By Jacob Katel
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Who's the hippest DJ in South Beach? Hard to say. What is certain is that whatever your tastes, there is but a handful. A distinct breed apart among record breakers who balance instinct and acumen to make a good night great. A select group who spin at all the right parties, in all the right places, and never miss a trick. The few, the proud, the hip. David Knapp fits that bill.
If you've stepped into any happening South Beach nightclub over the past two years, chances are your night was rocked by Knapp. From the Truth parties at the Di Lido (alternating with Luis Diaz) to the late, great madness that was Boomerang (he was there the night the club was busted), Knapp has been a fixture of many of Miami's most memorable evenings. He's made Warsaw sweat, Paragon jump, the old Garage (at the Institute) pound, and he opened Torpedo, another minor legend among simply minor occurrences.
As befits a sitdown with a scenester of such renown, we meet over margaritas amid the wildness that is Barrio, the latest, coolest restaurant in steamy South Beach. It's 90 degrees out, near zero in, and we're not about to let the sun beat the hell out of our cocktail hour. Besides, there's much to discuss (we're talking status here), and a groovy bar can sometimes be the most civilized place on Earth.
The first thing one notices upon coming face-to-face with this hipster shake doctor is his demeanor. Calm and ultra-cool, without any of the pretense that ordinarily comes with such pedigree, one gets the impression that there's much more than a couple of good segues up his sleeve. But you'd never expect that this hep cat, beacon to South Florida's most influential nightcrawlers (surprise, surprise) is a recent grad of the University of Miami's law school. Incongruous. As if law books and nightlife somehow would never mix as easily as tequila and lime juice. But considering the music/club industry's increasingly higher stakes, Knapp's ambition to practice entertainment law makes perfect sense.
And it's certainly not as if all that nose-to-the-grindstone studying has hampered his performance in the booth. You see, Knapp takes his record spinning mighty seriously, believing that DJs "have a responsibility to educate." And teachers, of course, must always be well ahead of their students. "When people come to South Beach," Knapp says, "they're looking for a little something different. And when they find it, you've got to be looking at the next thing, what you're going to show them next."
That's it: turn 'em on and move along. Think about the artists who broke in clubs before radio, divas like Ce Ce Peniston and Crystal Waters, and you get the idea. For without the DJ's loyal belief in the strength of the new, we might never hear anything fresh. Knapp's forever searching for the latest next-to-be-greatest and his next pick hit to break big is "Burn" by an act called Skee W. Check it out.
These days, as expected, Knapp's on the ultimate South Beach club tip. Fridays, now and then, he mans the wheels of steel at Paragon, where thousands upon thousands come to lose control. Saturdays he moves the hippest of the hip during the weekly throwdowns at The Cave (launched by scene kingpins Gary James and Michael Capponi), which, despite ideas to the contrary, is a monstrous success.
To sum up Knapp's position in this town: He's got the (well-earned) respect of his peers, the blessing (hard to garner) of the hoi polloi, a taste for soul and a gift for vision (all too rare in these tried and true times), and the talent and courage to implement his ideas (another rarity). Add the fact that he's got the law on his side, and you've got the makings of a major Miami mover and shaker.