Indie music: The appellation is problematic. For one, it doesn't describe any particular sound. Rock and roll captures that genre's ragged glory and sexual subtext, and hip-hop certainly points toward the rap world's bouncing rhythms and alliterative wordplay. But indie music? Independent of what exactly? The mainstream's corporate hegemony? The glitz and glam of less refined music? The term is shorthand for: We may have arisen from this land's supposed materialism, excess, and disposability, but we are not of this world. If you can't see the juvenile condescension at work here, you're probably part of the problem.
While Apollo Kid may have certain squabbles with the attitudes and semantics that surround the scene, there's no denying that a lot of very compelling music comes from its quarters. Though rumors of a fledgling yet thriving indie community in Miami persist, scouting has produced doubtful results. After all, Miami is best known as a mecca of club decadence, a vibe that is in many ways the antithesis of the indie spirit. An expedition into experiencing a cross-section of independent music firsthand must be undertaken with limited expectations, no matter the lineup.
This past Friday night the underground hip-hop community gathered at the Polish American Club for a hurricane relief benefit, and Sunday night the prodigiously talented and hopelessly hip M.I.A. rocked the audience at I/O. The two scenes couldn't have been more different: The audience attending M.I.A.'s performance was more of the hipster variety, the sort who take nothing seriously, while the underground hip-hop crowd was your typical underground hip-hop set, who are always gravely serious. But they were united by one thing: great music.
Rolling into the Polish American Club on Saturday, Apollo Kid was greeted by the sounds of classic NYC hip-hop acts such as Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Talib Kweli, and Brand Nubians. The venue was hardly packed, but there was a decent and diverse crowd. Kids in dreadlocks milled about, while others in oversize white tees and shell-toe Adidases congregated in the bar area (where drinks were to be had for the seemingly ridiculously low price of four dollars a pop). The event was being thrown by local hip-hop promoter Struck, who is a native of Miami and a lifetime hip-hop fan. True to the DIY spirit of the genre, he began to throw these events three years ago under the name Kill Tha Noise production, and since that time, he has seen his audience grow by leaps and bounds.
"It's one of those things where if you want to see it get done, you have to do it yourself," Struck comments. "And I've seen it grow considerably since I started this three years ago.... There's a lot of really talented cats in Miami, and we're trying to do our job to put them out there."
Last Man Standing, an MC from Hialeah (he wore a tee proclaiming Hia-Fucking-Leah); and one of the event's performers had a similarly optimistic outlook. "The scene is only getting bigger around here. There's a lot of new talent out there, and in the next couple of years you're going to start seeing a lot of music coming out of the scene," LMS predicted.
LMS's set was one of the highlights of the evening. He has a smooth flow, great breath control, and dizzying wordplay. His ode to Miami over the classic Black Star song "Respiration" was easily one of the better hip-hop performances I've seen since coming to Miami. And though LMS and others held the audience rapt, the star among the group was local Latin rapper Garcia. The sky seems the limit for the prodigiously talented MC, who was the only unsigned artist showcased on last month's MTV's My Block: Miami -- which also featured local superstars such as Trick Daddy, Smitty, and Jacki-O. Garcia's set at the Polish American Club was unfortunately short (he had another gig at Club Space that night) and was marred by the venue's poor sound system -- which mixed in the treble way too heavy for a hip-hop show -- but his talent was still evident. With an aggressive, take-no-prisoners flow that resembles the late, great Big Pun, Garica is the real deal.
Not surprisingly, politics seemed to be at the forefront of many of the MC's performances. Spoken-word artist Soul What? and conscious rapper Earthworx were also in top form, questioning President Bush's involvement -- or lack of -- in the tragedy in New Orleans.
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Although it was no surprise to find hip-hop and politics mingling at the Polish American Club, it was a bit shocking to see the jaded hipster crowd at I/O get down with the revolution. But this was M.I.A. after all.
Before M.I.A. made her entrance at I/O, her songs of grenades, riots, and politics were the last thing on the crowd's mind. In fact, some didn't even know who M.I.A. was. When asked if he was a fan, one attendee replied, "Yeah, I've only been listening to them for a couple of months, but I really like it. It's different." Translation: I've never actually heard the music, but I read or heard somewhere this is supposed to be hip, and I, too, want to be down.
What some of the audience members lacked in knowledge they made up for in sheer exuberance. Things definitely heated up when M.I.A. took the stage and showered the crowd with her high-octane electro/grime/pop fusion. Her stage presence exudes pure and formless energy. She pounced from one side of the stage to the other, danced with legs flailing and arms outstretched, and cavorted about with backup MC Cherry. She never missed a note as she authoritatively delivered underground hits such as "Hombre," "Galang," and "Sunshowers."
The crowd was nearly euphoric. Hipsters in vintage tees and skinny white ties spun recklessly in front of the stage. A group of girls jumped up on the bar and began dancing. When M.I.A. exhorted clubgoers to "push things forward" before she left the stage, they seemed up to the challenge.