Some things in life are certain: the sun will rise; parking is futile when you’re already late; and Art Basel Miami will be exhausting in the most thrilling way. The annual Basel migration to Miami Beach each winter brings nearly 80,000 aficionados from all walks of life, seeking all types of art, from murals to music. Walls are splattered with paint and battered by beats; sheikhs dock their boats while tattooed kids park their bikes.
Multi-million dollar Damien Hirst sculptures and Picasso paintings are extravagant staples for the well-heeled (and those of us who roam the exhibition halls in sneakers, desperately wishing we could hang one in our bathrooms, too) but galleries and pop-up installations scattered across the city give a voice to the underground. The music, like the art during this week of lavish opulence, spans the spectrum, from the decidedly commercial for the V-VIPs to the relentless pulse of the unknown.
This year, we pay homage to the techno underground during a week of pouring rain.
There are as many parties to choose from as there are gallery booths in the sprawling Miami Beach Convention Center, but like the artwork itself, a few are undeniable in their brilliance. We want to experience them again and again. Sadly, we can’t hang a DJ set on our wall. But we sure can enjoy it and live to tell the tale.
LIFE AND DEATH
That tale begins with an event that is home to Italy’s deep, melodic techno sensation, Tale of Us, headlining alongside the Minus man himself, Richie Hawtin. Italian duo Mind Against and Thugfucker join the lineup for the annual Life and Death party, produced by local Miami group PL0T. Its venue, Mana Wynwood — a massive warehouse that during WMC 2015 was unbearably hot and disorganized — is transformed into one of the most refreshing, glittering Shangri-La’s of the week.
“This is a show that took a whole year of planning, discussions, lineup curation, envisioning how it should look, sound and feel like,” says PL0T founder/owner and production mastermind, Rebeca Lange. It is time well spent. The mystical, moody vibe that the night’s talent brings to the floor through their sets is reflected in the visuals throughout the space: dozens of golden birdcages are suspended from the cavernous ceiling, each one containing a flickering candle.
Lights glint off the delicate lattice of gently swaying pieces and dance across the room, carried by sound so enveloping we are sure we can reach out and touch the bass.
That sound system merits an entire article alone. As any engineer — or raver from party days past — knows, the bigger and emptier the space, the more cluttered the sound. Life and Death pull off an acoustic coup d'etat with this event, constructing one of the most incredible sonic installations we’ve experienced in a one-off event setting.
It took 8-hours to set up and as Rebeca explains, it is a PL0T staple at all of their events: “The system is L–Acoustics; in my opinion it’s the best sound system out in the market… but specifically, this equipment was imported from Italy for the show and arrived a few days before, complemented with some elements from Beach Sound, a local provider.”
We catch brothers Alessandro and Federico Fognini of Mind Against shortly after their set. Cordoned off in a backstage artist area, far removed from the towers of monitors pumping out Richie Hawtin’s selections, we can still barely hear each other over the music. “You’ll have to rely on your memory. Hope it’s good,” they joke, nodding at our iPhone audio recording app.
They’re mostly right. The muffled playback hours later reveals one thing clearly, though, from Alessandro: “I don’t want to sound too ambitious, but my idea is that for people here, our sound is kind of a bit new so we can teach them… and they demonstrate to be open to this. They’re not closed. There’s good energy in general, so I’m optimistic.”
Mind-bending as their productions may be, Mind Against are far from inaccessible. The Miami crowd, while a different breed from the audience in Alessandro and Federico’s adopted hometown of Berlin, ends up fully immersed in the visceral, undulating melodies — held hostage by the music more than by the torrential rain, falling in sheets outside the venue walls.
LINK MIAMI REBELS: GREEN VELVET & TIGA
Of course, there are immersive musical experiences to be had any time of year in Miami. Like the ones that happen every Friday night at TRADE, an unassuming, intimate 550-person capacity club on Washington Avenue devoted to electronic dance music. Local underground promotion group Link Miami Rebels, co-founded by Italian import David Danese and Miami-native Coloma, set up shop at TRADE on a weekly basis, hosting a roster of the most influential names in house and techno.
