Shifting Sands

In the small hours of last Saturday night, Poplife was slowly, inexorably fading to a close. Most of the faithful left in the Soho Lounge, an even split between ultra-trendroids clad in designer skirts and everypeople stuffed into T-shirts and jeans, had wandered up to the Red Room, its pulsating, flashing lights and large, rotating globe projected against a wall. There, resident DJ R. Milian deftly programmed a range of tracks on a CD mixer that spanned the White Stripes to the Smiths' "What Difference Does it Make," only occasionally lapsing in taste with No Doubt's "Hella Good." The mood was fey and lithesome as stolid boys leaned against the walls and nodded along in corners and girls bounced along to the music in packs, swirling around the boys, inviting them onto the dance floor.

Downstairs in the Orange Room, a different sort of ritual was taking place. DJ Aura was making his weekly ministrations for Protokol, a new addition to Poplife. Here, Aura weaved together tracks from Underground Resistance and other electro and techno producers, chopping up the blend with scratches and jump edits. There were only a handful of people checking him out, but he didn't seem to mind. "I spin music for myself," smiled Aura, who also works as a graphic designer by day and produces tracks for his own record label, Cochlear Projects. Besides, the Easter holiday decimated Poplife's crowd, many of whom probably spent the night home with their families. "The last two weeks it's been packed. It goes up and down," he adds.

Actually Protokol began life a month ago as the sole occupant of the Soho Lounge on Saturday nights, a rare outpost in Miami where DJs can play experimental electronic hybrids on a weekly basis. But two weeks ago, the Soho Lounge's owners decided to take in Poplife. The long-running club night was having trouble with the owners at its Power Studios location and the Soho Lounge needed a bar crowd to augment Protokol's mostly water-guzzling audience.

"We were all kinda weirded out at first," Salim Rafiq, who began Protokol with fellow DJs Polaris, Aura, and Uprock, remembers while waiting in line with Basshead for a plate of food at the 420 Fest Sunday night. "But the owners wanted to work something out." Happily, it turned out to be a win-win situation: Protokol gets exposed to a new audience and Poplife adds some avant-garde allure. "Everyone's been making money," he says.

But what of the rumors (unsubstantiated at press time) that Poplife may move to a permanent location in the heart of downtown Miami in the very near future? Confronted by the gossip, Rafiq answers, "We have to see what [Soho Lounge's] owners will do," meaning he doesn't know if Protokol will retake Soho Lounge, find a new space, or follow Poplife to the alleged new venue. He confirms Protokol is booked through Saturday, April 26; after that, his crew will reassess the situation. "There are so many options, who knows what will happen," he admits.

Meanwhile Los Four Amigos (Polaris, Karakter, Bobby D., and Aura) are holding forth inside one of the American Legion Hall's many rooms. As Basshead gamely tries to devour a red snapper -- bones, tail, and all -- the quartet, one by one, busts out a style Polaris calls "hip-hop on crack," spilling forth a range of hip-hop, abstract, and electro-funk cuts that leave the assembled breathless. So dazed, in fact, that dozens of stragglers wander in and out of the room like waves lapping at a beach, too eager to sample the other 85 acts vying for attention at the 420 Fest blowout. But the handful of heads patient enough to listen to the quartet is rewarded with a unique and imaginative experience.


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