Winter Music Conference 2003
by Sterling McGarvey
Photos by Kelly Hubertus
"…and I ruuuun/ I run so far awayyyyyyyyy….."
And so begins the recap of Year Two for Sterling of the greatest business trip anyone who actually loves dance music can take on American soil.
For some reason, the first thing that popped into my head (besides the fact that Nas walked right by me off the plane) was "Vice City" and that damn Flock of Seagulls track they use in the commercial. No, unlike Tommy Vercetti, I didn't yank the driver out of the car and make my way toward Ocean Ave-, er, Ocean Drive. Nor did I feel the urge to jack a motorcycle and practice wheelies. So where does it all start? How about right around…..
Out of the airport, checked into the hotel, showered and was on the streets within 2 hours of touching down on Floridian soil. En route to Rain for the Soulfuric party, it was wonderful to reacquaint myself with the numerous pizza joints and clothing stores along Washington Avenue that stay open until ungodly hours of the night. Naturally, no trip to South Beach is complete without dropping into Pizza Rustica, which was the first order of business on the street. After eating a slice while maintaining a giddy grin from ear to ear, our entourage found its way to Rain.
The Soulfuric Records party was just the way to kick things off. While others were 22 blocks away at the Hooj party, Brian Tappert and Grant Nelson were pumping so much soul out the speakers, it probably took a wet vac to clean up the venue for the next evening's festivities. There wasn't a single ass in the house that wasn't moving as thick track built upon thick track. It was a straight up garage party. "This is why we go to Miami," I thought, as I danced away the drama that was eating me up 12 hours prior. However, after a stress-laden day leading up to the flight, I retired. After all, there were still 6 days to go….
Kicked things off at the Chicago Welcomes You to Miami event at the Marlin. The sounds of DJ John Curley and Superjane's DJ Dayhota were definitely welcoming to my ears. Since many people were just arriving in South Beach, there was minimal stress and only a small amount of business to handle. The only slap in the face was the news that King Street's 10-Year Anniversary Party was absolutely slamming and that many of the deep house demigods that we would have expected to attend Chez, Wave & Bombay were, instead at King Street. Plus, Lil' Steven's new tracks were getting broken in over there. Nevertheless, everyone traipsed lazily through the hot Miami sun toward Rain for some C, W & B action. Mr. Chez himself, Neil Aline, was gracing the decks with an eclectic mishmash of deep house tunes and the new Wayne Wonder single. P.S. to promoters: Danny Krivit is the man. Book him. America deserves to see what New Yorkers have known for years. Unfortunately, though, in the end, I missed Shaun Escoffery's live performance of "Days Like This" due to some tight scheduling.
Ah, Magic Sessions. It feels like a giant family reunion for every rabid soulful house fiend in America, and from sections of the rest of the world, too. Per the Magic Sessions tradition, the night kicked off with Tony taking everyone to church, Tedd taking everyone into the dirt, and Louie bringing everyone home. The real surprise this year, however, was how much time was spent in the VIP room with my jaw agape from Dimitri from Paris' incredible set. I, unfortunately, was in the pisser when he completely worked out Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" and did nasty tricks with the filters and effects. T'was sad to discover that he rode out the famed "na na na na" for 2 minutes and filtered out everything but the vocals. Nevertheless, Tedd delivered a smashing set in the main room that left everyone at half strength for Louie. Needless to say, while Mr. Vega's set wasn't at the level of "Flawless Victory" that he attained at last year's event, he dropped gem after gem like a sloppy jewel thief. This is why we go to Miami. With the addition of D from P's killer workout upstairs, Magic Sessions is truly something to behold and cherish year after year.