Green Velvet and Tiga are on tap for an Art Basel special edition, and the night is about as transportive as a party can get in 2015. When we enter, Link Miami Rebels resident DJ Ms. Mada is firing up the floor with a careful selection of tech house, including Tim Green’s ‘Empire’ — a particularly tasteful pick that gets the growing crowd grooving. It is her expert guidance that quickly ushers the room’s energy into a space primed for the main acts to follow.
Ms. Mada does this without blinking, her cool demeanor a stark contrast to her heavy beats. She is a DJ on the rise worth watching who brings her experience — gained by opening for acts like Luciano, Sasha and Adam Beyer — to every set we’ve seen. By the time Tiga takes the stage, the crowd is swirling in a sea of good vibes straight out of 1999. In front of the booth a party kid breaks out glow sticks on ropes, whipping them through the air on beat while a group forms around him, clapping. Everyone is smiling. Someone puts a sweaty fur hat on our head and though we should be disgusted, we keep on dancing.
There is an old-school rave feel to the night, and for a moment, we could swear we are in Ibiza at Space, lost on a 6-hour journey to the moon and back. Green Velvet encourages the trend, carrying us all to a level somewhere just beyond extraordinary with his signature, spoken-word interjections and relentless pace.
“Everyone seemed to be on the same wavelength and I think that created the amazing vibe,” Ms. Mada recalls. “It was absolutely electric from the front to the back of the room. I really don't account for the glow sticks, though,” she laughs.
MUSIC ON: UNDERGROUND STORY
If there’s one party that carries the heart and soul of Ibiza with it wherever it goes, it is Marco Carola’s Music On. The godfather of techno brings beats to the beach every Saturday for 16 weeks with his winter residency at South Beach super-club, Story. Transforming the venue into a dark, bubbling cauldron of heavy bass and moody melody, Carola and his wingman of the evening, Stacey Pullen, kick off the residency’s season opener on a rainy, windswept Saturday night during Art Basel.
Outside of the club, an unusually quiet Collins Avenue is half-flooded and the palm trees bend sideways in a dance of their own with each gust. Girls wait on line, huddled in clusters beneath vinyl canopies set up out front, determined to enter even if it means all attempts at glamorous hair and makeup have been foiled.
After all, this is Music On: all you need is sound.
Inside, Marco Carola and Stacey Pullen have indeed turned the music on. A dazzling light show and bursts of CO2 bring the intentionally unadorned room to life. The floor is packed. The booth is packed. Ibiza Global Radio is broadcasting live from the one miniscule piece of real estate left on the stage, squeezed between the DJ and the lighting controls, shouting above an audience cheering and beats spinning. Sivan Pitchon, the woman who runs the infamous terrace for Music On at Amnesia Ibiza and acts as Assistant Manager for Music On in the US, moonlights as the radio show’s host. She warmly welcomes us on for a hello.
“Don’t think we’re in Miami anymore,” we comment, to whomever is tuned in to the broadcast. The night is full of wonder. Not unlike the prior nights at TRADE and Life and Death’s party, there is a palpable energy in the air that is transportive; it carries us to a place we sometimes fear is long gone, an energetic space that is continually diminished by the rising commercialism of EDM.
But here, everyone moves together. Bottle service table patrons and ravers wearing sunglasses in the dark (including the author of this story) are happy to share the hours.
“I couldn't have asked for a better opening,” Sivan remarks, when we have emerged from our collective post-party hibernation a few days later. “Art Basel is my favorite time in Miami and I'm so happy we got to do our opening during that time. The vibe, the energy, the crowd, everything was on point. Even with such horrible weather, it didn't stop anyone, from the minute we opened to the minute we closed. It really reminded me of being back in Ibiza.”
She’s summed up the theme of Art Basel’s underground in 2015: despite the storms, endless traffic and exponentially expensive Ubers, moments of magic still exist. And we don’t have to fly to the White Isle to feel them.
Pics: ADI ADINAYEV