighting for a parking space, we finally make it to the scene of the Ultra Beach Party, and we're trying to decide if it's worth $30 to get in. The line-up is incredible, and the set-up visible from outside the gates resembles something from a huge rock concert: a huge stage with millions of lights, and several different tents pumping music as well. There is also a party across the boardwalk at a hotel.
We run into someone from Athens who tells us that he's been into the beach party, and it's pretty fun. He says that the crowd is mostly younger people because most of the other events for the week are at clubs that are 21-and-up.
We approach the ticket booth and it's now forty bucks to get in! Not the $30 advertised prior to the event. We are shaking our heads, thinking there's no way in hell we are going to pay $40 to get into a party. Actually, Sabrina is secretly torn, since the lineup is so amazing, but the fact that she's suffering from acute blistering and it's already so late in the day make her agree with Jason: it's not worth it.
It looks like a lot of people did decide that it's worth it. It's very chaotic outside the gates, and the ticket booths and will-call table are bustling. Streams of little raver kids filter in and out of the security-enforced entrance gates. Temporary trash cans sponsored by a new sensual lubricant pepper the beach.
It's just too much for us. We want to sleep a little before going out tonight. And eat dinner. Oh yeah, food. We're hungry, too.
Jennifer, Alainna and Kelly decide to shell it out and stay. They've had a long night and day, and they're just going to go to the party and then crash for the night. The party does go until 9 pm, and then there's an afterparty. Geez.
9:50 pm: We are eating dinner at Mezzaluna on Ocean Drive, after a long nap and warm showers. We ended up walking back to the Hilton from the Ultra Beach Party, perfecting our beach walking technique. (Three words: avoid broken shells. Ouch!) We were passed by models taking their daily run. We also passed a photo shoot with three male models frolicking in the sand. Ah, South Beach.
On the way to dinner, the cab driver ran a red light, totally oblivious. Now, Matt, Chris and Anthony are drooling over women as they pass our sidewalk table. South Beach in a nutshell? Decadence.
10:50 pm: We've walked the few blocks from Mezzaluna to Amnesia for the official conference kick-off party featuring Bad Boy Bill, Steve "Silk" Hurley and others. We're greeted at the door with big smiles and hellos, and we saunter right into the club with our badges.
Wow. Inside, there is very little ceiling, and we can watch the stars twinkle and feel the nighttime breeze as it rustles the palm trees that grow from the dancefloor into the sky. It's still early, and there are small pockets of people drinking and chatting in various cubbyhole booths. The dancefloor is covered, as are the bar and many of the seating areas, but there is still an amazing feeling of being outside. The club's white decor, the open-air breeziness, and the surreal fountain, which is topped by a sculpted woman's face and lit by colorful projections, make this place feel like quintessential Miami.
And $5 for a Heineken really tops off that South Beach feeling.
11:40 pm: We're watching the Solar Twins perform, and note that (a) they sound a lot like Everything But the Girl, and (b) this is a tough crowd. We look around and notice that nearly everyone here looks like they're "industry" people...there aren't very many people that look like they're in Miami just to party. Again, it's still early, and many conference badge holders, like us, probably wanted to stop by and check out this official kick-off party.
We decide to head on over to Groove Jet, where we're meeting Matt, Anthony, Chris and Jason to see Paul Van Dyk.
12:00 am: We've just arrived at Groove Jet. Having badges, we don't have any problem getting in, but we do arrive too late to receive free admission. We pay $15 to get in, as opposed to the $25 non-badge holders have to pay.
[On what she thinks about Atlanta's scene:] "Atlanta is still trying to find an identity...it's still there are just so many transient people in Atlanta, that are coming through and that are trying to build a scene, and I don't feel like it's gelled yet."
[On what she plans on not missing while she's in Miami:] "The Metalheadz party and Hardkiss Brothers."
While Sabrina talks to Julie, someone begins talking to Jason about a party going on tomorrow night. It turns out that this guy, who now works as security at Groove Jet, used to work with Earthtone Soundsystem in Atlanta. Small world, huh?
