When I think of Miami, I think of that song by Gainesville, Florida punk rockers, “Against Me” that goes something like this.. “Miami.. Fu*@ing Miami.. Sharks circling full of blood”... or something like that. What sticks in my mind is that line “Fu^?ing Miami”.. over and over again. As you might have guessed, it’s not exactly a positive portrayal of the famous southern Florida metropolis.
Now I’ve been heading down to South Florida (SoFlo?) since way before I began writing this blog or working on the “Punktology” documentary and I would be lying if I said I did not like it. In fact, I’ll admit it, I LOVE it! What’s not to love? It’s Latin but somewhat safely tucked inside the only slightly porous and imperfect bubble we call the United States; It’s usually temperate in November until March and from NYC it’s a short, and usually very cheap flight away; the beaches are awesome, the people relatively friendly, I get to practice my Spanish and there is always a party going on.
That being said, on the negative side, there are horrible drivers and that oh so annoying cheezeball music in the “nightclubs” where douchebags the world over travel and tend to gather and pretend they are cool. A little LMFOA or Pitbull is OK, I suppose and to each their own, but Miami takes it to the next level where it’s all mindless commercial dance music all the time. I suppose the girls dig it! As a result the sheeplike guys at least pretend to love it, so the radio and clubs play it and the cycle goes round and round and like a nightmare that you can’t wake up from, I believe it will possibly not end until 12/12/12 perhaps.
But that’s South Beach, which has now officially jumped the shark and hasn’t been remotely cool or laid back for at least 15 years now.
But Miami is way bigger than South Beach and there are, believe it or not, many people who live and travel there who rarely if ever even go to South Beach. Locals always seem to know to stay away from “la trappa de tourista” (Sic) or Tourist Trap. And you can say a lot of things about South Beach, but Tourist Trap MUST be one of the first words anyone uses to describe the place.
To me, the whole South Beach thing can feel like one big Will Smith video; very commercial trying to look real and thug and tough and it comes off as a contrived and weak playground for the low self esteemed but act like big money crowd. I think of South Beach, I think of P’diddy, Kanye and Russell Simmons… with their “bitches” and “hos” and bling and VIP ropes and “look how much money I have and you don’t” lifestyles. South Beach gobbles that up, packages it, marks it up 190% or so and sells it right back to the clueless and wannabes who happily lap it up.
On this trip, like those before it, I was in Miami for a bit of business for my real job and having finally had enough staying in SOBE hotels where there is a DJ mixing and scratching in the lobby over the years, I decided to stay in a much less sexy (and decidedly less expensive and quieter) part of town. I elected to stay in an AIRBNB secured room in someone’s house in the Design District, very near Little Haiti and a scant 15 minute drive from the expensive $300-$1,000 a night rooms at the Fontainbleu where the conference I was attending was being held (and where incidentally they add a 20% gratuity to all your food and service items and hope you don’t notice and will provide a nice little additional gratuity so your actually tipping 40% before you realize it…geez!).
A happy side benefit to saving a lot of cash, by choosing an alternative area of town, it turned out that I was staying a mere few blocks, actually within walking distance from, one of the most legendary punk venues still around today (thanks to NYC’s CBGBs closing)… the legendary Churchill’s Pub which has been going strong since 1979!
On Wednesday night, my final night in Miami, my amigo, local political writer and radio personality, Ivan Lopez introduced me to his buddy Brook, a local art gallery owner steeped in the punk and art scene there. Brook joined us for dinner and give me a quick lesson in South Florida Punk 101.
Now you may know this already but it turns out Miami has quite a bit of music history outside of the aforementioned Pitbull, 80’s icons Emilio & Gloria Estefan (Miami Sound Machine) and some hip hop / rap artists I personally never heard of cause I don’t giva a sh@%, , etc., etc. (Out of this heap of tasteless, pop culture excess emerged the freakish Marilyn Manson, who is probably the most famous misfit, though he hails from nearby Ft. Lauderdale).
Even more surprising to me at least is that there is still a vibrant punk music scene here. If you remember about a year ago in Medellin, Colombia we covered a concert where the hardcore band Flees from Ft. Lauderdale were playing. Brook also referred to a rising number of local “Sludge” and Noise bands that he often hosts in his gallery. And then of course, there is the legendary Churchill’s which still host everything from punk, to jazz to whatever is NOT being played at the beach.
Churchill’s is sort of like the Anti-South beach and the place where the locals who have a little bit of rebellious spirit in them and travelers in the know visit. I had heard a lot about Churchill’s but never before had made it out of touristaville to give it a tour.
So after dinner, Ivan and Brook graciously took me over to Churchill’s to introduce me around. As I said, Churchill’s has been a staple of the Miami alternative music scene and shows no signs of stopping, probably in part due to owner, David Daniels who lives in a place out back of the club. The club has a few stages, one right up front and one out back in the patio area, so they can host a lot of different bands on one night.
Our trusty bartender (Nick?) was super friendly and wasted no time in introducing me to the cats from Destroyio! Records. These are guys who have their finger on the punk scene in South Florida and book many of the bands at Churchill’s. They had just recently opened a rehearsal space conveniently next door. And get this, turns out one of the main cats from Destoryio is from Medellin and eager to get some bands from down there up to Miami to play and visa versa!
After spending some time talking to these guys it became clear the punk scene in Miami not only has a long, rich history, it is indeed precisely as Brook and Ivan painted it, very much alive and well in South Florida. I had just missed a show of Agnostic Front & Madball and the very next night Destoroyio! was hosting a big show featuring no less than 7 local punk bands.
If you find yourself in Miami and you are craving a different scene than that sometimes ok, but mostly silly light weight commercial crap cranking out of the speakers of every other tourist’s car cruising along South Beach, well then you gotta go to Churchill’s and you got to look up my boys from Destroyio! Records.
They have a calendar on their website with upcoming shows and if you reach out to them and tell them you are headed to town, you are probably gonna get some love.
I had to return back to Los Angeles the next day and get back to work trying to do whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing these days to eventually make some money, but after my experience with the guys from Churchill’s and Destroyio! you can bank that I’ll be rolling back to Miami again real soon and this time bringing a real camera (the ones above were taken with i-phone, sorry) and spending some time digging into the punk scene there.
I’m not sure what happened to Tom Gabel and Against Me! that prompted him to pen the song “Miami!”, Perhaps it was a personal situation, a riff on the South Beach silliness or something as simple as North vs. South Florida… regardless, I still like the song, but after my trip, I like the city a whole lot better too. Miami is indeed a cool spot, with really, really cool people. I knew this all along but my couple of nights there reminded me of the “Love” part of the love/hate relationship I have had with Miami over the years.
I can’t wait to get back there real soon and do a proper job of reporting on the scene for you but in the meantime, here are some cool links to the sites that were also recommended that might help you with your research if your heading to Miami and a cool video from our buddies at Destoyio! Records that can clue you in about the scene.
Churchills – legendary punk and music venue
Chumbucket – All volunteer performance space
Destroyio! Records – Record label and promoter plugged into the Miami punk scene
Enough! – local punk band
Sugar’s Drop Shop – A local skateboard shop
Amigo Cuba Skate – Skateboard shop helping Cuban youth build skateparks, etc.
Brotherhood of Mustache & Beards (BOMB) – For guys (like me) who don’t like to shave