MIAMI, FLORIDA--MARCH 1999: Ordinary ravers are great people, but Professional Ravers are insufferable. On the first day of the Winter Music Conference in Miami Beach--the yearly confab for all things dance, from drum and bass to Hi-NRG--the lobby of the Fontainebleu Hilton is filled with Professional Ravers, carrying overstuffed record bags, laminated badges, and cellular phones, sharing gossip and blagging their way onto the week's many guest lists. At home they're cultural vanguards, big fish in small ponds, but when they all get together it just looks pathetic. All their names feature some permutation of "B," "Rock," and "Ice." Even though it's a balmy 80 degrees, they're decked out in phat pants with puffy jackets over music industry T-shirts. And since their normal environment is the dark nightclub, they're also freshly sunburned and their eyes have trouble adjusting to the bright Miami sky.

Some of them wander around with an armful of white labels, dishing out copies to anyone who makes eye contact, hoping that their sophomoric, derivative track will be the conference's "big record." Last year the "big record" was Stardust's "Music Sounds Better with You." This year it's Basement Jaxx's "Rendez-Vu," which I heard no less than 10 times in one weekend.

Other enterprising young rapscallions pass out flyers for their printing company or booking agency; still more throw around mix tapes and advance cassettes. Everyone's talking about "the pool": the restricted-access schmoozing zone where you can book your next giant rave party, sign that lucrative record deal, or snag that high-profile interview. Name-dropping is in full effect, and by week's end the journalists have barely edged out the publicists and regional rave promoters to become the Starfuckers of the Year.

I spent the whole weekend talking about artists, labels, chart positions, contracts, booking agents, magazine publishers, star journalists, publicists, promoters, nightclubs, sound systems, and lighting equipment, but I had precisely one conversation about music, and that was with someone I already knew from Seattle. Everything I learn about music comes from uncompromising underground types who go to the conference reluctantly--if at all. The Winter Music Conference isn't for music enthusiasts, it's for music industry enthusiasts--a distinction I never fully understood until now. It's sort of like the difference between people who like baseball and people who collect baseball cards. For example, a music enthusiast will rave about how Basement Jaxx--this year's conference darlings--have brought elaborate production and fresh songwriting skills back into house music, while a music industry enthusiast will talk about Basement Jaxx's exclusive appearance at the Urb magazine party or their lucrative deal with XLRecordings.

As a Professional Raver bent on making dance music a staple of American youth culture, I'm supposed to be impressed by the scale and grandeur of the conference, excited and encouraged by the "industry" my beloved "scene" has become. But after four days I just feel sorry for these people. Not that I had a horrible time--it was a kick-ass vacation. I slept on the beach, indulged in some mindless hedonism, made some great new friends, and danced my ass off to Fatboy Slim. (That last bit will be our little secret, okay?) Even the cheesy music was top-notch, the weather was brilliant, and my friends were there in force. But I left Miami with nothing but a firm commitment to keep making (and writing about) dance music, but to stay as far away from the Dance Music Industry as possible.

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