The Sort Of English Pub that Dave Daniels built

By | November 14th, 2011 | 6 Comments
Churchill's Pub

Winston Churchill's face may be over the door, but Miami's "Sort Of English Pub" is a reflection of Dave Daniels. -- photo by Robby Campbell

Anyone that has been to Churchill’s Pub in Little Haiti has a story to tell.

First-timers and people who never went back will warn you about thick-tongued men who ooze out of darkness and, trembling, offer to watch your car for a dollar. Regulars know the implied threat — “watch” means “not break into” — is usually a bluff. Some even know the men’s names or at least the handles they’ve adopted for use in this parking lot and the myriad other shadowy places they congregate at around the neighborhood.

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Miami DIY Finale: Beezlebub’s Cave

By | October 5th, 2011 | No Comments

As you crouch beneath a half-open metal shutter to descend into Beezlebub’s Cave, an uncanny whimsy permeates. Much like Alice’s multi-stage descent down her rabbit hole, a plain anteroom leads to a large set of double-doors which, in turn, lead to a bona fide metal clubhouse. And much like the inscription Dante reads upon crossing Hell’s gates — Abadon hope all ye who enter — The Cave also has a welcome sign. BEEZELBUB’S CAVE, big and in script, hangs like a wreathe over the entrance, with a small banner draped below quoting Shakespeare: “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”

Beelzebub's Cave

Like a rock and roll TGIFriday’s stripped of the kitsch and chicken tenders, the wall is a solid quilt of metal interwoven imagery from every variant and sub-genre: heavy, hair, speed, thrash, stoner. The rectangular warehouse space resembles a metal pantheon where the gods have come to retire in their truest format: the glossy, pinned-at-the-corner poster. It’s as though the walls of international metalheads have been pieced together to form a one room metal megalopolis.

A massive pentagram broodingly fills the tile floor, ominously suggesting that at any moment the proceedings at hand may turn sinister, otherworldly, or both.

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Miami DIY Part III: The Snooze Theatre

By | September 22nd, 2011 | 2 Comments
The Zitfest at The Orange Door

The Snooze Theatre took over a blues bar called The Orange Door, which hosted Zitfest in December.

Like so many South Florida musicians, Palm Beach County residents Jimmy Bradshaw, Jordan Pettingill, and Chris Jankow Jr. (known to most as C.J.) found themselves lusting after the urban allure of the great North. Jankow and Pettingill have been friends — and band mates — for most of their lives and linked up with Bradshaw in 2007 to form the first incarnation (then performing psychedelic dirge rock) of Cop City/Chill Pillars. They made their big decision in the parking lot of what would become, a short four years later, The Snooze Theatre, their greatest contribution to South Florida music yet.

“Being the morons that we are, we came up with a plan to be [in New York City] by Valentine’s Day,” Jankow says. “That might have been the first and last time we successfully met a deadline.”

All joking aside, the Pillars found NYC to be less than hospitable.

“New York was an experience, to say the least,” Jankow knowingly generalizes. “Sometimes I don’t even remember it, and I’m not sure if it was a good or bad time, but I can safely speak for all of us that we are happy we aren’t there anymore.”

The corollary is that the trio is happy to be home. The past four years have consisted of non-stop performing in numerous groupings but most notably the aforementioned Cop City/Chill Pillars, Love Handles (a CC/CP side project), and Krautrock-Dub ensemble Universal Expansion. These three projects perform in numerous forms with fluid lineups that sometimes swell to big-band proportions.

This dogged momentum has culminated recently with cult garage label Florida’s Dying releasing the first Cop City/Chill Pillars full-length LP, Held Hostage On Planet Chill. The Pillars currently recall the power trios of yore and the post-punk fixation with contemporary underground music, but they ultimately forge their own distinct dialect: trashy, inescapable grooves; uneasy, atmospheric zone outs; perfectly simple, comically misanthropic lyrics (“There’s a lotta things I got/That you don’t got/There’s a lotta things you got/That I don’t got”) chanted by druggy gang vocals; and a Phil Spector-like devotion to sonic walls, always heavy but never hard.

While Held Hostage finally documents the material the band had been performing live since their outdated “Weird Love/I, Animal” seven inch, released in 2009, The Snooze is certainly the greater testament to the group’s insatiable hustle.

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By | August 17th, 2011 | 1 Comment

Kevin Arrow's 'Sun Ra Listening Session' at the end/SPRING BREAK bewildered and overwhelmed, as intended.

The room was cold and every inch dark, save for the walls, which had been transformed into overlapping, perpetually shifting movie screens. It was a Friday night in late July, and a small, bewildered audience sat entranced by the seemingly non-sequitur progression of images: psychedelic iconography, Jimi Hendrix, symbols lifted from the occult and Egyptology, a giant cosmic baby.

Two films, Space Is The Place (1974) and A Joyful Noise (1980), ran simultaneously. Both rest somewhere between documentary, New Age/Sci-Fi epic, and free-jazz musical, and both take as their focus avant-garde jazz composer Sun Ra. Amid the flashing, morphing imagery pulsing on the room’s eastern wall, the bandleader and multimedia artist stood next to his only equal in freakdom — himself — and played an improv piano jam in each of the films.

