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Miami DJs' Survival Hinges on Community During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Keen One
Keen One
Photo by Animal Chin

As companies continue to lay off workers during the COVID-19 outbreak, CNN reported a record 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits just last week. While businesses of all sizes are battling the wrath of the deadly, potentially airborne novel coronavirus, the sudden blow to the economy has also devasted independent artists.

Local DJs, whose livelihoods depend on social gatherings, are among the entertainers most devastated by the sudden blow to South Florida's hospitality and nightlife scenes.

“It’s breaking me. All of my gigs have been canceled, and I don’t even know when the next one will be right now,” says DJ Keen One, who held residencies at some of Miami’s most popular institutions, including Soho Beach House, Coyo, Bardot, and Blackbird Ordinary.

“With no real upcoming gigs,” Keen One says, he's forced to not only think differently about his finances but also rethink how he'll approach doing what he loves while still making a living.

“The art of feeling out the room, of bringing joy to people by playing the music I think they want to hear, isn’t happening right now,” explains Pam Jones, a Bronx transplant and DJ who's been soundtracking Miami’s hot spots for the past five years. “Right now, it’s about reaching out to folks I’ve been wanting to work with for a while and starting on all those ideas we talked about.”

Pam Jones
Pam Jones
Photo by Denice Lachappelle

Jones hit a halt in cash flow, which relied heavily on Miami's hospitality and nightlife industries, before doubling down and engaging her online community through Twitch. The now-top video-streaming service is used by increasing numbers of DJs to perform live for donations from audiences around the world.

With nothing but time on his hands, Bodega Flee agrees this is no moment for willful idleness. “The pandemic definitely has me plotting on the phone a lot more with artists. I’m constantly on the cell trying to make new plays for gigs months from now.”

Originally from Uptown in New York City, Flee, 28, first took off in Tampa before his growing reputation landed him in Miami's Allapattah neighborhood, where he became the sought-after industry figure he is today. Of all the clubs he regularly works, Booby Trap on the River is his darling residency and most lucrative gig.

“It’s a gentlemen’s club, and with the shutdown, I have people on Instagram blowing me up, asking me to beg the owner to open the club up just for an hour or two,” Flee quips about the many social media posts in which he’s being tagged. “I’m seeing girls from one building twerking, and a guy shooting her dollar bills from another. It’s crazy, the financial impact.”

Bodega Flee
Bodega Flee
Photo by Jose "Chubpone” Alvarez

A recently inducted member of the esteemed hip-hop faction and DJ coalition the Heavy Hitters, Flee caught on to livestreaming his acts in the company of his colleagues. Using Instagram Live as his premier channel, Flee took a page from the likes of other industry giants, such as D-Nice, Swizz Beatz, and Tory Lanez, and began performing before a digital audience.

“I think this moment is humbling a lot of people, and I think it’s going to make a lot of us cherish time more,” muses Flee, who says Miamians will come alive in unprecedented fashion following the COVID-19 crisis. “People are going to want to celebrate. ¡A beber y fumar hookah!

Times like these lend truth to the power of not only the arts — which are historically underfunded and worthy of more academic real estate — but also global communion.

“It’s exciting that all these live events are bringing people from all over the world together. Being able to connect in that way is really important,” Jones adds. “At least we got music. That’s what I’m holding on to.”

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