Electronic euphoria

Miami's Winter Music Conference begins Tuesday

by Michael Hamersly

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

21 March 2008


Winter Music Conference, Miami’s own version of March Madness that draws the world’s top dance music artists - and party people - for a week of unmatched debauchery, kicks off Tuesday in nightclubs and hotels across Miami and Miami Beach. The spectacle is dominated by DJs who move the crowd by mainly standing behind turntables and spinning tracks. But there will be a few acts that shatter that stereotype, offering audiences a more dynamic and interactive concert experience.

Underworld - the British electronic dance duo whose racing beats, euphoric synth riffs and stream-of-consciousness lyrical style helped make “Born Slippy” one of the most popular club anthems of all time - headlines the second day of the Ultra Music Festival on March 29 at Bicentennial Park in Miami. It’s the group’s second trip to WMC, on the strength of its critically acclaimed new album “Oblivion With Bells,” featuring dance-floor stompers “Crocodile” and “Beautiful Burnout.”

Electronic euphoria: Miami's Winter Music Conference begins Tuesday

DJ Skribble, mash-up master and MTV veteran who’s equally comfortable cutting hip-hop, rock and house tracks, teams up with Jane’s Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar god Dave Navarro for a wild show at Cameo March 28. Navarro will play guitar live overtop Skribble’s turntable wizardry amid an anything-goes atmosphere. Expect crazy pairings like Jay-Z mixed with Rage Against the Machine and Daft Punk, or Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” blended with Biggie. Or even a taste of Jane’s.

“We’ve been known to put Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing” in the set and Skribble throws a Missy Elliott a capella over it, which is pretty dope - it’s really crazy,” says Navarro. “The idea is to take totally opposing styles and make them work. So that’s a lot of fun for us.”

To make it even more fun, Navarro is looking for sexy young women to hop onstage and dance with him during it all.

“I love to invite them,” says Navarro, who is almost as well-known for his lascivious nature as his prowess on the guitar. “Because I’m playing guitar, a lot of time the audience feels as though they need to watch us, as opposed to dancing and partying. They feel they have to stand still and watch and clap after each song, but that’s by no means what we’re trying to do. We want people to carry on just as they would if they were listening to a mix tape. So I want to invite go-go dancers up onstage so people actually have something compelling to look at.”

Underworld - which consists of singer and lyricist Karl Hyde and music producer and programmer Rick Smith - promises a similarly lively show.

“This year the band went into yet another level of improvisation with the music, the visuals, the lights, with everything, really,” says Hyde, who whips crowds into frenzies with his manic onstage antics. “Every show is very, very different. We’ve been recording the shows, and five minutes after each there’s a live double CD available, so it’s really kept us on our toes, because a lot of people follow “all” the shows. So the shows had better be different, or there’s gonna be some trouble.”

Hyde says longtime fans will notice a change in Underworld’s performance.

“We’ve completely rearranged the way we’re set up on the stage, too, so that Rick and I can see each other a lot better with all our hand signals and looks and nods that tell us where we’re taking a journey with the music. It’s all open and exposed to the audience so people can see what’s going on.”

Navarro feels a similar connection to Skribble.

“One thing I really like about him is he’s really musical with his abilities as a scratcher,” he says. “A lot of times when you play with a DJ, they don’t have that same sensibility that a musician does, when they feel the right amount of bars to come in or cut out, but we have to get into a rhythm where it’s very musical. And we read each other’s minds. We know where we’re gonna go before the other one goes there.”

For Underworld, finding its musical integrity wasn’t easy. Long before the group began making hauntingly beautiful anthems - its 1994 album “Dubnobasswithmyheadman” is widely regarded as one of the best electronica releases of all time - it fell flat trying to make it as a pop-rock group in the `80s. Then, after 1999’s release “Beaucoup Fish,” DJ Darren Emerson, an integral part of Underworld’s unique sound, left to pursue a solo career. But Hyde says he and Smith never felt the end was near.

“If anything, we saw it as the first opportunity for Rick and I to make contact with one another,” he says. “We’ve always had bands that were five-piece, four-piece, six-piece, seven-piece, and it was a bit like we were on the opposite ends of the bands looking at one another. Here we were overnight in a two-piece, looking at each other, going, `Well, here’s an opportunity to find out what it’s like!’”

What inspires Hyde to write lyrics might seem unusual to many people.

“Boredom,” he says matter-of-factly. “Boredom is always like a kin to meditation - I crave boredom. I dream of boredom, because out of boredom comes a clear thought, a real clear thought - this is what I want to do, these are the kinds of musical marks we want to make. When you’ve got that feeling of an empty void, there’s more of an opportunity for feeling what you really want to achieve to come through.”

It’s that sort of obsession with quality that attracted Navarro to Skribble.

“With a lot of DJs, there’s always that element of `Is he really DJing or is he just playing records? Is he putting a laptop up there and hitting the space bar and dancing around or does he know what he’s doing?’ I really like interactive DJs who can cut on the fly and just be present throughout the performance.”

This year will be Navarro’s first trip to WMC. But if his experience is anything like Underworld’s first time, in 2003, he’ll surely be back.

“We’ve heard about it for years before we came to Miami, and it’s something of a legend among the dance fraternity,” says Hyde. “So when we came out there, it lived up to its legend and we wanted to come back.”

Underworld is looking forward to a chance to relax and have fun as much as the opportunity to perform.

“These are the rare opportunities we get to go out and check other things out - we’re normally flat-out working and recording,” says Hyde. “It’s one of those rare occasions where we’re allowed out of the house.”

He says Miami is still the perfect place for the conference, now in its 23rd year.

“With the colors of the buildings and the vibe of the people there - you come into a sunshine place with sunshine people, so that really helps.”

Skribble, who started out as a hip-hop DJ in New York in the `80s, is even more effusive about WMC.

“I’ll be running around that conference like a kid in a candy store,” he says. “I wanna hear everybody from Danny Tenaglia to Tiesto to Erick Morillo to Deep Dish DJ Dubfire - whatever I can make it to that my body can possibly handle.”

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