Mana Wynwood isn't usually a space for the strange or otherworldly. The six-acre complex, nestled between NW 22nd and 23rd Streets just off I-95, has been a cornerstone of the neighborhood's rebirth. Adorned with little more than railings and steps leading to its indoor event hall, Mana offers a sharp contrast to the colorful graffiti that otherwise defines the arts district.
But on October 5, 2016, Mana was the site of a ritual that might have saved Miami from Hurricane Matthew.
David Sinopoli had been stressing out, and for good reason. As cofounder of III Points Music, Art & Technology Festival, he had arrived that afternoon to survey stages and installations for the three-day event. The construction was an already-demanding process that had been further complicated by the looming hurricane.
"It was like a ghost town," Sinopoli recalls. "It was a few people walking around a 10,000-person space... I was panicking, really."
III Points was only two days away, but the threat of Matthew had brought work to a near-halt. What's more, ticket sales had fallen off. Worse, foreboding signs suggested festival headliner LCD Soundsystem might cancel because of problems with the delivery of prodigious gear.
Sinopoli is nothing if not resourceful, though. Bearded yet baby-faced, the 33-year-old, with his wide eyes and even temper, does not have a look that immediately screams smooth operator. But he possesses an almost inexhaustible capacity for meeting insurmountable challenges with creative solutions.
"I work with a bunch of... energy movers, or healers, or spiritually clairvoyant people. And some of them...," he pauses, taking a moment to fiddle with his beaded bracelets and carefully mull over his choice of words, "are, you know... maybe witches."
One of them was Kai'Re Osim Amachi, a muscular, self-identified mystic and "practitioner of the sacred arts." As Hurricane Matthew's 100 mph winds neared, Osim approached Sinopoli with an unconventional proposal: "We should try to push this hurricane away."
So after an hour onsite, Sinopoli sat cross-legged on the ground beneath the totemic arch marking Mana's entrance on NW Fifth Avenue. He was joined by Osim, his partner Oxnylia — a petite young woman with platinum-blond hair and piercing blue eyes — and visibly skeptical production director Ross LaBrie. The four formed a circle and began the impossible: moving a Category 4 Hurricane away from Miami.
Osim initiated the ritual by rubbing a wand inside a massive quartz bowl that had been placed in the circle's center. The process elicited a soothing timbre that reverberated across the grounds, bouncing between the decorative shipping containers, half-finished stages, and back into this unlikely gathering.
Osim picked up a colorful, four-foot-long didgeridoo with painted Aboriginal designs and began to blow. Out came an unmistakable drone, a low rumble that served as an overture for the festival's frenetic beats and synthesized soundscapes. Then they prayed.
When the circle broke, the sense of panic that had permeated the space was replaced with tranquility. As Miami's unknown saviors left, they were replaced by four soothsayers in white robes, burning sage to rid the area of any remnant impurities and downbeat energy.
Oxnylia explains the ritual created a protective field, "shifting and weakening the storm so that the festival would not get hit directly."
The weather was wonderful that weekend.
Little about III Points' planning, execution, or aesthetic is conventional. Since its inception in 2013, it has consistently been bizarre and unexpected, distinguishing itself not only from the reigning king of Miami musical gatherings — Ultra Music Festival — but also from larger, more commercial events such as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. There's an individualistic streak that pays homage to left-field acts of international stature, as well as Miami's musicians, who receive a platform unparalleled in size and scope.
This weekend at Mana, III Points will host genre-bending, animated pop weirdos Gorillaz in their debut Florida performance, along with fellow headliners the xx and Nicolas Jaar. Ticket sales and expectations have already far surpassed last year's — a noteworthy turnaround for an event that in 2016 was plagued by the threat of Zika, the inconvenience of Hurricane Matthew, and devastating cancellations. For Sinopoli, it's the latest in an ongoing series of remarkable comebacks.
Sinopoli grew up in Fort Myers, where he attended the Canterbury School, an exclusive K-12 private educational establishment not far from Sanibel Island. During his senior year, he began experiencing chronic, pulsating headaches. They came in class, on the baseball field, sometimes even while he was listening to one of his favorite groups, the gleefully vulgar Wu-Tang Clan.
