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During a recent CD-release party for glitch punk Otto Von Schirach in Miami, a crazy-looking couple stands out from the crowd, seeming as if they just left the Greyhound bus station and happened to wander into the club on a whim. He's clad in a neon-splashed track suit and fishnet muscle T and has a ratty, spiky, black wig plopped on top of his head. She's got metal wires strapped across her face, tons of space-age makeup, and a shiny dress/shirt contraption with a matching headband.
Then Belaxis, a luminous, ghostly presence, appears in front of the crowd with a keyboard, and a chorus of "ass and titties" blares overhead on the loudspeaker. As the crowd edges closer, the couple pops out and joins her, revealing themselves as Finesse and Runway.
An assault on the eardrums ensues, and the crowd is all smiles. Electro-booty bass is flavored with art-school theatrics throughout a set that includes the dance-friendly track "Disco Rash." "You're addicted to the disco/Rub it with some Crisco, slip and slide on the dance floor/Turn into a greasy whore," Finesse sings in a voice that resembles Madonna's on "Into the Groove." She and Runway turn their backs on the crowd to do a set of jumping-jack claps to the beat of the music while Belaxis attacks the crowd with her keyboard stand (the keyboard isn't really plugged in).
Finesse and Runway's songs flow between ass-shaking roller-skating jams and chaotic, amphetamine-drenched, Boredoms-like noise as they chase people with strobe lights, roll around on the floor, and basically lose their shit. It's close to watching someone have a fit of Tourette's -- you don't know what will fall out of their mouths next. But it is impossible to look the opposite way because the show is like a car crash.
As the most popular semi-androgynous electro/dance ensemble in Miami, Finesse and Runway are in a class by themselves. By the last song, the audience knows it too as it watches the two pound their fists on the floor, lose their pants, dance bare-ass, and attempt some gymnastic splits for the grand finale, which results in Finesse injuring herself. As it comes to a close, they say to the crowd, "Thank you, thank you -- you're all very sexy."
A couple of days later, propped up in her bed with a cast on her leg and slightly medicated, Melba Payes (a.k.a. Finesse) talks during a three-way phone call with New Times and Dino Felipe (a.k.a. Runway) about her leg. "I landed on my left foot when it was twisted all the way sideways," the 25-year-old diva says. "The three ligaments that wrap around the ankle are torn, and I ripped a few tendons on the top of my foot."
"Oh, pooch!" Felipe says in sympathy. The two have been affectionately calling each other that since they first met in the sixth grade. As he remembers it, "I saw her on the back of the bus with a mean face and a Walkman."
"I thought he was a cool kid," Payes says.
Felipe laughs, "I thought she was weird" because of her love of Skinny Puppy. While they've been making music together since they met, it's only recently that the two have teamed up as Finesse and Runway, performing for the first time during a party at the Design District clothing store M-80. They released their self-titled debut CD on October 19 on Schematic, a label that Felipe has produced several recordings for under his own name (including the recent I'm You).
The group is a true product of South Florida. For Payes, growing up was all about "Hot Wheels, the freestyle, and the song 'Diamond Girl. '"
"The radio when we were little, and then the Miami bipolarism too, and the South Beach glamour," Felipe adds.
Felipe and Payes still live at home just a couple of houses from each other. Here, they get together and use the software program Fruity Loops, along with computers and sequencers, to make their songs. "I love all sounds and love being able to make them however we want and to make them personable," Felipe says. Some of the songs feature deadpan, monotone vocals that give away their love of '80s anthems such as "You Spin Me 'Round (Like a Record)."
"Dead or Alive was great," he says. "When they came out, they were so ahead of their time. The energy is totally punk. Booty bass is one way to describe it, but we just throw in everything. So each song is different."
Finesse and Runway's shows have earned a reputation for craziness. During a pork-and-beans-splattered concert at I/O in Miami a few months back, Belaxis, who "plays" the keyboard and sometimes appears with the pair, sat in a bathtub full of beans. As the music started, she began lobbing handfuls of them across the room. "Before we knew it, [she was flinging them] everywhere," Felipe says. "It wasn't too good for the space."
Since then, Finesse and Runway have been allowed to play at the club again but with the warning, as Felipe says in a stern, scratchy voice, "No beans!"
Still, the dangerous duo has thrived on the chaos that surrounds its unpredictable style. "I have a lot of fun," Payes says. "I like to intimidate people and kind of scare them because I look like I came out of Hellraiser or something." They admit to carefully studying pictures fans take of their performances, making sure everyone in the crowd is smiling, and they proudly note that it's usually "ear to ear."