By Jacob Katel
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Drum and bass doesn't leave much white space for the listener. It fills the air without pause: drum fills layered on top of one another, breakbeats at a breakneck frequency, and a splatter of chest-pumping bass that can stop someone from breathing. This is drum and bass around the world, and thanks to the birth of BeatCamp, which turns five on Thursday, that's the way it is in Miami too.
Creating a meaningful legacy is fine and good, but it wasn't part of founder Marco Fabian a.k.a. Influx Datum's original vision. Marco and his contingent of jungle junkies -- Grrl13, DJ Day, T. Farmer a.k.a. T.S. Heritage, DJ Ken, and Aura -- had simple goals when they formed BeatCamp. They just wanted to play the kind of music seldom heard around town, in clubs, or even at raves: thump-infused drum and bass programmed at 170 beats per minute. "Everything seemed to just happen all of a sudden on its own," says Marco of BeatCamp's sudden rise. "Everything always led to something bigger."
BeatCamp went through mad evolutions as the beat went on. Back in the day, drum and bass was more commonly referred to by its adherents as "jungle," Britain's answer to American hip-hop. Marco was turned on to it by local connoisseurs of the genre, particularly a charismatic Rasta and DJ named Justice. "Justice was a big part of introducing a lot of locals to drum and bass," Fabian says of the black British Jamaican, who has since moved back to the U.K. Marco says he soon picked up his first set of decks, a wobbly pair of turntables he bought for $50 and a bag of reefer.
Marco traveled to New York in 1996 where he attended DJ Dara's now-legendary club night Concrete Jungle. He remembers being instantly blown away by the urban underground's frantic pace and the way "everyone was dancing funny," the syncopation and intensity of the music making them pop around like kernels. When Marco returned to Miami he logged on to a raver message board, where he met T.S. Heritage and his wife Grrl13. Both shared Fabian's enthusiasm for drum and bass and both wanted to DJ. The three, along with friends DJ Day and Aura, decided to form BeatCamp.
Marco recalls how easygoing he was about the project in the beginning. He and his crew played chillout drum and bass grooves at restaurants and other odd gigs until John Paul, who was looking for "something different," asked Marco to play at Zanzibar in South Beach during the summer of 1997. A few weeks later, Marco told the owner he didn't want to play on the back patio anymore, but would stick around if he and his crew could move into the main room. "I didn't really expect anything, and I was ready to quit and move on, so I just let him know I wouldn't stay if I was put in the back," he shrugs. Most club owners wouldn't budge for a DJ with so little experience, but Marco says, "He told me I could have the entire venue and my own night."
Shit blew up soon after. Although the first night was sparsely attended, with maybe twenty heads showing up, the small club was soon drawing over capacity every Thursday night. For the most part, BeatCamp advertised no-hassle engagements, leaving the pissy doorman, guest list, and "dress to impress" prerequisites to other clubs. The night was all about beats you couldn't hear on the radio, and a vibe you couldn't get at most clubs. The draw was the urban underground sound of jungle, fat-free, no cheese. This wasn't a gimmicky party.
The times called for a little more love than other promoters were giving the kids. The underground music scene was beginning to fraction off into subscenes classified by the beat (breakbeat, downtempo, 4/4 house snares) and attitude (sultry, snobby, ghetto, or freaky). Marco admits, "We thought our style of music was a little hard to get into, so we went out of our way to be nice to everyone who showed up because we wanted people to like us." That included hosting B-day parties, complete with cake; shoutouts for supportive patrons; and giving out cookies to appreciative habitués (especially the stoned ones). And the party was just as inviting to DJs as it was to the audience. A big chunk of local jungle, breakbeat, and house disc jocks got a chance to make a name for themselves in BeatCamp's second room where experiments in IDM, downtempo, and acid house were conducted, including house DJ Nova and Fashion TV's Duncan Ross. "We always had another room with music other than drum and bass," Marco says.
At that point, BeatCamp had a brand name. Mark Christopher, the man who gave these jungle misfits their first outlet on electronic music Website TheWomb.com, and John Butler of the Roughneck Massive collective asked them to move into the Mission, a two-story club down the block from Zanzibar. But the BeatCamp collective wasn't sure how the party would do. "Most of the group didn't think it was a good idea to leave the club we were at," Marco remembers. "We had a good thing going." They were packing Zanzibar, but that held a few hundred people. The Mission had space for a thousand. Marco says he went against the will of everyone else in the group when he accepted Christopher's offer in time for BeatCamp's one-year anniversary.