Conference Calling

Lest one think that the WMC is pure bacchanalian electro-utopia (ignore for a moment the exponentially increased local market demand for Ecstacy and speed), it should be pointed out that the conference has many tangible accomplishments under its belt. Certainly not the least of these is the introduction of two dance-music categories -- Best Dance Record and Best Remixer -- to the Grammy Awards. After years of pushing for a separate dance category to no avail (cofounder Bill Kelly, Jr. sourly remarks that one of the initial responses from the Grammy committee read, "Dance music is something that pop artists do in their more frivolous moments"), the WMC began campaigning for its attendees to register as members of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. Two years ago, as a result of the dance-music industry's newfound voice and voting power within NARAS, the two categories were added.

The WMC's other major accomplishment was spawning the LIFEbeat, the Music Industry Fights AIDS charitable organization. In the early '90s, Kelly was approached by brothers Bob and Ray Caviano to help organize a charity backed by the music industry. After a planning meeting at the conference, LIFEbeat was formed. Today it's a highly successful AIDS charity, organizing the music and snowboarding Board AID benefits and disseminating information on AIDS- and HIV-related illnesses, as well as donating funds to AIDS research organizations.

Major achievements aside, the Winter Music Conference provides novice DJs, artists, and producers with plenty of opportunities. Last year, poolside at the Fontainebleau (schmooze central at the conference) among the Speedo-clad throngs of industry players, Sarah Gianetto and Ryan James Jeffs, two aspiring young producers/label honchos from Tempe, Arizona, lugged around a box of 100 white-label promo acetates of the first single on their new label, Dream Music. The single, a lush, trancey track entitled "Time" by Phoenix artist the Dream Traveler, wasn't yet pressed for distribution, so those 100 records were the only ones in existence.

"We hit every bigtime DJ we could," says Jeffs, with results that went beyond what the two rookies could have hoped for. Before they had a chance to press more copies, word came from overseas that "Time" was a bona fide club hit in the U.K. The track began to appear on distributor hot-sheets, industry publications that chart tracks played by well-known DJs. The track's popularity led U.K. critics to christen a new electronica subgenre (like it needs another one): "desert trance." "Time" has since been licensed and released on two mix CDs by prominent DJs: Thomas Michael's West Coast Vibes I (Phatt Phunk), and Yber-DJ Paul Oakenfold's Tranceport (Kinetic Records).

The triumph of unknown talents is the true essence of the Winter Music Conference. While the SXSW and CMJ conferences have become less about exposing new talent and more about drinking free beer and crowding in to see already-signed superstars, the WMC expands on the boozing and schmoozing concept, offering a (poolside) meritocracy where genuine talent is rewarded with attention.

The Winter Music Conference runs from March 13 through 17 at the Fontainebleau Hilton Resort, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. For more information and links to showcasing record labels' Websites, go online to www.wmcconfab.com.

Additional reporting by David Holthouse.

Contact Brendan Kelley at his e-mail address: Brendan_Kelley@newtimesbpb.com

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