At first, he chalked them up to caffeine withdrawal and his efforts to quit drinking Coca-Cola. But then, on November 4, 2001, after trying out for a college baseball team, he passed out in the high-school locker room. The remainder of the month was filled with doctors' visits and questions. After he tested negative for mono at a local pediatrician's office, it became apparent something was seriously wrong.
One day, Sinopoli's father, Dominick Sr., the head of the math department and dean of students at Canterbury, took him to the hospital to undergo yet another series of tests. Sinopoli remembers the doctor expressing confusion with his high blood pressure, an anomaly in an otherwise healthy 17-year-old. And his platelets, hemoglobin, and white blood cell count were extremely low. The physician left the room and returned with several colleagues 45 minutes later.
"They pulled my dad out first," Sinopoli recalls. "He came back in, stopped, sat down, looked at me, and said, 'Uh... they think you have cancer.'"
The news arrived like a sucker punch, shattering the relative ease the family had taken for granted. At that moment, Sinopoli had no choice but to cede his life to forces beyond his control.
"More than anything, it made me very, very much value life — not to be consumed with bullshit," he says, "to find out what I'm passionate about and go after it."
Sinopoli grew up the second-youngest of five children in Bergen County, New Jersey. "I think if you're brought up with multiple siblings, you become very dynamic as a personality," he says.
The family moved to Fort Myers when David was 15, and everything changed. The climate was hotter, and the suburbs were defined by palm trees instead of palisades. His idyllic '90s childhood of bike rides and friends' houses gave way to days spent inside perusing books on the finer points of the '90s East Coast-West Coast hip-hop divide.
"I was totally enveloped in that," he says with a nostalgic laugh. "My adolescence was probably defined around Wu-Tang Clan, Tupac, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony."
Eclectic taste in music was part of the household. David's mother, Carol, was a Beatles fan. His father had a predilection for Pink Floyd and the Doors. But it was his eldest sister, Christine, who wielded the most influence, turning David on to then-current artists such as Tori Amos and Portishead.
"He would spend hours a night researching new music," Mary Sinopoli, David's younger sister by three years, says. "And he would be years ahead of the game before things became trendy."
Sinopoli adored Björk and Fiona Apple as much as Wu-Tang Clan and Radiohead. In his early teens, he began a lifelong habit of burning mix CDs to share with friends and relatives. "They weren't dance mixes," Sinopoli confesses. "They were more like stuff you'd play for your girlfriend."
He found many other ways to keep busy. At the age of 15, he worked weekday evenings as a busser and food runner at a restaurant called the Stonewood Grill & Tavern and supplemented his earnings with tips from cleaning golf clubs at a nearby country club on the weekends. This was in addition to a demanding schedule on the varsity basketball and baseball teams. That combination of work and sports was rare at his school.
"I was around a lot of money not having money," he says, recounting that his classmates pulled in with BMWs and Mercedes while he worked to buy his own car. "That dynamic growing up made me feel like I needed to hustle; I had to hustle."
Then came the cancer diagnosis. Sinopoli remembers a number of immediate concerns rushing through his head: his desire to someday have children, his ambition to attend senior prom and then college. Things that were once a given had suddenly become anything but certain.
Soon, in addition to having leukemia, he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a condition wherein bone marrow fails to produce new blood cells. Not only was he not generating essential blood cells, but also the ones he did have were cancerous.
He spent the remainder of the year alone in his bedroom, tended to by his mother Carol, herself a nurse. In 2002, he was transferred to Duke Children's Hospital in Durham, North Carolina, where he lived in isolation for the next five months, interacting solely with his parents, a nurse practitioner, and his doctor.
"I think sometimes being a kid... probably helps you to deal with these things better," Sinopoli reflects. "You just don't have these weird complexes and... sadness that you associate with everything."