The evening’s host, Miami-based video artist Kevin Arrow, called the event, straight forwardly enough, “Sun-Ra Listening Session”, but it might have been accurately dubbed “Sun-Ra Sensory Overload Happening”. The passersby walking to their dinner reservations in the Design District that night probably wondered what was going on in Spinello Gallery, not realizing that the venue had been transformed into an abstract “place” called the end/SPRING BREAK.

the end/SPRING BREAK has existed for almost two years as a mobile locus that founder Domingo Castillo describes as a platform for “people to share information, obsessions, and other things they know about or are interested in” using any media or format they please.

The name switches according to the art season. SPRING BREAK (all caps) is used during the winter months of snowbird migration and the art fair extravagance epitomized by Art Basel Miami Beach, and the end (no caps) takes over during spring and summer, when the art scene is relatively sleepy.

Along with fellow artists Patti Her and Cristina Farrah, Castillo set out to forge a space that broke fresh conceptual ground relative to those he had worked with previously. As a founder of La Cueva, a Little Havana residence and art space turned occasional music venue, and in collaboration with The Division of Human Works, in Brooklyn, the Miami native became captivated by space and spaces, both as theoretical concepts to ponder and realities capable of affecting and being affected.

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Miami DIY Part I: Chum Bucket

By | August 4th, 2011 | 3 Comments
Miami Chum Bucket

In its short-lived honeymoon, Chum Bucket gave Miami the bona fide DIY punk venue it sorely needs.

A recent edition of NPR’s Friday afternoon South Florida Arts Beat program featured John Richard, president of Miami’s mainstream art temple, the Adrienne Arsht Center. He was on to discuss free theater events for public schools, and in the course of the interview the term “world-class” was used more than once to describe the Center and the significance it holds for the city. In his intro to the segment, host Ed Bell called the complex “a convener and a host in a powerful way” and a key tool in “building a South Florida arts audience for the future.”

With its prime real-estate and robust resources set aside for the arts, the Arsht Center casts a symbolic shadow — as immense as the regal structure’s actual shadow — on Miami’s alternative arts scene. Whether Miami is currently experiencing an “Alternative Renaissance” — as local blogger Liz Tracy recently declared in The Atlantic’s entertainment blog, inciting much debate in the article’s comment section — the city is nonetheless lacking in an essential type of venue that is as integral to vibrant underground scenes nationwide as a megahall like the Arsht is to mainstream urban culture. (Full disclosure: In my capacity as co-head of “experimental” music label and show-book agency Roofless Records, I was one of many sources quoted in Tracy’s article.)

As I use it, a “DIY venue” refers to an art (in this case, music) space that provides an alternative to the commercial, alcohol-driven world of nightclubs and bars. These warehouses, galleries, and homes all vary, but they find commonality in a pervasive sense of freedom both social and artistic. Whereas big-rooms like the Fillmore Miami Beach, dance clubs like the Vagabond, and even otherworldly dives like Churchill’s Pub strive to give their customers what they want so they will show up and spend money on drinks, DIY venues, in their infinite iterations, are spaces for free expression, true experimentation, and direct connection between fans and artists. These spaces are also more fun, it should be said, precisely because of their unadulterated intimacy.

It may be too early to tell whether Miami is truly amid an “Alternative Renaissance”. But a few camps are working hard, often in the face of great deterrence, to provide the homegrown DIY spaces that could be their respective micro-scene’s own Arsht Center and have catalyzed other cities’ underground growth spurts. This article, the first of a four-part series, will focus on one such space.

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Y&T Records: 30 years of music in one room

By | July 13th, 2011 | 10 Comments
Yesterday & Today Records store

Sandwiched between a lingerie boutique and a headshop lies Yesterday & Today Records, a treasure trove of vinyl. -- photo by Jamie Preira

You can find anything you need — or want — on Florida State Road 976, locally known as Bird Road, an approximately eight-mile column of shadeless traffic connecting US-1 to the Turnpike near FIU’s main campus. Banks, auto repair shops, infinite diners, cafeterias, hot dog stands and seafood joints, a discreet edifice with a bold sign declaring “Best Oriental Massage”, guns, ammo, Bird Bowl, Simbad’s Bird House, and multiple exotic aquariums are a small fraction of the establishments I noted on my way to Yesterday & Today Records, which is located in a two-story plaza adjacent to both a lingerie boutique and a headshop.

“You get sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll,” quips Evan Chern, Y&T’s owner, and half of its staff. The Dad-humor notwithstanding, Chern is soft-spoken and humble. At various points of arranging and conducting an interview with him regarding his shop’s 30th anniversary, he did everything he could to take the focus off of himself, offering the weekend clerk, regular customers, and previous articles on the store as substitute points of departure. When I mentioned I would like to take some pictures to run with the piece, Chern half-joked that it was a “terrible time [for a photoshoot] because there are records everywhere.”

