Mass Distraction

It took more than a few scud missiles to break up the party at the Winter Music Conference.

 Countdown

8 p.m. EST, Monday, March 17

In the lobby of the Radisson Deauville, on the eve of the Winter Music Conference, the music stops when President Buzzkill addresses the world. The face of George Bush replaces the Dirty Vegas video on the big-screen TVs in the center of the lobby and in the piano bar overlooking the pool. The bright chatter among DJs, promoters, record-label execs and their entourages dies away as Bush's voice resounds in the suddenly silent hall. "Events in Iraq have reached the days of final decision," Bush says. "Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours."

Partying like there's no tomorrow at Back Door 
Bamby.
Partying like there's no tomorrow at Back Door Bamby.

A severe-thunderstorm warning slowly scrolls across the screens. While Bush speaks of "evil men who plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror," invading bolts of lightning and thunderclaps split the sky. Bush signs off with "May God continue to bless America." A hard rain begins to fall.

The DJs spin on. Tens of thousands of people from around the world arrive in Miami Beach for WMC 2003 as President Bush delivers his ultimatum. For the 48-hour countdown and the first 100 hours of fighting, the conferees are embedded in the Command Division of Party People. Columns of Hummers throttle up and down Collins Avenue. The sidewalks are littered with thousands of eye-candy party fliers, dispersed like psy-ops pamphlets commanding the populace to surrender to the beat. On the dance floor, sirens wail over the droning beat of machines. Searchlights slice through billowing smoke. Behind the DJs, eerie night-vision footage of cruise-missile explosions shares screen time with animated attack helicopters shooting rays of light. Military technology is enlisted in the service of hedonism. War doesn't stop the party; it is the party.


Weapons of Mass Distraction

1:30 a.m. EST, Tuesday, March 18

MSNBC ticker quotes U.S. Marine officer: "My troops are ready to execute, mentally and physically."

At a WMC launch party, called Back Door Bamby, 1,000 bodies writhe on the massive dance floor of the Washington Avenue club crobar. Every muscle absorbs the shock waves sent out by deep house DJ David Morales. Atop the main bar, a female dancer with the ensemble Circ X is dressed as a Headless Nightclub Monster in a suit stitched from the newspapers of the world. Beneath the sweeping red-yellow-green lights, a male dancer sits in the middle of the bar reading the headlines on her body that scream war in French, Italian, German, Arabic, Japanese. Curious clubbers surround the artists.

The man puts on headgear designed by artist and company director Diana Lozano. The glittery sphere with a menacing tube for a mouth is part gas mask, part disco ball. The soldier/disco dancer pulls a U.S. flag out of his pocket. He swallows the flag. He vomits the flag. He is, for the moment, the dance-music community, hyped up on the theatrics of war, outraged and exhilarated, and dancing, always dancing.


War Rations

6 p.m. EST, Tuesday, March 18

A 24,000-member Force Service Support group delivers food to Marines in Kuwait.

There are a lot of yummy women poolside at the Winter Music Conference's official kickoff party at the Raleigh Hotel. A bumper sticker across Michelle Pagan's naked breasts proclaims her "The Yummiest."

Pagan, 31 and a model from Fort Lauderdale, is wearing only the sticker -- for the graphic design company she's promoting -- a black thong with high heels to match, and gold hoop earrings. Costume devil's horns stick up from her spiraling blond coif. When a handler asks her what she wants from the snack bar, Pagan orders "French fries, lots of french fries." An instant later, she stomps her foot in exasperation. "I should have said, 'Freedom fries.' The French suck."

Pagan is pro-war. "I think it's totally necessary. War's been going on for fucking ever, man. You can't stop it. I have these friends from Poland, and they say it's all lies and media hype that Iraq is a threat to us or that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. They could be right, and I realize that the American government is just picking on somebody they know they can beat down while the whole world watches. But fuck it. I take kung fu, and sometimes it just feels really good to just beat somebody's ass, you know?"


Psychological Warfare

1 p.m. EST, Wednesday, March 19

U.S. Army vehicles move toward the Iraqi border; airspace over Walt Disney World and Disneyland is restricted.

Octavius Prince, 23, isn't the only aspiring artist to prowl the pool parties, laptop and headphones in hand, dying to play his latest bedroom creation for anyone who will listen. But there's something a little different about the hard-trance composition DJ Octavius plans to launch during his 4 a.m. set at Club Pump. "Final Justice" is a pro-war anthem. It begins with a snare-drum roll that sounds like automatic weapons fire, then thumps at 147 beats per minute over a sample of the president's last State of the Union address, declaring, in booming reverb, "We are winning the war on terror."

"I don't particularly like Bush, but I don't particularly dislike him, either, and I'm pretty patriotic. I like what he's saying, which is 'Don't fuck with us,' basically." Forecasting the mood-altering effects of the impending war on the WMC, Prince says, "I think either people will be like, 'Oh, man, we shouldn't be hitting all these parties while there are all these people dying in the desert,' or they'll be like, 'There's a war, so I'm going to go get fucked up and dance, 'cuz I'm in America and I can, so I should.'"

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