Champagne buckets glistened beneath a full moon on the upper terrace of Pure, a South Beach hideout for has-beens, as break dancers popped, locked, and spun in the green and purple glow of electroluminescence. It was the nether region between Saturday night and Sunday morning, and Felix Da Housecat was providing the beats. In the hours following the "Ultra Music Festival" -- the official kickoff party for this year's 16th-annual "Winter Music Conference" -- P. Diddy, Naomi Campbell, and former Motley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee (the latter fresh from his "live" DJ set at Ultra) shared a VIP couch. Posters everywhere announced the proceedings, which were in honor of "Divided Soul, a Sean P. Diddy Combs Project."
That was one side of WMC. The other was embodied by Zoltan, a rotund, 27-year-old waiter from Miami who said he "got dragged down here by a friend." Standing around outside the Riande Hotel, looking agitated while the aforementioned friend jabbered into a mobile phone about "tricked-out house beats," Zoltan held forth on the future of electronic dance music. He wore a blue polo shirt and khaki cargo pants, conservative compared to men strutting past in snakeskin pants and mesh tanks or the woman sliding into a bumble-bee-yellow stretch Hummer, wearing what can only be described as a "naughty milkmaid" outfit: a traditional corset and Dutch-style hat, paired with neon-green stiletto boots, a red latex skirt, and fishnets. To Zoltan, she looked like just one more naked empress.
"I just don't understand why all these people would come down here to watch some guy who doesn't even speak English put a piece of wax on a turntable. And people go nuts! Why? Mark my word, electronic music is so over. In six months or so, no one will even admit having liked it."
The word of Zoltan is duly marked, yet this year, glittering hordes of 72-hour party people were out in force throughout the weekend. Enjoy our album of snapshots from the best bacchanals and debacles from the first three days and nights of WMC 2004. Let's get retarded in here.
Grand theft golf cart
It is half past midnight, and a golf cart has just crashed into a palm tree, sending DJ Junior Sanchez and Najib Estefan flying. Estefan, bleeding profusely from his lip, gets to his feet, spits blood, then berates the driver, a security guard hired by Ultra. Sanchez also starts going off, and within seconds, six more Ultra guards rush to defend the cart driver from the outraged celebrities. Sanchez is shoved hard. He yells back, "Touch me again, motherfucker, and I'll sue your ass!" And then, pointing to Gloria and Emelia Estefan's son, "Do you know who this guy is?" The two DJs then pick up their record crates and stalk off. A New Times writer approaches Estefan, offers him a business card, and asks, "What happened?" Estefan takes the card, wipes his bloody mouth with it, then holds it up, smeared with crimson. "This is what happened," he says.
The Red Bull-sponsored Ultra Music Festival afterparty in a mansion on North Venetian Drive was a sore subject for the little old man who lived next door. "What's going on over there?" he asked each person as he or she entered. "Get that car off of my grass. I'm going to call the cops." He was ignored by each of the 100-odd entrants, except for one lollipop-sucking lovely who tried to persuade him to party with her. Inside was a sanctuary from the structured, velvet-roped-off clubs and hotels. Requiring a coveted chrome dog tag to gain admittance, this opulent get-together had less to do with showcasing new music and more to do with flaunting the ingredients of a heavenly bash: naked women in a pool, free alcohol (and Red Bull), and luscious house by dancer-friendly DJs Gaetan and Duncan Ross. Most of the ladies were models hovering around six feet; at least half of the fellas lied about their occupations (so many record producers, so many superstar DJs) in hopes of extended conversations with these beauties. In the privacy of this fat crib right on the water, the swaying, smiling guests really let loose, and bathrooms were tied up for hours at a time. As for the old man, he never called the cops, but every little while, he'd turn on the light in his home and stand at the window with a less-than-impressed expression. Everyone finally went home early. At 10 in the morning, that is.
Come on and ride it
Organized by New York DJ Tommie Sunshine, sponsored by Krispy Kreme, and touted as one of the few "nonelectronic" events at WMC, "Krispy Karaoke" takes place Sunday at the Studio, a tiny bar located in the balmy basement of the Shelborne Hotel on Collins Avenue.
At roughly 9 p.m., John Selway, a slim man in jeans, a thin blue T-shirt, and aviator sunglasses, tears through a sexified rendition of Ginuwine's booty classic "Pony," complete with backup dancers. Then, Sunshine, a tall, friendly guy and dead ringer for Jeff Bridges as "The Dude" in the Big Lebowski, takes over with "Humpty Dance." Sunshine then calls several audience members on-stage, including Casey Spooner of Fischerspooner and Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters, to do an almost tear-jerking rendition of "We Are the World." Spooner, dressed in a white suit that is part Miami Vice and part Bogart Sam Spade, tops off the sugar and booze-fueled happenings with a totally Sprocket-esque version of George Michael's "I Want Your Sex."
Tommy Lee is rumored to be on tap to rend asunder Olivia Newton John's "Physical." But Lee never shows, sparing the crowd the possibility of witnessing a portal to hell.
"It all starts with the figure eight," says Max, a 16-year-old from Fort Myers, trying to explain his glow-stick dancing maneuvers on the grass outside the Sound Stage at Ultra. "Then you spread it out and keep going." Max is performing a one-on-one light show for a friend, moving twin yellow wands in circles around the boy's face, making the cylinders blur and then stop. "I'm trying to make him dizzy," Max admits. But his friend holds on, moving with the big-eyed nods of an acolyte.
