The Decline & Fall of Winter Music Conference

So long, WMC.


Winter Music Conference kicked off last Friday in Miami, and will continue until this Sunday. And if you’re a dance music fan who didn’t notice, well, you’re not the only one. The reduction in relevance of the annual Southern Florida gathering has been a long, slow decline, but one that seemed inevitable, for better and for worse. But mostly for the better.

WMC began in 1985 as an industry gathering for a handful of dance music professionals in Fort Lauderdale before moving to South Beach Miami where it grew into a mandatory pilgrimage for tens of thousands of insiders and fans throughout the 1990s. As one would expect in a clubbing capital like Miami, parties soon began to pop up around the expo itself. By the turn of the Millennium, thousands of DJs were playing at hundreds of venues throughout what was already being called Winter Music Week by many who didn’t (or legally couldn’t) be affiliated with WMC itself. By the early 2000s, it was common for folks to travel to Florida for a week of all-day pool parties and all-night raving, without coming anywhere near the actual conference. But this was only the beginning of the fall.

Soon, South Beach became congested with bottle service bozos and bros on spring break, forcing the best events to the new downtown clubbing district. Where once it was possible to bounce between dozens of quality parties on Collins Avenue, it now took a $30 cab ride to get to any shindig worth attending. Meanwhile, dance music hit it’s early ‘00s lull, as the next generation of party kids donned tight jeans and rocked out to LCD Soundsystem instead of Erick Morillo.

Of course, dance music now is bigger than ever, but that didn’t turn the tide in favor of Winter Music Conference. Ultra Music Festival, originally an offshoot of WMC, soon began to overshadow the main event. You could tell things were getting bad in 2008, when I shared a taxi from the airport with two college girls who were in town for Ultra, neither of whom had any idea that a dance music conference was taking place at the same time.

The massive success of Ultra isn’t the only way that the current EDM craze helped to kill WMC. The growth of dance music across America soon meant that dozens of festivals, plus plenty of new clubs, provided a regular stream of international DJs coming to everytown near you. Where Miami in March had once been one of the only places to hear many of the European DJ legends who rarely bothered to get a U.S. work visa, now there are dozens of opportunities throughout the year—from EDC in Vegas and Electric Zoo in NYC, to Movement in Detroit and Spring Awakening in Chicago—to see all your favorite jocks, without paying $18 for a vodka soda.

In the meanwhile, Amsterdam Dance Event took over as the premier gathering of dance music professionals who gradually realized that a lot more business could be accomplished on a grey October afternoon in Holland than in a sundrenched Miami cabana that cost more for a few hours than a week’s hotel in the Dutch capital.

Ultimately, what killed Winter Music Conference is the ultimate fulfillment of the credibility it originally sought to bestow on the once maligned dance music genre. WMC accomplished its original goal too well, resulting in a global EDM business that doesn’t require an annual gathering to affirm its place within the larger music industry.

Besides, Mexico’s BPM Festival in January is a more timely and cost-effective way to escape the cold.