We make our way through the crowd to the dancefloor, where Paul Van Dyk is spinning his brand of progressive trance. He's waving to the crowd, clapping his hands, and waving his fingertips to the lush piano melodies. The dancefloor, like the rest of the club, is absolutely packed. But everyone is dancing. Everyone is smiling. Everyone seems to be having a great time.
2:53 am: We're back at the hotel. A wee early, you say? The sound at Groove Jet, while quite near perfect, kept cutting off for a while, so we left to head back to Amnesia. We found a mob of people outside waiting to get in, including Tony and the Outerlimits crew. We heard that there was a similar crowd of people outside waiting to get into Amnesia, so we scrapped those plans. We heard that the Cameo Theatre party with Fat Boy Slim among others was impossible to get into as well, so that was out too. We walked around for a bit, trying to find someplace to go, but decided to grab a taxi back to the hotel after we encountered a strict dress code at one of the nearby clubs.
Yes, it's early...but we are beat. It's been a long day...in fact, it started a little over 22 hours ago! We decide to crash and rest up, for we still have three days to go.
2:10 pm: We've fought our way across the pool area to take a breather on the boardwalk. Yes, eight minutes by the pool, and we're ready for a breather already. We're talking to Brett Abramson, aka DJ Sky from Atlanta. (He plays trance and a little bit of house and breaks.) We ask what he thinks of his first visit to the conference.
DJ Sky: "Oh, I'm enjoying it. It's a little bit intimidating to not know everyone and try to get your foot in the door. But I'm enjoying it...and just enjoying the parties too. It's a blast, definitely. I came down last year just to have fun, but this is the first year I'm really participating."
[On what he expects to get out of the conference:] "Hopefully to just get my foot in the door and give my tape to as many people as I can. Hopefully get some gigs out of it...maybe even out of town, I would hope. And also just to have fun. This is also my spring break. [On what he thinks about the scene in Atlanta:] I have mixed feelings about the scene in Atlanta right now. There are times when I really am proud of it and feel a really great vibe at parties and that people are really into the music. And other times I look around...and it's kind of lacking. It's kind of the opposite of what I think it should stand for. But I've been there for a few years now, and it definitely seems to have improved in just those few years. There are so many parties going on now...and big events...sometimes I think it might even be overkill...but it's definitely a good thing overall. It's getting better."
We thank Brett and decide to get a drink, but this means we must brave the insanity at the poolside bar. We elbow our way over to the little cabana, and we run into our buddy DJ Brownie from L.A. you know, Somaly's fiancé.
Brownie: [On the five or six times he's played in Atlanta:] "Everyone apart from one was really good. It was really busy...I had a lot of fun. There was this one party like, three years ago...it was right about Christmas time. I got there and there were 15 people and the promoters ran off and didn't pay me. And that was that...Other than that, I love playing out there. Everybody always takes care of me. It's a fun city. [On what crowds can expect from him these days:] I play a lot of mixed-up stuff...harder kind of house not hard house, as in cheesy hard house, Chicago house kind of stuff. Breaks, house. Funky stuff. Harder funky stuff...I've got a couple of new records out. I've got one out on Rampant which is under my name...and I've got one out on Bassex which is the L.A. Underground EP."
3:50 pm: We finally got our daiquiris, and we've been weaving in and out of the crowd by the pool, saying hi to old friends and trying to scan badges to see who we can meet. We run into Mark Bell, aka DJ 43 of Phungus International Recording based in Athens.
Mark: [On his experience so far this year:] "Lack of sleep. A lot of stress. Getting rid of some records, getting some records, meeting some folks. Did I mention I have a new record out? [laughs] Just kidding. It's pretty good. A little less attitude now that I know more people. A lot of people have attitude unless you've met 'em before. I mean, you know how that is...politics. And, so far so good. For an hour and a half, my record bag's starting to get heavier. [When asked if he has any additional comments:] Eat more beef. There are too many vegetarians in the world."
