The Winter Music Conference is all about finding out the latest trends in the electronic music industry and, for artists, taking a career to the next level with workshops, advice, and networking. The other half of the week is the events. Even with the Ultra Music Festival bookending the festival, plenty of events went on in conjunction with WMC and as part of Miami Music Week, and here are the ones we attended.
The EDM label with an ever-growing profile held a nine-hour showcase of its artists at Nikki Beach on March 20. The event was the first of its kind for Spinnin’ Records, and considering the wide range of artists on the label, the show, which stuck with a hits-centric festival format, had its highs and lows.
By the time we came over after WMC, Sunnery James and Ryan Marciano had taken the stage to do a bass-heavy set. Percussion and more synths intertwined into the flow, at points, but what the Dutch duo presented wasn’t greatly different from their Size in the Park offering. Part of being a DJ means changing up what you do, and with the crowd’s middling reaction, it might be time for this duo to do just that.
Following, Showtek offered up a heavier set, one with more anthemic elements. Although Showtek’ productions tend to err toward by-the-numbers progressive house, they have the festival act down pat, with enough showmanship to keep the crowd’s attention.
Miami native Cedric Gervais, on the other hand, has proven his range as a producer and backed that up with his Spinnin’ Sessions set. A vocoder introduced him, with heavier bass and syncopated synths in succession not long after.
Compared to the other acts showcased that evening, Gervais stuck less with the vocal-driven tracks and, instead, took a more experimental approach, blending in dubstep at one point. But, as more of a reflection on the crowd present than Gervais’ DJing skills, his remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” was the hit of his 45 minutes on stage.
Nervo took the stage next. While the twins’ profile rose with the Australian explosion of 2012, their act, really, comes down to this: two hot blonds that produce vocal-driven pop house standing in a DJ booth. Their tracks aren’t particularly memorable, and the coordinated onstage showmanship got cloying about mid-way through the set. Yet, for fans, the two dropped a new track (perhaps a collaboration with Showtek, considering their name flashed a few times on the screen behind) and played their latest single, a track characterized by descending arpeggiated synth lines, toward the end.
Sander Van Doorn closed the showcase with an hour-plus set. Unlike a few of the acts that preceded him, Doorn switches up his sets: last year at Ultra, he leaned more toward trance, and his Sunburn Goa 2012 offering dove more into dubstep territory. This versatility, along with the smooth transitions between a divergent group of track, is likely one of the reasons Doorn was a WMC panelist.
Although his recent hits, like the discordant “Joyenergizer” seamlessly glided into the setlist, Doorn added the occasional mashup and switched from melodic synth-driven to vocal-centric to more percussive styles with ease. Although an anthemic quality characterized his set at points, Doorn’s synth lines always captured the crowd’s attention.
Detroit Premiere Artists Showcase
With Kevin Saunderson and Carl Craig at the helm, the Detroit Premiere Artists Showcase displayed, perhaps, the talent keeping the origins of DJing strong. None of the sets, slip between two rooms in the Treehouse, could be described as “anthmeic.” Instead, the organic quality, of minimal sounds slowly transitioning, indicated that proper pacing and the well-placed sample are everything.
While the Treehouse’s rustic atmosphere seemed like an odd choice for a techno showcase, the overt showmanship present, likely, in sets across Miami this week was gone. In fact, if it weren’t for the lights illuminating the DJ booths, the audience wouldn’t be aware who was playing.
But rather than catering to the spring break crowd of many MMW events, clubbers at the Treehouse tended to skew older and be more knowledgeable of the intricacies of DJing, cheering the select synth line or vocoder bit to intertwine into (and quickly disappear out of) a mix. The beats flowed, some sets taking a stomping, four-to-the-floor quality and others with a swinging character, and the crowd applauded the talent for being DJs – not pop stars behind a booth.
One of the longest events during the Winter Music Conference, Juicy Beach, really, is one day-long party organized by Robbie Rivera. This year, though, a competition tied into it, essentially giving an unknown a prime spot for exposure during Miami Music Week.
We headed back down to Nikki Beach after the IDMAs on March 21 to catch a bit of the action. What we found was a packed club with each DJ delivering a strong contemporary house set – not hits driven and with the occasional recognizable track and plenty of synths and percussive bits to keep the crowd entertained and going.
The first we caught was Manuel De La Mer, who, out of those we saw, had the least hits-focused set. Vocals surfaced sporadically, and full synth chords cut through to continue to melodic line. Although De La Mer got about as close as you can get to contemporary house while sticking with a more traditional format, he didn’t succumb to the showmanship and mugging behind the DJ booth that many of his contemporaries do. Instead, the beats and melodies spoke for themselves, and the crowd responded positively.
David Solano seamlessly picked up with the next set, starting out with an oscillating synth line soon punctuated by sampled horns. This quality initially gave Solano’s set a Latin-inspired character, but a lengthy buildup and bass drop made it short-lived.
While Solano’s hour stick with a more modern format, his set incorporated sounds the audience knew well. Even when more percussive and heavy at points, material from Fedde Le Grand, Alphaville (1980s classic “Forever Young”), and Ellie Goulding (“Lights”) still came through.
The final Juicy Beach set we caught was Tony Arzadon’s, who built up right when the “Lights” remix finished. Arzadon retained many of Solano’s features: the bass drops, the well-placed vocal line, and the heavier parts to balance it out. At points, however, even when the track was familiar, such as his take on “Put Your Hands Up for Detroit,” rhythm had been placed higher in the mix. Or, in the case of a take of Tiesto and Wolfgang Garner’s “We Are The Night,” the entire rhythmic and melodic elements were gutted and replaced with something heavier, all while the vocals remained intact.