Time to Shine
Rumors of Shine's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
DJ Jonathan Cowan's club opened to much fanfare in the Shelborne Hotel in spring 2006, immediately garnering kudos for its intimate size and ambience, as well as a jaw-dropping Steve Dash sound system. (It's one of only a few by the guy who outfitted legendary megaclubs like Renaissance in England and Cocoon in Germany.) And then there was the high-quality musical curating, which began with a series of home runs during the 2006 edition of Winter Music Conference: Frankie Knuckles, Shapeshifters, Hector Romero, and Armand Van Helden, to name just a few.
Still, a steady weekly party proved difficult to establish, and the 2007 conference seemed to be Shine's last hurrah (among the greats who spun: Todd Terry, Kenny Dope, Miguel Migs, Frankie Knuckles, and Satoshi Tomiie). Cowan, whose family runs the Shelborne, shuttered the club to refocus on running the hotel and his family's other businesses.
Then this past May, things got pumping again with a one-off party featuring Global Underground electro maven Adam Freelander. And those rumors of pesky condo owners complaining about the club's noise were just that, Cowan insists. "We went through WMC without a single noise violation, or even a warning for that matter," he says.
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In any event, this Saturday the club will restart on at least a monthly basis by resurrecting the ghost of another SouthBeach club past: Groove Jet. DJs Cowan, Luis Diaz, and Dave Seaman, from the United Kingdom, will reunite to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their monthly party there, Bliss, which ran from 1997 to the club's closing in 2000. They'll take to the decks with a promised mix of classics, new tunes, and the be-yourself vibe of their old haunt. (Groove Jet's original owner, Greg Brier, and its marketing and programming director, Carmel Ophir, are not involved with Saturday's happening.)
"Other clubs from back then, like Shadow Lounge, were doing [reunions]," says Diaz, "so we'd been talking about doing this for literally a year and a half."
The original Groove Jet was a last bastion of South Beach's golden Nineties, when style and creativity counted more than the thickness of one's wallet. Opening in 1994, it almost hid off the beaten path, on 23rd Street just west of Collins Avenue, away from the main drags farther south. The décor was raw and bohemian instead of corporate and slick, and its outdoor VIP section was famously packed regardless of the humidity. This was the club that spawned the weekly Back Door Bamby freakfest, the lovably raunchy party that, until going on hiatus earlier this summer, ran almost continuously on the Beach for 10 years.
These days Miami Beach is still home to the dance music debauchery of WMC. But anyone trawling Washington or Collins knows that the rest of the year the Beach mostly shakes it to the bump of commercial hip-hop or the often-surprisingly formulaic sounds of so-called "open format." But back then house music was the main religion, and Diaz was Groove Jet's high priest, presiding over the main room from the club's inception. "The vibe was that people were so into the music ... and vinyl was alive," he says, "so you definitely had that analog feel. It was all about the records, and if you were really an amazing DJ, you were actually cutting your own records, which we called acetates. Of course, the drugs helped and all that. But times were more innocent and people were just hipper."
As for the music, at the outset the reigning sound was pure American, raw and pounding, funky but heavily percussion-oriented. "For WMC we hosted Danny Tenaglia, and he'd do his Be Yourself nights there," Diaz says.
But on the other side of the pond, a different version of the four-to-the-floor beat was developing, based more on purely electronic sounds. What would later be termed "progressive" house was all about melody and mood, of subtle variations that floated in and out of the mix, accented by synth pads and characterized by darker, dubby bass. By the late Nineties, it was packing crowds of thousands in England, and, along with trance, would later swallow the Beach. But in 1997 it was still an underground phenomenon in the States, and Cowan thought it high time to clue in Miami.
Enter Bliss, which would take place the first Friday of every month.
"Groove Jet was the first club that was really forward-thinking with dance music," says Cowan, "and Bliss was really a progressive dance music night that you would find in London, as opposed to the more New York tribal sound that you would hear in places like Liquid and Bash."
"Well, that's Jon's story," Diaz counters. "Before we brought Jon aboard, I had already caught Sasha" — along with John Digweed, among the most famous UK house DJs ever — "the first time he played in Miami. It was between [me and Jon] that we really started bringing in people like [them]. But Dave Seaman was really Jon's thing."
The Leeds-born Seaman, by now, is a worldwide household name in electronic music, with countless mix albums and original releases, a record label (Audio Therapy), and a constant international touring schedule calibrated with military precision. But in the mid- to late-Nineties, he was still relatively unknown locally.
"I hadn't played Miami very much at the time. I did conferences but not much outside of that," Seaman says. "I honestly can't remember [how I started the Bliss residency]. I think Jon just probably offered me lots of free drinks at the time!"
Like many of the best DJs, Seaman is reticent when it comes to labeling his style. But he readily admits his sound was still foreign when he first landed in Miami.
"I get labeled by the press as a progressive house DJ, but I play records that Danny Tenaglia would play, or even Richie Hawtin or Sven Vath. It's everything from deep house to techno in a set," he says. "But a lot of what was going on in town when I first came was based on that R&B-based house music like Little Louie Vega and Masters at Work. But in the UK it wasn't like that. In the Eighties and Nineties there was this big Italian thing going on with dance music, and then our house music became very much electronic-based."
The reaction at Groove Jet was mixed at first.
"I guess maybe it wasn't everyone's thing," Seaman says. "After two or three parties, we gathered a regular hardcore crowd and it really picked up momentum. By the fourth or fifth parties, we had established a little scene."
But after Groove Jet closed, the Bliss team dispersed. Seaman continued his path of worldwide dance music domination. Cowan stayed in Miami. Diaz moved to L.A., then to New York, and finally to Germany. Besides releasing his own music and spinning records, he worked sound for star DJ Sven Väth and became a convert to the newer sounds of electro, tech-house, and minimal techno.
But last year, again, family business forced Diaz back to Florida (to Melbourne, he says, audibly sighing — "what we call Mel-boring"). The itch to play again eventually dovetailed with Cowan's, and with an American tour by Seaman. "I'm really pleased to have sort of a reunion and maybe get something going again in South Beach outside of [Winter Music] Conference," Seaman says. "Obviously Conference is an amazing week, but outside of that it's really difficult to get something going that continues to get going."
It's why Cowan has no plans to try to get Shine going on a weekly basis, but rather is booking events "as they make sense." (Upcoming acts include deep house don Kaskade and French house DJ Laurent Garnier, in his first trip back to the States in almost 10 years).
Diaz, too, has plans to take over Shine's side lounge, dubbing it "Subminimal" and hoping to showcase the sounds of his newly beloved "dirty, minimal tech-house," which has yet to catch on in Miami.
As for the Bliss reunion Saturday, they just hope for some warm, fuzzy feelings. "We're going to play a mix of the old classics with some of the newer tunes that are out now that fit," Cowan says. "We've got a lot of the same faces as far as the crowd that we know are coming, and some of the bartenders and security staff from Groove Jet. We'll have collages on the wall with old pictures from back then. We just want to bring back some good memories."
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