Miami Vices

NYC DJs invade the beaches, yachts, and Radio Shacks of South Beach's famed Winter Music Conference

"You must be out of your mind," DJ Reborn says flatly, as the emcee of her showcase at the Marlin Hotel in South Beach—part of this year's Winter Music Conference, the largest electronic and dance-music event in the world—tries to convince her to play only two or three songs because another DJ that's going on after her has "somewhere else to be."

The lobby of the hotel is so full and overflowing that the police are outside attempting to "keep the sidewalk clear," they say. It's hard to hear anything the emcee's saying anyway; there are so many people dancing their asses off, doing handstands and shouting.

"First of all, you didn't ask another DJ to only play two songs," Reborn recalls telling the befuddled guy, one hand on her hip, the other clutching her record bag. "Secondly, if you had been on your job, we would have been on hours ago, and this would be a non-issue. So what I'm gonna do is, I'm gonna play my set." She gets on the decks, kicking things off with "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)." This is, after all, a James Brown tribute at WMC, a weeklong collection of parties and showcases held every March. Reborn, who's from Brooklyn, is part of an all-female DJ crew called Ubiquita NYC along with DJ Selly and DJ Moni, and has spun on BET's Rap Cityfour times; Moni remixed this year's Suite 903 soul compilation put out by The Fader magazine.

Ladies of Ubiquita
Photograph by Howard Huang; styling by Curtis Davis for Ken Barboza Associates; hair by Hair Q Hardy for Illusions; makeup by JoJo using MAC cosmetics. On DJ Moni (left): camouflage jumper by Younique; D&G bikini top courtesy Albrights; shoes by BCBG; jewelry by Satellite; suede cuff by Eenamaria. On DJ Selly (middle): top by Younique; bikini top by Red Carver available at figleaves.com; track pants by Old Navy; leg warmers by H&M; boots by Cassadei; jewelry by Satellite; sunglasses by D&G courtesy Albrights. On DJ Reborn (right): swimsuit by Lablanca available at figleaves.com; shorts and belt by Nanette Lapore; bangles by Alexis Bittar and sunglasses by Dyce both courtesy Albrights.
Ladies of Ubiquita
Photograph by Howard Huang; styling by Curtis Davis for Ken Barboza Associates; hair by Hair Q Hardy for Illusions; makeup by JoJo using MAC cosmetics. On DJ Moni (left): camouflage jumper by Younique; D&G bikini top courtesy Albrights; shoes by BCBG; jewelry by Satellite; suede cuff by Eenamaria. On DJ Selly (middle): top by Younique; bikini top by Red Carver available at figleaves.com; track pants by Old Navy; leg warmers by H&M; boots by Cassadei; jewelry by Satellite; sunglasses by D&G courtesy Albrights. On DJ Reborn (right): swimsuit by Lablanca available at figleaves.com; shorts and belt by Nanette Lapore; bangles by Alexis Bittar and sunglasses by Dyce both courtesy Albrights.

"DJ'ing can be such a boys' club sometimes," Reborn says a week later. "I don't think they were really giving us our props on the mic. They wanted to talk about all the other DJs coming up, but not us."

Earlier that night, her partner, DJ Moni, had the whole place jumping with a slew of Latin remixes of James Brown stuff like "Funky Drummer" and "Give It Up or Turn It Loose." White labels. Unauthorized. Looking back, she's a little more diplomatic about how things went down. "I told the emcee Reborn's name in case he didn't know, so he could shout her out," Moni says. "We look out for each other."

Moni's got a really long set coming up in the Philippines, where she's spinning a total Latin-house Afro-percussive set during a big Easter holiday party festival. She's looking to get her hands on a particular record while she's here at the conference, just for that show. "Louie Vega has this new track out now, which is fire," she says. "It's called 'Mi Gente.' It's a remix of one of his uncle's [Héctor Lavoe's] songs. I love it. I e-mailed him, and he told me to come to Miami to the party he's throwing."


Across the turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay, downtown Miami's Y Ultra Lounge is a $28 million club in the middle of the 'hood—the kind of neighborhood where you pay a street bum a dollar so he'll watch your car just to make sure "nothing happens," but by the time you come back out of the club at 4 or 5 a.m., he won't be around anymore. (Putting a posh nightclub in the middle of a neighborhood with roaming crackheads is what the city of Miami calls "revitalization.") Tonight the Latin press are out in droves to catch Nuyorican Don Dada Louie Vega—the famed Bronx-bred DJ, bandleader, and producer—as he rolls into the place, 50-deep, wearing an alligator-leather fedora and a full-length leather coat. Cameras flash like lightning.

Vega, the nephew of "King of Salsa" Héctor Lavoe and the son of saxophonist Louie Vega Sr., became a fixture at classic New York clubs like the Palladium, 10-18, and the Tunnel in the late '80s. He and Kenny "Dope" Gonzales, his production partner in Masters at Work, have created a sound that combines hip-hop, jazz, Latin, and African, along with underground house. More recently, Vega won a Grammy in 2005 for Mayfield: Remixed—The Curtis Mayfield Collection, and just this year was invited by Cirque du Soleil to write a new track, "One Dream," for the Super Bowl pre-game show. "And we played it live with them on television in front of 73 million viewers," he recalls later, spooning sugar into his cappuccino. "So that was amazing."

image
illustration by McCaul

People have been talking about this Masters at Work party for days. DJ Jazzy Jeff and New York's Terry Hunter open. There's this tall, lanky, druid-looking guy down in front during the DJ Jazzy Jeff set taking pictures the whole time, but he's not even moving to the beat. What a way to fuck up a vibe. Don't just stand there. Move yr. ass. Eventually, one of Jazzy Jeff's handlers yells at the guy and tells him to stop taking pictures. This guy's got enough for a whole damn photo album.

But when Louie and Kenny get on the decks, camera-brandishing people climb the DJ booth like spiders. A private party is going on in the booth itself, which is big enough to fit maybe 100 people. Louie's taking pictures with his wife, Anané, and enjoying champagne toasts with his friends. The smoke machine is cool. The man in a suit walking through the club and shining a pin-light into people's faces is not. At around 4 a.m., it starts to rain. But in order to get a gift bag with the "Mi Gente" 12-inch, you have to stay until the very end, like Alim, a 33-year-old die-hard MAW fan.

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