Winter Music Diary: Dancing Way Past Dawn With Danny Tenaglia

After getting hyped at sets by Photek, Fatboy and Basement Jaxx, attendees go for broke at venerable house DJ's marathon set.

MIAMI — If dance music can be said to have a Santa Claus, Danny Tenaglia proved himself as the dancefloor gift-giver Monday night at his annual marathon DJ set.

A highlight of recent Winter Music Conferences, Tenaglia, a Brooklyn native who is among house music’s most venerable emissaries, holds court in the DJ booth of Miami’s Space club beginning around 2 or 3 in the morning and doesn’t stop until the next afternoon. This year, Tenaglia finally took the needle off the last record around 4:30 p.m., some 13 hours later, with those remaining — who had been treated to complimentary bagels, muffins, fruit and juice since dawn — receiving T-shirts as proof of their devotion and stamina.

For many in attendance at WMC this year, the question wasn’t whether or not you were going to see Danny, but rather what time you were showing up. Monday was the peak of the conference’s five days, with more than six-dozen events of various sizes and styles planned and 48 hours or more of solid partying already completed as preparation for another long night.

A third day of picture-perfect weather — 80 degrees, zero clouds, light sea breezes — transformed the daytime events into glorious platforms on which South Beach’s many outdoor performance spaces could shine. Among them was Nikki’s Beach Club, which featured a massive sound system installed on a sandy swath near the southernmost tip of the island.

Arriving in late afternoon at Nikki’s to the sounds of a deep, minimal house set, it was something of a surprise to see none other than drum’n’bass mastermind Photek manning the turntables, a pair of blue-tinted shades above his big grin and a shag of his orange locks poking out behind his baseball cap. Formerly a somewhat reclusive and notoriously intense artist, Photek (born Rupert Parkes) had clearly made the full transition to the house realm on this afternoon, a direction signaled on his 2000 album, Solaris. About halfway through his set, the producer welcomed to the stage singer Robert Owens, who sang on several classic singles from Chicago’s formative ’80s house scene and returned to the fold last year on two songs on Solaris, “Can’t Come Down” and “Mine to Give.” The latter recently reached the top five on Billboard’s Club Play chart, and Owens’ live rendition of the track evoked a collective whoop from the growing crowd, many of whom were well aware of the
special treat they were witnessing.

Within five minutes of Photek leaving the stage, Fatboy Slim had worked the “dance floor,” now bathed in a sunset glow, into a frenzy. A true master of DJ skills, Fatboy nailed a chunky groove that gave way to the instantly recognizable filter funk of Madonna’s “Music,” which he modified with a banging beat. Like a master chef at home in his kitchen, he then stirred in the gritty synths of “Da Funk,” the smash from Daft Punk’s Homework, creating a mesmerizing swirl of resonating and discordant textures that placed the crowd squarely in the palm of his hand for the next two hours.

After Fatboy’s hits were exhausted — “Star 69″ and the epic “Song for Shelter,” from last year’s Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars, and “The Rockafeller Skank” all made appearances — London’s Basement Jaxx took the reins for a slow-building two hours that jump-started when the duo, Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton, dropped “Romeo,” the opening cut from their upcoming second album (due June 26) and one of several new songs that incorporate a two-step rhythm.

Later that night, Fatboy returned to the decks with a midnight set in the upstairs room at Crobar, where a party presented by the leading New Jersey house label Subliminal was in full swing. The English duo Layo & Bushwacka!, one of 2000’s hottest emerging acts, spun later for the champagne-and-sunglasses crowd (Fatboy pumped his fist in the VIP rafters), but didn’t hold back, blending hard house and techno funk to the elated patrons.

By then it was pushing 4 a.m., which seemed about right for “Danny time.” Upon entry into Space, the reverence for Tenaglia was palpable, and his party boasted one of the few elusive real “vibes” of the conference: Less an industry showcase, it was more a spiritual gathering. The club’s three indoor rooms were all wired into Danny’s domain, while the two outdoor patios were in the nimble hands of fellow New Yorker Jeannie Hopper, a fixture on the deep-house scene for the last decade and host of the weekly local radio program “Liquid Sound Lounge.” As Hopper laid down a mellifluous groove that glided effortlessly through African, Latin and disco hues, with the sun shining brightly through most of her epic set (from the outdoor dance floors, Tuesday-morning workers could be seen traveling to work on the city’s elevated monorail), Tenaglia relentlessly rocked the indoor crowd.

Over and over, he guided dancers up a mountain of rhythm with graceful ease, revealed to them the full vista of the expansive view, then slid them back down to the depths of the ocean. This is the style used by innumerable DJs, but none are able to exercise their mastery so precisely and with such consistency as Tenaglia, who maintained a packed floor at the sprawling Space into the afternoon hours: Each time a sense of lull crept into the collective mind — the party took on a religious air early on — a faint strain of captivating melody or beguiling texture snuck its way into the mix, acting to enliven, yet again, and inspire.