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Miami vices: Words of cautionary wisdom for WMC 2009

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Deadmau5 spinning at the 2008 Ultra Music Festival, an outdoor electronic music fest held in conjunction with WMC.
Photo: Drew "Rukes" Ressler / Flickr

“Even if you’re The Man or you’re going with The Man, it’s still a pain in the ass getting into clubs in Miami,” Josh Donaldson, Director of Marketing for house music events for Light Group tells me over the phone the night before I’m set to fly there for a week of partying. “For some of the real big parties I am on the list, but I still personally bought tickets because I don’t want to deal with it.”

Josh D, as he is known in industry circles, is packing his bags and boarding a flight to Miami’s annual Winter Music Conference for the twelfth time. He knows everybody who is anybody.

This is my first WMC and I know absolutely no one who is anybody.

Josh also informs me that I shouldn’t book a hotel past 19th Street. He’s staying on 6th. I check my itinerary – of course, I’m way the hell in downtown Miami, a $25 cab fare away from Miami Beach and all of the conference’s clubs and parties.

Now that I’ve been disillusioned, I’m expecting a week of slumming at the Days Inn, commuting daily to an overwhelming and chaotic smorgasboard of DJ sets and being denied access to every glamorous after party and exclusive club.

“The whole vibe and scene is different in Miami,” says Judy Stone, PR director for Prive. Prive is owned by Opium Group, owner of popular Miami clubs Prive, Set and Mansion, and Stone lived in Miami for years. “In Miami they can be picky: they let five girls in and that is the party—and that has happened. It’s kind of like L.A.; the less people the better, as long as it’s the right people. … Here we tend to let everyone in. At Pure, it may take you an hour wait in the GA line, but you will get in eventually. In Miami, you could wait in line all night and you ain’t never gonna get in.”

Leach Blog Photo

Dirty South at 2008 Ultra Music Festival in Miami. Tiesto, Moby, Santogold, Bloc Party and a slew of other musicians are slated to perform at this year's Ultra and WMC.

The Miami clubs are capitalizing on the fact that a ton of house music lovers will be flooding Miami Beach for a week, dying to see their favorite DJs spin. The clubs book in-demand names like David Guetta, Bob Sinclair, Axwell, Danny Tenaglia, Swedish House Mafia and Tiesto, paying them $20 grand or more to spin for a night. Mucho dinero, yes, but the clubs still make a dramatic profit by charging a ridiculously exorbitant cover.

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WMC, a four-day electronic/house music festival designed to bring together DJs, producers, record label reps, media and fans from around the world, began back in 1986 and now attracts over 3,500 music industry participants and more than 62,000 event participants from 70 countries. For many years, the festival was friendly and easy to navigate, and the standard WMC badge was enough to get you in everywhere you wanted to be. But the badge gradually lost clout and is now practically laughed at by the doormen of the most exclusive parties. Now, it’s all about the Benjamins.

Frankie Anobile has been to WMC a dozen times, but says he might skip it this year.

Frankie Anobile, aka DJ Frankie, has been one of the Las Vegas’s best-known DJ’s for the last 30 years. He’s even received the key to the city from the Mayor, and now works on the operations side, booking DJs for ND’s Fuego at the Rio and other venues. Along with promoter Mark Jay, he threw the now legendary 14 club megaparty at WMC 2005, where Tabu, Studio 54, Drais, Pure, Risqué, Rain, OPM, Vivid, RA (now LAX), Zbar, Ghostbar, Ice, Tangerine (now Christian Audigier, The Nightclub) and Teatro shared a wild night of bottle popping and showing off to the world the prowess of Vegas nightlife.

While Anobile has been attending WMC as a talent for years, he said, he doesn’t plan on going this year. There is a slight chance he’ll hop a last-minute flight on Friday – he got a deal on a room—but his heart isn’t in it like it was before.

“Every year it gets more and more vicious,” says Anobile. He recalls one night waiting outside club Space, where the railing and line went back and forth for four rows “like a Disneyland ride,” he recalls. A man with a clipboard yelled out, “Anyone here got $5000?”

Anobile was with a wealthy man who owns nightclubs in New York and several Las Vegas restaurants who had the cash. Only after the doorman swiped his credit card to make sure it went through were the group of businessmen led through the crowd to table seven.

“They play games, they’ll make you wait,” says Anobile. “You can pay the minimum $1000, but if a big high roller comes, you have to move to the bar to get drinks.”

The clubs have also become less amicable with one another.

“Between the clubs it used to be friendly competition. Now, it’s absolutely war, and I mean war,” says Anobile. “People are having lawsuits against each other. You’re never going to see 14 clubs come together like that again; sharing bottle service, friendly hanging out, buying each other drinks—you’re not going to see that now.”

He also laments that WMC no longer hosts the Club World Awards, which honored the standout clubs of L.A., NYC and his beloved Las Vegas. Anobile feels that over the years, in the pursuit of the bottom line, WMC has lost its heart and soul. “Now it’s overpopulated with scene seekers. It’s more watered down.”

Because of--wait for it--the economy, the World Club Awards have canceled their awards ceremony altogether, opting to hand out the disco ball-shaped trophies throughout the conference rather than stage an elaborate ceremony.

Except for a few international headliners, DJs, the nuclei of the conference, are also frequently left to fend for themselves.

“The new DJs get lost in the shuffle,” Anobile explains. “It’s not a venue for beginners. It’s like a new boxer getting into the ring with Mike Tyson—this is for the heavyweights.”

In his 2006 feature article on WMC, Miami Beatdown, former Weekly nightlife editor Martin Stein compared clubbing in Miami to “hitting yourself in the head with a variety of hammers. Hmm, that ball-peen hurt like hell; let's try the claw-hook. Oops, that one smarts. How about the rubber mallet. Nope, say, let's see if the ball-peen still hurts.”

As Anobile talks, I start to imagine myself sneaking through a back door or slipping under a velvet rope, staging some sort of coup. But I’ll probably end up a resigned plebian outsider, strolling along the beach while the “right people” dance the night away. I think I can live with that.

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Jennifer Grafiada

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