Fortunately for David, his older brother Dominick Jr. proved to be a suitable donor for a bone marrow transplant. In preparation, Sinopoli was bombarded with high-dose radiation over several days, clearing the way for his brother's marrow to be introduced. The procedure, the doctors hoped, would allow his body to generate new platelets and white blood cells to protect him in the face of a weakened immune system. To restrain his bodily defenses, he was placed on life support for two weeks.
It was during this period that Sinopoli went code blue, a medical euphemism for when a patient is dying.
"I had an anaphylactic response to something that came through to me, and then I guess the nurse left one of my cords that were connected into my chest open, so I just started pouring blood out," Sinopoli says. He remembers feeling lightheaded and instinctively moving his hand down to see what was happening. Initially confused as to why he would be covered in water, he passed out at the sight of his blood-soaked palm.
Sinopoli doesn't recall seeing any white lights; he remembers only the dreary feeling of waking to an ongoing nightmare. In retrospect, he views the moment as a turning point. "As time goes by... you lose perspective," he says. "But I always have this point where I'm able to check back in and understand the blessings that have been given to me."
The treatment was successful. By June, Sinopoli had become well enough to return to Florida for his high-school graduation. Having kept up with his studies, he had applied and been accepted to the University of Florida. And despite lingering concerns about his health — he initially lived in a sterile dorm room with his own bathroom — his life took off.
Combining his refined musical palate with new vigor, Sinopoli dove into Gainesville's after-hours affairs. He began by producing shows for the Florida Theater, a perennially troubled venue defined by its ongoing identity crisis. Though he was studying public relations while making his first forays into nightlife, academics were not his primary focus.
"My brother told me before I went to college that C's get degrees," he reminisces with a laugh. "I wanted to leave college so I could focus on my business."
By the time he had graduated at the age of 22, he was making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. After promoting events there for much of 2006 and 2007, Sinopoli and three partners purchased Simons — a club that had been instrumental in introducing rave culture to Florida in the '90s. They lost the club only a year later after becoming embroiled in a lawsuit with the City of Gainesville for violating nightlife laws.
"They found that this major hub of partying had too many access points," Sinopoli recounts, noting the city was heavily cracking down on clubs and other establishments that had the potential to become unruly. "[The city] wanted control of our areas."
By 2009, Sinopoli had become a popular figure in Gainesville. His friends included rave kids and university athletes alike. He even counted Tim Tebow among his acquaintances. After Sinopoli lost Simons, Tebow suggested he redirect his energy into a non-nightlife-related passion. So Sinopoli began raising money for the charity Children's Miracle Network. But having grown accustomed to a decade of partying and talent-booking, he felt unfulfilled by white-collar work.
"I just felt really confined," he says. "I felt like... my lust for life was going away."
Fortunately, salvation was awaiting in South Beach.
Erica Freshman is a Miami girl, born and raised. Before meeting Sinopoli and becoming a pillar of III Points, she attended Miami Palmetto High School and got her first taste of nightlife at the age of 15. But with a musical diet that was heavier on the Grateful Dead and the Smiths than John Digweed and Underworld, she wasn't an immediate fit for the bright lights and boom-bap of South Beach.
"I wasn't tapped into that [electronic scene] yet," explains the 39-year-old Freshman, a diminutive blonde with a ready smile. "I was more into 'Oh, is there a Phish show, and should we go to California to catch it?'"
She enrolled at the University of Florida in 1995. In her junior year, she studied abroad in London, where she visited legendary clubs such as Ministry of Sound. She also traveled to Ibiza and became fascinated by the inner workings of nightlife. She grew curious about what works, what doesn't, and the conditions necessary to provoke the ecstatic highs for which club junkies spend their whole lives prowling loud rooms and dark corners.
"I was interested in how a DJ — a good DJ — can make everyone have fun and a bad DJ can ruin people's nights," Freshman says. "You know how a good host makes all the difference in the world."
After graduating with a degree in sociology in 2000, she landed a job selling ads to nightclubs at Ocean Drive magazine. Soon a friend who was a DJ roped her into throwing a party at the Townhouse Hotel on 20th Street and Collins Avenue. She printed flyers and called friends. Scores showed up.
