Could Houston Ever Work as an EDM Capital?

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Following last month's troubles at Miami's Ultra Music Festival, the city's mayor considered banning the event.

More than 100 people were treated by paramedics and there were nearly as many arrests, including 30 carrying felony charges, problems that were amplified when a security guard was trampled by festival-goers. She suffered serious injuries from which she is still recovering.

Miami's leaders have since had a change of heart, so it appears the event will remain in South Beach for now. But while they were considering the ban, major American metropolitan cities must have considered bidding on the lucrative festival. Last year alone, it infused more than $200 million into Miami's economy and generated thousands of jobs.

But if it came to pass, would Houston be a good relocation destination? Two local artists, dj NIMBUS and Jason Walsh, a core member of live electronic act DEAD P.A., have attended past Ultra Music Festivals and the Winter Music Conference, also part of Miami Music Week. They both agreed Miami is the best place for Ultra and its peripheral events

"The bar has been set too high for too long," says dj NIMBUS. "Honestly, I don't know anywhere that could reproduce what Ultra or WMC is and is as appealing as Miami. Our city's rules are way too strict for such an event. Most of the events go well past 2 a.m., and some of them start at 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. and roll over till 10 a.m. or later. Noise restrictions would kill it alone. Not to mention, no sunrise cruise parties or beachfront events."

"Houston certainly has everything necessary to handle an event the size and scope of Ultra, but the cultural and economic potential will remain in question until city officials come to realize what the music industry has known for some time, [that] electronic music and festivals mean big money," offers Walsh. "Local authorities and city officials have traditionally impeded progress for the growth of the culture, but this would be no surprise to anyone that remembers the original Westheimer Street Festival or the subjective 'enforcement' of the Houston Noise Ordinance.

"If Wakarusa in Ozark, Arkansas, can draw tens of thousands to their electronic stages, I see no reason the fourth largest city in the United States shouldn't be competitive," he adds. "Houston has been considered a mecca before in regard to certain subgenres of EDM and bass music, and with the talent and infrastructure we have, it could easily host a thriving annual event."

Walsh's act formed in 2003 and features original electronic music, with onstage vocals, percussion and synths; he's now preparing for a slate of summer tour dates. dj NIMBUS is a fixture in Houston house music, and a featured DJ on globalhousemovement.com. He spins live at Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant and Café 4212 on the first and fourth Fridays of the month, respectively.

Both feel Houston isn't ready to host hundreds of thousands of dance-music fans or the weeklong parade of parties that come with an event like Ultra. They did agree we have some strengths to build upon, though.

"Houston is no stranger to bringing international talent, but events of this scale tend to create a lot of peripheral benefits for regional artists, DJs, promoters, venues, sound and lighting companies and venues in their wake," Walsh says. "This means the tide rises for everyone, and one of the cool things about this scene is that commercialism will never crowd out the underground revolution of the music because there is a fresh batch of artists and DJs pushing a completely new sound every ten minutes."

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"The best arguments for Ultra here would only be for U.S. residents, in terms of Houston being central to both coasts," says dj NIMBUS. "My honest answer for the value of bringing Ultra here is that if Houston struggles with NBA All-Star [games], the Super Bowl and other large events due to never-ending construction, lack of late-night entertainment, ample hotels in close proximity to said events, I think Ultra and WMC, combined or separately, would be a bit much."

"Part of the big draw to Miami is the total experience, culture and nonstop action," he continues. "Those things, I'm afraid, are held back by the same people issuing out $2,000 noise-ordinance violations during 'normal club operating hours.' I think Houston as a major metropolitan city needs to get its house in order in the way of hosting large events, much less facilitating the cultures that would make such an event viable on a regular basis."

In spite of everything that went wrong at this year's Ultra Festival, both agreed there's a lot to be learned from it. Walsh wants to see "a homegrown festival that organically reaches the same heights" as Ultra, while dj NIMBUS believes Ultra is the model to follow.

"It'd be wiser to tap into Ultra's resources, as they have been doing it for a long time and clearly understand the process to do so at that level," he says. "Also, they have industry relationships that you really can't bypass or duplicate.

"I think if Houston wanted to be a part of that community on that level, we would have to do what they did," dj NIMBUS adds, "and grass-root our own festival that takes advantage of what Houston has to offer, so no one comes in with expectations set by a city that Houston is nothing like."


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