Building a Better Label

Guitarist Scott Nixon sits strumming in the pin-drop quiet of the Space Cadette recording studio. Behind him the blue and beige burlap-covered walls display a mural -- an intricate depiction of human bones and machine gears. In the control booth, as engineer Frank Albergaria adjusts the sound levels, Alfredo Galvez watches Nixon lay down guitar tracks for the forthcoming release by their band, A Kite Is a Victim. The disc, a collection of Galvez's lush acoustic compositions, will be titled Home, which aptly describes what the creators of Space Cadette have constructed for themselves and the bands that rehearse and record music in their Miami facilities.

"This is always going to be a reference point for us," Galvez says. "Even if our bands or our artistic and musical visions change, we know that home is here."

The brainchild of brothers Alfredo and Rafael Galvez, ages 23 and 24, Space Cadette is a lot like a home -- one under constant renovation. In three hectic years the fledgling label has evolved into a veritable multimedia arts conglomerate that encompasses a recording studio, an art gallery, a performance space, rehearsal halls, a distribution center, and a record and book store. Along the way, the Space Cadette offices have become a hub of creative activity devoted to reinvigorating the local music and visual arts scene.

"We're just trying to generate interest in South Florida, to let people know that we're genuinely serious about music," explains Rafael, who oversees the label side of Space Cadette's bustling operation. "We don't really consider ourselves local, because our best sales have been in the Chicago area and in New York. We've gotten letters from people who like our stuff in Italy, Colombia, and Malaysia. But the attitude everyone has here is that we're just local. To go anywhere in Florida it seems you have to make it big somewhere else, which is a horrible attitude to have -- it means people don't take themselves seriously down here."

The Galvezes, whose parents moved to Miami from Peru thirteen years ago, originally left Miami to study visual arts and play in rock bands, Alfredo in San Francisco and Rafael in Baltimore. Three years ago the brothers felt the call of home. "What motivated us in the beginning was the idea of working together, and the idea of coming back to Miami and to start something here, which this city needs," Rafael says. "We weren't planning to set up a business, really. There was just this snowball effect; it keeps on growing and we keep adding different limbs to it."

Space Cadette began in the fall of 1994, when the Galvezes rented a small warehouse space in a nondescript building located in an industrial area off Bird Road near the Palmetto Expressway. Initially, they supported the operation with day jobs. Soon the brothers started renting out rooms and equipment for five dollars per hour. With this revenue and a lot of hard work, the Galvezes began making improvements to the offices -- knocking down some walls, building others, and soundproofing rooms.

Although the brothers share a common vision for Space Cadette, they are easy to tell apart. Alfredo is all restless energy, a diminutive talker with sparkling green eyes. His older brother is tall and lanky, dark-eyed and soft-spoken. They even favor different styles: Alfredo plays mostly acoustic and melodic rock, while Rafael's work runs the gamut from folkloric music to avant-garde electronic.

By early 1995 there were so many bands rehearsing at the Space Cadette facility that the brothers decided to put together a compilation. "It was the first time we could actually plug in the idea of the label," Alfredo explains. "Before that we had no connection to any musicians, and we were too busy just trying to live to make any."

The twenty-track Space Cadette Compilation showcased a mix of hardcore punk, alternative ballads, Latin rock, and Andean pop. While its production was rudimentary (some of the tracks sound muffled), the disc did provide exposure for a slew of worthy local bands. "It wasn't the hottest of releases, because we were new at doing this, but it got a buzz," Alfredo says. "The bands were surprised that we did what we said we would do, and people started getting more involved with us from that point on."

A steady stream of Space Cadette releases followed, among them Swivel Stick's Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown, and self-titled discs by Ed Matus' Struggle and Subliminal Criminal. The label's current projects include Alfredo's own A Kite Is a Victim disc and a compilation of local Latin rock called Cadetes del Espacio. (True to Space Cadette's familial spirit, many of the bands on the label share members; for example, three members of Ed Matus' Struggle are also in A Kite Is a Victim.)

The Galvezes' emphasis on the visual arts has become a hallmark of their releases. The packaging for Swivel Stick's Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown, for instance, consists of corrugated cardboard covered with ink stampings and paint smudges. The Velcro-sealed packages contain the CD (packed in plastic bubble wrap), a pressed flower, folded notes, postcards, band photos, song lyrics, and a mental-ward admission slip. "We like the idea that a record might be a duplicate of a thousand others, but in itself it's unique," Rafael says of the packaging, which was all done by hand. "It has personality and humanity, and it's an important extension of the musical work itself."

In early 1996 the Galvezes teamed up with veteran sound engineer Albergaria, who heard the original Space Cadette compilation and was impressed by the brothers' initiative. "I had only heard of one other place, in Providence, that similarly incorporated a gallery, recording studio, and community space," he says. "Bands that come here from the Midwest and everywhere else say there's nothing like this anywhere. That was one of the things that attracted me." A Portuguese-born optician-turned-experimental-musician, Albergaria, age 39, now handles all recording duties and some production. Under his supervision the recording studio has expanded dramatically, upgrading from a lone four-track cassette deck to a multitrack, digital system driven by a PC. "You don't need a lot of stuff to record with," insists Albergaria. "If I were to get two microphones and a tape deck, that would suffice. Some of the best recordings of orchestras used just two mikes. I try to record rock and roll the same way, without using any effects. If you mike everything right, there should be no need for reverb units, compressors, or anything else."