Caught up with the Underground House.net crew in the Fairwinds Hotel patio at the Amenti Recordings Rest, Relax, and Recover BBQ. Between the heat, low blood sugar, the puddles, the crowd, and the manager's decision to sharply cut the amount of food for each guest exactly when I got to the front of the line, it was a scream fest. That is, until Mazi was on the decks. Suddenly, everything became more pleasant. 100-degree heat from the grills wasn't so bad, after all. And someone stuck a flower in my hair. And I chatted with the one and only, Ben Davis, of Flat and Round Recordings of Manchester and Grandmaster of Underground House. And all was well in the universe. Or maybe it was the sangria. Here's the deliberately cheesy results:
Soul Food at the Riande was next on the trajectory. Food and drink aside, the music was great; the highlight was a Joey Negro white label (Unit 2?) that had jaws agape. Immediately following the jaunt to the Riande, we made our way to the Dancestar Awards, since media check-in was due to shut down soon. However, once we got there, we realized that any tardiness was unimportant. Dancestar had effectively shut out most of the press from the media tent and red carpet and had just given us, and everyone else, general admission tickets. Not only that, but they wouldn't allow us to take in any cameras. Even Sean Meddel didn't want our tickets after I contacted him. Better luck next year, Dancestar.
After the Dancestar situation, some well-needed rest was taken, until, of course, President Bush's declaration of war. Initially, I was worried that it would cast a dark pall over the rest of WMC, but once we got to Union Lounge for the Got Funk? party, I knew that people weren't trying to sweat what was going on elsewhere. Soulful drum n' bass seeped out of the speakers, some sounding delicious, some sounding rather Limburger (please break all Whitney Houston dnb remixes over your knees, DJs). Ran into Roy Dank of Mathematics and had planned to stay to hear both Mathematics and some of High Contrast, but Kenny Ken wanted a little more deck time, and well, you don't tell Kenny Ken he can't have more deck time. The schedule was tight, so I headed out to go catch Erick Morillo.
Made my way to Crobar to finish off the night at Subliminal Sessions. Have I mentioned how great it is to spend 45 minutes in line dealing with Bridge & Tunnel sleazeballs trying to muscle past you while you can faintly hear Morillo completely carpet-bombing the dancefloor? The door dick didn't want to notice me or my press lammie, so he let about 50 people in during said 45 minutes before notifying me that they weren't honoring press badges, that he was hired out by Subliminal, not Crobar, and that he comes out once a year for this party to be "The Asshole at the Door" (and I quote). Thanks, Tim. Then again, you can't win them all.
So, 3:30 am on a Wednesday night during Conference. There's no going back to the hotel early, but all of the parties I'm comped for have closed their lists, and who wants to pay $20 for a party that's closing in 90 minutes? What to do? What's free? Four words:
AKA "How I learned to stop worrying and love the Electrotrash." What do you get when you mix Tommie Sunshine, John Selway, Casey Spooner, Arthur Baker, copious alcohol, and a karaoke machine? Something straight out of VICE circa 2002. I can now die a happy man having seen John Selway belt out Barry Manilow's "Copacabana." Like a twisted family reunion, everyone whooped and hollered as various electro personalities wailed badly. I was exhausted after 45 minutes, so I headed home. I probably should have just stayed, though, for the encore track. Apparently, everyone got on stage and performed "We Are the World." The question of who got to sing Lionel Richie's verse still haunts me.
Pre-empted at the hands (or is that feet?) of events out of my control, I got out into the sweltering Florida sun a bit later on Thursday than other days. Soulful house twins Bobby and Steve threw their event at the Clevelander, and it delivered the goods. After jamming out a bit to some Garage, I strolled up Collins to The Raleigh for Deepfunk Recordings' Who Cares? party with Sneak, Doc Martin, and Yousef. All around, the vibe was thick enough to cut off a slice and eat. It was truly a Party. The side room featured East Coast Boogiemen, Lawnchair Generals, and a live PA from Rhythm Slaves. Doc Martin flat out ripped shit and walked away with one of the best sets I've heard out of him, and considering his last few sets in Atlanta, that's saying quite a bit.
As the Raleigh slowly began to clear out, the DnBizness was just firing up at the Ritz on Collins. The Breakbeat Science-sponsored event featured Reid Speed, Bailey, DB, High Contrast, and Dara. Reid was dropping some nasty breaks to open up the party; DB played as the crowd began to pour in, and High Contrast loaded up the bases as Bailey stepped up to the decks and smacked one out of the ballpark. As equally kickass as his weekly radio show on BBC 1Xtra, he stacked tune upon tune upon tune. It was an exceptionally impressive set.
