By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
Downtown Miami is nearly deserted on this steaming summer Friday night, but the Wallflower Gallery emits a quiet hum. Following the scent of fresh-brewed espresso, patrons walk through the various rooms of the gallery or sit in the darkened space where guitarist-singer Alex Diaz ekes a pained whisper from his strings. Milling about are the members of Recluse DNA, a radical, experimental eight-piece ensemble scheduled to play later tonight.
Bassist Henry Rajan has played in this group for the past six years. But his main gig was playing bass for A Kite Is a Victim, the mostly acoustic, articulate, and sad band fronted by singer, guitarist, producer, and entrepreneur Al Galvez.
Rajan, a Miami resident whose parents moved to the United States from India, sports a shaved head, a black Sun Ra T-shirt, wire-rimmed glasses, and a black goatee. Usually stoic and even-keeled, Rajan is periodically overtaken by emotion tonight. For three years he stood behind and to the left of Galvez, pulling supple, elastic notes from his fretless bass. Until last spring, that is, when Rajan's disgruntlement began to flower into abject discontent and the big-boned Buddhist began to unravel. By the time he left A Kite Is a Victim, he'd had enough of Galvez.
"I'm very patient," Rajan says, his voice betraying his irritability. "But I can only put up with someone's crap for so long."
Rajan's dark eyes usually look heavy and serene; now they dart angrily. "Al helped ruin an entire community -- and a good label -- because he had this Mafioso kind of mentality. I just got tired of his Al Capone complex."
Recluse DNA's improvisational, tribal music bears no resemblance to that of A Kite Is a Victim, save for Rajan's fluidly kinetic basswork. Seldom-seen instruments like djembes and circular-saw blades make for a sort of modern-primitive drum circle. Recluse DNA, Rajan explains, is a democracy, not at all what working with Galvez was.
"I never had any chance to present any ideas to him," Rajan complains, holding his arm as if it's going to punch something if he doesn't restrain it. "But I'm coming from a weird, avant-garde jazz school with these guys," he says, gesturing toward his seven bandmates. "I'm not a pop musician. Still, if you're calling it a collective, you have to listen to the other people and their ideas. But Al doesn't listen."
Also on hand at the Wallflower is another A Kite Is a Victim alumnus, drummer Ulysses Perez, performing tonight as a one-man electronica experience called Out of the Anonymous. He, too, was sent packing from AKIAV this past spring. Slender and quick to laugh, Perez scoffs at suggestions that he was bruised by his undesired unemployment. Dressed in black jeans, black shoes, and a black suit jacket with rolled-up sleeves, Perez nervously lights a smoke. "I don't feel I was dismissed unfairly," he says on his way to the stage. Yet his choice of verb betrays the employer-employee relationship he had with Galvez.
While colored tubing above the PA pulsates through a pattern of violets and greens, Perez sits on the floor, cigarette nestled between two fingers, and hits a button on his keyboard. A cascade of ambient pink noise spills out, formless, until a latticework of house-influenced beats slowly builds in volume beneath it. A pattern of stars is projected on a screen. With fresh stubble, a soul patch, and a penitent-monk cap of black hair, Perez is a noir hipster, his computerized music dwelling on the threshold between Harold Budd and Cabaret Voltaire. In contrast to his nimble brush work when he was seated behind Galvez in A Kite Is a Victim, Perez doesn't do much in Out of the Anonymous besides turn dials and switch samples and tapes on and off, which is the way he wants it. At one point he announces that he has brought a poem to read; however, after hurriedly searching his pockets for the piece, he says -- with palpable disgust -- that he's somehow managed to misplace it.
It's hard to imagine Al Galvez committing a similar mistake. The 27-year-old Galvez is a perfectionist and workaholic who sleeps only a few hours per night and is constantly self-promoting, practicing, and preaching. The quality of that work is the reason he's found so many people eager to collaborate with him. Galvez's pull was strongest in the mid-'90s, when his label, Space Cadette Records, positioned itself at the epicenter of a tiny artistic renaissance. He created an empire in South Florida that inspired and provided refuge for hundreds of the area's disenfranchised artists. The compound opened a book-and-record store and performance space; local compilation CDs quickly followed, as well as Space Cadette's first helpings of South Floridian avant-rock from Swivel Stick and Ed Matus' Struggle. Galvez even wears a promoter cap from time to time, bringing obscure indie acts to a region they'd otherwise ne'er deign to tread.
Yet today, some seven years after the founding of Space Cadette, the list of local folks who'd publicly like to wring Galvez's neck often seems as if it would fill a South Florida musicians' directory. Rajan and Perez are but two of Galvez's erstwhile partners who've seen their professional relationship with the singer-songwriter turn to ashes. Detractors often appear jealous, because Galvez has gradually moved Space Cadette far from its bohemian origins, making it more of a tightly run business -- and little more than a front for A Kite Is a Victim. They're angry because, in his search for the perfect band, Galvez has cast aside musicians he deems unworthy as if they were old phone numbers on tattered scraps of paper. The jilted still feel the pain of their unappreciated sweat and toil. Backtracking along Galvez's time line reveals that he changes band members the way some people change socks. It's as if the turf Galvez has sown is now blanketed by the sound of grinding axes and the souring scent of grapes, threatening to drown out his wistful, melancholy music.