Ultra, Winter Music Conference: The History of These Huge EDM Events


It might be the reason you’re ironing your favorite neon crop top right this very moment. It might be why you’re hydrating extra and maybe taking vitamins by IV. It’s quite possibly why you’re headed to Miami this week and getting ready to rage—hard.

But though Ultra Music Festival may be the biggest event during what’s known as “Miami Music Week,” it’s not the original reason why, traditionally, there’s so much dance-music madness in Miami at the end of March. Impress your new-jack friends with this bit of history: Years before Ultra, there was Winter Music Conference, an elite gathering of dance-music heads across the world.

DJ Bill Kelly imagined a music-industry conference, full of serious discussion panels, record-trading events, and networking, but all devoted to dance music only. To consider how forward-thinking Kelly was, think of this: His first conference landed in Miami in 1986.

That was just two years after what’s considered the first house record came out…

Jesse Saunders, “On and On,” 1984

when techno as a genre barely existed…

Model 500, “No UFO’s,” 1985

and Latin-influenced “freestyle” was still a commercial force.

Shannon, “Let The Music Play,” 1983

Naturally, with a bunch of DJs gathered in one place, part of the business included dancing all night long. As Winter Music Conference gained traction, dozens of unofficial parties popped up around it until, soon, the list of unaffiliated events threatened to dwarf official WMC parties.

Ultra, meanwhile, arrived in 1999, in its first two years getting started as relatively small festival on the sandy beach. But though it only offered a handful of stages at that point, Ultra staked a claim as the definitive biggest event to date to fall during the span of Winter Music Conference.

Over the years, Ultra became an “official” Winter Music Conference event, though as it grew, it’s evolved into its own galaxy, practically.

As an aside, here’s a fun find on Imgur: a flyer from the third edition of Ultra, in 2000, when it first moved to downtown Miami at Bayfront park.

Still, following that early tradition, it has fallen during the same week as Winter Music Conference – with one major exception.

So where did the whole term “Miami Music Week” come from? Yeah, back to that exception. There’s only been one major hiccup in the symbiotic relationship between Ultra and Winter Music Conference. It came in 2011, when Winter Music Conference decided to move its dates to early March, but Ultra, naturally bound by permits and super long-term planning, stayed put at the end of the month. (It’s a long story detailed well by Billboard here.)

By the time that announcement came, though, promoters, DJs, and the like had all planned satellite parties during their typical last week of March. But since Winter Music Conference wasn’t happening then, any more, people started informally using the term “Miami Music Week” to refer to the adult spring break running up to Ultra.

(In other words, if you have a problem with the term “Miami Music Week,” there’s no secret cabal that named it and it’s not some single, official event.)

Ultra and WMC kissed and made up by 2012, and this year, as always, Ultra falls at the end of the week that also boasts Winter Music Conference. Peace and harmony again rein in the universe! And like the rings on a tree trunk, what you call all those days of debauchery probably just indicates the sub-generation of partiers in which you came up. Winter Music Conference, Miami Music Week, “Ultra week,” whatever – it’s all refers to the same time span of pounding bass and good times.

Arielle Castillo is Fusion’s culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She’s also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.

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