Music Makers Mix, Remix in South Beach

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — They've remixed everything from Elton John to the Backstreet Boys to Sarah McLachlan to Britney Spears. For the DJs and tech wizards who star at the industry's annual dance music orgy here (a k a The Winter Music Conference), it rarely matters where a song comes from — only where they can take it.

"A good song is a good song. You can't get away from that," says Orlando Puerta, director of street and lifestyle marketing for Warner Bros. Records. Puerta was among the roughly 30,000 industry taste makers, radio programmers, DJs, exhibitors, agents, and club enthusiasts to storm the Beach for an endless round of club shows, parties, and panels over the last five days.

"It extends the life of a song, and it opens new doors," Puerta says of this subindustry, which has always been important but has exploded over the last three years. With the old-fashioned singles market changing drastically, it's not unusual to see maxi-singles with seven or more mixes of the same Top 40 hit.

Combine that with the untold numbers of bootleg mixes, and songs now last in rotation months longer than they would have years ago. For Toni Braxton, her willowy 1996 ballad "Un-break My Heart" was a solid hit — then became enormous when the dance remix took it over the top, extending its radio life through the '90s. Deborah Cox's "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here," and countless other hits, have enjoyed similar runs as strong traditional singles and 4 a.m. club favorites.

The process has also long worked in the reverse direction, taking obscure singers from clubs to stardom, and even resurrecting big names like Cher, who might never have made it back to mainstream radio had the culture of dance mavens and club queens not supported her.

"What it does is it opens people up to music that they might not have known about or even thought about," Puerta says. "Things we never thought we'd hear in clubs — Sarah McLachlan is a perfect example — songs from Nashville, we now hear in remixes."

Anything can be remixed, says Boy George (born George O'Dowd), the Culture Club icon who for the last six years has divided his time between recording his own music and a second career as a top DJ.

"Melody. That's it. I'm not as interested in making a great remix as I am in making a great record," he said between promotional spins for Boy George's Essential Mix on London-Sire Records. The label is also about to release Essential Spring Break Summer 2001, from DJ Skribble, who has remixed tracks for Olive and Samantha Mumba.

"Today you can do anything, with almost any sound," says Skribble, a k a Scott Ialacci, from Queens, New York. "You do something as simple as hit a bat against a roof, record that sound and play it in endless loops. It's limitless."

So what's next? Style setters like Stacy Osbaum, editor of dance underground magazine URB, says trance will stay hot along with mixes by John Digweed, IG Culture, and Dego. "This is where the whole world gets together to exchange culture," she said of forums that featured a "Paris Nightlife" jam from France's DJ Stephane Pompougnac, a Japanese techno night from Ken Ishii, and a drum-and-bass extravaganza from percussion innovator Kevens.

Though the Winter Music Conference, now in its 15th year, had 6,500 registered participants, local organizers estimate that upward of 30,000 revelers came to town — a number some say has grown too large for this small strip of oceanfront land. The huge attendance would seem to run counter to recent reports that South Beach is dropping in stature as the spot where international trends are set in fashion and music.

But truth be told, several clubs have seen a general downturn; the modeling business reports fewer fashion shoots, and even Beach club queen (and Madonna pal) Ingrid Casares has scaled back, selling her nightspots so she can spend more time with her new son.

Yet while she says she personally no longer parties till dawn, she feels South Beach club culture is as vital as ever. "They can report all they want," Casares said. "The Beach is here to stay."