8:00 p.m. EST, Monday, March 17
In the lobby of Miami Beach's Radisson Deauville, on the eve of the Winter Music Conference, the music stops. President Buzzkill addresses the world. The face of George W. Bush replaces a Dirty Vegas video. The bright chatter among DJs, promoters, record label execs and their entourages dies as Bush's voice fills the silence. "Events in Iraq have reached the days of final decision," Bush says.
A severe thunderstorm warning scrolls across the screens. While Bush speaks of "evil men who plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror," lightning bolts and thunderclaps invade the sky. Bush signs off with: "May God continue to bless America." A hard rain's begun to fall.
The DJs spin on. Tens of thousands of people from around the world continue to arrive for WMC 2003 in the wake of Dubya's ultimatum. For the 48-hour countdown to war and the first 100 hours of fighting, the conferees embed themselves in the Command Division of Party People. Hummers throttle up and down the avenue. Folks litter the sidewalks with thousands of eye-candy party fliers, disbursed like psych-ops pamphlets. On the dance floor, sirens wail over the droning beat of machines. Searchlights slice through smoke. Behind the DJs, night-vision footage of cruise missile explosions shares screen time with attack helicopters shooting laser beams. Military technology flies in the service of hedonism. War doesn't stop the party; it is the party.
Weapons of Mass Distraction
1:30 a.m. EST, Tuesday, March 18
MSNBC ticker quotes U.S. Marine officer: "My troops are ready to execute, mentally and physically."
At the WMC launch party, Back Door Bamby, 1,000 bodies writhe on the dance floor of Crobar. Every muscle absorbs the shock waves deployed by deep house DJ David Morales. Atop the main bar, a female dancer with the ensemble Circ X is dressed as a Headless Nightclub Monster in a suit stitched from newspapers. Beneath the red-yellow-green lights, a male dancer sits in the middle of the bar reading headlines on her body that scream war in French, Italian, German, Arabic, Japanese. Curious clubbers surround the artists.
The man puts on headgear designed by artist and company director Diana Lozano. The glittery sphere with a menacing tube for a mouth is part gas mask, part disco ball. The soldier/disco dancer pulls a U.S. flag out of his pocket. He swallows the flag. He vomits the flag. He is for the moment the dance music community, hyped up on the theatrics of war, outraged and dancing, always dancing.
6:00 p.m. EST, Tuesday, March 18
A 24,000-member Force Service Support group delivers food to Marines in Kuwait.
Of all the yummy women poolside at the Winter Music Conference's official kickoff party at the Raleigh Hotel, the bumper sticker across Michelle Pagan's naked breasts proclaims her "The Yummiest."
Pagan, a 31-year-old model, wears only the sticker for the graphic design company she's promoting; a black thong; high heels to match; and gold hoop earrings. Costume devil's horns stick up from her spiraling blond coif. When a handler asks her what she wants from the snack bar, Pagan orders "French fries, lots of French fries." An instant later, she stomps her foot in exasperation. "I should have said freedom fries.' The French suck."
Pagan is pro-war. "I think it's totally necessary. War's been going on for fucking ever, man. You can't stop it. I have these friends from Poland and they say it's all lies and media hype that Iraq is a threat to us or that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. They could be right, and I realize that the American government is just picking on somebody they know they can beat down while the whole world watches. But fuck it. I take kung fu and sometimes it just feels really good to just beat somebody's ass, you know?"
1:00 p.m. EST, Wednesday, March 19
U.S. Army vehicles move toward the Iraqi border; airspace over Walt Disney World and Disneyland is restricted.
Octavius Prince, 23, isn't the only aspiring artist prowling the pool parties, laptop and headphones in hand, dying to play his latest bedroom creation. But there's something odd about the hard trance composition DJ Octavius plans to launch during his 4 to 5 a.m. set at Club Pump. "Final Justice" is a pro-war anthem. It begins with a snare drum roll that sounds like automatic weapons fire, then thumps at 147 beats per minute over a sample of the president's last State of the Union address declaring, in booming reverb, "We are winning the war on terror."
"I don't particularly like Bush, but I don't particularly dislike him, either, and I'm pretty patriotic. I like what he's saying, which is Don't fuck with us,' basically."
Bombs Over Baghdad
8:30 p.m. EST, Wednesday, March 19
Acting on "fresh intelligence," Central Command launches 36 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a bunker where it is believed Saddam Hussein may be hiding.
Along a red carpet, reporters await presenters and nominees at the American Dance Music Awards. The Goodyear blimp floats overhead, projecting an American flag on one side. A ticker tape on the other advertises "tires for luxury SUVs."
The eyes of the world may be fixed on Fox News and CNN, but DanceStar host Roger Sanchez predicts on camera that "a billion people around the world will be watching this show." Certainly, the British television and radio crews in the media tent are less interested in the war than in the debut on the awards show of platinum-selling rapper and hip-hop entrepreneur P. Diddy's first dance single. "We're really just here for Puffy," says a kid from the BBC's music station, Radio One.
But Puffy does not appear in the media tent. Only less-hyped DJs and performers file past the press, fielding questions about awards and war.