4:25 pm: Whew. We just left the Just Beat Suite, a room in the hotel sponsored by this new Red Bull energy drink. One can has 28 grams of carbohydrates and tastes like a liquid Sweet Tart. The Freestylers were playing on the turntables that were cranked, and the Red Bull staffmembers were pouring drinks for anybody that wanted one and there was no limit to the number of drinks you could have. The most popular drink was Red Bull and Jager. A can of Red Bull was poured into a glass, and then a shot of Jager was dropped in to be immediately guzzled by the daring drinker. Red Bull is an energy drink, so after too many of those potent cocktails, would someone be really drunk but really wired? Unfortunately, we didn't have time to find out. Brownie had six. We had to head to a panel and a poolside meeting.
Right now, Sabrina is sitting in a large conference room, waiting for the panel to begin. Called "Rave and Roll: Tootsie Pop, Anyone?," the panelists for this include Jason Donovan of Zen and promoters from Cool World and Insomnia in California. We're supposed to meet Matt, Jason, etc. at 5:00, and then Dennis Barton from Skylab 2000 by the pool at 5:30, so Jason's headed to that area to scope it out until Sabrina meets him there. The panel starts late (of course), but the moderator more than makes up for it. He's a lawyer, probably in his 50's, and he makes his living suing state and county offices in the name of rave. Yep, he lives to sue police officers and county officials. "Do police officers look like you? Do they act like you? Do they rave?!" he demands of the room. He goes on to discuss the rights we have as American citizens, and he explains the search and seizure limitations of which police officers often hope you aren't aware. He's a riot. When he talks about going on tour with Zen in the summer, he says he's been practicing with his glowsticks and he's ready to tear it up. Rock on, dude.
5:30 pm: Sabrina cuts out of the panel to meet Jason by the pool. He hasn't seen Dennis Barton yet, but it's sooo crowded, and we're only going on verbal descriptions of what we all look like. While we're standing by the bar scanning the crowd, someone calls, "Jason!"
We turn around, only to see before us DJ Q, a long-lost friend that we haven't seen or heard from in nearly five years! He's now in L.A. running DUV Records, happily married with two children. Wow. It's been a long time. We're in the middle of catching up with him and his wife when Sabrina recognizes the name on a badge that passes by: "MODA."
"I'll be right back!" she blurts, sprinting off to introduce herself. Moda and Jazz-e played Atlanta in February, so she wants to get a brief interview with him. When she lays her hand on his shoulder and says, "Excuse me," he smiles and says, "Oh, I'm sorry," and tries to scoot out of her way. Sabrina laughs at this, introduces herself, and they sit down to chat. Their conversation can be found here.
11:45 pm: We're just arriving at Groove Jet for another exciting night. Tonight is Sasha and Digweed. We went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant in the Franklin Road district. It seemed to be the kind of place that locals frequented, so it was nice to not feel like geeky tourists for a while. After dinner, we were on our way to meet Matt, Jason, Anthony and Chris for a drink at the Delano when we spotted the Outerlimits crew sitting in a fast-food joint. We stopped in to say hello and ended up waiting out a freak thunderstorm with them. (Apparently this happens all the time in Miami: beautiful, sunny day...then BAM! Thunderstorm. Fifteen minutes later, it's all over and everything starts to dry out.) Once the rain ended, we parted ways and headed down to the opulent Delano to meet the guys.
The Delano was the definition of cool. Tucked behind tall, thick hedges, the hotel in which Madonna is an investor felt like "Alice in Wonderland" meets "Dynasty." The front porch was wide and inviting. The lobby was captivating, with a high-backed velvet chair covering one wall. Okay, the back of this chair nearly reached the ceiling, and the ceiling was high. Willowy white curtains hung from the ceiling to the floor, and as they billowed in the breeze, we felt like we were walking into a movie. We made our way to the bar, where we found the guys in a jovial mood. We got Blue Room martinis, fabulous drinks and a real steal at $12 each. [snicker] We were shocked to hear that, despite the number of times the guys have been to the Delano in previous trips to Miami, they had not ever been to the pool. So we wandered to the back of the hotel, through the aloof diners in the restaurant and down the grass-covered steps. The base of the steps introduced a long courtyard which was punctuated with a life-size chess board, a random full-length mirror, and other pieces of whimsy that made the experience feel more and more like falling down a rabbit hole. The guys were awed by the pool: the water rose to the edge of the pool and resembled a perfectly flat mirror. In the shallowest end of the pool, there was a white cast-iron table for two, complete with a candelabra and full placesettings.
