Oscar G's Story Is as Miami as It Gets
A month away from his new album, Oscar G's story remains quintessentially Miami.
Photo by Christopher Almeida
It’s ten hours till showtime, and Oscar G is at the SouthSide Barbershop in Coconut Grove. That’s his spot. He’s been going there since it opened six years ago. 2 Pac’s “Dear Mama” is playing in the background as conversation veers among typical Miami topics: local crime, the Heat, LeBron, and the Canes. “For sure, we’d take LeBron back if he wants to get out of Cleveland," Oscar Gaetan, AKA Oscar G, says from the barber's chair. "He plays all five positions and lockdown defense too. You could argue LeBron’s the greatest player of all time.”
Gaetan was born and raised two miles from the barber's chair he sits in now. His allegiance to the 305 is certified, as legit as any artist to ever claim ownership of Miami-Dade County. On the way out, a few barbers ask Gaetan if he can put them on his list for tonight's show at Space, a place Gaetan knows very, very well. He obliges.
At 2:55 a.m. Gaetan arrives at Space. Walking through the club, he takes a moment to greet every staff member he sees. He strides straight to the DJ booth and starts setting up. At 3 a.m., he snaps on a pair of headphones and he’s off.
Club Space’s full cast of characters is there waiting for the return of Oscar G. All the regulars: the dance-floor court jester, the oblivious bad dancers, the shufflers, a few glovers, and sugar babies on leave — they came for Oscar G's dark beats.
Gaetan used to serve the Space dance floor for a decade. He and then-owner Louis Puig would work all week on the party that started late Saturday and typically ended Sunday around noon. “Louis is family," Gaetan says. "At Space’s best, he and I were obsessed with the club, and the constant conversation was: How can we make it better? He’s a maniac with the sound, lighting, and overall experience. The way he operates a club is second-to-none. That was a fruitful time for Space, I think. The club still runs on the legacy of those years."
Oscar G performs at Space.
Photo by Christopher Almeida
Gaetan and fellow 305 DJ Ralph Falcon started Murk Records in 1992. Since then, they have produced both together and individually as Funky Green Dogs, Liberty City, Murk, and under other handles. Gaetan and Falcon toured heavily as Murk in the mid- to late '90s, and they enjoyed every moment of it. But Gaetan wanted to create something for Miami, something he could share with the city he loved, in the city he loved.
Gaetan was playing at Liquid on South Beach in the late '90s when its owner, Chris Paciello, went to prison for his role in a Brooklyn bank robbery. The club subsequently closed.
Gaetan then received a call from Alex Omes, one of the founders of Ultra Music Festival, who connected him with Louis Puig about a new club opening “off the beach.” Nothing was happening downtown at the time, which made the move risky. But the new club's 24-hour liquor license helped hedge the bet.
That move ended up paying off for Gaetan and would last ten years. The birth of Space remains a pivotal moment in the history of Miami’s nightlife. Today’s “11th Street Strip” — which is home to E11even, Heart, Libertine, and more — is the beneficiary.
Perhaps no song sums up the mood of Space's early days better than Gaetan and Falcon’s 2002 release “Dark Beat." The track deserves serious consideration as one of Miami’s all-time great homegrown songs.
“I was working in my studio and had a groove going. It was around 1 a.m., and I called Ralph to come over," Gaetan remembers. "We wrote the core idea of 'Dark Beat' in about 20 minutes. Back then, Space was open Friday and Saturday. We finished it on a Friday night. I wasn’t playing, but we took it to Space for my friend Edgar V to play. Edgar was actually the first person to play 'Dark Beat' in a club. We listened and knew it worked — we knew we had something good."
“Dark Beat” has been remixed and rereleased countless times since. Fellow Miamian Danny Daze brought it back when he remixed it in early 2014. During his return to Space, Oscar G dropped it at around 7 a.m., and almost 15 years after its release, it remains a true Space anthem.
Oscar G typically doesn't play Space more than twice a year.
Photo by Christopher Almeida
Nightclub relationships are like marriages, only with a higher divorce rate. And DJ residencies are similar to dog years, which means Gaetan and Club Space’s ten-year run is a great Miami love story. “I have so many good memories from my time there. I remember meeting a couple in the booth at Space that was celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary. They told me they had met on the dance floor at Space while I was playing. And the week that Celia Cruz passed away, I played all night in the main room, then went upstairs to play the terrace in the morning. At around noon, I played her classic 'La Vida Es in Carnaval.' People broke out into full salsa dancing, and I saw tears out there."
Gaetan wrapped up his six-and-half-hour Space set at 9:30 a.m. He told us he could have easily gone another three hours. The night was a family reunion; several of Oscar’s longtime friends came out to support, Louis Puig included. Miami legend Ciro Llerena, AKA DJ Ciro, was there too.
“It was a big thing to me for Ciro to come out tonight," Gaetan says. "He was a huge influence on me when I was a kid. He DJ'ed at a legendary Miami disco club in the late '80s called Casanovas. I snuck in to hear him when I was 13 years old.”
During his set, Gaetan included music from his upcoming double album, titled Beep My Boom. It’s set to release May 20 on Nervous Records, his fifth solo release on the label. The 20-track album includes appearances from Kenny Dope, DJ Sneak, Byron Stingily, Pablo Fierro, Oba Frank Lords, Stryke, Lazaro Casanova, and Katiashe. It’s a multigenre album with unique sounds, soulful vocals, and rich beats. “I don’t focus on working within a genre," he says. "I make music I like that represents my life and where I’m from."
And though these days, he finds himself flying between his residency at Space Ibiza New York and his weekly Monday party at Coyo Taco, no one has to guess where exactly Oscar G is from. He makes that clear every time he steps behind the booth.
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