At my first Miami Winter Music Conference, I was immediately overwhelmed by the scale and craziness of the festival. On Thursday alone there were over 100 parties, so hitting everything worthwhile was an impossibility. Thankfully, there were Torontonians everywhere, and they were incredibly open to helping me navigate this enormous party, including getting me on guest lists and past doormen.
Thu, Mar 27
First stop was the Giant Step label’s party at the Delano Hotel, with Carl Craig’s Demon Days crew. Craig and company were playing more to the deep house side than the techno sounds some people associate him with. This was the first time I heard Blind, by Hercules and Love Affair (featuring vocals by Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons), but it won’t be the last. The quirky post-disco track was getting dropped at parties all weekend, even at the more mainstream events. In some circles it will likely be one of the anthems of the year.
I ended up later that night at Studio A for the Get Physical party. The critically acclaimed German label had Hamilton’s Junior Boys DJing, and it was great seeing the Canadian boys getting so much love stateside. Label co-founders M.A.N.D.Y. were the highlight of the night, though, showcasing the edgy left-field house that’s brought them to prominence.
I bounced around to a few more clubs in the area, but nothing grabbed my ear, so I headed back to the hotel to rest up for Friday.
Fri, Mar 28
I wandered around the dozens of afternoon hotel parties and ran into some of the crew from the Social hanging by a swimming pool. As we left to check out Calvin Harris’s gig at a nearby poolside, the DJ dropped American Boy, by Estelle, which is currently at the top of the pop charts in the UK and, judging by the number of times it was played over the weekend, is sure to be huge when it officially drops on this side of the pond. It’s a fluffy, lightweight disco pop tune, but catchy as hell.
If you had to pick a trend to look out for from this conference, it would be the introduction of mellower melodic disco-ish flavours amidst all the distorted synth riffs and rave-revisionism that’s been dominating the electro-house scene for the past year. Frankly, it’s a welcome break from the screaming sirens and acid bass lines. They’re still banging out the club thumpers, but mixing it up with other flavours.
The Calvin Harris live performance at the Raleigh Hotel was one of the highlights of the weekend: house music with rock and electro overtones played by a tight band, without too much laptop support. DJs are great and all, but it’s much more impressive to see people playing this music with their actual hands. It was hard to get excited about A-Trak’s set after Harris, and considering how A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold label has been doing, that’s saying a lot.
DJ Mehdi laying down some beats at Snatch.
I ended up at Snatch, where the boys from the Social were hosting an event. It’s a decent enough venue, but other than the music, it has little in common with the kind of crowd and vibe that make the Social such a hot spot. I enjoyed DJ Mehdi and Annie Mac most out of the acts I managed to catch there.
I’d heard enough bloghouse and electro, so I headed over to the Def Jam party at Shine. David Morales laid waste to the sweaty, enthusiastic crowd, bumping the house classics and new stuff from the label. Traditional house is far from dead apparently, and I was suddenly sad that Morales’s Toronto club, Sonic, didn’t last very long.
Sat, Mar 29
Burnout was definitely starting to set in. That high-pitched clave sound that seemed to be featured in half the new songs of the weekend was becoming really ear-piercing and annoying. I wandered over to the Miami Beach Resort & Spa to chill out by the pool to some dubstep courtesy of Mala and Moldy.
The crowd wasn’t huge, since this conference was more geared to house and techno variations, but those up front were quite enthusiastic. Mala, in particular, dropped some great tunes over the afternoon, and this emerging sub-genre may manage to break out of the London scene after all. You just need enough bass bins to reproduce the heavy low-end bass lines properly and what previously sounded like ambient suddenly has dance-floor appeal.
After floating in and out of a few generic pool parties, I ended up at the Stones Throw-sponsored Hella International Pool Party. Lots of gritty Detroit-flavoured hip-hop, classic soul and some trippy fucked-up breakbeats from Karriem Riggins. It was my first time hearing him play, and I was impressed by the vibe. James Pants took things further toward the soul and funk end, and Peanut Butter Wolf did his hip-hop and funk thing.
Nav Sangha (left) and Jesse Keelor compare cellphones at Rok Bar.
I wandered down the strip to a few other hotel and bar parties, but nothing was very impressive, so I decided to hit up the MSTRKRFT-hosted party at Rok Bar. A lot of people were trying to get in the tiny place, a weird crowd of Toronto scenesters, hot girls and very rich guys. The bottle service minimum was around $5,000, which explains a lot.
Steve Aoki and LA Riots played great sets, but the vibe was surprisingly mellow compared to what we usually expect from this crew. Perhaps after a week of partying, they, too, were getting sick of pounding beats and booze.