We hung out there for a while, marveling about how much money we'd have if we could afford to stay in one of the suites that line the border of the courtyard. After leaving the Delano and hitting an ATM, we ended up at Groove Jet.
We paid $10 to get in. It's the usual: crowded, hot, loud. Chris sits down at a table for a moment, only to be escorted out by a bouncer five seconds later. You've got to buy a bottle of alcohol to sit at a table. A bottle of Absolut is over a hundred dollars. Yikes. We'll stand.
Man, is it hot in here. It is so hot. So very, very hot. That's all we can think about, obviously. We've been bouncing back and forth from the front room to the main room, and we settle at a bar in the front room for a while. We meet a guy named Chico who's from California, and he buys us drinks. We learn that Chico was employee number seven at AtHome Network, a technology company that started a few years ago and is now worth gobs of money. Needless to say, Chico got out of the company and now runs his own club. Now that's cool.
1:10 am: Okay, we wimped out. It was simply way too hot and way too crowded to enjoy anything at Groove Jet, and we simply refuse to listen to Sasha and Digweed in those circumstances. We have just cabbed it to the Cameo Theater to meet Chris (DJ Brownie), Somaly and their friends. The lineup for tonight includes Roni Size, Basement Jaxx, Kruder & Dorfmeister and Dubtribe. We're standing in the lobby catching up our notes on the microcassette recorder when a passerby stops to tell us that he listens to BBC News all the time. What?! Do we look or sound like we're with BBC News? There are so many weird, confusing things going on down here, that we just give each other funny looks and laugh.
We catch the last five minutes of Aphrodite, then we watch Kruder & Dorfmeister. We run into Brownie and Somaly in time to make our way to the front for Roni Size's set. After an energetic set of jump-up jungle, complete with British MC's showing off their hard bodies, Basement Jaxx comes on.
4:30 am: We leave and walk about six blocks to the Mission. The guest list has been closed, it's $15 to get in, and they're closing at 5. We're agonizing over whether we should pay $15 to go into this place for 30 minutes. The answer seems pretty clear to everyone but Chris, who finally convinces everyone to go in. Since we have badges (they don't), we only have to pay $5 a piece.
Inside, we run into Brett Long and Sandy Simon, who are from Atlanta. Brett and Sandy are enthusiastic about the evening, and they're jamming to Derrick Carter. There's an upstairs that we never make it to.
5:00 am: The club is closing, so we walk a few doors down the street to the Kit Kat for the afterparty. We run into Jennifer, Alainna and Kelly and wait in line with them. There is a group of big, beefy jerks behind us...making smartass comments and just being all-around jerky. We manage to pass the red rope into the club before the doors officially open because Chris is friends with Terry Mullan, so we retreat into the little shoebox of a club and sit down to rest. The front of the club is not very exciting at all, but the VIP area is plush and really nice (not that we're VIP's we just poke our heads in the area a bit and look around). We sit and close our eyes, but then are compelled to open them when Terry starts playing. He's pounding out the beats as people being to filter into the club. People are actually dancing...geez, we're way too beat to even think about dancing.
6:00 am: We say goodnight and catch a cab to the hotel. We quickly get ready for bed and fall asleep the instant our heads hit the pillow. One more day down. Two more to go.
Unfortunately, we ran out of steam when it was time to transcribe the rest of the week's craziness. Stay tuned, though, for a report on WMC 2000, at the new venue the Radisson Deauville Resort.
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