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MIAMI: OFF-THE-RADAR SPOTS

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Adam Saville

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Miami's underground venues

We're all aware of the glitz and glamour of South Beach's many venues, but scratch beneath the surface of the Miami scene and you'll find a plethora of underground dens of iniquity at your disposal. Uptown, Downtown, turn the beat around! These are the coolest, off-the-radar spots worth popping into during WMC...

Here is our rundown of the underground haunts that should be on your radar!

Now in its fourth year, seasoned ravers will already be aware of the debauched treats waiting in store inside Miami's best loved underground nook. We decided to delve deeper into the darkness...

Located off the desolate backstreets of Miami's arty Midtown district, The Electric Pickle has served as the primary clubbing alternative to the bicep-twitching and list-and-bottle bling dominating Collins Avenue since opening its doors in 2009. Home to some of WMC's most momentous occasions for lovers of the deeper, less obtrusive sides of house, techno and disco — events such as Crosstown's Get Lost, regular showcases for Air London, François K and Murk/Nurvous — it plays host to the obscurer parties encroaching not only Miami Music Week, but the Miami scene all year round.

“The music policy is pretty consistent,” explains Will Renuart, the man behind The Pickle. “We have a pretty heavy line-up of guest DJs every weekend. The genres shift from underground future stuff to classic dancefloor movers: house, tech house, disco, boogie, electro funk, dubbed-out reggae and everything in-between. We don't discriminate... just no cheese please.”

Welcoming an ever-evolving circle of DJs and producers to the club all year round, the same faces feature every March whilst the club pushes for extra diversity each year. Considered a home-from-home to Boston duo Soul Clap and NYC's Wolf + Lamb, they'll play back-to-back once again this month, while Air London, Get Lost, Ellum and Hotflush all return. On Saturday 23rd March, the club also has a pop-up warehouse event planned a few blocks away featuring DJ Harvey and Osunlade.

Living life as a series of old man and hipster bars since the 1940s, The Pickle has very much grown into its new(ish) — albeit slightly tatty — skin over the past few years. Still featuring original design elements, including leather seating, exposed bricks and a giant mirror ball fitting upstairs, all décor has been “salvaged and re-purposed” Will tells DJ Mag, in a way that gives it an “old school intimate, speakeasy vibe”. Redolent more of a burlesque brothel than a dance music venue, in the past it's been called “sleazy” in our pages by Charlie from Soul Clap and tipped as a favourite by both Nat Self and Matt Tolfrey during our Top 100 Clubs poll last year (in which it charted at 64). Loved for its enormous custom-built soundsystem spread over two rooms, powered by B&C drivers and Powersoft amps, plus an outside courtyard used for BBQs and outdoor stomps at special events, it's the perfect place to get yourself into a pickle during WMC.

Making its mark in 2011, Treehouse, formerly Groove Jet, has gone on to emerge as a primetime port of call for those looking for musical refinery on South Beach...

Prided on its alignment with what it views “credible” dance music values, Treehouse is a stark contrast to the big room bravado of its peers only a few blocks away. Despite kicking off operations in 2011, last year saw it really rise to prominence, with heavyweight showcases from the likes of Life + Death, Culprit/Leftroom and Cocoon Heroes.
“It's a real venue for real people,” explains Treehouse's Gregory Selph. “In a world of corporate VIP crap, valet parking and foam glowsticks on the beach, we continue to have real credible parties, where it's all about the music. Come as you are! It's not about the money or egos; not velvet rope policies, no bottle hard sells — no commercial cheese.”

Not a million miles away from its incarnation as Groove Jet, where Danny Tenaglia used to legendarily play during WMC, Treehouse — still supported by one of the club's financial partners, Michael Freudlich — has eyes for the understated forms of house and techno propping up the Miami scene today. Especially during the conference, when events come thick and fast, building as a cluster of activity throughout the week. 

Elsewhere on the club's calendar, regular appearances from the likes of Tony Rohr, DJ W!LD and Troy Pierce set the general tone throughout the year, with resident parties such as Hugo Bianco's Blow Up, Link and Miami Rebels ruling the roost. However, March is when the club really starts firing on all cylinders, the big guns coming out to play every night for 10 days. This year, it promises to be even bigger, opening on consecutive nights between Thursday 14th and Sunday 24th March (over Miami Music Week and beyond). Cocoon is set to make a return, as are Get Physical and Drumcode, plus there'll also be showcases from M-nus, Apollonia, Mobilee and Jackathon to name only a few.
Chosen for its capacity, for an intimate vibe in a snug setting, its tasteful, homely style also matches the classy imprints setting up shop throughout the week.

