The author outside the Avicii store at Miami Music Week in 2014
It's 2014, the year of SNL's "When Will the Bass Drop," the "David Guetta tripping balls" meme, and Skrillex's Recess. America has reached peak EDM, but the $6.9 billion empire shows signs of crumbling—SFX's stock is down nearly 50 percent from its IPO the year before, and everyone from Skream to Philip Sherburne is wondering when the industry bubble is going to burst. Still, when I arrive at Miami Music Week on a humid March afternoon, EDM reigns supreme.
A tan, ripped guy in a golf cart blasting "Levels" picks me up off the street and drops me at the Avicii hotel. Girls in Avicii crop tops hand out cones from an Avicii ice cream truck. Avicii's photos cover every selfie-ready surface, including elevator and bathroom mirrors. There are even Avicii condoms at the gift store. However, Avicii himself is missing—on the night he was scheduled to perform at the hotel, the DJ, who has struggled with alcohol abuse, cancelled his set because of a hospitalization.
Not that the star's absence really matters. Tim Bergling the human being is merely an accessory to The Avicii Experience. The Avicii hotel is the apotheosis of what Miami Music Week has come to represent: the DJ as an immersive brand. The EDM mindset says you can be the loudest, stupidest version of yourself, and no one can stop you, as long as you're making money. "Selling out" isn't even part of the conversation—it's about how much you can cash in.
Golf carts outside the Avicii hotel
Now it's 2017, and EDM, a disposable culture from the start, is rotting in the trash. Battered by its association with bro culture and drug deaths, the genre has become America's anthem for vomit and sexual coercion. Since the last time I was in Miami, SFX has gone bankrupt, Avicii has retired, and even Skrillex, once the genre's poster child, is returning to his rock roots and collaborating with Incubus.
So what happens to Miami Music Week, once the epicenter of America's corporate dance music bubble, in today's post-EDM world?
I arrive on South Beach on a Thursday afternoon. "It's quiet this weekend," remarks my Lyft driver. She says the city is usually flooded with spring breakers all month, but the last few days have been a lull, despite the sold-out Ultra music festival kicking off tomorrow. "It was way crazier last weekend," she adds.
What happens to Miami Music Week in today's post-EDM world?
As soon as I step out of the cab onto South Beach, I experience the feeling of being in a moment that's merely a distant echo of the past. Everything is familiar: palm trees and pearly white hotels, congregations of men in sandals and aviators, thick biceps and tiny shirts, tech-house rattling from lobby speakers. But I am struck by the sense that something is off, like the buzz of activity around me is on mute. Everyone seems to be partying out of sheer force of habit, going through the motions as if it were all somehow synchronized.
I am shaken out of this strange feeling by a guy who brushes past me on the street as he remarks loudly to his friend, "Yeah, it would be nice to have E..."
The Spinnin Hotel (Photo via Spinnin Sessions Facebook)
Later, I crash a party at the Spinnin Records Hotel. Dodging door girls and bouncers, I wander around the halls in a confused haze. In previous years, brands would vie to outshine competitors with ambitious programming; the Red Bull Guest House (which, along with many industry regulars, skipped Miami this year) had documentary screenings and DJs leading rooftop cooking lessons. The Avicii gift shop, of course, had Avicii condoms. But this time, the Spinnin Hotel appears to have nothing more than a rowdy pool party.
Peering into the crowd, I notice that the sun-kissed, jaw-clenched spring breakers have changed the way they dance—no more pointing to the ceiling and waiting for EDM drops with the fervor of doomsday fanatics. Instead, their chests stick out as they weave and bob to the march of 4x4 tech-house. After a few minutes, I get bored and ask a hotel staffer if maybe I had missed something, if there are workshops or installations on another floor. He looks at me like I'm crazy and confirms that "this is it." I leave and wander over to the beach, where helicopter banners advertising superstar DJs usually streak across the sky, forming bizarre constellations. A lonely chopper hovers overhead promoting Axwell Λ Ingrosso, one of the last EDM dinosaurs.
Ultra Music Festival 2017 (Photo via Ultra Music Festival Facebook)
While I used to come to Miami dreading the shitshow, this time around, I find myself wishing there was more shit at the show. Many party lineups are skeletons of their former selves. In 2015, for example, Drumcode threw a showcase with Adam Beyer, Alan Fitzpatrick, Joel Mull, and five other key artists. This year, only Beyer and Mull are playing at a party by local promoter Link Miami Rebels. "Why are both rooms only being used for one event this WMC?" grumbled a user on the RA event page, referring to the Link Miami Rebels party at Space Miami. "Last year both rooms were filled to the brim." One night, I walk into a club at peak time to find Virgil Abloh, Brodinski, and Benji B going back-to-back, playing "When Doves Cry" to a nearly-empty room.
Throughout the weekend, I am bombarded with exactly zero requests to "link up," "build," or "touch base." Of course, giving out business cards is still the de-facto way to say hello, and a middle-aged man in the Jamba Juice line asks if I'm "industry" before handing me a CD. But where are the armies of managers, promoters, and publicists clogging the hotel lobbies while frantically gesticulating on their cellphones? Without my usual itinerary of free networking brunches, I am forced to find other ways to scam free meals, including sucking up to nightlife moguls at a dinner where they feed me $30 fried chicken.
EDM fading from its memory, Miami returns to its beloved mode of hip-hop decadence. As is tradition, Puff Daddy throws the week's most epic party at his mansion. Paris Hilton is spotted at a party thrown by David Guetta's former wife headlined by 50 Cent. Rappers like A$AP Ferg and Chief Keef dominate Ultra Music Festival, hotel parties push old-school DJs like D-Nice and Stretch Armstrong as "The Originals" and even Hardwell opens his set with an East Coast hip-hop classic from 1992, House of Pain's "Jump Around."
Perhaps most hearteningly, 90s rave nostalgia is also on the rise, with The Prodigy and Underworld headlining Ultra. On my last night, I'm in a black Mercedes with a DJ and his manager on the way to a party that he is headlining. Leaning back in his seat, the DJ remarks that the Carl Cox stage at Ultra this year is huge in both scale and significance. I ask if maybe festivals are moving their chips to legacy acts like Cox because of EDM's decline. "Yes, absolutely," the DJ says as we approach a warehouse jangling to techno. "EDM is passing, but Carl Cox is forever."
Michelle Lhooq is THUMP's Features Editor and a post-EDM thot. Follow her on Twitter.