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One of the founding fathers of the South Florida underground music scene has finally returned home. Since moving to Phoenix, Arizona in 2002, Frank Mendez, who URBmagazine named as one of twelve DJs to look for in 2000, has been a sorely missed presence in a city that he influenced for close to a decade. Here, he is revered for helping to blow up the drum and bass circuit, as well as for his classic, energetic, party-smashing anthem, "Anasthasia."
Mr. Mendez's involvement in music began in the late Seventies, when he began collecting disco records for their grooves and party vibes. Later on, he was introduced to industrial dance and the sounds of Meat Beat Manifesto, whom he credits with opening his mind to break beats. He moved to Orlando in 1992 and took up a residency at the Edge nightclub, where DJ Icey was a resident at the time. When the Edge opened in Fort Lauderdale, Mr. Mendez traveled south to Miami, and spun acid jazz and trip-hop in its side rooms. But after hearing a DJ Hype mixtape, he took up drum and bass full on. "It was full of ragga tunes and crazy hyped-up music that blew me away at the time ... I'd never really experienced something like that," he says. "Ever since that, I couldn't go back to spinning chill and mellow music."
As a DJ, Mr. Mendez is known for a near-pristine track selection. He includes forward-thinking producers such as Miami's own Alliance, Gridlok, and Corrupt Souls in his sets, taking his audience on a roller-coaster ride of cutting-edge styles. His mixes always put sound systems to the test with his passion for infectious bass lines layered under tightly knit melodies. "Since I have been a resident at nightclubs before and I have had to actually program a whole night, I try to definitely take people on an uphill climb," he explains. "A lot of DJs go out there nowadays and try to shoot [out the speakers on] the first song, and I really want to make people groove and totally build it up."
Two years ago, Mr. Mendez abandoned the local drum and bass scene for the relative peace and quiet of Phoenix. Though he had already tasted success with "Papercut," a collaboration with Element that was licensed to AK1200's 1999 Lock and Roll mix CD, and "Eminanthem" on his own Evil Base Recordings, he wanted to refocus his energies on music. "I went [to Phoenix] two years ago, pretty much to concentrate on music," he explains. "I was originally going for a couple of months, [but] I ended up enjoying the atmosphere as far as music and I really enjoy looking at the desert sky. It's very inspirational."
In Phoenix, Mr. Mendez met Stacey Bailey, better known as the producer Moniker, and the two clicked, forming a group called Iowa Test. "We've written an album and are very inspired," he says. Though there is no tentative release date, the duo plans to go into the recording studio this fall to finalize its songs. "It's an actual band as far as writing the music.... We're planning some shows in the beginning of August with a live drummer," he explains. "I'll be playing bass and guitar, and Stacey's a turntablist and vocalist as well."
Despite his new ventures, Mr. Mendez says he's glad to visit the Miami jungle once again. "I totally missed the scene," he says. "It's definitely one of the most energetic and vibing scenes around, especially with the Latin community."