Special Feature


The Pressure

With enhanced systems, revamped interiors, even totally new venues, Miami’s club lords strive to one-up each other…all in time for the world’s annual visit.

By John Landers

      Welcome to Miami, beautiful club people. It’s that time of year again, when the demigods of dance return to sunny South Florida for an extended week of music, networking, and Bacchanalian excess. But things here have changed significantly since last winter, and in keeping with those changes, we’re going to take a fresh look at the local nightlife, as well as the sound, lighting, and interior design elements that have made this subtropical metropolis so famous.
Musically, trance has lost the near-monopoly it once held over the area’s premier venues. “The hip-hop industry has taken over the beach,” posits Gerry Kelly, the club visionary responsible for, among other things, the late, great Level nightclub. Thanks to the persistence of various independent promoters, however, it’s become much easier to find quality house, techno, and even drum ‘n’ bass parties around town. The resulting cross-pollination of musical genres and cultural influences has produced both irritation and innovation. It’s all muy Miami.
      Economically, it’s been a turbulent year, and the future remains uncertain. Five years ago, few would’ve predicted the current state of the nightclub nation. Here in Southeast Florida, some high-profile, well-financed enterprises have failed miserably (Billboard Live, anyone?), yet investors continue to create fresh clubs. Existing ventures, meanwhile, try to remain competitive, often by upgrading their lighting and sound systems. Dave Chesal, Martin Professional’s club and leisure segment manager, hears the growing anxiety of many Miami nightlife leaders in real time: “They all ask questions like, ‘Is it time for a new club? Is there room for a new club? Is this what the people want? If a new club came along, would the people go? Are they satisfied with what they have?’”
      Politically, what did you expect? It’s Florida. The City of Miami Beach, which has benefited so greatly from its indigenous nightlife, now seems ambivalent about the industry. The revitalization of the area known as South Beach, or simply SoBe, has encouraged the construction of upscale condominiums in close proximity to the city’s entertainment district. Predictably, the influential new neighbors aren’t altogether happy about the increasingly powerful sound systems that are being installed in various venues, and draconian noise ordinances now threaten previously established operations like Opium Gardens and Nikki Beach.
      As a result, nightclub entrepreneurs looking for a friendlier business environment have continued to go west, moving from the southernmost island of Miami Beach, across the MacArthur Causeway Bridge, and into Miami itself, where that city’s government is actively encouraging the development of a new entertainment-oriented area. The neighborhood, previously dominated solely by Space 34, has attracted the attention of some savvy investors, all of whom expect it to flourish in the coming year.
      Now that you have a sense of the situation here, let’s check out some of the more intriguing local nightspots, both on and off the beach. Like the veteran Winter Music Conference attendees that we are, though, we’re not even going to try to visit every worthy club and lounge. Instead, we’ll spend quality time at a couple of the hottest new places, catch up with some old friends, and then start making plans for our next trip to Miami.

Quainter than a club, more liberal than a lounge – meet the “club lounge.”
      By the time you read this, several new venues will be open in Miami Beach, including State, which occupies the old BarRoom/Spin space at 320 Lincoln Road. Under the guidance of Gerry Kelly, along with partners Maxwell Blandford and Gregory Selph, the club is designed to fill a unique niche in the crowded SoBe market. “I felt that the beach was changing,” Kelly says. “The five-year span of the monster club on South Beach was coming to a slow end, but I also felt that the small lounges were too small, and too overcrowded. The people that were getting in were the most beautiful girls and the highest bidders.” With State, Kelly wants the best of both worlds. “Our concept,” he says, “is a club lounge.”
      State’s sound will come from what Gerry Kelly describes as “a state-of-the-art” (no pun intended) system, originally installed by Miami-based Infinite Audio, which features EAW speakers, Crest Pro Series amplifiers, and XTA processing. The well-appointed DJ booth will be equipped with both Pioneer and Denon CD decks, three Technics turntables, a Rane MP 2016 mixer, a Rane XP 2016 external processor, and four NEXO PS15 monitors. Lighting will apparently be a mixture of Martin Professional and High End Systems products.
As for the interior design, Kelly describes State as “very upscale . . . with a spectacular format.” Considering his other career as a haute couturier, it’s believable. State will also have “less dancefloor and more seating,” Kelly adds, in keeping with the club lounge motif.
Musically, State will reflect recent SoBe trends. “The music format of the beach has changed drastically,” Kelly maintains. In keeping with the times, the club will offer its fashionable guests two distinct environments. “One will be a house room, and the other I would like to consider a ‘fun world’ room.” Already onboard as weekly residents are Ivano Bellini, Nicky Scanni, and Pierre Zono Zon. Together, Kelly expects that “whether you’re young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight, black, white ... [you’ll be] entertained by the music.”
      State’s WMC lineup includes Judge Jules, Todd Terry, Steve Lawler, Saeed & Palash, Robbie Rivera, and Oscar G, but outside of the madness of conference week, it will be known as a club lounge where “fashion rules,” promises Kelly. In that case, we’ll be expecting a live PA from Chicks On Speed.
• State, 320 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, www.gerrykelly.com

