A piece of Miami’s underground electronic music scene was lost the day Heart Nightclub closed its doors. Opening in 2015 on NE 11th Street in the city's club district, the venue suffered seemingly sporadic closures in 2018 following a lengthy legal battle with residents, developers, and city commissioners who claimed their main concern was the club's noise levels.
The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on anyone: Overzealous real-estate development appeared near these venues only because spaces such as Heart drew people and attention to them.
“It felt like the end of an era,” says Swiss DJ and producer Andrea Oliva, who played his first set at Heart for its final show. “Heart did a great job programming,” Oliva adds. “The rooms and the sound system [were] great. They always had quality lineups that weren't just big names; they really tried to support and take care of the scene and didn’t put money first. Heart always made sure to book some great local talent. I loved the club for that.”
The team behind Heart dispersed but didn’t dissolve, leaving room for a possible comeback somewhere down the line. “We at Heart will be taking the time that we are closed to rest and decide whether to launch somewhere else or just stay at rest,” Heart's chief financial officer, Michael Slyder, wrote in 2018. “We thank you for your support and the amazing events and experiences that you have helped us create during the past three years.”
Less than two years later, Heart is set to return with its first music festival, which will take place at Wynwood Factory this Thursday and Friday. The lineup is bold and brings the likes of Heart stalwarts and Miami admirers such as the Martinez Brothers and Oliva back to the city. The bill also includes numerous local talents and former resident DJs for the shuttered club, including Fiin and Nii Tei.
Though playing the closing party was bittersweet, Oliva is excited to be back in Miami for his first-ever DJ set during Art Basel Miami Beach.
“It's super-ironic because I’m from Basel, Switzerland,” he says by phone from Dubai. “From what I hear, it’s a great time and nice to see art combined with music — it's international and organic.”
Oliva’s standing as a globally recognized DJ came through hard work and persistence. He was a resident DJ at a tiny club in Basel and also produced music. He eventually caught the ear of label bosses such as Luciano’s Cadenza Records. Oliva went on to debut his party series, ANTS, at the Ibiza club Ushuaïa during the summer of 2013. The outdoor event was an instant success and has booked acclaimed acts such as Adam Beyer, Eli & Fur, Joris Voorn, Luciano, and Timo Maas. Oliva has been sharing ANTS with an ever-expanding list of cites, including Miami Beach during 2019's Winter Music Conference.
Even with the demands that come with being a touring DJ and event organizer, producing music remains a great joy to Oliva.
“Every year is about releasing as much music as I can and working hard in the studio,” he says when asked about his goals for 2020. His upcoming track, "Transition," featuring Nic Fanciulli, is slated to be released this Friday on Fanciulli's label, Saved. One of Oliva's more recent tracks, “My Way,” was released on Seth Troxler’s label — Play It, Say It — and included a remix from none other than the Martinez Brothers. According to Oliva, DJ and multifaceted electronic music producer Troxler immediately took an interest in the track.
“Usually when I do music, it’s something I play and feel out the reaction from the crowd, which helps me see what label would fit with the track," he says. "I thought it would be a good track for Seth, and right away he wanted the Martinez Brothers to get in on it.”
Oliva often improvises and relies heavily on reading the crowd while mixing his sets. Even so, he's thinking of laying a more techno-driven style this Saturday at Heart Festival, which will come as good news to the club's former patrons, who'll likely be in attendance wearing all black and a nostalgic Heart snapback to match.
“Every time I play is different," he says. "I adapt to the crowd; there is never a specific formula or playlist.”
Though Heart Festival is an act of resilience, Oliva believes a fundamental and generalized reassessment of club culture may be in order. “The problem we face nowadays is that our music became pretty popular," he says. "DJs became very big, and there is big business behind it now. Twenty years ago, club culture was a movement. But now our music is taking a bigger piece of the cake from the whole music industry. People are investing in clubs without the experience once needed. Someone like you or me would program a club very differently than someone motivated solely by profits.”
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According to Oliva, if dance culture is to survive and truly thrive, its players must reassemble the edifices built in the past decade and, just maybe, pivot to a more insulated status.
“This doesn’t even include the fact that certain areas in cites become popular, and then big investments buy them up and kick out the clubs; it happened in my hometown,” Oliva laments. “This is why festivals became so big! Club culture needs to be reinvented. Our scene is undervalued and underestimated by politicians. It’s not only Miami; it's a global phenomenon.”
After Heart shut down, it seemed like a dark cloud had materialized over Miami's beloved clubs. However, venues such as Club Space and E11ven have complied and worked with locals in order to circumvent an outright victory for either side. Still, the fact that a nightclub can close its doors and reemerge as a new music festival just one year later shows the tenacity of those who've immersed their lives in dance culture. As Miami closes out the decade with a degree of uncertainty about where its electronic music scene is going or will end up, at least the city can close out 2019 with a festival by and for the underdogs.
Andrea Oliva. 1:30 a.m. Saturday, December 7, at Heart Festival, Wynwood Factory, 55 NE 24th St., Miami; 305-934-0577. Tickets cost $90 to $222.50 via residentadvisor.com.