When the Saints Come Dancing In: Day III of Miami's WMC
March 11, 2011: Friday night was my third day, the midpoint of my adventures in Miami during the Winter Music Conference. It's all about pacing yourself.
First stop was the Clevelander for its pool party. Before we got there, I was delayed by the atypical sound of a Circuit mix on a non-Circuit weekend. I looked over and saw a large transwoman lip-sync-ing an anthem for the crowd, all the while ruling the sidewalk between outdoor tables that clutter Ocean Drive. It was Latrice Royale in all her magnificence, chasing down frightened tourists and reading obnoxious college guys. She ended her number by dropping into a full split, bringing the crowd roaring to its feet. “Thank you!” Ms. Latrice said in her deep baritone voice.
Back to the Clevelander. What could have been just a typical Spring Break event was energized by a strong shot of competition with all the free parties everywhere. Up-and-coming DJs got their chance to do their thing, even if the crowd were there more for the attractive venue and go-go dancers, women who wore body paint from navel up and somewhat problematic booty shorts below. One dancer did her best to preserve her sexiness while dealing with a potential wardrobe malfunction. In the battle of the booty against the shorts, the booty won. Miami Vice would have been proud- there was an absence of crack on the premises.
I decided to take Collins rather than overcrowded Ocean Drive as I walked from the Clevelander to the Shelborne Beach Resort for a pool party thrown by Oscar G and Ralph Falcón, the duo responsible for the dark, rhythmic sounds of Murk and their more bouncy incarnation, Funky Green Dogs.
But I was waylaid on the way.
As I walked the road less taken, I passed a beautiful woman dressed in a chic black outfit. Her short-short hair gave her a no-nonsense air. Sharp.
I complimented her on her look. She smiled, and we walked together for a bit. Women in SOBE have a rough time during Spring Break, especially at night, when thousands of wanna-be Romeos whistle, holler, and sometimes grab at them as they walk by. My simple expression of admiration was perhaps enough for the young bella to subtly enlist me as a barrier against unwanted attention. Or perhaps she was just a friendly person.
“I'm not sure where my hotel is,” she said. “I'm looking for 1238 Collins.” So I kept my eye out for her place, and sure enough, I saw it a couple minutes later, a cute establishment on the west side of Collins called La Flora. We said our goodbyes and I continued my quest…for maybe two steps before the beats coming out of La Flora lobby arrested me on spot. It was an awkward moment: do I go in and risk looking like I was stalking Ms. Beautiful Princess? To my relief, she had disappeared, so I walked into the lobby, thinly populated with a smattering of women and men, mostly women. There was a DJ in the southeast corner nearest the street, and she was dropping some thumping neo-Africana, similar in spirit to the sound I associate with vintage Murk, but with a roots edge that spoke the body ecstatic.
“This is Beauties and the Beat,” said spiky-haired DJ Charo Velecio. “It's my baby.” The crew of BATB had brought DJs from the Jersey-NY area to Miami. I was introduced to a slew of quality turntablists: Ritarocks, Curly (christened “Dat Gurl” by Danny Krivit), Mikki Afflick, and Nicole Otero. With help from New York's Benji Candelario, they have made it their mission to bring aché (spiritual authority and power) to the dance floor. Aché is the stuff that brings saints to earth and makes them dance.
The BATB crew also seeks to empower women. Speaking as a female DJ in a man's world, Charo said, “The men (DJs) don't give us a chance. We open for them, but if we're too good, then they won't hire us again.” We both laughed at the double-entendre of women “opening” for men. I added, “Typical! You put out, and look where it gets you.”
Not Spring Break
Ms. Velecio told me she would spin at 9:30, so I had about an hour to check out the Shelborne party. The music at the Shelborne was NYC afterhours with a distinctive undertone of solid groove. The crowd of some 1,500 was in love with the DJ, and he responded admirably.
I was happy that so many were there. Despite the chill in the air (temperature was around 60 degrees), most of the men had their shirts off because it was that kind of crowd: metro-muscle on parade. The average age was 25-35, not at all a Spring Break crowd, proving that WMC appreciates but does not depend on college kids for its existence.
Having taken the measure of the Shelborne pool party and pronouncing it good, I left without having the chance to speak with the DJs. My WMC press pass notwithstanding, the booth was only accessible through the VIP area, and I was denied access. Oh well, I'll go to a venue where I can actually do my job.
It's a Happening
Charo had started her set when I returned. I had told my friend Mia to meet me at La Flora. It's a great party, I told her. We got there, and the place was almost deserted. But the music was good. I would at least extend Charo the courtesy of hearing her one-hour set before leaving.
It was the calm before the storm. I don't know if Charo called upon the dance deities before spinning, but they obviously heard her groove. Within twenty minutes, it was a full-on dance happening. People literally came in dancing from the streets, drawn in as I had been. My new favorite diva Melonie Daniels and her fiancé David Walker were there as well (check out their new single, “Dance With Me”).
David couldn't keep away from the dance floor, neither could Robin S, who asked me to get Charo's card. I did so with pleasure. Robin and I danced for a hot minute. It was church, bembé, stone soul techno-session. Industry folks came in and gave their respects, including Ft. Lauderdale DJ Jenine Baisi and Gloria Villa from San Francisco.
Hostess and co-producer Jacqui Toma (a.k.a. Jacqueline Mestre) had brought in three congas and a saxophonist. Sometimes when live music is brought in to a DJ set, the musicians fail to conform to the recorded beat, resulting in painful cacophony. But not Beauties and the Beat. This blend was tasty, and helped me release my inner ocha.
It's Not Ovah 'Til It's Mova
But NYC was calling to us from another SOBE location: Mova at Lincoln and Washington. Mova is a Gay nightclub that prides itself in never charging a cover.
The crowd was there to inspect, not dance. But a significant number of celebrants risked sweating in public and danced anyway. They couldn't help themselves- Steve Amaroso served notice with Latin house just before he turned over the booth to the next DJ.
Steve is part of a New York crew that specializes in tribal underground. DJ Subject English Subject English, Curtis Atkinson, Jim Guererro, and Manny Z were there to support their brother. Manny reflects the refreshing sea-change in WMC from tolerance of LGBTQ people to appreciation. As I spoke with Amaroso, our conversation made its way to Kristine W. Two minutes later, she showed up in stunning form, not phased in the least by what had to be a hectic schedule. Kristine, Crystal Waters, and Katherine Ellis would perform at Mova the following night.
I spoke with Ridge King, the laser-focused manager of Mova. His youth is countered by his projection of self as a man who means business. As we stepped outside to talk, DJ Lee Dagger of Bimbo Jones was waiting to come in. A round of introductions ensued, then Ridge and I conversed before he jetted back in for the second live set of three possible superstar singers.
My bet would be on vocalist Julissa Veloz, who managed to overcome a temporary sound system issue and drama in the DJ booth to deliver a good set.
I asked Ridge about the WMC/Ultra split. “I kinda like it,” he said. Ultra will not be situated in the same mad round of parties that would demand Mr. King's body and soul for the week. “It's much easier for me to take a day off and see everyone I like.”
As if to stress its independence from WMC, I saw an Ultra poster on Lincoln that had “SOLD OUT” printed in bright letters.