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We come alive after our nine-to-five." That is the creed of moneyman Mel Cheren and impresario Michael Brodi, the nightlife visionaries who in the late Seventies opened what may be the most heralded club in history. "We come alive after our nine-to-five" was the mantra of New York City's Paradise Garage, the all-night spot that spawned the modern club era, transforming DJs into stars and midnight into dawn.
"People ask me if I thought it would ever get this big," Cheren recounts while sitting in one of Level's posh VIP booths during the 25th anniversary party for the Garage. "Of course not. In fact I was skeptical to think it would even succeed."
Even after the implosion of Studio 54, Steve Rubell's door policy, which rivaled the selectivity of the pearly gates, scarred nightcrawlers, leaving clubgoers with the belief that any one club they could get into wasn't worth going to. Cheren and Brodi changed all that with their own tool-belt and axle-grease version of paradise.
"The atmosphere at the Garage was that everyone was welcome," remembers Cheren. "Black, white, gay, straight -- it didn't matter. I believed then, and still believe now, that if people can dance together, they can live together."
Tonight at Level, today's glamour kids are dancing and living with a disco-era army that may be a little gray at the temples but is still able to fill out tight-fitting T-shirts. As DJs David DePino and Joey Llanos resurrect the Garage sound, a peach-fuzzed boy chugging water cautiously eyes a middle-age man sipping a dry vodka martini through the dense cloud of smoke and lights.
"One day I got a call from Michael, and he said, “Mel, I found the guy that's gonna make it work for us,'" says Cheren, transported back a quarter-century. "Those were his exact words. And that guy was Larry Levan."
With a deft ear and a flair for the dramatic that made him the most influential DJ in dance music, Levan drew a following so faithful that when the Garage closed in 1987, many on the scene simply retired as well.
"Larry was a genius," observes Cheren. "He was not only a talented DJ and entertainer, but he also knew how to educate crowds. I can remember him playing songs that would clear a floor at first, but he would keep playing it until people would catch on."
Tonight no such lesson is needed. The scenesters in attendance are inspired by the solemnity of the occasion. The air is alive with a disco-techno mix that bridges the gap between then and now. Arms wave amid the tracers trailed by atmosphere-cutting glow sticks.
Cheren looks down upon the overflowing dance floor and smiles. "I'm so humbled by the whole experience," he says. "I look around now, and I see faces from 25 years ago. It's amazing to think we've all remained friends to this day. And it's because of the Garage."
Cheren excuses himself and carefully descends the winding staircase to the dance floor. Friends sporting vintage "Paradise Garage" T-shirts embrace him and lead him into the sweating mass of colors, class, and characters that carry on the legacy of the Garage.
In this section I was going to talk about how after the Garage, club culture hit the road with its own record labels, clothing lines, and, now, traveling tours. Except now the Mekka Tour, an electronic caravan that was supposed to begin in New York and cross the nation, will simply be a Miami block party this Saturday at downtown's Club Space and along NE Tenth Street.
Citing an inability to "present an event at the level it had envisioned," Mekka Entertainment canceled the North American tour that boasted marquee names like Paul Oakenfold, Roni Size, and even old-school survivors De La Soul. "We decided to just go ahead as planned and sign all the acts ourselves." That hasn't slowed down Space promoter Emi Guerra, however. "We have all the locals signed and Paul Oakenfold," he promised last week. "We're just waiting on the rest."
"We're starting at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday and going until 12:00 p.m. on Sunday," says Guerra. "It's gonna be huge." So, even as Mekka folds, Miami rises as the electronic mecca.
"We know the success of events like the Winter Music Conference and the Ultra Fest," Guerra says. "And here we're going to have every room in the club open, as well as an outdoor tent and festival ground. People can just roam to whichever sound they like."
Guerra says there are no confirmed times for artists but promises the big names will play earlier in the event, leaving the wee hours for experimentation. As if that's not enough, Friday night will feature Gatecrasher's Scott Bond, in support of Discotech Generation, his dual CD release for the UK superclub.
"No, I don't plan on sleeping this weekend," Guerra says with a laugh.
Sleep? This is Miami. We come alive after five.