Swingers nearing a certain age will recall a time when the South Beach scene was the size of a postcard, and those who crawled by its night seemed to sense they were in on the birth of a Zeitgeist. That's not to say the swinging set sat around congratulating itself on its good fortune; pioneers are generally more interested in fast action than accolades. But it is to say that there was a decided magic in the air, that it was proverbially palpable, and that everybody had a piece of it.
Naturally, all of that fast action needed a soundtrack, and for that, the scene turned to its DJs. There was only a handful back then, and they were more akin to highly skilled craftsmen than to highly paid superstars. But make no mistake: It was their big beat that gave the burgeoning glam capital its ever-quickening pulse.
Among the few was Tony Garcia, a Havana-born head spinner who was the go-to cat for breaking records — yes, vinyl — and driving home the dark. Garcia's first claim to complete club infamy was the mainland's legendary Fire and Ice, a cavern of cool that continues to be remembered with utter reverence. From there he hit the decks at Club Z (now Mansion) alongside future Space man Luis Puig, where Alt Fridays transformed the way we moved by night.
Tony Garcia: At the Zodiac Party, celebrating Capricorn. 10 p.m. Saturday, January 23. Vlada Lounge, 3215 NE Second Ave., Miami. Admission is free; ages 21 and up. 305-381-5015; vladabar.com
Before long, Garcia was ensconced at Club Nu, an ever-changing complex modeled after New York's Area where the monthly overhaul was so extensive it required its own separate prop warehouse. That spot would become the Institute, a bastion of insanity that catered to crazed thousands each and every Saturday night. Garcia, of course, handled the dizzy throngs. And if you ask around, you'll find a good many who still feel the effects of his spin.
But this is Miami, and history is history no matter how fondly it's forgotten. We know this, and so does Garcia. That's probably why the onetime indie dance kingpin stopped looking back the minute he got going those 20 years ago. After the Institute closed, Garcia packed up his vinyl and hit the Big Bad Apple. There he set himself up as an A&R rep for Virgin's Cardiac Records and as a remixer for the likes of Depeche Mode, Billy Idol, and New Order. In New York, Garcia was managed by MCT, the same firm that handled folks such as Moby and BT. But even after a few number-one dance hits and an onslaught of accolades, Garcia soon grew tired of the machinations and moved back to his beloved M.I.A.
Thus began the years of Tweak! Records and Garcia's transformation into a rave DJ. Breakbeat was just coming into its own, and Garcia's track "Miami Breaks" was arguably the first of its kind from our stretch of the States. The song grabbed the attention of some of the world's largest outdoor glowstick lovers, and Garcia spent the last half of the '90s traveling the globe with his samplers, keyboards, and laptop.
Now, 14 years since the label's inception, Tweak! is where Garcia continues to keep the beats coming, and it's where he's in on an audio style unlike any other on Earth. For simplification, Garcia calls his new, now sound tribal tech-house. To define it, he says it's a "spiritual ethnic journey." It's a place where dark grooves build into something sublime and then break into chants that hark back to not only Cuba, but also Africa before that. It's "heritage stuff," Garcia says, "real progressive." And it can be heard, he says, in the work of Germany's Radio Slave and in Canada's second-wave techno provider John Acquaviva.
More important, the sound can be heard in Miami at the monthly, moving Zodiac parties. Here Garcia teams with partners Michael Cosme — engineer and coproducer of George Acosta's Planet Soul — and DJ Vidal of Heaven Sent Grooves. Together they continue to reach deep into the night's psyche in order to deliver us from the same old sameness. It's something Garcia has more than two decades of experience doing — and doing right. And it's undoubtedly something he'll be doing right the rest of his life.
Tony Garcia's top five:
1. "Oriental," Oskar Zenkert
2. "Bolingo Grigo (Original Mix)," Simon 2 and Andreas Henneberg
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3. "Gamero (Alex Bailey Remix)," Kike Serrano
4. "Carretero (Original Mix)," Alessio Caforio
5. "In the Last Orient (Original Mix)," David Durango