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How Smirnoff and Mixmag are fostering a new web of artist connections

It’s around midnight in the high desert of California; tucked away in a private studio in Joshua Tree, AMTRAC and Joe Ray from Nero are knee deep in their second collaboration of the day. As the two construct a funky house beat — full of untethered hi hats and loose percussion — there’s a growing audience at their back.

The two artists, along with the likes of MK, Shigeto, Gina Turner and more, have gathered at Rancho V in Joshua Tree for Mixmag and Smirnoff’s official artist retreat in the desert. It’s the third and final night — in other words, the last chance for the artists to utilize their precious time together. As the pair’s house track slowly comes to life, there’s a slight sense of apprehension in the air. The beat is solid, but it’s clearly missing something.

Suddenly, with the precision of a seasoned producer, AMTRAC drops in a vocal that sounds like some rugged jazz sample from two decades prior — yet it’s not a sample at all; it’s the vocal hook of Andrea Meli, recorded earlier in the day. As the vocal clicks in, the reaction is instantaneous. The previously passive audience is now standing and cheering — dancing even. Spirits are high, and for good reason — the audience has just witnessed something rare: the wondrous, uncanny thrill of creation.

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Photo via: Juliana Bernstein (Get Tiny)

It’s moments like these that came to define Mixmag and Smirnoff’s collaborative 3-day getaway in the desert: a secluded creative retreat that serves as an extension of the brands’ ongoing collaboration behind the Smirnoff Sound Collective.

The aim of the collective is to promote diversity within dance music — an increasingly paramount goal given the sheer lack of gender and ethnic representation at the top of the scene. In fact, just last year, Smirnoff estimated that only 10 percent of electronic festival headliners were women. “When you look at other communities such as the African American community and the LGBTQ community, you find a similar lack of representation throughout the industry,”says Justin Medcraft, Smirnoff Global Senior Brand Manager. “That needs to change and we hope to put forth acts that do so this year and moving forward.”

At Smirnoff and Mixmag’s artist retreat, however, it’s a much more promising picture. Nina Dioz, a female rapper from Mexico, for instance, can be found collaborating with Shigeto, a jazzy Detroit-based producer with a Japanese heritage. In another pairing, young LA upstart Kaleena Zanders is lending verses to the patchwork of house veteran MK. Vocalist Andrea Meli is freestlyling toplines over Amtrac’s bubbling basslines.

It’s the kind of beautiful, spontaneous atmosphere in which interesting ideas thrive.

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Photo via: Juliana Bernstein (Get Tiny)

More than just a chance for the artists to link up in the studio, the retreat provided an immersive mingling of cultures. New York DJ and producer DJ Gina Tuner, for instance, led morning meditation and yoga. MK and Amtrac spun house and disco in the open-air to a crisp, desert sunset. Music was made, but so were everlasting connections that defy the homogeneity of modern dance music.

Ultimately, the retreats are just the tip of the iceberg for the Smirnoff Sound Collective. From their ongoing documentary series Tribes, to their diverse festival takeovers, there’s a veritable movement growing behind the idea. Outside of the amazing music created in their retreat sessions — that, with any luck, will surface in early 2017 — Mixmag and Smirnoff are collectively fostering a new wave of artist connections and a new line of communication for diversity within the music industry. In 2017, it’s a web of communication that is only expected to grow tenfold.

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