In Through the Back Door

It’s barely 11:30 p.m. on a recent Monday night and Carmel Ophir is practically panicking. The promoter is worried about the body count at Back Door Bamby, and tonight’s special act is about to start spinning. On the bill is a ten-year-old DJ named Lil Monster. No joke, I thought it was one of those outrageous gimmicks the Monday-night party at crobar is known for.

But Lil Monster turned out to be a seriously cool little dude. He’s got more game than any grownup I know. And he’s not an obnoxious brat like those Disney pop prodigies. He gave his first performance during a WMC pool party at the Surfcomber Hotel two years ago (at the time he was so small he needed a stepper to reach the decks), and since then he has opened for big-time house acts like Masters at Work.

Lil Monster, whose real name is Jonathan Martin, picked up his turntable antics from his dad, Aurelio, who has been DJing himself since 1974. The kid throws down house, tribal, and, he says, “anything that sounds good,” as tightly as any professional. Lil Monster says that the kids his age seem a little childish to him. While they toss dirt at each other during recess, he’s flirting with his teachers. Can you imagine being a fifth-grader who can get his friends into any club he wants?

Lil Monster takes to the turntables at Back Door Bamby on Monday, June 21, which is his tenth birthday. At midnight, just before he lays down his first track, “It’s a Small World,” the dance floor floods with more than a few hundred heads. Relief slowly washes over a tensed-up Ophir. “Man, I’m always nervous. Every night is like my first night,” he admits. But the man with the unmistakable baritone voice quickly realizes that he got wound up for nothing. Bamby’s crowd is a fashionably late one. Ophir usually is, too, but he turned up early tonight and didn’t know what to make of all the breathing room.

Over the past eight years, Back Door Bamby has achieved cult status with a dedicated following drawn to an atmosphere where anything goes. For my money this is the only true New York-flavored party on South Beach, with none of that wack Euro or wannabe-Euro/South American snootiness (but don’t get my ire for international tang all wrong, because born-and-bred Americans can drive a Martian like me quacky, too).

But Back to Bamby, where small details like designating the rear exit of the club as the entrance and stage shows that range from Shakespearean to burlesque are standard, as if the crowd itself wasn’t entertaining enough. Most people think of Bamby as a gay night. It’s not, even though gay guys abound, along with people who feature both a penis and a mean boob job on the same body. But yes, sexuality is a fluid thing here. What’s less obvious is that straight guys can have a hell of a time.

At the bar I run into a pair of Brazilian chicks who pucker up and kiss each other just to get my reaction. Then one of them unassumingly grabs my frank and beans. Meanwhile the performance art troupe known as Circ X prances about in Beauty and the Beast costumes. Its founder, the very intriguing Diana Lozano, makes haunting expressions that kinda freak me out. I love it.

And then there’s Bamby herself, or at least the way I see her: Nicole Soden. She’s a stunning brunette with piercing eyes and the softest skin I’ve ever touched. “Yeah, I like to wear it,” she says. Ophir likes to remind me that despite the influence Nicole had on the physical appearance of Bamby, the title vixen “is a fictional character based on all of us.” I ask him if “all of us” means him, his partner Mykel Stevens, and the rest of the Bamby performers. “No, ‘us’ is everybody,” he answers. “You know when you were a kid and your mom told you not to eat the cookies in the jar, but as soon as she was out of sight you were climbing for those cookies? That was Bamby coming out. She represents the mischievous, naughty side of every person out there.” A party with an identity that goes beyond the length of its guest list? I’m impressed.

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Humberto Guida
Contact: Humberto Guida