Miami DJ Tracy Young wears an American flag tee shirt. "Apart from the war, I wanted to represent American music," she says, smiling, her wide blue eyes sparkling. "Music always makes us happy."
Passionate beneath his dark shades and electro-shock streaked hair, progressive house music producer BT opposes the war. "It's disgraceful to be an American," he says. "That we can say that this war is not 100 percent about oil and money is a disgrace."
Felix da Housecat is down with that. "1-2-3-4, what the fuck are we fighting for?" he mutters. "How does that look? [Bush]'s just going into somebody's country. And then he's gonna get on TV and say, Don't burn the oil rigs.'"
Suddenly, fresh intelligence flashes through the media tent. P. Diddy will grant brief interviews. Select camera crews pack up gear and move through the dark, scurrying behind the stage. Half an hour later, the crews are still waiting. P. Diddy stands with his feet planted onstage in a cloud of smoke. He flails his arms, repeating frantically: "Let's get ill/Your dreams have been fulfilled."
Clusters of fireworks explode. Everyone ducks.
"Was that a bomb?" a woman backstage yells. "Are we at war?"
2:00 p.m. EST, Thursday, March 20
CNN reports massive antiwar protests in London, New York, San Francisco, Seoul, Rome, Paris, Cairo and Jakarta.
Paul van Dyk doesn't want to talk about his new album. Van Dyk, the East German, will speak on one topic alone: his opposition to the war. "When the bombing began last night, I was asking myself, How can I possibly go ahead and play and enjoy myself while I know there's a totally unnecessary war killing innocent people? The only other option would be to just stay in my hotel room and say nothing. It's my responsibility to take a stand."
Van Dyk sports the same sky blue "Stop the War" shirt he's worn to all public appearances this year. A few days after his early March show at the Roxy in New York City he received "a disturbing e-mail from a rather misinformed person." A fan berated him for wearing the shirt in New York after 9/11. "How could someone who's a fan of mine have such an opinion? To really understand electronic music you have to be cosmopolitan and open-minded."
WMC may prove him wrong. "To be honest, last night 90 percent of the people out in the clubs didn't even know the war had started," van Dyk points out. "It's not good, but that's the way it is in America. Otherwise, the Bush administration wouldn't be able to do what they do all the time."
2:00 a.m. EST, Friday, March 21
Armored columns roll across southern Iraq at 15 mph in a globally televised off-road rally the soldiers dub the "Baghdad 500."
The U.S. Army pushed its product in the days before the start of the war with a street team of hot enlisted chicks in camouflage who distributed mock dog tags to spring breakers outside the Raleigh Hotel. They're missing in action now that the bloodshed has begun. Their mobile recruiting unit has been replaced by a sunshine yellow H2 with two lions painted in black on its doors promoting Firdosi, purveyors of women's lingerie.
Just what is it about combat chic that helps sell negligees?
"It's big, strong and powerful," says the manly sun god behind the wheel.
Shock and Awe
1:30 p.m. EST, Friday, March 21
U.S. and Royal Air Force planes drop more than 1,500 missiles and bombs on Iraqi targets.
Six swimsuit models sashay down a runway jutting over the pool at the Playboy party at the Raleigh Hotel. Dressed in hot pants, each girl wears a Playboy Bunny insignia with an American flag in the middle stitched on her ass.
10:00 p.m. EST, Friday, March 21
Message sent to Iraqi generals: "Surrender now and live; the outcome is not in doubt."
After a long day of interviews, the Iranian-born DJ duo Deep Dish are hosting a party for their own record label, Yoshitoshi. Anything is better than sitting in the hotel room, watching CNN and getting depressed, says Ali Shirazinia. "There's nothing anyone here in Miami can do. The real reason for what's going on is only known by a few. Obviously I hate what's happened to my country." Still the DJ is hopeful. "Maybe inadvertently from what's going on [in Iraq] something will happen [to change Iran] from within. Change should come from within."
Give Peace a Dance
11:00 p.m. EST, Saturday, March 22
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U.S. Marines report "fewer than 10" casualties in firefight outside Nasiriya.
Outside the main entrance to Bayfront Park, a single demonstrator carries a placard that says, "Shocked and Aweful." It's unclear if he's commenting on the war, or the sensory bombing campaign beyond the gates where more than 25,000 vibe troopers march between five staging areas. Bodies lie scattered on grassy knolls, casualties of pharmaceutical friendly fire, fallen into cuddle puddles. Ten hours into this 14-hour mega-fest, the faithful await the Miami debut of British duo Underworld. The day before, front man Karl Hyde said he hoped to offer the crowd deliverance.
"I feel uncomfortable and powerless," said Hyde about the war. "But you know, I came to dance, and that's my job today. It's not [to] preach. Dance is creating positive situations where tens of thousands of people have got happy for hours and hours on end. It's like ripples in a pond, isn't it?"
Going on after dark, Underworld transforms the amphitheater into an orgy of the perpetual beat. Waving hands in the air, the crowds dance ecstatically in the aisles, on the benches, against the barricades, and spin in circles beneath green lasers skittering like tracer fire. They have been liberated.