Miami Vices

Monday, March 27: It's 3 a.m. at Privé on Miami's South Beach—Paris Hilton is locked in the bathroom and Ben Watt's teasing 300 dancers by dropping a line from his most well-known song into a smoldering house track. Tracey Thorn's voice calls "Step off the train . . . ," but the song never climaxes, leaving everyone euphorically on edge.

Hilton wasn't at the Buzzin' Fly label showcase that night, but the long-running Sunday hip-hop party at Opium Garden next door, one of the non-Conference treats Miami naturally provides. "Conference" is the blanket term for everything that happens during the last two weeks of March—the 21-year-old Winter Music Conference (WMC); Ultra Festival, where 50,000 people dance beachside; and the M3 Summit, which I attended. And just in time. I grew up in Florida, and the Northwest's long, dark winters drive me bonkers, so shedding my layers for a skirt and flip-flops was a major relief.

Short for Miami/Music/Multimedia, the Summit grew from writer David Prince's idea to combine a "Miami Master List" of the most noteworthy events during the Conference. In its third year, his goal of gathering forward-thinking music fans, industry professionals, and high-tech partners for poolside networking sessions seems to have caught on. Cheaper and fresher than WMC, the lineup is more eclectic, and graciously, no panels start before noon. In a week of overwhelming options, it makes things manageable.

One of the best parties all week came on KEXP DJ Darek Mazzone's recommendation, at the locals-filled bar Purdy. Fans danced to Miami's Spam All-Stars, an eight-piece band improvising Latin, funk, hip-hop, and dub like few I've seen. Mazzone maintained their infectious energy during his subsequent DJ set, and afterward we caught Forró in the Dark, a Brazilian group that frequently burns up New York's Lower East Side. I couldn't keep pace with Mazzone all week— particularly when he attended an exclusive party at the Versace mansion—but I did see him the next night at the National Hotel. Om DJ/producer Kaskade and the versatile King Britt headlined an open-bar soiree (thanks, Microsoft!), which in this $15-per-drink town is the only way to fly.

Later in downtown's design district, I spotted Lady Sovereign and drum and bass producer John B. dancing to Sydney electro duo the Presets. At roughly the same time, Seattle's SunTzu Sound were getting their long-overdue props at the Jazzanova vs. Bugz in the Attic party back at the beach. After SunTzu opened the show, Bugz later dropped the 1Luv single "Black Daylight," released on SunTzu's label, into their set with multiple rewinds. SunTzu's broken-beat crowd finally matched name to face, with humbling results for member J-Justice. "We came down for a reason, and it worked, and we're going home with that validation that what we're doing is paying off," he said.

It was also the first Conference trip for DJ Kid Hops, whose long-running KEXP shows Expansions and Positive Vibrations supplement weekly gigs around Seattle. "I think we get so wrapped up in our own little worlds that we forget there's people just like us in every city. It's cool when you have the opportunity and the excuse to meet," he said. The networking—I saw him with Chop Suey's Steven Severin, DJ Colby B, and party promoter Fortune Kiki at Jamie Lidell's show—and the music equally impressed him. In fact, the one thing I regret was not rubbing elbows with Hops and Fabio at the Viram party, where every drum and bass don and their brother played. I'd been at a less star-studded affair the night before and had my premature fill of the genre. That seems impossible now, but it's funny what six consecutive nights out can do to your judgment.

I didn't always choose wisely, but I had to respect Yvette Soler's choice not to go out Sunday night. We'd planned to meet, but the Infinite Connections promoter had gotten word the previous day of the tragedy on Capitol Hill, which involved people close to her. She was at Ultra when a friend called with the news, though they told her to stay and dance. "My sanctuary has always been music," says Soler, who is from Miami. "If I ever needed solace, I could stand by a pier and look at the skyline . . . so dancing to psy-trance [there] made me feel a lot calmer. It reminded me why I'm part of the community."

That electronic music can inspire, refresh, and rejuvenate is entirely the point—it's why people keep visiting Miami, and bringing the feeling home.

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