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There is a line outside the entrance to Piccadilly Garden in Miami's Design District on this summer Saturday night at 10, but not for the usual clubland reasons. There is no pretentious doorman. There are no partygoers bluffing about who is on the mythical guest list. Instead Trinidad, the pleasant, dreadlocked giant behind the velvet ropes, has created a crawl to inspect the identifications of those entering this pop Eden. He scrutinizes them much the same way assembly line Inspector 23 checks for defects on Fruit of the Loom T-shirts and undershorts.
"Don't start no shit up in here tonight!" Trinidad tells a group of b-boyishly attired young men in sneakers and culturally sanctioned professional sports team jerseys. Their cropped blond counterparts, pristine and preppie in Old Navy and Gap garments, pass Checkpoint Charlie undisturbed while the giant barks at the boyz, "Security here does not play -- you understand?" His tone is firm, yet playful, because here at Saturday night's Poplife, absent is the regular ruckus found at other popular nightspots just over the causeway. The vibe of this bohemian gathering is carefree and unpretentious, at least by SoBe standards.
Although Poplife's appeal is its indie, electropop, and modern music, a deeper attraction pulses beneath the beats. Here is a refuge for local artists who want to unwind after a performance or on a rare Saturday off night. Most in the local arts scene don't fit or feel comfortable with the champagne flow of South Beach hangouts. Poplife is a place for social misfits of all varieties: breakers, goths, punks, beatniks, rockers, and musicians. There are no paparazzi or Trend Trackers to log the night's activities amid the Amazonian foliage.
Just as the music is retro, so too is the fashion. In this scene, bohemians adorn themselves with vintage clothing, self-styled designs, and T-shirts with slogans from eras gone by. The overall consciousness of the party and its attendees belongs to some imaginary place where cultures mix, genders bend, and status is not an issue. It is a little bit hippie and a whole lot androgyny. This is the kind of meeting place a young Andy Warhol or David Bowie would have loved to attend to meet up with Grace Jones or Sid Vicious for some late-night shenanigans -- even without the drugs.
As usual, DJ/promoter Ray Milian signals to the crowd that it's time for the dancing to begin with Radiohead's "Idioteque." In the main room, dancing with his ballerina girlfriend Jessica, is Jorge Mejia from local act the Green Room. Jessica is a gracefully petite redhead with all the poise of a professional dancer. She smiles as she and Mejia survey the Poplife constituency.
The members of Volumen Cero, fresh off the release of their major label debut Luces, take to the dark corners of the room to bask in the radiation of celebrity in the company of lanky, pasty beauties. Over by the crowded bar, Nasty, promoter of Hard Rock Cafe's music series called the Venue and front man for punk band the Gimmix, is downing a few more beers than perhaps he should. He is sporting his trademark 90-foot-tall Mohawk (at least it seems like it's 90 feet tall). "I gave you a CD and a press kit awhile ago, and you haven't called me back yet," squeals Erica Sommers of local altrock band ESP. Nasty is a little too incoherent to engage her; he is soaking up Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" in the crowded, sweaty room.
DJ Le Spam cranks out the classic Jungle Brothers' song "Straight Out the Jungle" in the smaller, psychedelically styled hip-hop room. John Speck, trombonist of the Spam Allstars, wearing his usual guayabera and plaid golf pants, slinks about the dance floor while rapper Afrika recites, "I'm a Jungle Brother/A true blue brother/And I've been to many places you haven't discovered." Speck is getting his proverbial groove on with a young lady who is riding the wave of low bottom created by the bass cabinets in opposite corners of the room. John's dance partner is a New York blonde who's here in Miami for a holiday. She frequents Poplife whenever she wants to lose her East Village state of mind and meld with subtropical oneness. The couple twists and turns, just the way the crowd usually responds when the Spam Allstars are doing the entertaining at one of the many parties they throw during the week. Other patrons sink into the sofa and hibernate in the darkness. The place feels almost like an opium den. When DJ Alex takes over on the decks, hip-hop music is still playing, but the vibe is just right.
There is not much breakdancing tonight. The compact dance floor, soaked in some slippery syrup, seems reserved for those who want to pair up and shake what they momma gave them. A woman wearing an old Run-DMC shirt and a smile to match nods her head in agreement with the musical selections that ooze out through the eight-foot-tall speakers. She is pleased with the DJ. Even when the gangsta-strident Snoop Dogg song "Murder Was the Case" comes on, there is not much commotion. It's almost as if the people in the room are listening to a different song. Perhaps in their heads they are listening to an old song by the Doors. Nothing here is vile or offensive.
Back outside in the garden, people continue to gather. The boyz heed doorman Trinidad's warning; far from starting trouble, they are enjoying the vibe and the view. "There is a lot of talent here tonight!" someone says -- talent being the term du jour for attractive, available women.
Talent or no talent, local session guitarist and Spam Allstars member Adam Zimmon has had enough. Tonight he is in search of simple pleasures such as listening to Naked Eyes' "Always Something There to Remind Me." Echoing into the night at a little after 3 a.m. the '80s ear candy is a reminder that, even in the neon glitz of the Magic City, there are some who enjoy nothing more than a good time and some good music. They can find it on a Saturday night at Poplife.