Miami’s 24-hour party people

Dance clubs draw celebs as well as annual global music confab

MIAMI — If Miami is America’s Ibiza — where trends in dance music and nightclub culture are set — then one week each March, involving the Winter Music Conference on South Beach and the Ultra2004 Music Festival downtown, has become the dance world’s Woodstock. And the DanceStar USA: American Dance Awards has, in its third year, become the Academy Awards of the music underground.

DanceStar USA — held this year at downtown Miami’s Bayfront Auditorium and televised around the world via Star TV, MTV Europe and other channels — reminded many how deeply electronic music has entered the mainstream via corporations striving for youth appeal. Categories included use of music in a commercial, won by Paul Van Dyk, Felix Da Housecat and DJ Colette for a Motorola cell phone spot.

On stage, Tommy Lee — who’s involved in the Rok Bar in South Beach and has done some spinning at the Shore Club — mingled with Yoko Ono, Carmen Electra, Moby and the Blue Man Group. Paris Hilton, who snagged the celebrity DJ award — a rather suspect kudos — gushed, “This is one of the great party cities in the world.” In Mansion’s VIP room, the blonde heiress cavorted with Jay-Z, Naomi Campbell and P. Diddy.

Back at DanceStar, the red carpet featured Boy George, reincarnated as a DJ. “Electronic music is about to break big in America, like punk in the early days,” claimed the U.K. native.

The statement seems credible in the midst of the rave-like Ultra Music Festival — where some 50,000 flocked to see an all-star lineup of such DJs as Paul Oakenfold and John Digweed. But the American appetite for dance music still lags behind Europe, where its sales stature rivals Top 40.

Acknowledged as the music that built South Beach, European hard-core electronica ignited the nightlife here in the early ’90s, when the clubs brimmed with Euro fashionistas, in a gay-themed era that some say ended with the 1997 murder of Gianni Versace.

The nightlife trends of that period have since come under siege. Space and other 24-hour dance clubs in downtown Miami are drawing patrons away from South Beach, while the dominance of hip-hop has changed the crowds and the climate, to an extent that could potentially spell “the end of South Beach,” according to DJ and electronica scene veteran Pierre Zonzon.

So far, everyone seems to be coexisting (though Miami police have come under fire for covertly monitoring rap and hip-hop artists such as Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z and 50 Cent). South Beach’s bigger dance clubs, such as Mansion, feature separate hip-hop music rooms. And some of the biggest rap stars are blurring the lines: At last year’s DanceStar Awards, P. Diddy premiered his dance single “Let’s Get Ill,” and he and other rappers have been known to take the mike at electronica clubs.

The New York-Miami axis hangs on, with South Beach hot spot Crobar opening sister clubs in Manhattan and downtown Miami. Scene veteran Tony Valor, of TVI Records, says the tide of influence has turned: “Miami used to look to New York, but now the guys from there are coming down and hearing new sounds in the clubs here — more European and alternative, (with) strong vocals and hooks in the music. A whole new Miami sound is happening.”

That sound is all about the Miami edge and its multiracial mix, with influences ranging from Cuban salsa to Ibiza-style lounge music. Local club star Tracy Young wound up signing with Madonna’s Maverick label and played at the icon’s wedding, while pioneer of the Miami house music sound Murk — DJ Oscar G. and Ralph Falcon — also has done very well: Last fall, Murk signed with Tommy Boy Entertainment, and song “Some Lovin” went No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music Club Play Chart.

And of course, the dance music clubs of South Beach have the benediction of celebrity on any given night. Currently in vogue are Opium, BED, Rumi, Skybar, the Delano and on Sunday afternoons, the Raleigh Hotel pool, where Uma Thurman and Matt Damon turned up last month. Perry Farrell has been known to spin at the new State.

Still, under cover of the pulsing beats, State club co-owner Maxwell Blandford — who also hosts a wildly popular Wednesday night party at the Delano — offers a sobering perspective on South Beach: “The dance music scene and the era of the big clubs have come to the end of the road. The DJs were never meant to be rock stars. It’s just like when disco and the big clubs died the first time around. The cliche about history repeating itself is never truer than with dance music.”

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