Our sister paper's account of the drama that unfolded with the Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival divorce this year and all finger-pointing that ensued left us curious regarding how everything would actually unfold for the weeklong dance music festival.
Noticeably lacking in 2011's WMC list were the agency shows, like Windish Agency, which always bring down a great assortment of talent, and other reliable parties like the one hosted by online dance music store Beatport. Additionally, Ultra's reported exclusivity contracts made this year's WMC a rather skimpy one in terms of headlining über-DJs like Deadmau5 and Tiesto. But what we came to find out during the day and a half we spent soaking up the action was that many of this year's attendees truly preferred it this way.
We did catch one big name in Dirty Vegas, a Grammy-winning British house music trio performing at the Setai on Thursday night. Sponsored by Guess clothing and San Francisco-based OM Records, this was a decidedly chic affair, with $20 Bombay Sapphire gin and tonics at the luxurious South Beach hotel's lush patio.
Dirty Vegas' labelmate DJ Colette opened matters up with her brand of syrupy house music. The dolled-up crowd seemed to groove to this Chicago native's polished beats and coquettish vocals. The lads from Dirty Vegas came peddling the wares of their big comeback album, Electric Love, which is due out April 26. According to the album promo, this record will present a Dirty Vegas with a "more decidedly rock edge." Instead we received loungey remixes of Danny Tenaglia's "Music Is the Answer" and Patricia Vonne's "Texas Burning" this night. The fellas did manage to throw in a brief Talking Heads sample, so perhaps that was the rock edge Dirty Vegas' PR had alluded to.
Our rump-shaking intensified when we traveled across the MacArthur Causeway to the mainland to attend the "Breath" event at Wynwood's warehouse concert space the Awarehouse. It was here at this noticeably local affair (we didn't spot one WMC badge in the place) that we caught the synaptic transmission fury of Miami's Telekinetic Walrus and the Pride of Lions. This electronic troupe came with a crunk swagger and drum 'n' bass pounce that challenged the limits of our neurotransmitters. Frontman Jake Fletcher, AKA Time Zoo Keeper, takes many cues from Rabbit in the Moon's Bunny with his over-the-top stage theatrics. Making a case for woodwind instruments in IDM, the group uses a bassoon to fill out the bottom end quite nicely. It works remarkably well amid the rest of the group's maniacal bleeps and thumps, giving the act a medieval flair. Tony "Smurphio" Laurencio, half of Miami electro-funk duo Afrobeta (the Afro half), tells us he is such a Telekinetic Walrus believer that he campaigned to earn them a spot at this year's Ultra lineup.
After taking what amounted to a brief nap, we woke up the next day with the purpose of attending some of those notoriously debaucherous WMC pool parties we have heard so much about. We went over to the "Sweden Meets Miami" party at the Hotel Marseilles first, but the dozen or so people in attendance and the slow pace of the Swedish house downtempo -- almost downtrodden even -- barely kept us awake. We made our way a few blocks down to Shelborne Beach Resort's "Made in Miami" party. Sponsored in part by underground house label Nervous Records and featuring perennial house favorite Oscar G with his turntable partner, Ralph Falcon. We had high hopes that this was going to be the raucous poolside fete we craved. We bumped into party organizer Dennis Wheeler in line, the consultant for Shelborne events telling us that although he was somewhat concerned with initial sluggish ticket sales, all 1,200 presale tickets had been sold. "Locals have been somewhat slow at responding to events this year, but it really picked up at the last minute."
Then it was into the right of passage that was a WMC-sanctioned pool party. Stepping inside the Shelborne's ample pool area, this reporter was instantaneously time-warped back to his college spring-break days. His spring-break soundtracks did not have the hip-swaggering oomph that Oscar G beats did, though. Can't say that any of these lubed-up, scantily clad, college-aged kids in attendance were "serious" dance-music fans by any means. Most were here for righteous, fist-pumping good times and made no bones about it.
After the pool party bikini babe fix, we made a couple of more daytime parties. At the "Afrique Electrique" event held at the Catalina Hotel's Maxine Lounge, we met DJ Wasabi (birth name Ricky Meza), who was overjoyed with the attendance to his global groove party. He sees that WMC-Ultra split as a good thing for his particular genre. "With Ultra out of the picture this year, people are focusing their attention to individual parties like mine."
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Kathryn Oshay, promoter for music download site Stompy.com and correspondent for online dance radio station Radio4by4, seconds DJ Wasabi's notion. We met the dynamo while she was passing out fliers at the Clevelander Rooftop's "World Liberation" shindig. Oshay believes that through the years, WMC had been cutting out the old-school, Chicago-house type of stuff. She says that this year's WMC really catered to what she calls the "classic househeads." She sees the schism in age groups. "Young people are into the harder shit, and that's what predominates Ultra's lineup, as opposed to this year's house-heavy WMC lineup -- which appeals to an older audience."