A Dispatch from Limbo: Music in Miami

My first summer in NYC will begin this June, but until then I’m back home in Miami, Florida–a city I’ve often found myself at odds with, musically. After all, we foisted upon the world the unholy horror that is Pitbull. (Sorry about that.) People normally imagine throngs of sun-soaked beach bodies gyrating to dance music when I tell them I live in Miami, but I quickly clarify that I live in one of the city’s many suburbs. The fact that its suburbs are identical to most other suburbs in the US, save for the palm trees and the mangos, goes a long way towards explaining my standard-issue suburban angst-fueled worship of CBGB’s punk and my every subsequent shift in taste. (As well as my sentimental fondness for mangos.)
Miami’s nationally renowned transportation woes separate its every region by about an hour (factoring in traffic), which makes for some severe cultural dissonance between neighborhoods. As such, if you follow the distant throb of the 808, you’ll eventually find yourself in South Beach, the land of house music and tourists–whereas if you venture towards 94% hispanic Hialeah, you’re most likely to hear reggaeton. The University of Miami and Florida International University, meanwhile, serve as battlegrounds between hard house fans and indie kids, with smatterings of people who still listen to Sublime; the former’s radio station, WVUM 90.5, is predominantly allied with the ragers, while FIU’s Radiate FM 88.1 dispatches classic college rock on Wednesday nights and east Asian hip hop on late Sunday mornings. It’s certainly not what we’re used to in New York; with everything squished together, just a train ride away, cultures are defined by region, but they’re not confined by them. Miami’s sprawling nature makes for a distinctly disunited musical experience.
So rather than continue to bury myself in my headphones and pretend I’m in New York for the two weeks before I’m actually there, I buried myself in my headphones in an attempt to further understand the musical climate of my hometown.
My findings:
1: House, and EDM in general, is big here.
Like, really big. Even my 50-year-old father knows what house music is–but he works at a men’s clothing store, so he probably hears it all day. And after all, Miami is home of the Ultra Music Festival–you know, the one where that girl tried to have sex with a tree. In any case, you’ve got your traditional house stuff, like Santiago Caballero, a house DJ for a place called the Electric Pickle–this is the kind of thing you often hear on WVUM:

And you’ve got your harder stuff, like Sharkoffs.

Sharkoffs is an unsigned nineteen-year-old EDM wunderkind who wears a glowing blue shark fin on his head. Tellingly, he opened for Steve Aoki at Miami Music Festival. I miss melodicism in dance music, personally, but his rhythms can be interesting. Fordham? Spring Weekend 2013 perhaps?
2: Kids still love ska.
Jesus, do they ever. South Florida and New Jersey are probably the only two places in the world where you can pretend it’s 1997 and get away with it. ’97, you know, just after Gwen Stefani got famous and just before she had purple hair. Speaking of Gwen Stefani, here’s Stop the Presses, for all you people still waiting on another No Doubt album. Yep…all four of you.


3: All the “alt rock” and punk bands from Miami are trying to get out of Miami.
Anyone from Miami will tell you that you do not wear leather jackets in Miami. That doesn’t stop Rebel from wearing warm weather clothes in their promotional materials. Presumably they’re trying to look more New York. My advice to the frontman: lose the goatee.

Rebel are one of many Miami groups that play in Fort Lauderdale’s Green Room more often than any venue in their hometown. Fort Lauderdale’s farther north, so presumably they’re trying to gradually make their way out of the state, using their “rebellious” look to try and dissociate themselves with the place as much as they can. It certainly sounds like they’re trying to, but I have to say they’re maybe five or six years late on the whole post-punk dance thing.

They’re not the only ones. Any punk band from Miami is more likely to name DC hardcore bands as primary influences than any band from their own area. It’s a shame, given Miami’s long history of cultural diversity; you’d think that would garner some interest amongst the youth, but they’re more interested in aping the Ramones. Which leads me to my fourth observation:
4: Salsa is for old people.
Kids who want to dance simply dance to EDM or reggaeton. Salsa, congo, cumbia, merengue–they’re like jazz: only music students and the elderly actually listen to them. The only time young people in Miami come into contact with old latin styles are during quinceañeros.
I assume this difficulty in realizing the surrounding culture stems from the dispersed nature of culture in Miami as a whole. The suburbs, the historical districts, and the tourist depots are separated by miles and miles of concrete.
I heard a Miami government official on public radio a couple summers back talking about his vision of turning Miami into a booming metropolis “like New York City” by upgrading the public transportation system. Can’t imagine how they think they’ll build a subway beneath the limestone of Florida. I don’t think any city should ape another city. Hopefully Miami can mimic the practicality of NYC; and hopefully that practicality will help musicians get in better touch with what makes it Miami, rather than moving farther away from it.
-Nicholas Milanes, Blog Editor