By Rebecca Bulnes
By Lee Zimmerman
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Back in February 1996, Robert Perez was just another plebeian clubgoer waiting in line at Paragon in South Beach. It was early in the evening, well before the late-night bustle. Suddenly a ripple stirred the crowd, and the sea of fellow plebes parted to make way for a stylishly dressed man. At that moment, it seemed to Perez that the entire party had been waiting for this guy to arrive. "It was like he was God," Perez recalls. In fact, as Perez later learned, the man in question was the promoter.
Once he finally gained entry to the club, Perez found himself captivated by the music. As a diehard hip-hop fan from New York, he hadn't heard much electronica before. He was instantly smitten. Inspired by the pulsating beats, and by the promoter's aura of power, Perez made a decision that very night: He would try his hand at booking electronic music DJs. A few months later, he promoted his first event.
These days, Perez, age 35, throws parties for a living. He and Angel Candelaria, age 31, co-own and run Culture Productions, the Miami outfit behind Candyland one of South Florida's longest-running parties and countless other, smaller happenings.
As glamorous as the work might seem, the partners agree there's plenty of grunt work, as well as serious financial risks. For a big party like Candyland, they not only must book acts and promote, but also pay money up front for everything from renting a space to hiring and flying-in the right DJs. The workload is a bit lighter at weekly club parties because they handle only the promotional work. But it's still more than a full-time job.
The prospect of drenching the masses in a storm of electronic dance music (EDM) keeps both men motivated. EDM's fast, repetitive beats produced via synthesizers, drum machines, sequencers, and other electronic equipment might sound like random beeps and booms to the undiscerning ear, but aficionados know the differences and take them seriously. House music is catchy and soulful with a strong drumbeat, while trance and techno sound more synthetic. Drum 'n' bass and jungle music hit listeners at 150 or more beats per minute, and breakbeat is known for its irregular, syncopated beats and heavy hip-hop influence. While house and trance have graduated to mainstream success thanks to superstar DJs like Paul Oakenfold, Tisto, and Sasha, other strains, like breakbeat, electro, and drum 'n' bass, remain blips on the radar.
That's where Perez and Candelaria come in. "I love this music," Perez says. "It's my thing. And I can't stop, because I feel if I stop, then my scene dies, and if my scene dies, it takes something away from me." Perez has dabbled in promoting for other types of events, but he inevitably realizes "that's not where my heart is at. My heart is really into the breaks, it's into the electro, it's into bass, and that's why I keep doing [these parties]."
Candelaria agrees. He says he'd like to help the more obscure forms of EDM become mainstream. "I know there's a lot of purists that say once it's on the radio, it's not underground and it's not good," he says. "I think that idea is bullshit. If you're into the music, it doesn't really matter where it's played. If you like the music, you like the music."
When he and Perez first launched Culture, Candelaria says, the club scene was "much more open-minded and more diverse.... We could book anybody and people were curious to hear new music. Nowadays if it's not DJ whoever at Space and he doesn't play these certain records, people won't bother coming out."
Naturally this sort of fickle milieu makes the promoter's job that much more difficult. DJs fall in and out of favor like fashion accessories. Clubs come and go. Perez and Candelaria have survived over the years by refusing to chase trends. They've also developed thick skins.
"We're stubborn," Candelaria says flatly. "We refused to give up. There were some years when the parties were just doing bad, and both of us have lost thousands and thousands of dollars doing this.... We stuck through it, and now we're starting to see an upswing."
Because they've been in the business for more than a decade, they're able to bring cult-status DJs like Baby Anne and Rabbit in the Moon to popular clubs. But they also make it a point to book local DJs, such as John Cowan, Granite and Phunk, Jimmy T, and Joseph Anthony.
"[Culture has] stayed true to booking talent, as opposed to the flavor-of-the-month-type artist," says Adam Singer, local DJ/producer and Culture partygoer. "A lot of the guys down here doing parties have pretty much jumped the shark over the years."
In the end, Perez says, the true music fans are the ones who have kept Culture alive. Devotees of EDM are, like their punk and goth brethren, fiercely loyal to their chosen genre, regardless of how popular it is.
"I have people that started coming to my parties when they were sixteen. Now a lot of them are in their late twenties, early thirties, and they're still doing it," Perez says. "I have a huge loyal following, and I always thank them for their support, because if it wasn't for those people, I wouldn't be around. It's 100 percent because of the music."