Winter Music Conference

March 29, 2000

Pete Tong makes the boat bump at Winter Music - Jeff  Niesel
Pete Tong makes the boat bump at Winter Music
If the South by Southwest (SXSW) music conference, which took place in Austin, Texas, a few weeks ago, delivers "buzz bands," the Winter Music Conference (WMC), a DJ and electronica festival that happens annually in South Beach Miami, usually around the same time as SXSW, delivers "buzz songs." At WMC, which concluded on March 29, several tracks were played multiple times, suggesting their "buzzworthy" status, as MTV would have it. We not only heard Fatboy Slim play his remix of Groove Armada's "I See You Baby," but also witnessed Pete Tong put it in the mix on a boat party sponsored by Urb magazine and heard DJ Feelgood break the track out while he was spinning on top of a Miami nightclub. A remix of the Police's "When the World Is Running Down You Make the Best of What's Still Around," sped up to the point that Sting virtually sounded like a chipmunk singing to a skittish drum 'n' bass beat, was also in heavy rotation, as were songs such as Armand Van Helden's "Koochie," which actually doesn't officially come out in the U.S. until next month, and Trancesetters' "Roaches." The idea of a song rather than an artist creating a buzz might seem odd, but it's logical when you consider that the majority of the performers were DJs playing records by other artists.

There were exceptions, of course. Both Moby and Les Rhythmes Digitales played "live" sets, but neither act really needed the help of bandmates. Most of Moby's best beats were delivered via samples, and the best vocals came from the old field recordings of blues singers he had pilfered for his most recent album, last year's Play. But ever since releasing the hardcore punk album Animal Rights in 1996, Moby has been fixated on developing an onstage personality and combining electronic elements with rock ones. He even bantered with the crowd between songs and played a few riffs from Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" -- things DJs never do. Moby was best, however, when he reverted to his old style of performing -- solo with an electronic sampler. For the final song of his set, he stood shirtless on top of his keyboard and let the pummeling breakbeats do the work.

Les Rhythmes Digitales also had most of its music on a prerecorded loop, so the instruments that frontman Jacques Lu Cont and his bandmates played were really just for show. Their exaggerated dance-step routines, silly silver outfits, and posturing were so cheesy, they stood out as one of the worst performances of the entire conference. Not that either Moby, whose show came between trance DJ sets by Sandra Collins and Lisa Loud, or Les Rhythmes Digitales, who played as part of an Astralwerks party that included appearances by Q-Burns Abstract Message, Micronauts, Uberzone, and Gearwhore, played to empty houses. Their shows were at large clubs that were filled to capacity by conference attendees and spring-break revelers alike -- all of which contributed to cramped conditions and irritable bouncers, who took the opportunity to charge exorbitant covers, confiscate cameras, and deny reentry when they had the chance.

Like any music conference, WMC was as much about schmoozing as music. Whether lounging by the pool at the conference headquarters at the Radisson Deauville Hotel -- where a stage for live performances was set up and Groove Radio hosted a live webcast -- or hanging out on the rooftop of the Sony building at an invite-only party for the F-111 imprint, conference attendees were there as much for the party atmosphere (it helped that most clubs stayed open until 5 a.m. as well) as for the music. And to that extent, WMC was a success, despite the hassles involved in getting into clubs and schlepping to and from the headquarters at the out-of-the-way Radisson.

Chris' Warped Records will initiate a local music series called "Music Education 101" on April 8 at the Blind Lemon (11729 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood). Bands scheduled to perform include Cult of the Psychic Fetus, the Signoffs, Disengage, and Destructor. The show, which starts at 9:30 p.m., is free and open to all ages. The concert is part of Blind Lemon's first anniversary weekend, and on April 7, Elvis 77, Landspeed Record, and Kung Pao will also play a free show at the club to mark the occasion. For more information, call 216-521-8878.

Lorin Richards will collaborate with the Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre for a mixed-media performance of Enki, his album of electronic music. Richards will be narrating, while the dance group will interpret the dialogue, which was inspired by Zecharia Sitchin's book The Twelfth Planet. The concert will take place at 8 p.m. on April 8 at Cleveland Public Theatre (6415 Detroit Avenue); tickets are $13. For more information, call 216-631-2727.

Send local music info and "buzz songs" to [email protected].