Food, drink, and Phazon.
Another new venue on Lincoln Road (and, yes, two of anything is officially a trend on SoBe) is Cafeteria, which arrived fashionably late, several months past its projected opening date. Cafeteria is a super stylin’ restaurant lounge with a genuine Phazon sound system. The radical transformation of the space, which once was an Art Deco Cadillac dealership, is impressive. The cool, black-and-white decor contrasts nicely with the warm food and hot music; the lounge in particular feels like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey (but in a good way). And did we mention the retractable glass roof?
There’s more to Cafeteria than just its uber-hip decor, though. Phazon’s Phil Smith took care to make the aural environment just as comfortable as the futuristic furniture. “It’s easier to be around a Phazon system,” he explains. “Some of the others are very painful at close range. We keep it very friendly for the customers.” Cafeteria’s lounge sound system features nine two-way speakers (which appear to be customized JBL MS28 cabinets), two more cabinets flown over the DJ booth, and at least four subwoofers (apparently EAW SB48e cabinets) artfully concealed throughout the room. The DJ booth is equipped with two well-damped Technics SL1210 MK5G turntables, two Pioneer CDJ-1000 MK2 CD players, and a Pioneer DMP-555 tabletop digital media player. BSS, Audia, and custom Phazon processors work their respective magic on the audio signal before it’s sent to an imposing stack of Crown CFS Series amplifiers. The system, Smith says, “is very powerful, but it doesn’t hurt the ears.”
• Cafeteria, 546 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach

Old reliable ups its lights.
The only other full-on Phazon sound system on the beach, of course, is the one in high-flying megaclub crobar (there’s yet another Phazon system coming to the neighborhood in the near future, but it won’t be on the beach). “Our sound system is one of the things that draws people to the club,” attests Seif Salem, the club’s sound, lighting, and video guru. In addition to the awesome rig in the main room, crobar boasts a separate system upstairs in the sizeable VIP area (where the notorious Monday night Back Door Bamby party is held), and a recently added DJ booth in the “ultra-VIP room.”
The club has added many more lighting fixtures this past year too, and crobar’s lighting team has been continually working with the Whole Hog controller, trying to maximize the sizeable system’s already-impressive visual impact. “We keep on top of programming,” says Salem. “We try to put in new programs every week.” The constant additions and improvements to the lighting rig have yielded some impressive results, as even the most jaded SoBe club kids happily admit. “I think the lighting technicians have just as many fans as the DJs do,” Salem jests.
• Crobar, 1445 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, www.crobar.com

New look, same style.
The sound system at mini-club Nerve may no longer carry the official Phazon seal of approval, but it still sounds great, and that Steve Dash Audio rotary mixer (serial #6, by the way) is delighting the A-list DJs who frequent the booth. The knobs on the SDX-3700 really do go to 11, so inexperienced (or irresponsible) operators need not apply.
Recently, Nerve’s lighting has been undergoing a major makeover at the hands of LD Michael Meacham. The system, which consists largely of Coemar iSpots, ProSpots, and Martin Atomic strobes, has been completely re-hung, re-lamped, re-programmed, and pretty much reborn since last year’s conference. “It really opens up the room a lot,” says Meacham, who now controls the system from his own LightJockey-equipped laptop.
Decor-wise, Meacham has also added some tasteful illumination to Nerve’s interior by installing a variety of ColorKinetics iColor Cove intelligent LED products throughout the venue, including along the back wall in the VIP room. The overall effect is quite impressive, especially because the accent lighting is carefully color-coordinated with what’s happening over and around the dancefloor. “I enjoy having this canvas,” Meacham adds. “The people at Nerve have been very gracious at letting me flex that creativity.”
• Nerve, 247 23rd Street, Miami Beach, www.nervelounge.com

On-again, off-again, but irresistibly audacious.
Space 34, or 34, or whatever the club calls itself these days, has endured some world-class drama since last year’s conference. Fortunately for dance music devotees, however, Louis Puig’s legendary venue has survived legal difficulties, vicious rumor mongering (is there any other kind?), and even its own series of “official” closing parties. The nightclub actually seems stronger now than ever, much to the consternation of the competition.
Part of the club’s continued success is due to its brilliant audio system. Puig, a self-described “sound enthusiast, aficionado, and freak,” simply has to have the very best. “He’s probably the most technically-astute club owner I’ve ever met,” remarks Infinite Audio’s Lord Toussaint. “He wants everyone in Space to have the same level of experience, even in the worst-case corner.”
“I have no loyalty to any particular brand when it comes to sound,” Puig explains. “The old Space had all BSS processors with Crown amps and EAW speakers. The new Space has Audia processors with Crest amps and half NEXO speakers (subs and mid-bass) and half EAW speakers (mid-highs and highs). If something better becomes available in the market, chances are you will hear it at Space first.”
And apparently it has. Late reports hint that by Conference, Space will have switched out its current speaker system for America’s first Dynacord alpha concept rig, commissioned by Puig after just one listen at the Infinite showroom. “[The alpha concept boxes] offer [Puig] the kind of mid-bass energy that he wanted, combined with everything else he wanted spectrally, without having to go across different factories,” explains Toussaint. “They’re a one-stop shop for everything. To get what he wanted before, we had to cut and paste.”

