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U.S. dance-music scene soon may outrank U.K.'s

Author: Ricardo Baca Denver Post
Monday, April 14, 2003
MIAMI - It doesn't take much activity to make you sweat in South Beach.

When you add sardine-packed clubs, throbbing beats and the fiery heat of world-class DJs to the Sunshine State's typical spring-break humidity, sweat becomes a form of legitimacy. If you've got it, and you make sweat look good, sexy even, then the world is yours at the annual Winter Music Conference, the biggest electronic-music gathering in the U.S.

But how do you make a superstar DJ sweat- Tell him that everything he knows is wrong, that the U.K., the most supportive audience ever known by the electronic community, is on its way down and none other than the U.S.A. is taking its place.

It's a bold statement, but it comes from reliable sources at the WMC, which had an unusual vibe this year because it was blistering with music and mania just as American and British armed forces descended upon Iraq and as Denver was besieged with an unruly amount of snow.

War came up in nearly every conversation, save the one at the bar that resembles an episode of "Blind Date," but the vibe and the community of the music offered escapism - until 9 a.m. at least, when the clubs closed.

Daniel Hunt, one of the programming talents behind electro-rock band Ladytron, told The Post that the WMC "is the least-productive conference in the world," and to an extent he's right. The streets and beaches, which are relatively inactive until about 3 in the afternoon, run over with idle sin the rest of the time.

But it's a true spectacle with world-famous DJs and producers popping up everywhere around the early evening. Paul Oakenfold walks by an Irish pub and does a double-take as he hears a track he produced for the "Swordfish" soundtrack pouring out the doors. I see BT, Felix da Housecat, Charles Feelgood and Dieselboy as I'm interviewing British DJ Dave Ralph at the Hotel Astor's bar.

Electronic fuel

Miami is alive, and the fuel giving the city its vibrancy is electronic in nature. The scene is reminiscent of the U.K. festivals that U.S. magazines glorify. The U.K., after all, is the center of the dance universe, the home to the Digweeds and Oakenfolds and Radio One and the superclubs and the proper electronic press. Or is it-

Dave Ralph, who in 30 minutes was due on the decks across the street at Level, wanted to be the first to tell you that the U.S. is the new U.K.

"America right now is the best scene in the world," said Ralph, a DJ veteran of more than 25 years who moved to Florida and then Boston from the U.K. three years ago. He will gain his American citizenship in less than a year. "This is an amazing thing, and this is the scene that everyone's coming to.

"England is nothing now. Look at the magazines. Mixer's gone. Mixmag's weak, and so is Muzik. Then look at the clubs: Cream has closed its doors as a regular weekly club. Ministry of Sound has closed its doors as a regular weekly club and a magazine. Renaissance is still doing the occasional sporadic gigs, as is Gatecrasher, and both were weekly events. These were the four stalwart clubs of the English dance culture, and they don't exist anymore. That means that, as far as I'm concerned, English dance culture is of no significance anymore."

California trance DJ Christopher Lawrence, sitting on the booming patio of a South Beach hotel with his iced coffee, is ecstatic to see America's dance culture gain accolades but said it's still not known on an everyday level as it is in the U.K.

"There are still areas that DJ culture still hasn't infiltrated," he said. "At this year's DanceStar Awards, Paul Oakenfold won an award, and the guy giving him the award was a hip-hop artist and completely mispronounced Paul's name. ... Paul Oakenfold is one of the biggest names in electronic music, and the guy didn't know who he was- How big can (electronic music) really be here-"

Daniel Hunt from Ladytron sees a passion in Americans' eyes that isn't present in the pupils of his countrymen.