South American Dance Music Conference: December 2004

“The South American Music Conference will unite international prestigious producers, artists, musicians and other professionals. It is a unique opportunity to be part of one of the most important events in the worldwide electronic scene in a city that truly never sleeps.”

Reading the advance literature for South America’s first ever dance conference, it’s clear organisers are as ambitious as they’re enthusiastic, both qualities shared by most, if not all of the DJs booked to appear the Buenos Aires conference. And headlining the conference’s main event, a 4 room 25,000 capacity rave in a conference centre on the edge of downtown Buenos Aires, are mainstream icons Pete Tong, Ferry Corsten and Richie Hawtin backed by regional stars like Diego Rok and Anderson Noise, plus a host of others. All have been coerced with five star hotels and first class air travel (save for the economy class media) plus the promise of four days of sun during the height of Argentina’s summer, just 16 hours away from Europe’s bleak mid winter.

Argentina: Chris Liebing

“I’ve never been to Argentina before, I’ve been to Brazil and Colombia; those are the only two countries I’ve visited in South America but it feels different here from the other countries, there’s a different vibe here.”

Sitting on a sun-lounger by the pool of his luxury hotel, German techno whiz kid producer Chris Liebing admits he’s relaxed as he polishes his tan and contemplates the night ahead. The day before he’s been speaking on a panel alongside his great mate Christian Smith, while tonight he’s going up against the likes of John Acquaviva, Derrick May, and Misstress Barbara, not that he’s too fussed about his peers.

“I get there a couple of hours before, watch the crowd and the other DJs then I basically try to do my best with my own music,” he explains. “I always bring my own mixer and two laptops, one for Final Scratch and another for Ableton Live which I use for my sound effects.”

Less dependent on technical trickery is English DJ Justin Robertson, who’s brought out several bags of vinyl (including two in his hand luggage) Justin’s one of the more eclectic DJs on the bill though unlike Chris Liebing, has played here before.

Argentina: Justin Robertson

“This is my umpteenth time in Argentina, I’ve been here six or seven times, playing at Pacha then I was also over here for the Creamfields Festival then the Chemical Brothers’ tour about a month ago. I stayed in this hotel then too.”

Usually associated with Manchester, though nowadays living in West London, Justin’s already something of a local (Buenos Aires) hero, while he admits he’s brought a wide range of music, just in case.

“I’ve always had catholic tastes, there are a broad spectrum of styles I’m interested in, but what you’d call it, I don’t know,” he laughs.

“Jacking house, acidy-things, electro-house, whatever that is, I don’t know. I’m not really sure myself what it is in a record that inspires me but there’s usually a little thread of something, somewhere. There’s a rawness or an energy; I like energetic, dynamic records.”

Spinning later that day, his thread sounds distinctly hard, as he ditches the eclectic stuff for tried and tested crowd-pleasing bangers. Justin’s spinning in the ‘tech-house’ room, though distinctions tonight seem superfluous; harder music appears to be the order of the night, which poses problems further down the hall, for the likes of Danny Rampling, Bad Boy Bill and Smokin Jo, in the house room, not that she’s overly concerned.

Argentina: Smokin Jo

“I was last here in March with Tiesto when I did a big tour with Heineken, the last gig we did was an outdoor party for 15,000 people which was fantastic, amazing.”

Saturday night’s rave opens at 4pm even if it’s not until midnight that the hall really begins to fill up. Kicking off the internationals is Danny Rampling, who, going on at 7pm, has to contend with extremely sparse crowds and teething problems.

“I experienced constant technical problems with the equipment, the room itself appeared to be unfinished, there were very few props and lights, it was just a huge cavernous hanger,” Danny complains after the gig.

“I also began a really early set at 7pm which I was surprised about, and started with about 300 people in a room that held maybe 5,000. By the end of the set, we’d managed to pull in a few hundred, nevertheless it was difficult work,” says Danny.

By the time Smokin Jo goes on at 11, the room is still less than full (Bad Bill’s had more technical problems) however, by the time she closes her set with Tom Neville’s thumping high energy remix of Kelis’ Milkshake, she’s picked the energy up significantly. Waiting in the darkened wings, meanwhile, is Radio 1 tastemaker Pete Tong, who’s killing time shaking hands and signing autographs to a small crush of fans at the front. A much bigger crush is to be found, however, in the centre’s massive ‘progressive’ room, where the likes of Way Out West, Judge Jules and Lucien Foort are performing, before crowds that will eventually swell to over 10,000 people.