"That first party was nuts, like really nuts," Freshman remembers. "And the second week, there were twice as many people, and the third week that we did it, there was... an hour-and-a-half wait to get in."
She had inadvertently stumbled onto what would become a lifelong career of party promotion. A year later, she left Ocean Drive and developed a party at the Townhouse into a regular event called the Rooftop. She also started a gathering at the Shore Club that eventually became the well-known Red Room.
Their ambition and inclination to socialize led Sinopoli and Freshman to cross paths. Sinopoli, who was still living in Gainesville, made extra money by selling tables at a 2007 New Year's Eve party held at the Setai Hotel that Freshman had organized. Because of a mixup, Sinopoli and his friends were forced to enter through the back door.
"Erica was cool about it," Sinopoli recalls. "She didn't really have control over it."
Despite the inauspicious start, the two grew close, bonding over a shared love of large gatherings and the behind-the-scenes science that makes them special. "I worked for Erica on different holiday events that whole next year, and as I got closer to the New Year's of 2008, she and I started doing weirder parties together," Sinopli says. "She knew how to organize what I was doing really well."
In 2009, Freshman was approached by the owner of the Townhouse, Amir Ben-Zion, about helping to open Bardot, a place he was developing in midtown. At first, she was flummoxed. It looked more like a strip mall than a lounge. "I was like, You have to fucking be kidding me," Freshman says of her initial impression.
But she was ready to try something new. "I was kind of really tired of club world," she admits. "All of that superfun stuff started to feel like... a real job."
In the beginning, Bardot scarcely resembled the intimate space it would become. Opening at 5 p.m. with a full menu and happy hour, it had set out to be a cultural hub, a place geared toward community film screenings and political roundtable discussions. The chain-smoking dance degenerates would come later.
After conferring with Ben-Zion and agreeing Bardot needed a change in direction, Freshman didn't need to look much further than her car's CD player for inspiration.
"Sinopoli would always make me these awesome CDs — and they were...," Freshman pauses for strong emphasis, "awesome, and they turned me on to music I had never heard of," such as the Knife and MGMT.
In 2010, Freshman and Ben-Zion offered Sinopoli the job of music director at their year-old endeavor. Having been tugged back into the sweat-drenched, affectionate arms of event promotion after-dark, he grabbed on as tightly as he could. Bardot underwent a dramatic transformation in character and temperament, booking acts at the forefront of the chillwave and indie scenes.
"I came in swinging," Sinopoli recalls, rattling off a list of acts he brought to the venue in its first year. "Grimes' first Miami show was at Bardot. Purity Rings' first show ever was at Bardot. Hundred Waters' first show outside of Gainesville was at Bardot."
Many artists who would later experience crossover success, such as Flume and Toro y Moi, had their first taste of Miami excess there. As Bardot grew in stature, so did its gravitational pull. Over time, a specific strain of Miami musicians and artists — the weirder, more offbeat folk — began to congregate around the bar, forming a makeshift family and musical scene that tilled the ground where III Points would grow.
"Many local DJs who are the new sound of Miami today found their shtick at Bardot," Ben-Zion beams, listing now-well-known local names such as Danny Daze, Santi Caballero, Pirate Stereo, and Dude Skywalker.
For all of Bardot's success in transforming itself and its immediate surroundings, Sinopoli entered 2013 harboring ambitions for something larger and more comprehensive in scale.
"I started really learning the business," he says, "and then I started realizing how many bands hadn't been to Miami... and how many of the bands that were from Miami felt frustrated with an infrastructure that wasn't connected and wasn't helping them build their career."
Assembled in just a few months, III Points' inaugural edition in 2013 was nothing less than a confluence of happy accidents and fortunate coincidences.
In February, Sinopoli met Molly Hawkins, then the creative director for U.K.-based record label Young Turks. She was accompanying English indie-pop band the xx, which was signed to Young Turks, for a Miami show. Sinopoli and the Bardot crew wound up giving the group an insider's look at the city, including Wynwood.