At Space Cadette, creating the right vibe is as important as the right sound. With both Space Cadette bands and outside projects, Albergaria strives to create a comfortable atmosphere that starts with the price -- $25 per hour with engineer, a bargain by industry standards. "The young kids get so tensed up," says Albergaria, a New England transplant who still speaks with a chowder-thick Boston accent. "I give them a little speech, telling them that if they make a mistake, I won't make them feel bad. I joke around with them. I don't have any clocks in the place, so they don't keep looking at them. Most projects go over budget, but I work something out with them and they appreciate it, and they tell their friends about it, so one hand washes the other."

Space Cadette has extended this idea of comfort to its new rehearsal space, which offers four spacious, soundproof rooms -- one free of charge, the other three for five dollars per hour -- plus vending machines and a video-game arcade to occupy waiting clients. Upstairs are the record and book store and a comfy room for chilling out.

While Space Cadette remains a struggling business, it's also become a kind of unintended community cooperative. Last year, for example, Rafael Galvez joined forces with Allyson Kapin (a publicist for the Miami Youth Museum) to found a Miami-based nonprofit, Just Action, which supports social, political, and environmental causes through arts and education. The group's volunteers conduct workshops on reproductive rights, teach free self-defense classes, and work with other volunteer groups, such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Space Cadette musicians also lead hands-on music and art workshops for underprivileged kids.

"Let's face it, we are trying to benefit in a monetary sense from Space Cadette, but there's a lot of work we want do with no money involved, especially when it comes to dealing with children, women's issues, the homeless," Rafael says. "With the workshops, we are trying to show them, especially the kids, something they've never seen, like a viola player or a clarinet player."

Space Cadette has solidified its reputation as a local music hub by hosting a series of live shows. "The shows gave us another dimension," Alfredo notes. "At bars, people don't really want to concentrate on the music; they want to drink and talk, and every once in a while they turn around to look at the band. That's very discouraging, when you realize you're just a jukebox and all that work is gone."

It was the live shows that sparked the idea of converting the lobby into a gallery. "Between bands people just socialize, and I think people could do something more interesting than gossip or stare at an empty wall or try to avoid the person they don't want to talk to all night," Rafael says. "There are people willing to put their art up, and when there's this existing visual arts culture that doesn't get supported down here, I think it's really important to acknowledge that and act upon it. Miami has a few good galleries, but most are geared toward commercializing visual arts. So where do the young artists that have nowhere to exhibit go?" Space Cadette has also been working with the Box, an alternative gallery space in Miami, on gallery exhibitions and CD-release projects.

Space Cadette doesn't have a set number of employees or formal business hours. The Galvezes and their collaborators frequently put in eighteen-hour days. And the brothers are also prolific artists and musicians. Alfredo currently fronts two bands -- the aforementioned A Kite Is a Victim (formerly the Al Galvez Band) and alternative rock en espanol outfit Enemigo Sol (which is set to perform in a Polygram Latino Records showcase at Rose's Bar & Music Lounge on September 5) -- and he continues to paint and draw. Rafael fronts the Spanish-language electronic band 6/6/96 and is working on a CD-ROM/art book project. More work is on the horizon: Albergaria says Space Cadette is planning to create an electronic music division, which will release his own electronic, Brian Eno-influenced soundtrack compositions, and the music of 6/6/96.

If the Galvezes sound a tad harried these days, consider that the brothers just launched their own distribution company, There When Down. Formed earlier this year with Kapin, it's envisioned as a way to cut costs and control how Space Cadette music is marketed and sold. The company's catalogue began with Florida bands but has grown to include national and international acts such as Jawbox and Velocity Girls. "We wanted to handle bands we believe in," Kapin says. "We don't see a lot of creativity out there, so we push the bands that we think people should be listening to." In typical Space Cadette fashion, There When Down's catalogue, released this spring, is as much a work of art as a listing -- its pages contain artwork from Alfredo's series of paintings Nightmares Home, as well as creative text by Rafael.

And the renovations at Space Cadette Central (7339 SW 45th St.) continue. The gallery has just been expanded in preparation for two upcoming shows. On Tuesday, September 2, Space Cadette hosts a Latin rock night with the Fun People from Argentina and local bands Cavity, Inmundo Mundo, and Enemigo Sol. On September 16, A Kite Is a Victim and Machete perform with two out-of-town bands, Tsunami and Sonora Pine; the evening will also feature the opening of the exhibition Sediments of Occasion, showcasing works by the Galvez brothers, Kapin, and other Space Cadette collaborators. "We're really excited because we have been totally inspired by Simple Machines," Kapin says, referring to Tsunami's pioneering indie label. "We've been in touch with them for years, so it's really exciting for them to finally see our space. The national bands that come through are amazed that we really do this all ourselves."

While Space Cadette has accomplished a lot in three years, the Galvezes insist the homegrown conglomerate has a long way to go. "We know that maybe nobody will hear these records, but maybe they will become popular in five years; maybe one band will become popular," Rafael says. "We know nothing becomes truly worthwhile and whole in one day or one year. You have to work it through until you get the results you want. And we're getting there little by little. Maybe we'll get there in five years, maybe in ten, but we are willing to wait.

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