As the night progressed, I headed over to Le Club Reserve for Transatlantic: The 2-Step Garage Showcase. For the few members of UK Garage Worldwide's (UKGWW) forum, it was a meeting ground. Unfortunately, only myself and one other member actually made it. If I picked up nothing else from Transatlantic, I discovered this: Atlanta has some of the best damn UK Garage DJs in America, aside from talent like Oron in Baltimore and T.S. Heritage of Miami (who co-promoted the event). After trudging through some genuinely bad mixing and truly annoying and invasive MCs, the night seemed to be heading toward doom. Seriously, watching a 45 year-old woman spin very shitty pop remixes on -3 seemed to be a lesson in clearing the floor. Her partner-in-crime was atrocious enough on the stick to set female MCs back at least five years. How much can you truly hype a crowd when you sound like the kid in "About a Boy?" Then H.Y.S.T. got on the decks (incidentally, he was filling on for one of UKGWW's North American correspondents) and schooled people. No MCs. No bad mixes. Just beats. I grinned as people came up and asked "Who is that on the decks?" Score a big one for the home team. Speaking of home teams, the wee hours of MJQ Concourse's WMC party felt just like a Saturday night on Ponce. It's always nice to see heads from all over the country getting a taste of what Atlanta gets every weekend.
Fry-day was more like it, as in oppressive heat and overall sense of burnout. Stopped off at the 4th Annual Miami Meets Detroit BBQ for burgers and some brief hellos and then began the long jaunt around South Beach. I started off with an interview with Dieselboy and then ran with Kelly to go meet Junior Sanchez. An expected interview fell through, so we began to make our way toward Nikki Beach. Compared to the 2002 edition, this year's Naked at the Beach felt less packed than before, and the vibe definitely lacked in comparison. Nikki Beach was definitely filled with people, but it didn't burst at the seams. It just didn't feel the same. The Naked Music vibe seemed to contrast a little too much with the grandiose production values of the show. However, venue and production aside, Miguel 'Migs' nailed a very solid set of smooth house. The crowd was definitely into it, and as Lisa Shaw performed, one could hear the crowd singing along with her, word for word. Röyksopp closed out the event with a smoking PA that, unfortunately, too few in the crowd found familiar. In spite of the initial lack of vibe, they managed to completely win the crowd over by the time they got to "Poor Leno." On the way back to the hotel, we ran into West End Records founder Mel Cheren at the event celebrating the transfer of ownership in West End to Blaze's Kevin Hedge. Given the rich role that Mel played in The Paradise Garage and in the roots of house music, I figured that if there was any Miami moment to geek out over, it was meeting house music history. It's why I went.
In a zombie-like state after covering so much terrain in a day, I headed to the Shore Club for the Southern Fried Records/Missdemeanours Music party with Tom Middleton and Kurtis Mantronix headlining. Unfortunately, I forgot about the situation with weekends during Conference, but I later discovered that I was far from the only person who got shut out of the event. After trying to head to see Darshan Jesrani of Metro Area only to find the Marlin lobby spilled out into the street, I gave up. As much as the possibility of either Rulers of the Deep or Masters at Work, Josh Wink, and Todd Terry sounded tempting, my body seceded from my mind and went straight for the hotel room bed. Good tunes aren't as important when you're so tired that you feel like you've got the flu.
The slogan should be "Ultra: Don't Make Any Other Plans on Saturday." I met with Russ Marshalek and Krisalyn Cease of JIVE Magazine, and we ventured forth into Downtown Miami. With all warnings in place regarding size and mismanagement, I headed into Bayfront Park with an open mind. Upon attempting to enter, I stumbled upon my first piece of event bureaucracy as security suddenly decided that even press couldn't carry in bags (he could have at least checked it first before shooting me down). Thanks to Genevieve Powers of Formula PR, the situation was quickly alleviated. At the main stage, Christopher Lawrence had the kids going apeshit with huge trance. Josh Wink was on the lawn doing a promo spot for MTV Europe. There were a lot of shirtless ravers. In the end, though, we anxiously awaited The Man. The Myth. The Streets. Mike Skinner came out with a BANG. Okay, maybe not pyrotechnics, but the touring band took no prisoners from the beginning, that's for sure. Opening up good and proper with "Turn the Page," Skinner and Co. did their damndest to rock the crowd, a majority of unenthused ravers. In spite of the crowd's unfamiliarity with "Original Pirate Material," the front of the amphitheater was rocking like the best of hip-hop concerts. For all of the effort to get to Bayfront from South Beach, to dealing with hordes of people, to overzealous security guards, to slightly inclement weather, it was all worth it for The Streets' performance. The crew ran straight through virtually every cut on the album save for three tracks and still managed to debut two new tracks. Just as it seemed that the performance couldn't peak any higher, the drummer picked up where Nikki Beach's closers left off the night before with the four to the floor Röyksopp remix of "Weak Become Heroes."
