2012 Winter Music Conference vs Ultra: It’s On, Baby
Two of the biggest electronic music festivals in the world, Winter Music Conference (WMC) and Ultra Music Festival (UMF), have a history similar to many people who fall in love, then can't stand each other, then have second thoughts.
For those of us who are not familiar with these events, here are some quick definitions. The Winter Music Conference is the premier electronic music (EDM) get-together for industry people, DJs, and fans in the world. Ultra is the biggest outdoor EDM celebration in the world.
The friction between WMC and UMF reached its peak last year when they split up after being together for years, and it wasn't pretty. WMC planned its 6-day conference a full week before Ultra. For its part, Ultra announced it was sponsoring the Miami Music Week (MMW), a challenge to WMC's pre-eminent position as THE most important electronic music industry gathering in the world. Both sides were effectively saying, "Kiss my ass! I can live without you."
But, like so many other relationships, breaking up was hard to do.
This year, WMC is a 10-day affair from Friday March 16 through Sunday March 25. The dates are strong, encompassing the better part of two peak Spring Breaks and Saint Paddy's Day weekend as well. Ultra is March 23-25. But if you go to the websites of either WMC or UMF, you'll see that neither mentions the other.
It's kind of like a married couple that is officially no longer together, but both people coincidentally are on vacation in the same resort at the same time.
My guess is that WMC and Ultra did not do so well when they went their separate ways, so they are learning to live with each other. Or it could be the Mother of All Fights. Like it did last year, Ultra is advertising its own separate Miami Music Week for March 20-25, but so far, no word as to what that means in terms of competing against WMC during that same 6 days.
One clue that this could be one big EDM rumble is each organization's sponsors. At this time, WMC has a broad range of partners, from SOBE boutique and beachfront hotels (Surfcomber, Shelborne, Raleigh, South Seas) to industry staples and liquor (Mayhem, Magave Tequila) to not-for-profits (LifeBeat, NextAid). Ultra lists only a few sponsors (Heineken, Sirius Radio) including MMW, which is weird because MMW is a creation of Ultra. Also, MMW has a bunch more sponsors than Ultra, including some of the biggest club venues in South Beach and Miami proper such as Amnesia, Electric Pickle Company, Grand Central and the Opium Group constellation. It appears that Miami Music Week is code for "Mega-Clubs That Will Charge You Out The Ass For Admission To See Mega-DJs."
I am unsure if all the maneuvering is just means by which the two can coexist, perhaps even learn to fall in love again, or if there is behind-the-scenes corporate warfare with sponsors, venues and DJs being forced to choose sides. The one thing WMC and Ultra have in common in 2012, however, is the annual International Dance Music Awards (IDMA). This is a good thing. Last year, Ultra promoted the Beatport Music Awards (BMA) as a replacement for IDMA, a strategy that apparently did not work out too well for either Ultra or WMC. Last year's IDMA was the most glam one I'd ever witnessed, but the conflict between WMC and UMF visibly took away some of its energy.
Who loses in this ever-changing saga? The consumers. WMC passes ($345 Early Registration) no longer include Ultra admission ($299, $599 VIP). If you wanted to attend both, it will run you more than $600 just to get in. If you want to go to the mega-parties in the larger clubs, expect to drop $80 or more a pop to become just one more sardine in an overpriced laser-lit can. On the positive side, WMC still has tons of free parties in boutique hotels all over SOBE.
Either way, it's on! I for one am happy to see them (kind of) back together.
For Part II of this article, click here.