The first things you notice when you visit Sweat Records are the pastel colors. Several canvasses by local artists such as LEBO, Duane Hosein, and Helena Garcia dot walls painted in bright hues, creating a perpetually warm and earthy environment.
You could assert without irony that Sweat Records is a happy place, full of go-go energy and positive, can-do spirit. Its motto is "Music, Culture, and 305 Style," and its owners, Lauren "Lolo" Reskin and Sara Yousuf, are advocates, even cheerleaders, of local indie culture.
"A lot else comes with an indie record store. It's not just about buying the music, because you can do that online," says Sara. "It's about learning about the music. It's about the culture that comes with it, the magazines, and the books...."
"And the weird people you meet in the stores," interjects Lolo.
"Yeah, the experience," finishes Sara.
Though only 23, Lolo has been kicking around the local indie scene for years. She's been DJ'ing since she was 16, and has done street team promotions for Matador, Emperor Norton, and countless other indie rock labels.
Lolo met her more serious-minded friend, 25-year-old Sara Yousuf, in May of 2002. Sara moved from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to attend college at the University of Miami, from where she graduated in 2002. Two months ago she earned a Juris Doctor degree, and is currently studying for the bar exam.
Sara was DJ'ing at WVUM-FM 90.5 when Lolo brought a band she was promoting by Sara's show for an on-air interview. "We became really, really good friends," says Sara.
The duo faces a steep uphill climb if it is to reach solvency, much less longevity. In the past three years alone, similarly independent-minded stores such as M-80, YoYo, Osiel Store, and MIA Skate Shop have all targeted the local indie scene. Only MIA Skate Shop remains, mostly because it caters to a lucrative skateboard market that cuts across cultural and generational boundaries.
In contrast, Sweat Records, like those other failed ventures, screams indie in its appearance, from the Gorillaz tracks piping through the overhead speakers to a prominently placed marker board announcing upcoming discs from Sufjan Stevens and The Juan Maclean.
Since the store opened during Winter Music Conference this past March, Lolo has organized concerts, workshops, and even her own birthday party June 9 (Awesome New Republic and Shuttle Lounge performed during the free event). In May she brought down the Scribble Jam tour, a concert modeled after the indie hip-hop festival that takes place in Cincinnati, Ohio, every August. On June 18 a concert by the Evens, a project featuring punk rock icon Ian MacKaye, drew more than 200 people.
The most important thing about Sweat Records, however, is the fact that it is the only one of its kind in Miami-Dade County. There are other independent record stores, including the venerable Uncle Sam's and Culture Records; and any number of kitschy shops, including Pop and Base, that sell Japanese toys. But none of them is as dedicated to alternative youth music culture as Sweat Records. It is both a testament to Lolo and Yousuf's imagination and a stinging indictment of this city's highly commercialized and intellectually bereft musical landscape.
Sometime during the midnight hour, Daniel "Hottpants" Blair takes to the turntables at Plastik Fantastik, an event co-promoted by Creations PMG and DJ Lolo's Sweat Records. But the most interesting thing isn't his set, but his act. When he drops a record, he dances wildly while dressed in a white headband, short shorts, and tube socks. Then he bounces in front of the turntable decks and jumps along with several men and women.
Hottpants freely acknowledges he's been criticized for what he does. He never blends his records and, damnably, he sticks to a strict diet of party music, spinning everything from mid-Nineties Miami booty bass to Jennifer Lopez's "Get Right."
You might think Hottpants's brazen exhibitionism is the antithesis of willfully serious indie culture. But in reality, it's the epitome of it. If Sweat Records caters to obscurantists looking for the latest from the Decembrists and Outhud, Hottpants represents the indie scene's fun side.
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So it comes as a shock when he suddenly launches into a strident critique of Miami's growing list of indie nights. He says most of these clubs, which range from the established (Revolver, Spider-Pussy) to the recent (Vibrator Wednesdays), are "less about sharing new music and being interested in what's coming up. Instead the focus has shifted to just playing the hits."
The problem is most of these parties play, in Hottpants's words, "the soundtrack" for an indie scene that is increasingly an obsessively stylish subculture. Their celebration of veganism, radical politics, the German techno label Kompakt, electro-inspired house by UK producer Mylo, and high-concept indie rock bands such as the Arcade Fire and Of Montreal are mimicked by hipsters across the land, as documented by Websites such as Pitchfork Media (www.pitchforkmedia.com).
And the Miami indie crowd is hardly an exception to this rule. At each party you'll hear the same underground hits: the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," Le Tigre's "Deceptacon," and Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out." Couple that with a fashionably rude crowd and expensive drink prices, and you have the makings of a party as shallow and predictable as an Opium Garden affair "hosted" by Nicole Richie.
Other cities comparable to Miami's size and influence have plenty of record shops, magazines, and other resources for people who want to share their love of indie culture. In contrast, this city's music landscape has always been defined by nightclubs; as indie rock music has become a soundtrack ripe for usurpation by The O.C. , it threatens to lose its identity, much as electro fans were overshadowed by electroclash two years ago. That's what makes Sweat Records so promising. Says Hottpants: "Sweat is trying to bring back that local flavor."