Winter Music Diary: There's Harmony In The Beats

Dance/electronic music split into countless, diverse subgenres, but conference proves there's strength in numbers.

Following the chaos that marred last year's overstuffed gathering so badly that many longtime attendees chose to stay home this year, the 16th annual Winter Music Conference marked a return to form.

The proliferation of daytime musical showcases and poolside schmoozefests combined with an ever-expanding number of nighttime parties to disperse crowds thoroughly enough that access to them, which was a major problem in 2000, was no longer an issue. With that stressor gone, the industry — the overlapping mass of A&R reps, marketers, journalists and, of course, DJs and producers from all over the world — was free to deal with the "business" at hand: soaking in as much sun — oops, music — as possible in a 120-hour period.

As in years past, house music in its myriad varieties once again ruled the roost as the most popular dance-music style this year, although there was clearly an effort to diversify lineups. Two parties sponsored by Urb magazine showcased the scene's true strength, its open-mindedness, by cutting across several genres — house, techno, down-tempo, broken beat, drum'n'bass, hip-hop — in single events. Live sets by Richie Hawtin and Roni Size & Reprazent topped the bill at a huge Sunday-night bash, but musical curiosity was the evening's true star, as a wander through club Space's four sound areas was rewarded with tastes of Jazzanova's Sonar Kollectiv of soulful house DJs and producers, Finnish trio Pepe Deluxe's turntablist-heavy hip-hop, a live performance by the innovative Tijuana, Mexico, outfit Nor-Tec Collective and a DJ set by up-and-coming U.K. star MJ Cole of the two-step style that has recently swept Britain.

Several other events also laid plain the vast landscape of dance music today: Urb's Tuesday-night party at Goddess included DJ sets by fusionist A Guy Called Gerald, Detroit techno deity Juan Atkins, house cornerstone Mark Farina, Los Angeles deep-house top dog Marques Wyatt and a back-room tag-team with Rae & Christian's Mark Rae and Kruder & Dorfmeister's Peter Kruder, who later teamed with Berlin down-tempo don Rainer Truby. Ultimately, aside from the burgeoning artists (Philadelphia house producer Vikter Duplaix, San Francisco's Naked Music crew) and "breaking" records (Erro's "Don't Change," an anonymous house remix of Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue"), this was the underlying message of WMC 2001: Electronic music and dance music are, like the silicone-enhanced bosoms on South Beach, spilling over themselves, with the emergence of established stars such as Paul van Dyk, Fatboy Slim and Sasha & Digweed compounded by a never-ending sprawl of 12-inch singles by young producers from

every corner of the earth.

The vitality of the scene, questioned over the last year in part because "electronica" hasn't made its much-ballyhooed leap over to the pop charts, was unfailingly vigorous all week, which was a testament to the drive of the industry that keeps it going. For example, last year trance, a style that is heavy on digital, at times mechanical, production and is often derided by dance purists as predictable and shallow, appeared poised to eclipse the two decades of house and techno that preceded its arrival and become the "face of electronic music" to the population at large. This year, however, trance was simply another color in the dance-music rainbow, which is somehow able to safely manage its growth and maintain a peacefully coexisting spectrum of professionals whose collective goal is advancement of perhaps the only dynamic and vital musical form in youth culture today.

At what other industry conference do attendees compete over how little sleep they're running on and how distorted their perception of reality has become? Stamina is a matter of pride in South Beach every late March, and sleep is nothing but a sign of weakness. A corporate shareholders' meeting it ain't.

Don't let the beat drop.