Gabriel Fain has a superhuman ear for detail. You can hear it foremost in his euphoric, voluptuous house music sets at Space. But you can also hear it in his speech and in the careful way the Israeli-born DJ uses metaphor to tell a story.
"It was like when you're running a race, and you're winning, you're the winner. You're number one. And then, wait, wait -- stop. Holding you back."
His outstretched arm halts the air in his North Bay Village penthouse apartment. The place is bare because Fain hates furniture.
Gabriel Fain and Ivano Bellini
Space, 34 NE 11th St
Performances during Sunrise Sessions at 9:00 a.m. Saturdays. Call 305-375-0001.
"And you wait, and you wait, and you wait. And you're like, öCome on, let me continue.' But no."
He's a thick, dark-complexioned guy wearing faded jeans and white sneakers. He looks more like an athlete in the off-season than one of South Florida's most spectacular turntable talents. He shakes his head, remembering.
"And I suffered so much from that."
"That" was the moment when Fain's steep ascent through the South Florida club scene was cut off cold. In less than two years, he had risen from an unknown immigrant working restaurant jobs and hustling gigs to spinning records for 5000 revelers in one of the most illustrious dance clubs in America. By the summer of 2003, he ruled the patio of Club Space in downtown Miami, spinning after-hours sets on Saturday mornings to chemically enhanced dancers in what seemed like never-ending sunshine.
The residency at Space -- the platinum ring for any star-eyed local DJ -- lasted two months. Then Fain surrendered himself to the DEA and went to federal prison.
The first time Fain flipped a record was in 1987. A fresh-faced fourteen-year-old, he worked as a bar back at a club called Palladium II in Haifa, the northern Israeli town where he was born. He'd learned the fundamentals of turntable technique from watching a smooth-operating DJ named Sam Atari. Atari often left the booth in Fain's hands while he went cavorting with lady friends.
"One night, Sam Atari is like, öGabby, I'm busy. Put on a few records,'" Fain recalls. "The club is packed, everyone's in their twenties, thirties. And you know, I'm not a DJ, I'm a fourteen-year-old kid, I just liked to watch him. But I used to have a few tracks that I put on -- Madonna, Rick Astley, Jason Donovan -- before his sets, when the club was empty. So I just have these ten vinyls that I played, and I thought he was gonna come back. But he never showed up. And I didn't know what to do, so I played these ten vinyls again."
Even though Fain could barely see out of the DJ booth, he managed. Then the club owner gave him an early slot, playing for teenagers before the adults came in at midnight. He was hooked. He played at Palladium II and other spots around Haifa until his mandatory turn in the army when he was 18. In 1992, while still a Golani infantryman, he became a devotee of Tel Aviv's Allenby 58 disco. There he graduated from pop music to the house beats of gurus such as Tony De Vit and Deep Dish.
"I discovered, wow, like this 4000-person club, and I was like, you gotta be kidding me," he remembers. "And I'm like, öThat's it.' That's what I wanted to do."
For the next few years, Fain bounced back and forth between the megaclubs of Tel Aviv and his own modest residency up in Haifa. He traveled in Europe and visited Chicago, he says, scoring records wherever he went. Absorbing new music was -- and still is -- his primary motivation.
He tells another story from the not-so-distant past to explain his unquenchable thirst for fresh sounds.
"I have asthma, and I don't have money to buy medicine. And my mother gives me some money to buy medicine. And on the way to the doctor, [the record store] calls, öHey, we got music in, and there's a brand new remix of Satoshi Tomiie.' öOh bro, but I'm sick.' öOK, OK, we're just letting you know.' And so I make a U-turn and go buy music. And I don't tell nothing to my mother that I spent the money from my medicine on the music. And the weekend comes and I'm fucking sick and I'm still gonna go play. And I have the best music. That's all that matters."
It mattered enough to inspire a move to Miami when he hit a ceiling in Israel. In September 2001, Fain came early for the Winter Music Conference. The plan was archetypal -- to figure out the scene, work his way up, and make the big time. "That was the plan," he says. "Come to Miami, to someho w -- don't ask me how, I had nothing here, no friends, no contacts -- two to three years, make it happen."
Fain's ambition and outgoing nature carried him as far as his immaculate, crowd-pleasing sets. From Surface to Union Lounge to Blue to Lime, Fain gathered a dedicated following. The parties he threw with close friend Carol-Anne Hemingway flourished with an all-inclusive vibe and reverence for quality, funk-drenched house music.
Then in March 2003, he says, "I got sentenced on a Friday, and they released me and gave me two more months to surrender myself." That Sunday he was at Lime, playing his regular gig there. "[Space owner] Louis Puig came to Lime. He heard my set, and he was, like, to my friends, öYou can tell your friend, Saturday night he's spinning in Space. I love what he's doing.' They told me, and I remember I ran outside and I cried. I cried because the dream just happened -- I did it. And at the same time, 48 hours before, they just told me I had to leave that. I had to go to prison."
Fain was implicated in a case that brought down seventeen people. The official charge was "using telecommunications to commit a crime," or being an accessory to an illegal drug transaction. With a shrug of defeat, he says, "I was in the wrong time and the wrong place and I asked the wrong questions."
By his description, Fain used his cell phone to link up two friends, one of whom was under surveillance. "I told him, öI need 50.' I could've asked him for 50 glasses of water, and [the DEA] don't give a fuck. That means Ecstasy or Special k."
An eighteen-year veteran of the international dance scene, Fain says he gave up party favors in his early twenties. Still, he saw nothing wrong with helping out a few friends.
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The transaction was never even consummated, but Fain still faced federal charges. He was served his papers and given five months to surrender to the court.
By Fain's account, the prison term "was horrible." He held himself up on the crutches most often taken up by convicts -- religion and weightlifting. He lost 30 pounds and reconnected with the Judaism of his homeland. He was released in March 2004, two months early for good behavior.
Within two months, Fain began hosting a Sunday afternoon party at Jade. Its success led him to move it over to State, where he and DJ Ivano Bellini threw Twisted Sundays, one of the most popular house parties on the Beach last summer. In October, Fain completed his comeback when he and Bellini took over the Sunrise Sessions party at Space.
As self-made as Fain is, he does know when to ask for help. "I'm just praying to God for no more problems," he admits. "I'm just a person trying to make a living, to show everything I have in my heart and in my head. To put it in the turntables for the people."