“The biggest dance event in the country, Winter Music Conference, happens here in Miami,” DJ Irie tells me over the phone before one of his gigs at South Beach’s hottest megaclub, LIV. “I just hope this year doesn’t mess things up.”
In case you haven’t heard, the marriage between the wonderful week of endless parties and electronic music mayhem known as Winter Music Conference and the epic rave known as Ultra Music Festival is over. That’s right; from what I’ve heard, the founder of WMC, Bill Kelly, and the guys behind Ultra, Alex Omes and Russell Faibisch had a falling out. Each claims their vehicles are the real reason for WMC’s success. And each wants their own week.
Now WMC will take place on March 8 – 12, while Ultra stays at the end of the month, March 25 – 27. Over its 26-year history, WMC has become known by industry insiders, audiophiles and fans alike as the pre-eminent date for merchandisers and manufacturers launching new music, technology and trends in the music business. But it wasn’t until 1999, when the Ultra Festival piggy-backed on WMC’s growth to stage (what was then, an all-day festival on the sands of South Beach) that the WMC exploded onto the global stage as the place to be for everyone and anyone involved with electronic dance music.
As Ultra grew over the subsequent years, it moved to Downtown Miami. It is now staged at Bayfront Park and attracts over 100,000 festival-goers. In 2005, WMC and Ultra joined forces, giving badge-holders entry into the festival. WMC badge sales shot through the roof. Ultra got a legitimate platform to ascend to the world’s top-tier music festivals (although compared to events like Coachella, it’s often a big disorganized mess).
It wasn’t long though, before Omes and Faibisch began to power-play their partners at WMC by signing many of Ultra’s headlining acts to exclusive contracts, barring them from playing at any other party, club, or showcase during the preceding week. This includes major artists like Tiesto and Paul Oakenfold, as well as Florida fave, Rabbit in the Moon. That has not only angered partygoers, but club owners and showcase promoters as well.
In an email sent out last week, Club Space owner, the always outspoken Louis Puig, slams Ultra’s organizers for monopolizing the DJ talent pool. "This year and once again, Ultra is trying to monopolize WMC by engaging exclusive contracts with all major DJs which will not allow them to perform at your favorite dance clubs."
Puig adds, "What this means to the consumer is that you will no longer be able to enjoy your favorite DJ for extended sets after midnight at your favorite clubs, instead you will be forced to listen to them for a one hour set before midnight in a crowded field of dust, mud and ravers."
So this is pretty much set in stone. Many of us will have to choose between a string of hotel and club events or a three-day music festival. I’m going to get more details on my favorite week of the year (plus some more reactions from DJs and event promoters to see what kind of ripples this WMC-Ultra feud will send throughout the industry and dance music scene).
At least one DJ has a bright outlook on things. Rony Seikaly, global phenom, former NBA baller, and the current hot new thing on Subliminal Records, put his hopes this way: “I hope it’s not a disaster. It definitely throws people’s schedules off, but hopefully it just expands into three straight weeks of WMC.” Agreed.
More on this next week!
I can see you… but not like, in a stalker way or anything like that.