If you want to get in the game at the Winter Music Conference--the electronic dance music industry and club culture's annual mecca in Miami--then you have to be where the players are.
Specifically, poolside on the opulent deck outside the Fontainebleau Hotel, Winter Music's social nexus and command center.
Throughout the conference's five-day continuous mix of business and bacchanal, dozens of the world's top electronic dance DJs, producers, agents, distributors and promoters gather with hundreds of up-and-comers vying for just a few precious seconds of their time, all in varying--and, as the conference proceeds, degenerative--states of recovery from the previous night's parties, afterparties, and after-the-afterparty parties.
"Forget all the panel discussions how the record industry works or the best way to get a single signed going on inside the hotel," says Tempe dance-music DJ, producer and, of late, record label co-founder Ryan James Jeffs, widely known to Valley ravers as DJ Inertia.
"The best way to learn how the industry works or to get a single on the charts is to work the pool deck. There's two bars, and everyone sticks to the one that's closest to the beach, walking around, looking good (or maybe not so good if they've been on speed for three days), carrying boxes of records, with their $275 admission badges hanging out so everyone can see exactly who they are.
"It's comical, actually. Everyone's looking at this expensive piece of plastic around your neck, instead of your eyes."
Sarah Gianetto (club name: GalaxyGrl), who attended last year's Winter Music Conference with Jeffs, soon after they founded the Dream Music label together, says, "It was the first time I can remember not being offended when I noticed every guy around staring at my chest."
Like a thousand of their competitors, Gianetto, 23, and Jeffs, 27, were in Miami to push a record. Despite the crossover album-length success of projects from artists such as the Orb, the Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and (dare we utter their blasphemous name?) Prodigy, the revenue machine that drives the ever-more-profitable electronic dance industry remains the underground club hit: one single that blows up, typically in Europe first, then the States.
The box of "white label" promo acetates Gianetto and Jeffs lugged around the Fontainebleau's pool held 100 hastily pressed copies of "Time," a lush, epic sonic tapestry woven by the first act signed to Dream Music--Phoenix producer and live electronica act Joey Fehrenbech, who performs and records as the Dream Traveler.
"We hit every big-time DJ we could," says Jeffs. From there out, the response to the track around the world was like, well, a dream come true.
Before "Time" had officially been pressed for distribution--in other words, based solely on the 100 promo copies Gianetto and Jeffs dealt out like cards at the Winter Music Conference--word sailed across the Atlantic that "Time" was a bona fide club hit in the U.K.
Within three months, the track began to appear on distributor hot-sheets, industry publications that chart which of the plethora of new tracks released each month are getting played in club sets by globally known DJs--the taste makers of global dance culture, who largely dictate which singles catch on and which flop like a candy raver with too big a nitrous balloon.
The compositional centerpiece of "Time" is an effervescent loop that sounds like the Teletubbies playing a mad jig. That hook is decorated with a rain forest of strings and acidic keyboard lines.
The track falls solidly under the "Trance" heading--dance music with more of a bite than flowery, mainstay house, but less esoteric than the rapidly emerging jungle and drum 'n' bass forms. This is curious, since trance is considered to be almost exclusively a U.K. form.
"Trance from Arizona?" asked a critic for England's BPM Culture magazine recently. "Yes! Whoever said that good Trance is not coming out of the U.S. is dead wrong."
Ever eager to coin yet one more genre category moniker, a second English critic recently dubbed Fehrenbech's hit the harbinger of "desert trance."
Whatever, says the Dream Traveler.
"When I write any track, I'm not trying to fit into any dance genre. I just write what sounds good to me at the time, although most of it does fall neatly in the trance spectrum. My goal with 'Time' was to write a song that would keep people groovin', while simultaneously sending their minds off on a mental journey, the places we go when we daydream."
Fehrenbech, 24, has been around the Valley rave scene for years. He went to his first underground party in 1992, and the next year started playing live at warehouse parties with friend Doug Arnett as Prometheus, whose career highlight was sharing a bill with Timothy Leary at the CyberSlam party in 1993.
Prometheus remained a popular act in the Valley rave scene until 1995, Fehrenbech says, when he and Arnett's creative impulses went wishbone.
A classically trained pianist, Fehrenbech quietly flew beneath the Valley rave and club scene's radar for more than three years, sharpening his technical points and programming new material.
When Fehrenbech heard Gianetto and Jeffs were starting a record label, the Dream Traveler kicked them one of his favorite tracks. Gianetto was ecstatic upon the first listening, and Jeffs eventually came around.
Recently, "Time" has been licensed and released on two new mix CDs by prominent DJs--Thomas Michael's new disc West Coast Vibes I (Phatt Phunk) and, in an unprecedented coup for a Valley live electronica artist, "Time" received the coveted first spot on demigod DJ Paul Oakenfold's new mix Tranceport (Kinetic Records).
Just weeks after the Winter Music Conference, Gianetto and Jeffs had started to hear rumors that big DJs were spinning "Time" in Europe. But they wanted to hear it before they believed it.
So they traveled to the 5,000-capacity Spunday, a club in San Francisco that, during Gay Pride week in June, held an event called Blue Moon, with a wish list of turntablists from across the Atlantic, including John Digweed.
Digweed was nearing the end of his set, and had yet to drop "Time" into his mix. Gianetto and Jeffs were sitting upstairs in the chill area, dejected.
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"We were packing up our bags, saying our goodbyes; we felt defeated," Jeffs recalls. "Then Sarah starts tugging on my shoulder. She has this uncanny ability to pick a track out of a mix before I can. She could just hear the hi-hats coming in.
"At first I was like, 'No, that's not it.' Then it was, 'No, wait, yeah, oh my God, that's it.' Digweed was pounding that track out, prime time, and 5,000 people were going off. I just went barreling over people. I pushed my way to the front of the DJ booth, and I go stumbling in. I trip over the DJ's record crates, I look up, and John Digweed's looking at me like, 'What's your problem?'
"I put my hands together and sort of bowed toward him and just went, 'Thank you.' He said, 'Oh, is this your record then? Nice one.'"
Contact David Holthouse at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org