Mixmag Journeyman

So, who's the DJ?" asks the tourist, her hands juggling two lit cigarettes, a green drink, and a disposable camera. She hands one cigarette to her friend and puts her thumb on the camera's trigger, poised to capture the next big thing, or the current thing -- or anything.

Below crobar's mezzanine, tonight draped in gold-colored curtains, walks an unassuming character in a black T-shirt, white sneakers, and blue jeans. His shaved head reflects the myriad lights flashing above. He makes his way to the DJ booth, politely waits for security to raise the rope, and steps toward the turntables.

The tourist flicks ash into a tray and slides a flyer across the tabletop. She squints at the Michelangelo-like painting and reads from the text: "Dave Seaman ... Renaissance." She turns the card over and drags from the cigarette. "Who's Dave Seaman?"

Welcome to Miami, Mr. Seaman. Within seconds the DJ has tapped the opening act on the shoulder, removed a record from its sleeve, and shifted the night's direction from tribal by numbers to a groove that is soothing, sensual, and surreal.

Who is Dave Seaman? Don't let the tourist's ignorance fool you. Seaman is a household name in Europe and to those in the Americas hip to the past, present, and future of dance music. He was the first editor of Mixmag (now the world's largest-selling club magazine), jumping ship after three years at the helm to embark on his own music career. He collaborated with the hugely successful U.K. Renaissance movement, remixed for the likes of Michael Jackson and David Bowie, and was influential in establishing the talents of current trance kingpins Sasha and John Digweed. He's hoping all the experience will pay off as he prepares to launch his own label, Therapy. Now touring again to support his latest disc, Desire, Seaman lends credence to a bold statement he made only a few nights before.

"Will club music be the next rock and roll?" he asks over the phone from his hotel suite in Washington, D.C., a few hours before his set at Nation. "It already is."

His English accent makes one wonder if this is wry humor. "Can it handle the pressure? Absolutely, yeah, no problem," Seaman goes on to explain. "It already is the new rock and roll. Turntables are outselling guitars. It's just an electronic version. You got DJs making albums and touring to support it, like rock bands do. We take what we can from rock and roll and make the rules up for ourselves."

A trailblazer, Seaman saw early on the potential for the music that had seeped into Britain's youth movement during the late Eighties. Admitting nightclubs had entered a "bland" period back then, Seaman credits samplers, sequencers, and Ecstasy for the second coming of disco. After creating Mixmag as a DJ newsletter, Seaman took the magazine public and in so doing took club culture from the underground into the U.K. mainstream.

"It was around 1990 when I saw people had grasped the scene on a business level," he remembers. "And radio was starting to embrace the music. We've got a fantastic media infrastructure in the U.K., which is why our youth culture has developed so quickly.

"It's one of the things we're still good at," he laughs, aware that electronic music is still measured by the barometer of cool in England's foggy atmosphere. And the current reading has Seaman spinning ever higher. "I think it's more, um, sophisticated," he says, describing his current sound. "More subtle. A lot of the in-your-face trance is just instant gratification but doesn't really stand the test of time."

Gone from the more sophisticated Desire are the repetitive thump-thump bass lines, machine-drenched vocals, and cardiac-arrest drums. Seaman's samples are airy, cerebral, and neo-primitive. While his live sets still fire up enough energy to appease drug-charged clubbers, his push to incorporate a more cultured sound is sure to set a trend stateside as soon as lagging U.S. tastes catch up.

"It's good over here," Seaman says about U.S. club culture. "It just takes a long time. That's a good thing, though, 'cause it gives the music a chance to live and breathe without being forced down people's throats. Critics in England can be so quick that things don't get to develop at their own pace. Things get crushed before they even start. Here it's good to see it spreading. I've been to some of the more off-the-beaten-path places like Lafayette and Birmingham, and when you see the talent there you realize this is a phenomenon."

But in Miami it's more than that. Arguably the most influential scene in dance music after London and Ibiza, Washington Avenue has become an essential stop for any touring DJ, promoter, or industry executive looking to gauge sounds and styles. And while crobar's Saturday-night crowd may not be as savvy as the denizens of Cream and Gatecrasher, their response matters.

Within minutes of Seaman's opening selections, the suited-up men unbutton a bit while women shake in shimmering skirts. Seaman looks over the heads bobbing in rhythm to his complicated beats. Those unable to rent out space on the floor gyrate in place to a pulse somewhere between house and ambient trance. Seaman himself doesn't quite know what to call it.

"It's almost impossible to categorize," he says. "Everybody has an idea of what sounds are. I've been labeled sort of “progressive house.' But I don't think progressive house exists as a sound really. It's more of a scene."

And that scene is given a warm embrace tonight, even if the euphoric mob isn't exactly sure who's leading them there. The tourist glances down at the booth and points to the man gently spinning a record up to speed while he leans intently into the headphones. She shrugs and snaps a picture anyway.

The flash catches Seaman's attention. He turns in her direction but can only see shadows bouncing. The tourist picks up the flyer and places it in her purse. Dave Seaman. Pass it on.

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Kevin McLaughlin