It’s May 2018, and people are freaking out in a small industrial space nestled in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. The 229 Warehouse might not have the accouterments or lavish lighting systems of the city’s biggest clubs, but no one in the small but passionate 200-person crowd is letting that deter them from blaring cheers and cries worthy of the most popular DJs in the world.
An intermittent roar captures the attention of the smokers mingling outside, signaling it might be time to head back in. Past a hastily drawn black curtain, local DJ Sister System throws down a series of foreboding techno tracks. Despite — or perhaps due to — the modest size of the venue and audience, this is as diverse a scene as you’re likely to come across at an after-hours event in Miami, with people of wildly different backgrounds, orientations, and sartorial dispositions mixing it up. This is one very multicultural city united under a groove.
As a particularly nasty industrial stomp fills the dim, tiny room, intrepid audience members begin taking matters into their own hands, manning smoke machines and scaling chairs in order to lord over the throng with flashlights in lieu of proper strobes. It’s just shy of 3 a.m. As couples twirl one another under the cover of darkness and smoke, deftly sidestepping the green lightsaber rolling around on the floor, an artist paints dutifully in the bottom right corner of the room, apparently unfazed by the pounding techno music and absurdity surrounding him.
It was the first time Sister System, AKA Alexis Sosa-Toro, had stepped behind the decks in a public setting. As a member of the team that facilitated the party, she says the night set her on a path from which she never plans to stray.
“A year ago, I had just embarked on a newfound passion with the first rave. Today I’m determined to make it my career,” she says.
Sosa-Toro is part of a creative consortium that has made these sorts of spectacles a more frequent sight in Miami. Alongside local labels Space Tapes and Terrestrial Funk, as well as the likes of Internet Friends, she’s helped spur an underground renaissance in the city that’s gained a great deal of traction in a short time.
But while the success of events such as the Black Friday Rave and what Sosa-Toro retroactively refers to as the Omnirave seem to be heralding the dawn of a glorious new moment in Miami’s electronic counterculture, one of the places that made it all possible is shutting down. An April 12 post on the 229 Warehouse’s Instagram page announced it would close around the end of May following two and a half years of operation.
On Friday, May 3, English electronic artist Black Merlin will swing by 229 for one of its final gatherings. He’ll be joined behind the turntables by Sosa-Toro, ubiquitous Miami nightlife figure Jonny From Space, and Omnidisc artist Anshaw Black, who’s celebrating the release of his new EP, [A-01].
Although it’s not 229’s formal conclusion, it will be the last party thrown by Sosa-Toro and her crew in that space.
“[Black Merlin] was the first record I purchased on Omnidisc. So to curate a unique experience around the concept of his performance, rather than just showcasing him through a booking at a club, is a challenge we’re eager to take on to celebrate our growth within 229,” she says.
Alberto Cera, who DJs under the name Bort, has been a fixture of 229 as both a raver and an organizer. As he collaborates with Sosa-Toro and others to prepare for the Black Merlin show, he says it’s been bizarre to watch “passion projects” such as the Black Friday Rave progress to reach more people and become a full-fledged movement in Miami’s dance scene and beyond.
“Watching the events grow in scale was really surreal, mostly because of how fast it happened,” Cera says. “That our crowd quickly expanded beyond the Miami music community is incredibly exciting, because the goal was always to expose and educate as many people as we could on dance culture and why it means so much to us and so many other people.”
Cera believes there’s been a significant change in Miami’s music scene over the past year, a development he attributes to 229 and the opportunities it provided for independent creatives to fully realize their visions.
“The community felt very fractured back then,” he says. “There were many different communities, which is a stark contrast to the Miami now that feels like one large community that we all belong to. And 229 is important to that because it provides a space that feels like it belongs to everyone.”
He adds, “So many people I know have been able to have their first events there, or it’s where they performed for the first time. 229 became an avenue for different members of different parts of the community to come together and meet.”
Santiago Vidal, who works with III Points and DJs as True Vine, collaborated with Sosa-Toro, Cera, and others to produce several of the raves at 229. He believes the long-term survival of Miami’s dance music scene is dependent on bringing new faces into the mix, especially in the face of setbacks such as 229’s imminent closure.
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“The way to keep this Miami renaissance going is to not only have people stay in Miami, but encouraging others to move here from places like New York and Berlin,” Vidal says. “When we travel abroad, we need to be telling people what is happening in Miami. When people come for [Art] Basel or Miami Music Week, we need to make sure that the best party they attend is an underground rave that showcases our scene. When our artists release music, we need to be pushing it with all our collective energy. It’s the only way to make this last. We need to make a mark.”
But in the short-term, Sosa-Toro simply wants to throw an event that lives up to the legacy 229 is leaving behind.
“We’ve been able to create opportunities in a city that doesn’t provide any to new artist,” she says. “229 is one of the few precious safe spaces in Miami. They provided accessibility, a strong support for novel artists, always encouraged far-out ideas and ambitions. They provided complete liberty and allowed creativity to flourish, which all created a sense of union and community among most of us who struggle a lot with just the daily grind of life. It made the idea of pursuing creative work feasible.”
One Final Rave. With Black Merlin, Anshaw Black, Sister System, and Jonny From Space. 11 p.m. Friday, May 3, at 229 Warehouse, 229 NE 65th St., Miami. Tickets cost $10 via eventbrite.com.