Sunset Music Festival: Dynamic Electronic Hits Miami

By Eleanor Cecconi

It was the end of a rainy summer Florida Saturday and I arrived at Sunset Music Festival as steam rose from the baked blacktop concrete of the Soho Studios parking lot. Undulating sound waves confronted me as DJ Andy Pate of RioTGeaR controlled a sweaty and gyrating crowd of young techno lovers with his signature energetic tech house beat.

RioTGeaR was just one of the talented and dynamic electronic music djs performing at this past weekend’s fourth annual Sunset Music Festival. Headquartered in the trendy Wynwood district of Miami, and organized by Hypnotic Productions, SMF is notable for providing twelve full hours of nonstop dance music to an all-ages crowd in a unique outdoor space. Known for the larger than life murals that adorn its warehouses, factories, shops, and art galleries, Wynwood is reminiscent of NYC’s Bushwick neighborhood and has become the hippest part of Miami in recent years. Monthly events such as the Wynwood Art Walk and various gallery parties have made it a destination for tourists and art aficionados, but massive parties like Sunset Music Festival have cemented it as a premiere location for EDM events as well.

This year’s SMF lineup was studded with an array of big names and independent electronic talent. Djs are selected based on their abilities to push the boundaries of bass to a level of intensity meant to shake the foundation of nearby abandoned factories and art galleries for a mile radius. The goal: to inject a massive jolt of energy during the off-season to a fan base anxiously awaiting WMC’s Ultra Music Festival in March. Headliners included Bunny (of electronic music group Rabbit in the Moon fame), DJ Cato K (a staple of Miami’s Y 100.7 and fixture in the Sofla EDM scene), Tampa-based Pedro M and internationally recognized DJ duo and Ultra Music Festival radio hosts RioTGeaR. Equally impressive performances were delivered by artists like DJ Xta-C, Eran Hersh & Darmon, Mark Ivan, We Play House, Prizm and more.

Lining the blacktop main stage area were booths offering various refreshments, henna tattoos, shots of pure oxygen, and a multitude of neon-lit gadgets. I browsed the techno finery as the wide grin on Pate’s performing face passed on to the crowd. His energy and enthusiasm were apparent from in front of the stage, and I was able to snap a few shots of dancing fans that seemed larger than life. As I waited for Pate to finish and exit the stage, I chatted with hipster lovebirds and jubilant groups of friends who were happy to pose for the camera.

For the past 10 years, Andy Pate (along with partner Robert Dale who was not present) have steadily built their reputation as a reliable and consistent djs in Tech House scene. Their weekly 2 hour radio show, “Mocean District,” airs on Digitally Imported, the 2010 IDMA’s ‘Best Radio’ station. Featuring renowned Tech House / Techno artists like Joris Voorn, Saeed Younan, Tim Green, Pleasurekraft, UMEK and more, Mocean District’s host of solid electronic names has cemented RioTGeaR as an influential and well connected force to be reckoned with. In 2011, RioTGeaR was given the opportunity to host and produce Ultra Music Festival’s “UMF radio” station on Sirius Satellite XM, making them an authoritative voice on two of the most important EDM radio channels. After his set, I caught up with Pate to talk about SMF, what he’s jamming out to currently, and who he enjoyed hearing the most at SMF.

Since the majority of RioTGeaR’s performances take place in clubs or on the air, I was curious to hear what Pate had to say about playing an all-ages all day outdoor festival. “It is a lot of fun and the reason is because the vast majority of gigs that we play at are in clubs, and it’s a completely different style of music when we play at outdoors festivals. As an artist it’s really exciting to do something different. SMF is a bit more of a challenge, since it’s geared toward a younger demographic than the 21+ clubs we are usually at.”

Pate also enjoys the community feeling that is integral to the success of a festival: “We are friends with most of the djs who have been invited here, so it’s good to see them and catch up. I haven’t seen Pedro M and Cato K for awhile, so it’s always fun to get together and hear each other play.”

Despite knowing the Djs present, Pate explains that there is always an element of surprise in his industry- he is never quite sure what his colleagues will be bringing to the table. “Eran Hersch and Darmon, the people that played before me tonight, did an amazing job. It’s always good to go on and have that feeling of like, oh shit, I better play really well, because these guys were rocking it and I don’t want to be the guy who comes on after them and messes it up. They had the crowd pumped up with their electro sound.”

Pate’s maintained sense of humility stems from his humble beginnings. RioTGeaR’s EDM career began at clubs in the SOFLA area, such as SoBe’s Maze and Club Chill of West Palm Beach. Pate recalls his first gig with an almost surreal nostalgia; he was invited last minute to play the upstairs room of SoBe’s Maze on opening night, immediately after getting home from his busboy shift at a local restaurant. Pate remembers, “I was walking in the door covered by busboy grease. I got a call from the club owner saying, ‘Oh we forgot to book a DJ for the upstairs. Can you be here by like 12:30?’ Which gave me 30 minutes to get ready, drive down there, and prepare to play. I wasn’t able to get in touch with my partner so I had to go alone. When I arrived, the line was all the way down the block and around the building- it was ridiculous. I go up in there and go up to the upstairs room, the count was something like 4500 people. On top of that, something was wrong with the turntable. But I mean Markus Schulz [of Digitally Imported’s Global DJ Broadcast and founder of the EDM label Coldharbour Recordings] was the headlining DJ in the other room. So they actually got him to come look at the table with me and he helped me fix it. That’s how we first met, and that was pretty cool.”

Pate loves to talk about music, which makes him the perfect radio host and companion at a music festival. I asked him to recommend a song that he’s really digging right now. “Monochrome readers should totally scope out the track ‘Criss Cross’ by Shy Child.” And with his signature boyish grin adds, “It’s totally my jam right now.”

Partygoers danced to the sounds of DJ Cato K and Bunny as Pate and I explored the blacktop around the main stage. Dancers in softly spiked nylon bodysuits made us laugh and we joined them dancing, because here they were not looked upon as strange but as a positive reminder that this night was all about letting loose. We continued walking toward the dungeon-like interior of the Soho studios warehouse to dance to dark heavy metal electronica, taking full advantage of the variety provided by the night.