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Gabriel Fain has a superhuman ear for detail. You can hear it foremost in his euphoric, voluptuous house music sets at places like Voodoo Lounge and Club Space in downtown Miami. But you can also hear it in his speech, in the careful way the Israeli-born DJ uses metaphor to tell a story.
"It was like when you're running a race, and you're winning, you're the winner. You're number one. And then, wait, wait -- stop. Holding you back."
His outstretched arm halts the air in his North Bay Village penthouse apartment. The place is bare because Fain hates furniture.
"And you wait and you wait and you wait. And you're like, 'Come on, let me continue.' But no."
He's a stocky guy, dark-complected, wearing faded jeans and white sneakers. He looks more like an athlete in the offseason than one of South Florida's most spectacular turntable talents. He shakes his head, remembering.
"And I suffered so much from that."
"That" was the moment when Fain's steep ascent through South Florida's club scene was cut down cold. In less than two years, Fain had risen from an unknown immigrant working restaurant jobs and hustling gigs to spinning records for 5,000 revelers in one of the most illustrious dance clubs in America. By the summer of 2003, Fain ruled the patio of Space, spinning after-hours sets on Saturday mornings to chemically enhanced dancers in what seemed like never-ending sunshine. The residency at Space -- the platinum ring for any star-eyed, working DJ -- lasted two months.
Then he surrendered himself to the DEA and went to federal prison.
The first time Fain flipped a record was in 1987. A fresh-faced 14-year-old, he worked as a bar back at a club called Palladium II in Haifa, the northern Israeli town where he was born. He'd learned the fundamentals of turntable technique from watching a smooth-operating DJ named Sam Atari. Atari often left the booth in Fain's hands while he went cavorting with lady friends.
"One night, Sam Atari is like, 'Gabby, I'm busy. Put on a few records,'" Fain recalls. "The club is packed, everyone's in their 20s, 30s. And you know, I'm not a DJ, I'm a 14-year-old kid; I just liked to watch him. But I used to have a few tracks that I put on -- Madonna, Rick Astley, Jason Donovan -- before his sets, when the club was empty. So I just have these ten vinyls that I played, and I thought he was gonna come back. But he never showed up. And I didn't know what to do, so I played these ten vinyls again."
Even though he could barely see over the DJ booth, Fain managed. Then the club owner gave him an early slot, spinning for teenagers before the adults came in at midnight. Fain was hooked. He played at Palladium II and other spots around Haifa until his mandatory turn in the army when he was 18 years old. In 1992, while still an infantryman, he became a devotee of Tel Aviv's legendary Allenby 58 disco. There, he graduated from pop music to the house beats of gurus like Tony De Vit and Deep Dish.
"I discovered, wow, like this 4,000-person club, and I was like, you gotta be kidding me. Four thousand people and one guy [the DJ] way over there, banging, banging. And I'm like, 'That's it.' That's what I wanted to do."
For the next few years, Fain bounced back and forth between the megaclubs of Tel Aviv and his own modest club residency in Haifa. He traveled in Europe and visited Chicago, he says, scoring records wherever he went. Absorbing new music was -- and still is -- his primary motivation.
He tells another story from the not-so-distant past to explain his bottomless thirst for fresh sounds.
"I have asthma, and I don't have money to buy medicine. And my mother gives me some money to buy medicine. And on the way to the doctor, [the record store] calls, 'Hey, we got music in, and there's a brand new remix of Satoshi Tomiie.' 'Oh bro, but I'm sick.' 'OK, OK, we're just letting you know.' And so I make a U-turn and go buy music. And I don't tell nothing to my mother that I spent the money from my medicine on the music. And the weekend comes and I'm fucking sick and I'm still gonna go play. And I have the best music. That's all that matters."
The music mattered enough to inspire Fain to move to South Florida. In September 2001, Fain came to the area early for the Winter Music Conference. The plan was archetypal -- to figure out the scene, work his way up, and make the big time. An experienced international clubber, he knew the venues, he knew the music, and he knew he could do it.
"That was the plan," he says. "Come to Miami, to somehow -- don't ask me how; I had nothing here, no friends, no contacts -- two to three years, make it happen."
And it worked perfectly. Fain's ambition and outgoing nature carried him as far as his immaculate, crowd-pleasing deep-house sets. His after-hours dance marathons started out deep underground and gradually grew in size and reputation. To say he rose through the scene doesn't fairly indicate the drive with which Fain approached his work.