Party Powwow

South Beach's top players wax and wane on the state of clubland

On a recent torrid afternoon in South Beach, a few of the folks who provide the music and activities for the visitors to this strange planet gathered to talk about events and issues in clubland. Most of these people have been here since the revitalization of SoBe began in the early Nineties, when increasing numbers of tourists, models, actors, celebrities, and advertising companies flocked here to take advantage of the kind winter climate and its trendy Art Deco setting. By 1998 hotels and restaurants were demanding top dollar and the world referred to SoBe as the American Riviera. But soon after the 9/11 attacks, tourism began to wane. Petty feuds between various local players and competition for entertainment dollars from outlying areas in Miami-Dade County began to develop, adding to the difficulties that had fallen upon the city's inhabitants. Now another season is about to begin, from the onset of winter solstice through the climax of spring break at the end of March. Whether it will succeed or fail remains to be seen.

The discussion among the panel's participants lasted for two and a half hours. The group featured David Kelsey, president of the South Beach Hotel and Restaurant Association; Rudolf Piper, co-owner of Nerve nightclub; Carmel Ophir, promoter and owner of Creations Production and Management Group; Brian Jordan, co-owner of Automatic Slim's; DJ Shannon, resident rock and soul DJ for Ophir's Back Door Bamby party; Ani Phearce, creative mastermind behind the Phearce Musica production company; Tommy Pooch, promoter and owner of Tommy Pooch Productions; and Justin "Buster" Altshuler, promotions director for WPYM-FM (Party 93.1) and co-owner of the dance music channel Alternative TV-3. In addition several onlookers joined in the discussion. Everyone was clearly committed to a vibrant and successful club scene that emphasizes hospitality and fun.

SoBe royalty: David Kelsey (top to bottom), Rudolf Piper, Carmel Ophir, Brian Jordan, DJ Shannon, Ani Phearce, Tommy Pooch, and Buster
photos by Jonathan Postal
SoBe royalty: David Kelsey (top to bottom), Rudolf Piper, Carmel Ophir, Brian Jordan, DJ Shannon, Ani Phearce, Tommy Pooch, and Buster

New Times: How much does it cost for a couple to go out to dance and have two drinks in South Beach?

Jordan: If you're not in the industry, or don't know people in the industry, obviously it would be extremely expensive. I know there are times that I have chosen not to come to the Beach because I'm going to have to deal with the parking situation. Being co-owner of Automatic Slim's, I am still hesitant to come to the Beach when I know the Beach is busy on holiday weekends, because you're going to drive around for a half hour trying to find parking. It just gets ridiculous. The valets, when you tip the valet, is $20; to get into the nightclub can be $20 apiece; and drinks range from $8 to $12. So for a couple to come to the Beach, you're looking at, easily, over $100.

Pooch: Unfortunately the rents on Washington Avenue are only less for the new guys. The guys that signed their leases way back when are still paying top dollar, and the only way that we can make the numbers work is to charge top dollar for drinks and admission. I'm just talking about a Cheeseburger Baby, for instance. It's very hard to keep that store open. There's no way the landlords are going to pitch in. They were the first ones to kill the goose that laid the golden egg by getting out of hand with these rents for beat-up storefronts and, unfortunately, there is an ass for every seat. And the public suffers and the landlords keep getting fatter. That's the vicious cycle that we're in on Washington Avenue at least.

Phearce: If you're really smart you just get drunk at home, turn on the radio where they're playing Space music and flash the lights on and off and that way you've got a party.

Piper: That way you don't get laid.

Phearce: That's what I do.

It seems to be a given that big-name DJs draw a crowd. Do local DJs have a chance? Is there a SoBe house sound in the way that New York house or Ibiza [Balearic house] has developed? Is there a place in the SoBe club scene for new, experimental music? Electronic bands like Infusion and experimental DJs with laptops and keyboards, like the Audio Electric artists, have played on the Beach. Will clubs embrace these new sounds?

Piper: The Miami Beach sound is hip-hop at this point. [laughter]

Phearce: I think that locals have a chance. I think a testament to that are George Acosta, Oscar G, and Roland. I mean these guys are locals that have managed to establish a following, both locally and abroad. In terms of the sound that Miami has, from the house music [standpoint] I don't think that there is one. Hip-hop is just dominating the scene right now. It's pop, it's the culture. It's no longer rock and roll, it's hip-hop.

Piper: Let me address the up-and-coming local DJ that tries to break into the scene. I think that DJs are artists, like painters or sculptors, and to my view, an artist has to not only be talented but also know how to promote himself. Salvador Dalí was not only a great painter but a feverish self-promoter. And I think that DJs must do the same. The DJ must create a following before he even starts playing. He has to create mailing lists; he has to be able to attract people to his event. The DJ is a promoter. The DJ has to draw. If I see a DJ that comes into my office and says, "Well, I have never played in a club before but I can bring you 150 guests for whatever night I'm playing," you know what? I'm listening to this guy; I'm giving him an hour or two to play in the club. And I think that that's the way to go.

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