However, when the music is that good, and you're that amped from the experience, the next moment might not be as high. I figured that out when I ended up 0 for 2 with seeing Erick Morillo in Miami. Sure, Seb Fontaine's not bad, but it's like hankering for chocolate ice cream and finding out they've only got pistachio. Whether his set got pushed back or bumped, I'll never know. On the other hand, the bottom didn't completely fall out of the event. Wink made up for it as best he could in a secondary tent. Bashing it out harder for the kids than he's normally done in his last few Atlanta appearances, he peaked with an effects-laden, mind-fucking mix of Hatiras' "Spaced Invaders." After some kind words with Josh and a few minutes of DJ Dan, it was time to hit the Drum n' Bass Arena for the last tidbits of Ed Rush's set and the beginning of Kamanchi (Die and Krust's new side project) with MC Tali. In proper Full Cycle fashion, the crowd went from into it to rabid within a few cuts. Tali lived up to her coronation at last year's WMC of "Next Big Thing" as she bounced back and forth flipping verses and getting the heads even more rowdy. However, as the set progressed, I found myself unable to keep up with the frenetic pace of everything; as darkness fell, my energy levels corresponded. Five hours was definitely enough time to say that in spite of the problems, Ultra ended up okay. It wasn't nearly as bad as what everyone had initially warned me that it would be like. I was fairly happy with the outcome.
After a disco nap, some last minute business and some mishaps with guest lists, the Final Destination of WMC was the 7th Annual Ovum Party at Crobar. Someone must have truly been listening to last year's feedback as 2002's floor clearer was pushed back into the later parts of the evening (said DJ will go unnamed). Although I missed both D'Julz and Doc Martin, special guest DJ Darren Emerson played a respectable set downstairs while Rulers of the Deep proved that promoters across America very seriously need to consider coordinating a US tour; these two are incredible on the decks. Josh Wink helmed the decks downstairs while Pete Moss proceeded to make this writer fail to utilize another means of saying "He fucked shit up." Moss is a bad, bad man on the decks as his skills on the tables match his craftsmanship in the studio. In him we find a DJ who completely evades the "great producer, mediocre DJ" curse. Meanwhile, the Winksta (term coined prior to 50 Cent's single, thank you very much) continued where he'd left off near dusk at Bayfront as he slammed out banging house to the main floor of Crobar. Once Josh adjourned, it was time to check out one of Philly's finest, DJ Dozia. It was 5:30 in the morning and the club was still elbow-to-elbow with all kinds of people. A woman beating a conga dressed completely in tribal gear and mild facepainting. Sneak standing in the booth. "Beautiful" Miami clubbers. Girls following King Britt through VIP. Everyone was into it and having a great time; everything about that moment culminated as Dozia began to mix in Basement Jaxx's "Flylife" and the room erupted. This is why we go to Miami.
I could bore you with minutia about how the weather was so bad that it ensured I wouldn't close out WMC with sun poisoning as I had the year prior. I could bore you more with the fact that the rainy weather was the catalyst for my introduction to "Spongebob Squarepants." But doesn't it sound much better to leave it off from Dozia playing "Flylife?" I think so. Let's do it again in 2004!
Favorite Tracks of WMC:
Bibi - "Zum Zum"
Louie Vega feat. Raul Midon - "Cerca de Mi"
Louie Vega and Jay Sinister- "Diamond Life"
Harry Romero feat. Robert Owens - "I Go Back"
Layo & Bushwacka! - "Love Story (Dkay Remix)"
Grant Nelson at Friends of Ours 3
Doc Martin at Who Cares?
Danny Krivit at Chez, Wave, & Bombay
Bailey at Breakbeat Science/Remix Hotel
Dimitri from Paris at Magic Sessions
Rulers of the Deep at Ovum
Pete Moss at Ovum
The Streets at Ultra
Kamanchi at Ultra
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