There are records everywhere. All of the bins are packed to capacity, leaving just enough room for browsing. The spillover starts in crates below the regular sections, and continues into piles and containers arranged for maximum efficiency all over the store. Stacks of LPs tower above your head. Even the bathroom is fair game for storage.

This bounty hints at the once mighty Yesterday and Today empire, which, at its height, boasted three separate South Florida locations, including a South Beach branch in the ‘90s called “Y&T Dance”, which specialized in techno and DJ singles.

Evan Chern, Y&T Records Owner

Evan Chern, Y&T Records owner -- photo by Jamie Preira

Rich Ulloa opened the first Yesterday and Today in June of 1981. After a decade of expansion and relocating up and down Bird Road, Ulloa teamed up with Chern, who had been involved with the shop since its inception, to split into two storefronts with distinct focuses: yesterday and today. Ulloa would man the “today” store, a source for new music and local artists, while Chern, who says his specialty is “obscure ‘60s and ‘70s stuff”, would run the oldies-focused “yesterday” location.

A native of Coral Gables, Chern started out as a pupil in his older brother’s school of rock, “but quickly surpassed him” when it came to buying records.

“The first album I ever bought was from a clearance rack outside of a store,” Chern says. “My mom bought it for me. It was More of The Monkees in mono.”

Monkees LPs eventually gave way to Frank Zappa concerts, and soon Chern was photographing bands like blues rockers Hot Tuna and prog ensemble Renaissance at Pirate’s World, a swashbuckling-themed amusement park in Dania, the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall, and other South Florida venues.

Before joining the Yesterday & Today team, Chern landed a gig as a DJ on community station WDNA, a position he pursued at the suggestion of Bob Perry, owner of the now-closed Blue Note Records in North Miami, and held for 13 years. The program was called “Notes From The Underground” and showcased oddball, mod-era garage rock that beat psychedelic rock to the punch before anyone in the U.S. had heard of Jimi Hendrix and blared like punk a decade before Iggy first dumped his mic in peanut butter.

When Ulloa decided to split the shop in two, Chern’s subterranean expertise was a perfect fit for the idiosyncratic Yesterday & Today.

“We were a little different than your mainstream record shop,” he explains.

In addition to the inexhaustible inventory of standards and classics, the store could — and still can — be counted on for exotic represses, elusive imports, and holy grail original copies. Chern adds, “Bands would play too. They had the Ramones signing records. Yesterday & Today, back in the ‘80s, was an ‘indie record store’.”

Today, Sweat Records, opened in 2005, is widely acknowledged as Miami’s “indie record store”, a title earned because of its contemporary selection, non-music inventory (collectibles, vegan treats), and the hip, Biscayne-and-Wynwood demographic that utilizes the shop as a multipurpose space for concerts, film screenings, and activist meetings.

Even so, Chern doesn’t view Sweat as the competition. “I don’t mind sending people to Sweat for new artists,” he says.

When pressed to describe Yesterday & Today’s demographic, Chern champions the internet-savvy youth that, in addition to old heads and lifelong diggers, are a major part of his clientele. Where some business models — like the absurdly overpriced CD stores of the 90s — have been practically eviscerated by downloading, Chern encourages pirating on the grounds of knowledge.

“We have a younger crowd that buys classic stuff like The Doors, Zeppelin, and the Beatles,” he says. “Then they read online about who influenced [those bands] and come back for more.

“The coolest thing is, if I’ve got something in the store and it’s sealed they can go online and see if they like it.”

It’s the kind of statement that outs Chern as a music lover first, business man second.

A photo inside of Yesterday & Today Records

Standing around the piles of albums, the majority of which are used and unsealed, I wondered what the total running time would be if you dumped Y&T’s entire inventory into iTunes. But Yesterday & Today is not a valve in today’s instant hype-and-gratification machine. Having amassed an incredible volume of merchandise — diverse enough, perhaps, to stump even a Steve Jobs algorithm — the store looks like what it is: 30 years of records in one room.

The bulk of its inventory is a veritable library of rock, jazz, and pop classics, with robust sections of Female Jazz and Blues Vocalists, Surf Instrumentals, and Poetry/Narrative/Sound Effects, among many others. Yesterday & Today has records you may dismiss as Herb Alpert-like detritus. But those same records are housed in fresh slip-cases and cost about as much as some of the popular psych titles — because somewhere out there is a collector looking for this particular ‘40s lounge compilation in Mint condition.

Meanwhile, Chern has put his own crate-diving days behind him.

“You can’t be successful [running a record store] being a collector,” he says.

These days, Chern barely has a chance to listen to music anyway, with his inexhaustible drive to keep Yesterday & Today’s reserves stocked and new material out on the floor precluding much tune-in, drop-out time.

“I’m just overwhelmed with vinyl,” he says.

Matt Preira runs Roofless Records, a label specializing in vinyl and cassette releases from Florida artists. All photos by Jamie Preira.


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