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Nearly two months have passed since the 2004 Winter Music Conference and it still haunts the Miami dance community like a treasured memory.
You can see it at Privilege, which was so empty on a recent Friday night that the raucous breakbeat sounds of Habersham and Dave Preston, together known as Dirtydoodoofunk, seemed to echo throughout the mostly empty main room. And you can hear it in the animated presence of Amália Leandro www.amalial.com , a.k.a. Amália L.
"When I first came to live in Miami, one of the first things my friend Mark Vane told me was, 'Just remember, it's not like it is during conference.' It's hard," she says. "But there's a lot of support for house and electronic music here. It's still the best club scene to go to in North America."
On first impression, Amália appears to be your typical South Beach dilettante. An intensely attractive woman, she dabbled in modeling and acting before turning her attention to spinning and songwriting in 1999. She was featured in the July 2001 issue of Vibemagazine, and she spins tech-house during Sidetracked Tuesdays at Blue, Sunday afternoons at Privilege, and Sunday evenings at Cafeteria. At one point during a conversation at the South Beach café Segafredo Espresso, she casually adds that she has taken up painting and her canvases can be viewed at Blue.
Beneath Amália's cultured, refined exterior, however, lies a sharp intellect that isn't afraid to dress down reporters who ask stupid questions. Plus, the woman's got issues. She recently broke up with her musical and romantic partner, DJ Cue, which forced her to move into another apartment on South Beach.
Many in the local music scene associate her with Cue, since he was instrumental in helping her procure gigs, including the longstanding residency at Blue. It made her vulnerable to being cast as Cue's girlfriend instead of his equal partner. "I feel like I didn't have my own identity," she says. "He taught me a lot, but he definitely didn't teach me everything, and I even taught him a thing or two."
Most of all, there's a yearning in her voice. She wants to establish herself as a painter; she wants to be known as a lyricist; she wants to get better DJ gigs. She tells me she has written a track with Cue, "What You Do," that is scheduled to appear on a compilation by British house label Defected sometime this month. During WMC, Amália spun at several parties, including a showcase with Chicago's famed Superjane crew at Blue on March 10.
But the eleven and three-quarter months prior to WMC can be a desert full of bullshit: meaningless "events" thrown by egomaniacal promoters, frivolous fashion shows, and idiotic "parties" hosted by B-list stars who get paid thousands of dollars to drink Cristal behind a roped-off VIP area for voyeurs. As for the artists, the people whose interests lie beyond the gossip pages of Ocean Drive magazine, they're often concealed behind the DJ booths in environments meant to highlight the conversations between smutty-minded jerks and their silicone-chested companions, not the music.
As frustrating as South Beach can be, though, there are people who want to see the city as a potential music town instead of a red light district. They log onto message boards such as cooljunkie.com and clubplanet.com, excitedly talking up the latest hot spots. They support midsized venues such as Nerve, Privilege, and Blue, bypassing superclubs such as crobar and Mansion. They make up the Beach's hidden bohemian subculture.
"Miami's all about the bottle service, the models, and the celebrities," says Amália. "But then there's a big, strong scene that wants to hang out on Space's patio in the morning and get dirty; or go to Privilege in the after hours, and then maybe go to Nerve at night. There's definitely an underground scene. That's where my focus is. That's the Miami that I know."
The following Sunday, Amália lounges inside the DJ booth at Nerve, www.nervelounge.com coolly watching the Dolce & Gabbana-spectacled owls slowly trickle into the club. With little advance warning, she glides over to the turntables and launches into a brief, scorching set of tech-house, banging out tracks that pulse and crackle with dark, near-tribal energy.
Forty-five minutes later, as the clock approaches midnight, the rapidly growing crowds have their drinks in hand and are ready to dance. Unfortunately Stephan Luke has just arrived, and is preparing to take over the decks. "I hate having to spin early," she says ruefully. She is so fed up, in fact, that by the next Sunday she has taken up her weekly gig at Cafeteria spinning records for the after-dinner crowd.
Two days after Amália's finale, three of Nerve's principals -- DJ/producer/co-owner Jon Cowan, marketing director Samantha Stormo, and general manager Michael "Frenchie" Bourdeau -- gather to talk about its upcoming events. The club has partnered with the Columbus, Ohio booking agency Mythodic Promote Group for a new Friday-night party, Ritual, that has already featured Sandra Collins, among others. In addition, it is working with Chicago's X'ess Entertainment on a Saturday-night party set to premiere in May with house legend Frankie Knuckles.