Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Nation's DJ Mecca - Miami

After covering my tenth Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival last month, I came to the conclusion that everything I grew up on is the hands of an entirely new generation. The kids at raves these days were babies when I was a kid at a rave. I feel kind of old for the first time in my life, but the connection to rave culture feels reborn. I like that the word “rave” is reborn too. Not that the stigma has left it, in many ways it’s only been re-enforced. But long gone are the days of yester-decade when the mere association with the word “rave” would undermine an event with a passé, delinquent, childish vibe. On the other hand, during the last decade many dance music affairs seemed pretty long in tooth when it came to patrons. The Winter Music Conference five years ago was very adult. Decadent, don’t get me wrong, but aged.

Now that the kids are back, listening to electronic music, wearing colorful beads, and popping those you-know-whats, the fun, fantastical world of rave culture is back, not that it ever really left. It just splintered off into pieces for a while. And now it’s less about the genres and sub-genres but more about the vibe, the trippy-dippy one-love stuff, and the esoteric aspect of it all. Terrence McKenna would be proud.

Steve Aoki put it perfectly to me backstage at Ultra. “Electronic music, EDM, house whatever you want to call it, it’s not mainstream, still after all these years. But what has happened is that the underground is bigger than ever. It’s almost the size of commercial mainstream culture, but it’s still underneath it all. Maybe it always will be, and that’s the beauty of it.”

In fact, when the mainstream tries to pander to the vast, global community that rave and electronic dance music has fostered, it turns into to a big fail, like Madonna’s contrived moment with the crowd at Ultra. She asked “Has anyone seen Molly?” Of course, everyone cheered. But many of us felt like grandma just made a pass at one of our friends. Since the underground has grown to its present proportions, it’s also become more inclusive. I couldn’t help notice the wide range of ages (18-late 30’s) and styles (from hardcore freak to surfer preppy types) at the Richie Hawtin M-Nus Showcase at Space closing out the Conference. And they all stayed to watch minimal techno savant even though he didn’t take to the deck until a very old school hour of 5 AM. That was the point I realized I’m getting too old for the morning rise set. Plastikman is worth it though. All in all, I welcome the new gen with open arms. They should take the culture and run with it. They’re more media and technologically savvy, and what is rave and EDM culture if not that? They are also friendlier and more positive than I my friends and I were. Then again, we were selling fake hits in the parking lot and jumping the fence to get in. But that’s more an old school Miami thing I can’t shake. I’ll tell you more about that sometime soon. Peace…(and Love, and Unity, and Respect).

“It’s very simple," says Miami's homegrown world-renown DJ Irie. "Miami is the nightlife capital of the world. Hands down. The big DJs understand that to really be recognized, they have to have a presence in Miami.

Like many of today’s top imports who grace our city’s turntables, Miami’s most notable DJ, Irie (a.k.a. Ian Grocher), is increasingly rotating his rhythms among a new generation of Miami mega-clubs. As always, the cavalcade is centered on South Beach, its heavyweight hotspots, and various pop-ups too numerous to list here.

"Miami is always on the tip of people’s tongue," says Irie. "The city itself is a brand. The mixture of cultures lends itself to a mix of musical influences. That’s important to a DJ. It’s liberating.”

But the borders of clubland are far reaching these days. Now, platinum names like Paul van Dyk, Armin van Buuren, David Guetta, and members of the chart-topping Swedish House Mafia (Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso), are venturing throughout the city’s clubscape to stake a claim in Miami’s evolving DJ legacy.

But what club are they drawn to most? Head a few minutes up Collins Avenue from South Beach to the Fontainebleau Hotel. There you'll find their giant, state-of-the-art venue - the world renowned, and according to many, best club on the planet, LIV nightclub. Their DJ booth constantly hosts the biggest names on the planet.

Erick Morillo, the premiere artist on his own Subliminal Records, has successfully turned his brand out on a global scale by spinning and hosting his infamous Subliminal Sessions - first at Ibiza, then New York City followed Las Vegas, and most recently in Miami at LIV. So where does Morillo feel his best sessions go down between those markets?

“Miami is defining a lot of my work right now," Morillo explains. "The city is an inspiration to anyone into electronic music. The lights, the sounds of the city, the people that never sleep. But more than anything, the clubs."

The clubs in Miami are what nightlife industry entrepreneurs from all over the country come to study before opening a venue that aims to be the s*&#. And though nightlife in Miami has had its ups and downs over the last decade, the association to big name DJ talent has never waned. As large rooms and big parties come back with the economy, it’s paying off. Miami, even more than ever, is the ultimate music destination, not only for the clubgoer, but for the talent in the booth as well.

“To be a major nightlife destination these days you need to bring in big name DJ’s," says LIV's co-head and Miami Marketing Group's David Grutman. "People want the full nightlife experience and that’s a big part of it. One of the things clubs in Miami do that make the experience for patrons impeccable, and the DJs seem out of this world, is equip our venues with high quality, state-of-the-art sound systems, and layouts that compliment the dance floor. You get consistent quality in those areas in Miami you don’t see elsewhere. So, Miami has one of the most quality nightlife experiences in the world, and that enables to commit to big name DJ talent.”

One of those quality DJs club owners like Grutman are committed to is Rony Seikaly. Yes, the ex-NBA center was the Miami Heat's first-ever draft pick. His post-NBA career involved owning and operating nightclubs, most notably Mynt. Having a knack for music, it wasn’t long before he re-assumed the nickname he earned as a post-up wiz during his playing days - The Spin Doctor.

Seikaly picked up DJing and turned the hobbie into a profession. Now he spreads his “Rony Style” all over Europe as a touring DJ, releasing original tracks including the club hit “Come With Me,” on Subliminal Records. He credits his involvement in Miami nightlife with giving him an edge as a DJ, and an understanding of what started the infatuation between superstar DJs and Miami.

“Back in the '90s Miami was the new capital of nightlife," says Seikaly. "Everything was huge. At the start of the 2000’s people were getting away from bigger clubs - going to lounges, smaller bars, and outside hotel patios. Now people are coming back to big clubs, like back in the '90s. Big parties need big DJs. Aside from the décor and the atmosphere, and the beautiful people, LIV is getting the big DJs.”

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