Miami's Thriving Music Scene Is Reaching Beyond House Music
While Ultra Music Festival took over Bayfront Park, the city's other neighborhoods hosted everything from deep house to hip hop.
Last week, hundreds of thousands of electronic music fans flocked to Miami to experience EDM’s version of Mardi Gras. Spurred by the historic Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival, now jointly referred to as Miami Music Week, nearly every block of the city’s streets was transformed into a pop-up club with roaring sub-woofers, squared-off DJ stages and fans eager to dance until sunrise.
In recent years, the city’s relationship with dance music has been largely defined by the colossal Ultra Music Festival, which drew more than 50,000 revelers into Bayfront Park each day last weekend. But the activity outside of the park is just as vibrant. Neighborhoods like Miami Beach, South Beach and the newly flourishing Wynwood hosted everything from boat cruises to sprawling warehouse raves. The events were hosted by some of the best DJs in the world, and featured a sweeping variety of genres from hip-hop to deep house.
For example, on March 26, a day before Ultra kicked off, there were more than 30 events to choose from hosted by leading producers such as Seth Troxler, Armin van Buuren, Hardwell, Brodinski, and Jamie Jones. Later in the weekend, Lil Wayne performed at a Young Money showcase on South Beach, Diddy threw a VIP party on Star Island, and Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande took over Ultra's main stage. While house music was surely the focus of the festivities, other genres were never hard to find.
“Miami has its own style, and not so many places can say that,” said Guy Gerber, a producer from Tel Aviv who has become a staple in Ibiza nightlife. “It’s very cinematic. The energy, the palm trees, all the freaks blasting house music down Ocean Drive. But I love the f—king freaks. It’s working.”
Gerber is one of many artists who hopped from showcase to showcase, perhaps a sign that Ultra's binding exclusivity agreements are a thing of the past. After spinning an afternoon pool party at the Sagamore Hotel hosted by Red Bull Guest House, he performed a three-hour set at Jamie Jones’s Paradise party at an indoor-outdoor warehouse lot in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood that was decorated like a makeshift Ibiza and didn't end until the following afternoon.
“Say whatever you want about the music, people f—king love it,” he says. “In most of the world, people go out to meet guys or to meet girls. Here, they go out seeking this.”
Gerber’s Red Bull party was capped off by an hour-long DJ set from funk duo Chromeo, who spun a mix of '80s pop hits and current hip hop. The next day, they crossed the causeway to perform at Ultra as one of the few acts with live instruments.
“We have a personal affinity with Miami because we’re from Montreal,” said frontman Dave Macklovitch, better known as Dave 1. “It’s the French-Canadian hub for vacation destinations and the second biggest Haitian community after Montreal.” (Macklovitch and Patrick Gemayel, the other half-of Chromeo also known as P-Thugg, both grew up in Montreal’s Haitian community and often describe themselves as the only successful Arab-Jewish partnership in modern culture.)
“I actually think Miami’s is bigger,” Gemayel chimed in. “And there’s a ton of old Jews here, so the trilogy is complete.”
Hudson Mohawke, an on-the-rise hip hop producer (real name: Ross Birchard) known for his collaborations with Kanye West, said the city gets a lot of flak for its commercial EDM peddled by some of the scene’s veterans like Tiesto and Armin van Buuren. But that’s not such an accurate picture of Miami anymore, with rappers and pop singers also descending on the city (Madonna was a surprise guest at Ultra Music Festival two years ago) and sub-scenes like deep house gaining serious momentum. On March 28, Burchard performed at Red Bull Guest House’s Young Money label showcase featuring Lil Wayne, Questlove and Mannie Fresh.
“The city is diversifying,” he told Billboard. “It’s becoming a hub for international labels and different types of artists who want to put their own spin on EDM.”
Burchard said rap and hip-hop artists in particular are keen to break into Miami’s electronic music scene.
“Artists are looking for something beyond what already exists, you know? It’s like we did the retro-nostalgia thing, so we’re all looking for what’s next,” he said. “And I think you’re seeing people look to Europe for that, so you’re seeing a blend of American hip-hop and U.K. dance. That formula, wherever it goes, is the new sound.”