Journey by Sound

Three years ago Chris St. Cavish, better known as DJ MTA, started his own record label. He called it Mass Transit, a name inspired by Miami's Metro Transit Authority. He pressed up 1200 copies of the first release, Mode 1: Metrorail EP, with money he had been saving since he was fifteen. It contained tracks by Britain's Voice Stealer, Ireland's Decal, Germany's Airlocktronics, and Detroit's Silicon. "I had bought their records and I thought they were the greatest shit I ever heard," he says. "So I called them ... they were all super down." All of them contributed tracks that encompassed the darker side of minimal electro -- hard, punchy keyboard riffs and angrily melodic synth fills over driving beats.

St. Cavish also slipped an insert into the record sleeve that proclaimed his ambitions for the label. "The home of bass has fallen off," he wrote. "What used to be an innovative, electro-bass stronghold has turned into a culture of glow sticks and funky breaks: tired vocal hooks, endless snare rolls, and unoriginal, uncreative breaks.

"Fuck that. Mass Transit is bringing the new electro sound BACK to the streets of Miami," he continued. "These watered-down, played-out, corny breaks have infected the minds of the youth, and has bred a culture ignorant of its own roots. Something has to change." With one strongly worded statement, St. Cavish transformed Mode 1: Metrorail from an unassuming piece of DJ vinyl into an angry protest against the aesthetic malaise and artistic decline of his beloved subculture.

"I guess it sounds naive now, but I believed at the time that if people playing breaks just heard it, then they would say, 'You know, this is different, this has better production,'" he says. And for a time, an alternative scene did develop; St. Cavish talks about how he and like-minded souls like Steven Castro of Beta Bodega Coalition used to throw parties at the Meza Fine Art in Coral Gables for out-of-town DJs like Datathief a few years ago. "You could go out and hear Drexciya next to an Adult. track, and it was all electro and it was all good," he says. But electroclash, much like the emergence of breaks in the late Nineties, split that scene in two, too, elevating pop-oriented, vocal-driven songs (Adult., though that group would probably argue otherwise) into the spotlight and pushing darker, less commercial fare (Drexciya) back into the underground. In contrast St. Cavish sees these myriad styles of music -- Miami bass, electro, electro-bass, electroclash -- as part of an all-inclusive aesthetic known by a variety of monikers and determined by quality instead of novelty. Miami, he asserts, is its true home, the place where it got its identity, even though the city has seemingly forsaken it.

But St. Cavish doesn't want to be known as an ideologue. Music has remained his passion because it is a hobby instead of a full-time job. Instead he puts most of his energy into his work as a line cook at Norman's, a world-class "fusion" restaurant in Coral Gables, where he says he works 65 hours (!) a week. For him, the experience has allowed him to explore a number of culinary futures, from becoming a chef himself to owning his own restaurant. "At the level that I work at, you have to work that much," he says. "But I'm a line cook at a very famous restaurant. So I can travel around the world on the name of where I'm working now, and with what I know. And that's my real focus in my life now. The music part is a hobby."

As a result Mass Transit has only put out six EP-length records over the past three years, about one every six months, depending on how much money St. Cavish has. Although the second release, Mode 2: Metrobus, was packaged with an equally inflammatory insert ("The MTA is sending a message loud and clear to those trying to make a fast dollar and to those trying to bastardize Miami's sound: Get the fuck out -- your time is short," he wrote), subsequent recordings found the label abandoning the pop wars for the business of putting out quality electro music. Since all of them were multi-artist releases, they encompassed a variety of sounds. For example, Miami Internal Affairs (The Investigation) EP, a joint release with Beta Bodega, veered from Datathief's standard keyboard arpeggios to V8's bass, glitch, and noise stew.

St. Cavish says he expects the new single, a track by Secret Frequency Crew called "Miami Eyes," to be Mass Transit's most popular release to date. It's the first piece of music by the formerly local trio (who now reside in New York) since they shocked the electronic world by selling several hundred copies of their debut EP, The Underwater Adventure Hop Secret Treasure, through Counterflow Recordings in 2001; and Mass Transit's first release in about a year. But "Miami Eyes" is less warm ambient electro than full-on electro cheese, complete with an unnamed vocoder-filtered vocalist chanting the hook. Handclaps, bizarre and misshapen synth noises, and a pulsating 808 beat are all poured into this loud, fabulous monstrosity. A deliberate throwback to the early Eighties, it's the first to eschew the Metro Transit Authority concept in favor of myth, the latter demarcated by the all-seeing eyes that decorate the record's inner groove.

For sure "Miami Eyes" is still a statement record -- an alternative to breaks, a tool for DJs to use, another brick in the home of Miami electro-bass that St. Cavish wants to see rebuilt. Although he modestly bristles at the suggestion that Mass Transit has been a catalyst, rather than a symptom, of a revival, he allows, "Miami's electro community is much better, much healthier." And really, that's all he wants. Mass Transit is his modest contribution.

"This type of music, there's no money in it," he admits. "I break even, the releases pay for themselves. That's all I want ... and in the end, when I stop I'll get my money back and I'll have done something: I'll have put out good music."

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mosi Reeves
Contact: Mosi Reeves