“The decor and character of the club follows suit,” says Gregory. “It's an eclectic mix of vintage artwork/woodwork/craftwork, punk, vintage furniture... a hodgepodge of trophies, bric-a-brac, telephones, cameras, and coffee pots. A collection of old memories and feelings — a place where the antique meets the modern.”

Indeed. In keeping with the venue's namesake, wooden panels give the walls of both rooms a cosy, domestic finish, while outside lush plantation sprawls over the outside patio, where reclining clubbers enjoy some rave respite in private. Treehouse literally is a lost adventure playground — but for adults!

Introduced to WMC last year with two of the season's most lauded events, Villa 221 is Downtown Miami's garden of earthly delights...

Used the rest of the year round for weddings, large-scale corporate events, monthly full moon parties and occasional club events such as Steve Lawler's Life, Villa 221 provided something tasty when it was unveiled to WMC last year for two events — and that was just the burgers!
With “Grillson” manning the charcoals and Christian, followed by Justin (Martin), J Phlip, then Claude VonStroke on the decks — even a live appearance from Tribe Called Quest's Phife Dawg —  San Francisco's finest came out in full force for the Dirtybird BBQ — a noisy outdoor knees-up for all the family in the blazing sunshine at a luxury villa, Downtown.

Then, there was Last Resort. Showcasing an all-star cast of underground talent — Magda, Maya Jane Coles, Maceo Plex, Visionquest — it drew arguably the coolest crowd of the entire week to play amid the tropical flowers of this 22sqft garden to a set of converted 19th Century houses, while Craig Richards took minds on a journey in the chill of the air-conditioned inside room.

Get yourself down for its return on Sunday 24th March to make Villa 221 your last resort once again, after checking out events hosted by Flying Circus, Visionquest and one more event on Saturday (TBA).

One of the lesser-spotted treats of Miami Music Week, Bardot is probably the most hip...

Opting for diversity over dance purism, the only booking pre-requisite for Bardot is that its acts  attract a bunch of arty bohemians with a dapper dress sense and an ear for the extraordinary, rather than your usual, run-of-the-mill “EDM”. Perched unassumingly on North Miami Ave, the venue plays host to a variety of live bands and DJs five nights a week all year round, and during the Conference it's no exception.

Regularly bringing more hipster-friendly dance acts to Florida, the venue welcomed Four Tet, Flight Facilities, Classixx and Crystal Fighters to the stage of this chic auditorium — styled like a large '70s living room, its walls lined with antique picture frames displaying vintage artwork — during last year's WMC.
This March, a Nervous Records party featuring TEED and XXYXX (17th March) will showcase the NYC label at its most daring, and XL's bassier spin-off Young Turks stop by with Jamie xx and John Talabot on 22nd March. Pillow Talk with Tensnake (20th March) and Black Butter featuring Rudimental (16th March) will see further boxes ticked, while the likes of Aeroplane, Alex Metric and Shlomo will cover electro, nu-disco and electronica at various points throughout the week.

Probably the swankiest dance music hotel on Collins Ave, this five-star joint is not just for high rollers...

South Beach's Delano hotel might not seem like the sort of place you'll catch some of the finest names in underground dance during WMC. Don't be fooled by its marble floors and floodlit palm trees, though. The schedule is jam-packed with top-quality talent once again this month.

For our first ever innings at this high-end hotel, we've aligned another host of treats, including Noir, Dusky, Eats Everything, Dennis Ferrer, James Zabiela, Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano and our cover star Hardwell, on Wednesday 20th March, for a massive shindig. Plus there's plenty more events throughout the rest of the week, including a pool party featuring Cadenza boss Luciano, celebrating 10 years of his label on Thursday 21st.

Let's not forget the crystalline, leather-clad piano bar styles of FDR downstairs, where we caught the likes of No Artificial Colours and Jacques Lu Cont last year. The Delano is a must-see this WMC, before you sneak off to the sushi bar.