Hawkins, who is now a partner in III Points, was immediately taken by Miami's distinct character and disdain for politeness. "It was so fun. Everyone was just so sweaty and wild, and it felt fun and free in a way that I'd never experienced in New York or L.A. or London," she recalls. "I feel like people in Miami just don't give a fuck in a very special way." They discussed the possibility of throwing a new festival in Wynwood.
A couple of months later, Sinopoli headed to the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in California to see the xx from backstage. During the closing moments of the band's set, Sinopoli and Hawkins had a conversation that took III Points closer to reality.
"Molly told me, 'We really like the idea, and I think you should do it [in October] if you can,'" Sinopoli recalls. A few minutes later, Jamie xx — the xx's beatmaker and producer and an accomplished DJ — approached the pair. He was still sweaty from performing. Hawkins turned to the musician. "She was like, 'Jamie, are you down?'" Sinopoli recalls. "And he was like, 'Yeah, I'm down.'"
Sinopoli remembers the moments following the conversation as intensely surreal. Ready or not, III Points was happening.
Things came together remarkably quickly. To cofounder Erica Freshman, who has emerged as III Points' pragmatic guide, Wynwood was the perfect location. "It was just starting to have an identity, but not a commercial identity. It was just starting to feel interesting, and people were... still a little afraid to go," Freshman remembers. "We thought we could try to help to do something fucking cool."
With word now out that a new festival in Miami was beginning to take shape, industry figures and friends approached Sinopoli to see what was possible. Soon after confirming Jamie xx would perform, he snagged a second headliner, LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, for a DJ set. Murphy also offered to give an interview, which would be called a couch talk, at Bardot.
Local acts such as Austin Paul, Afrobeta, and Deaf Poets soon agreed to play. Additionally, Sinopoli and company secured legendary experimental hip-hop producer DJ Shadow to complete III Points' headliner trifecta. Shadow's return to Miami was widely anticipated because he had been kicked off the decks at South Beach nightclub Mansion during his last appearance in the city. He said he had been told his music was too "future." That wouldn't be a problem at III Points.
To add some dimension to the event, its architects decided to follow the lead of Austin's South by Southwest, which encompasses more than just music. "It [became] music, art, and technology," recalls Michele Granado, III Points' artist relations manager. "It was more to separate us from just a music festival; in the beginning, we didn't even want to use the word 'festival.'"
Mana Wynwood, then a little-used chunk of land on NW 23rd Street with a converted warehouse and plenty of outdoor space, was chosen as the location.
Next came the logo. Sinopoli had the idea of using a triangle. He approached Tara Long, an artist who was bartending at Bardot at the time. She suggested the triangle point downward to invoke images of female fertility and energy. Thus, the III Points emblem was born.
Long, who would make her musical debut as Poorgrrrl at III Points 2015, also curated the festival's art installations that year.
"I curated 35 visual artists for the first year of III Points; we really did have pretty free reign," Long remembers. "We were more interested in using lighting and sound and minimal construction to create a sensorial experience than in filling the space with a bunch of material that would just be tossed after the fest."
On October 3, 2013, III Points came out of the gates roaring. Though the team members had only a few months to promote the new festival, they were able to draw roughly 4,000 people.
"It felt like we put out a beta version of the festival," Sinopoli reflects. "We were super green. I think we learned so much that we were ready to hear all of the feedback possible and really try to internalize it into what would be the model going forward."
Planning for year two began in December 2013. A deal was reached to move the festival to Soho Studios, a few blocks southeast. There would be a repeat performance from Jamie xx, alongside new headliners Lykke Li and experimental producer-cum-DJ Flying Lotus. Ticket sales tripled to more than 14,000. The whole affair went almost perfectly, though with so many people, it was a bit cramped.
With two successful years under its belt, III Points had become established.
"If you really believe in it, and if you create an environment that feels genuine and is real, people will come," Freshman says. "They will find you."
In 2015, the festival returned to Mana, a larger space, where attendance once again grew, this time to 18,000. The event saw one of the first performances by electronic-pop act Neon Indian with a live band. There was also hip-hop duo Run the Jewels' first Miami show and a DJ set by Chilean-American composer Nicolas Jaar. It was the festival's most genre-diverse lineup yet.