There are hundreds of glow-stick dancers at Ultra, each with a technique. Mike, a journalism student from Fort Lauderdale, is fierce and frenzied. Shifting positions with black, dirty, bare feet, he pummels the air with swift jabs. "I'm not moving to the music," Mike insists. "The music is moving me. I am the music." While glow sticks were the most popular prop at Ultra, Anah, a 22-year-old from Los Angeles, brought her trusty hula hoop. In fact, she was hired by Bacardi to perform with her troupe, Hoop Revolution. "Hula hooping is something people discount as fluffy and light," she says. "But it has a transformative nature. It shows the relation between your thoughts and your physical manifestation in motion." She explains that if a dancer is inhibited or having negative thoughts about himself, his hula is likely to wobble or drop. "If you have positive thoughts," she says, "it moves beautifully."
Representing another dance style, legendary Miami popper Chillsky was holding court at the break-beat stage with his crew of homeboys, Deadly Venom, decked out in bright-red Adidas sweats and chunky sneaks. "Basically, I like painting pictures," Chillsky says. "Anybody can do the robot. But not everybody can paint pictures and send out ideas, especially in front of the public." The crew's message at Ultra seemed to be "Don't fuck with us," as it symbolically stomped and killed rival poppers.
Emitting an edge of Miles Davis, aspiring dance-music producer Afrocat waits patiently behind fierce sunglasses outside the Starlight Ballroom in the Wyndham Hotel, WMC headquarters. Afrocat has traveled from London and paid hundreds of dollars for a registration badge so she can play a snippet of one of her original creations for the high-profile A&R executives lined up at the first of three official WMC "listening sessions" on Sunday afternoon. "It's a bit unnerving," she confesses, eyeing the arrival of dozens of CD slingers who crowd the hall, hustling and hoping to make the best of their 45-second shot. The event turns into a total meltdown, however, when the sound system malfunctions, and everyone is abruptly informed the listening session has been canceled and to return the next day. The would-be stars who have their own portable CD and MP3 players clamor around the execs, thrusting headphones their way. Others storm out, saying, "This conference sucks," perhaps on their way to numb their frustration with a $10 kamikaze shot.
"I'm an old-school DJ," confesses San Francisco Bay-area turntablist Behrouz. At the crack of noon on Sunday morning, the heavyset industry vet is recovering from an all-night spin at the Yoshitoshi Party at Club Space and rehashing one of the industry's oldest arguments over a breakfast of Corona beer. "I still like the warm analog sound of vinyl," Behrouz sighs. "I don't know why."
He is talking with the DJ/producer duo Gabriel & Dresden, who survived last night's show on Ultra's Progressive Arena. "Man, if they could make anything more disorganized and more unfun, it would probably be jail," David Dresden complains about the festival. "There was nobody in charge."
"I had an amazing time," his partner, Josh Gabriel, disagrees.
Nor does the pair agree on sound: Dresden spins CDs while Gabriel works strictly from his laptop. Dresden shrugs: "My partner is playing in a different medium than I am." Gabriel laughs, "It definitely fucks us up."
"I never bought the argument about vinyl," Dresden says. "Then I became a producer and heard the difference when you take sound off vinyl. I definitely believe the hype now."
Gabriel still isn't buying it. "You hear: analog is warm and this and that," he scoffs. "Give me a break. What the hell is going on here? A blank vinyl record has a sound." He purses his lips and imitates the crackle of white noise. "That adds the same quality to every sound on the record. So all of a sudden, the sounds are unified. That's why people like the sound of vinyl. When you produce with that in mind, you can make things that sound different."
"Using these computer programs will take DJing to another level," Dresden concedes. "It will give people more opportunity to express themselves than they have on turntable."
"Once I use my tools, I want to throw them away and get new ones," Gabriel confesses. He is already fantasizing about his next kit. "I want to make an Xbox thing where I'm really playing live with a joy stick. Where I literally can take the crowd where I want to [take it], almost like a video game."
Dresden catches his partner's enthusiasm. "Instead of playing a song, he's saying, 'Hey, can I have the parts to your song?' By playing some or all or one of those parts, he creates a live remix."
Behrouz has already been there: "A lot of times, you travel with ten hours to kill on a plane. I got my laptop with me. You do your own edit of your song. You burn it, and five hours later, you're playing it in a club."
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Thinking about it some more, Behrouz decides the problem with vinyl lies in baggage claim. "The negative thing with records is that the airlines lose your record bag," he points out. "Or other DJs see your records and steal them. Then I gotta play tonight and I don't have any music. I always have backup CDs."
Feed your head
The "South Beach Wine and Food Festival" was only two blocks down from all the madness on Collins Avenue -- it was actually held on a stretch of sand that began at 13th Street -- but it seemed like another world. For a $90 entrance fee, you could listen and watch a demonstration by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa, who was introduced to his admiring fans as "the man who transformed Japanese cuisine in America." Or you could wind your way through the massive, Target-sponsored tent.
Rapper/actor Ice-T was sitting near the entrance of the tent, signing towels emblazoned with the logo for his new product, Liquid Ice. "It's a better energy drink than Red Bull," he says, the gray hairs peppering his beard betraying his 45 years of age. "It tastes better, it gets your dick hard, the whole shit. You know, it's a fun drink, it's blue, mix it with vodka -- it's the bomb."
Of course, Liquid Ice is one of many enterprises both worthy and dubious that the O.G. has been affiliated with since he first made a cameo in the 1984 hip-hop exploitation flick Breakin'. How has he managed to stay in the celebrity game for the last two decades? "I'm a hustler," he says. "If I stop working, I die."