In addition to that massive, pumping sound system, Space also have a very substantial light show. “Our light men (we have three) are all very serious about their lights. Sometimes I kid them about there not being any more space in the ceiling to fit more lights,” says Puig. During the past year, Space 34 has increasingly relied on Elation lighting. “I am very pleased, not only with the product, but also with the service we get from their regional representative,” says Puig.
As for the interior design, the club continues to evolve. “We have mostly added more plush and thick curtains around the club, not just because they look good, but because they absorb sound,” says Puig. Plus, the whole club is now “darker and warmer,” following an ill-conceived color scheme. “Originally, we tried to go the Ibiza route with white walls,” he laughs. “Who were we kidding?”
Even more improvements are forthcoming. “We will be closing down in September and October to do some drastic changes,” says Puig. “Most of them will be structural, however. Come November, 2004, Space will once again re-evolve.”
· Space34, 34 NE 11th Street, Downtown Miami, www.clubspace.com

Where A-Listers come to kickback.
Occupying the opposite end of the clubbing spectrum from Space 34, Mynt prides itself on being intimate and exclusive. Since its original opening in November 2000, the self-proclaimed “ultra lounge” has attracted the elite of the SoBe scene, as well as visiting celebrities like P. Diddy, Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Timberlake, and Russell Simmons.Recently, the venue closed so that original designer Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque could give Mynt a “maximalist” makeover. “After two successful years, we wanted to refresh the Mynt appeal,” explains co-owner Nicola Siervo. The club’s new persona has already proved popular with the glitterati. “We are certain the renovations will keep them coming back for more,” Siervo attests.
Mynt’s superior sound system is another Infinite Audio creation. The speakers are a combination of EAW and NEXO, all of which are powered by Crest Pro Series amplifiers. “After the doorman and the DJ,” the sound quality is “one of the most important aspects of the nightclub,” says general manager Jeff Miller. “If you have a bad sound system, you will hurt the ears of your patrons and they will leave.”
Mynt’s intelligent lighting is handled by four customized Elation Color Spot 250 moving head instruments, upgraded with gobos that add the lounge’s logo to the patterns. The approach works well with Mynt’s contemporary design. “We are a smaller venue, so we don’t want too much lighting,” Miller explains. “We are happy with what we have.”
• Mynt, 1921 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

Techno goes upscale.
Here’s another SoBe club trend for you conference attendees: The southern end of Washington Avenue is making a comeback. Honey, now in its second year, keeps getting better and better, and the new kid on the 600 block, Privilege, is actually bringing techno back to the beach. During its first 45 days of operation, the 6,000 square-foot venue has hosted international tech talents like Chris Liebing, Misstress Barbara, Corvin Dalek, and Marco Carola.
Privilege is yet another example of Infinite Audio’s work. “I feel the club sounds very, very good,” says the omnipresent Lord Toussaint. “It’s a real, thick experience.” That power comes partly from EAW JFX Series speakers smartly positioned throughout the rectangular space. Plus, the club’s four separate sound systems are connected to a single Audia processor: “At the push of a button,” explains Toussaint, “they can assign different DJs to different areas.”
The lighting system in Privilege consists of just 14 Robe instruments, including six of the new Color Zoom 250 moving heads, which make maximum use of the venue’s relatively low ceilings. The system is largely programmed and operated by Greg Lawson, who has created a rich, cohesive look for the entire club. Lawson’s work at Privilege has even impressed the famously fussy Toussaint, who recently hired him to program the lighting in the Infinite Audio product showroom.
• Privilege, 637
Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, www.privilegeclubmiami.com

Still bold, just not brash.
Yes, Infinite Audio enjoys a significant home field advantage when it comes to local installations, but it’s the quality of the firm’s work, not the proximity of its operation, that ultimately seals deals. When the new owners of the ever-popular Clevelander Hotel, on Ocean Drive, decided to invest in a serious poolside party sound system, you can guess which company got the call. “The key thing was the choice of speakers,” remarks Toussaint. “EAW does weather-protected speakers like nobody else.” With all of the Clevelander’s sound sources now properly facing in towards the patio, noise complaints from the hotel’s neighbors have been radically reduced. Power is provided by Crest Pro Series amplifiers, with processing by (you guessed it) Audia.
• Clevelander, 1020 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, www.clevelander.com

Do It Like A Native
Obviously, there’s much, much more to Miami and SoBe than we’ve mentioned here, but part of the fun, for visitors and locals alike, is exploring the area’s nightlife on your own. Although south Florida is admittedly lacking in the mass transit department, the most interesting parts of Miami Beach are easily accessible via scooter, skates, or sneakers. The expanding entertainment district in Miami itself is just a quick cab or shuttle bus ride away, so be sure to take a trip or two across the bridge (and back) during the conference. Don’t worry about getting into all of the coolest parties; you can’t be in seven different places at the same time, anyway. Relax, put on your dancing shoes, and remember to pace yourself. You can sleep next week.

Copyright 2003 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2003 TESTA Communications