Although that year had its fair share of hiccups (the A/C broke down during Jaar's three-hour set), any problems III Points may have had in 2015 were negligible compared to those of 2016.
Shortly after the festival announced its biggest act yet — well-known Brooklyn-based dance-punk band LCD Soundsystem — Miami was gripped with fear of Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that can cause fetal hydrocephalus. On August 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory warning residents and tourists in Wynwood to be mindful of contracting the virus.
Though the warning was lifted a month later, the damage had been done: Ticket sales for III Points had slowed to a crawl, leaving organizers in dire financial straits. The complications wrought by Zika were compounded when it seemed Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm, was headed for the city and LCD Soundsystem's equipment was delayed in transit. Other artists, including producer Oneohtrix Point Never and rapper Earl Sweatshirt, hampered by erratic flight scheduling due to the hurricane, were forced to cancel as well.
But Hurricane Matthew veered off, leaving behind beautiful weather. Sinopoli says III Points 2016 was something of a miracle. "I felt it was an accomplishment of my whole team to get it done, and I felt really grateful that we did it. I didn't want to look at numbers. I wanted to just eat it up for three or four days."
Unfortunately, the numbers didn't paint a pretty picture, and it was far from certain that III Points would be back in 2017. "We were seriously in debt," he divulges, to the tune of $750,000. Sinopoli is quick to emphasize that other than the partners' own money and the buoying effect of corporate sponsorships, there is no silent entity keeping the festival afloat; III Points lives or dies on its ability to resonate with Miami audiences. "It's hard to be an independent company in Miami, and it's harder still to be an independent company in the music scene in Miami."
David Sinopoli strolls into his Miami Shores home with a smile on his face. After closing the door behind him, he swings a blue backpack around to his chest. He unzips the main compartment, reaches inside, and pulls out an airtight baggie. He tosses it into a reporter's lap.
"Check it out," he chuckles.
The bag is full of marijuana. It's September 2017, and III Points is only three weeks away. Sinopoli is hosting a joint-rolling party for about a dozen friends and co-workers, including local artists Poorgrrrl and Byrdipop. Over the next few hours, hundreds of joints will be rolled and then placed in gift bags for performers at this year's festival.
"We believe in treating our artists well," he says.
And he better. III Points attracted its ideal artist this year: British virtual band the Gorillaz, which recently released its first album after a seven-year hiatus. In some ways, musician Damon Albarn and illustrator Jamie Hewlett's project exemplifies III Points' core values of music, art, and technology. The group is composed of four fictional members who perform in cartoons and videos, while the real music is produced offscreen. They're coming to Miami as part of the Humanz tour, which began this past July and will conclude next March.
"Cash flow for this year would have started in the midsummer, but it actually started a little earlier because Gorillaz wanted to [announce] the tour earlier," Sinopoli shares. Ticket sales from the announcement of Gorillaz have more than recouped last year's losses. So far, the festival has sold 27,000 passes. And in light of Sinopoli and the festival's long-standing relationships with the xx and Nicolas Jaar, everything fell into its right place quite naturally.
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This year's lineup will also include iconoclastic Detroit rapper Danny Brown and beloved DJ the Black Madonna, whose rise in popularity over the past year has been nothing short of remarkable. Topping off the mood are ambitious art projects such as celebrated producer Brian Eno's audio installation, The Ship.
Local talent will include artists from ascendant experimental label Space Tapes, including label head Nick Leon and producer Lautlos. Legendary electro producer Arthur Baker and perennial Miami fixture Oscar G will also perform.
For the time being, there are no hurricanes on the horizon. Even so, Sinopoli has every intention of inviting shamans Osim and Oxnylia back to ensure the festival goes off without a hitch.
"I'm not counting my blessings," says the man whose life has been chock full of them, "until the festival is completely over... I don't feel confident in anything. I feel like we're going to get a chance — with the amount of [preparation] time and hopefully no natural disasters — to pull off the festival that we've been planning for five years."