Argentina: Lucien Foort

“South American crowds adapt themselves really fast to new kinds of electronic music, the kids are up for anything that’s really new. Whereas in England and Europe, people have been doing it for so long, it takes them longer to catch the new vibe. This is the place to try new records.”

Although he’s one of the bubbliest and bounciest of DJs appearing on tonight’s bill, Dutch star Lucien Foort is proud to have never taken a narcotic in his life, so presumably indifferent to the fact that the local rate for coke is just $US12 per gram. Regardless of this, drugs are conspicuously absent tonight, with the dominant intoxicant appearing to be beer.

Despite (or because of this) the vibe in the hall builds relentlessly via Lucien, Way Out West and Tall Paul and by the time Nick Warren takes centre stage, thousands are screaming as he drops one hard trance anthem after another (including even a pitched up 7 minutes of Hardfloor’s Acperience). Waiting in the wings, Judge Jules presumably takes note of the lull in energy as Warren deviates forwards the eclectic, and unsurprisingly raises the bpm and the energy as he plugs in his CDJ1000s and switches off the decks.

Argentina: Judge Jules

“Holland and the UK are market leaders in dance festivals, and the SAMC event matched the very best that the Netherlands or UK have to offer.  In every department, ie staging, organisation, line-up, and most importantly crowd atmosphere, it was a superb event.”

Chatting days after the event, Judge Jules is ecstatic about both the reception he received and the conference itself. Though his wife, who was travelling with him had been ill, he’s managed to jam in some shopping, in common with most of the other DJs who’ve taken advantage of the incredibly cheap prices to go Christmas present shopping. Buenos Aires’ tourist centre is packed with leather goods shops and top quality steak houses and seems remarkably tranquil for a country that nearly collapsed economically just two years before.

Argentina: Jody Wisterhoff (Way Out West)

“Nick used to tell me years ago that Buenos Aires was incredible, with a really good atmosphere and it feels quite safe as well, wandering round the streets. It doesn’t feel like some other parts of South America, it feels like there’s quite a warm vibe here.”

Six foot tall, and certainly no shrinking violet, Jody from Way Out West doesn’t look like a victim but then neither does DJ Dan, when he chases after some potential robbers he meets in an after hours shop. Getting too close, he’s punched in the face, before the thieves escape though a more sinister incident occurs the following night, which hints at greater problems.

Setting off from an after hours clubs at 2am, I’m with Chris Liebing and a few friends waver between strolling back to the hotel or taking a cab, and after 5 minutes of rambling spot a taxi and climb in cheerfully. Turning right into a darkened side street, the cab’s lights immediately illuminate a gang of street kids kicking a ball amongst themselves, who immediately turn and fan out across the street, blocking the taxi’s right of way.  Just as suddenly, the driver slams his foot down hard, accelerating towards the kids who dive aside just at the last moment. It’s a sobering thought that we were moments from strolling right into the gang’s midst. Generally, BA seems a remarkably tranquil, welcoming town but of course, like any big city, has its dark corners too.

Argentina: Danny Rampling

“Buenos Aires is a very romantic city and has a very strong European influence. It’s extremely cheap; you get a lot for your money, certainly compared to what you spend in Miami- my God!”

Danny Rampling has a few complaints about the overall conference (principally that the organisers should have brought all the delegates together to one central meeting event) though is upbeat about the event’s future, not least compared to the Miami Winter Conference, which he first started visiting in 1992.

“Miami has become a complete rip off, the hotels charge double, club door staff are dreadful; they’re incredibly rude. There’s all that VIP shit, the limo crap and that isn’t what the Miami Music Conference is about, that isn’t what house music is about, getting out of a fucking limo with a load of supermodels, that’s not where it’s at, at all,” says Danny.

“Going up against Miami is going to take some years to establish, however, Argentina as a country is a very welcoming place,” he points out. “It was great to be taken to Argentina, I always love going there and overall it was a very enjoyable trip- having four days in the sunshine and taking it easy out there was great,” he adds.

Judge Jules is similarly optimistic about the Conference’s future. “Buenos Aires is very European in flavour, with the majestic avenues of Madrid and Paris clearly having had a strong influence in its planning and design,” he says.

“If the event organisers manage to attract music business interest from a wide genre base, then their chances of long term success in challenging Miami must be very strong.”

For more info check out http://www.southamericanmusic.com.ar.