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It's not that he's a glass-half-empty kind of guy, but Charlie Solana isn't afraid to admit that South Florida's dance scene is hurting. "It is dying," the 39-year-old DJ/producer says with a slight, knowing chuckle. "You can tell just by the clubs. Crobar went from 100 percent dance to open format. So did Mansion. There are a lot of changes going on in South Florida. There aren't so many clubs left with cutting-edge dance music." Solana is a good judge of local club culture, having laid wax tracks here since he was barely out of middle school in 1980.
Despite Solana's sobering outlook, the party people flooding his Friday-night residency at Gryphon are none the wiser about our nightlife decline. From the time the lavish, Euro-chic venue opened at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in early 2005, Gryphon has built a steady audience for its Friday nights featuring Solana and headliner Ivano Bellini.While most of its South Beach competitors have been streamlined for the Top 40 audience, Gryphon has consistently offered displaced electronic dance purists a place to revel. That fact gives the hot spot some clout, according to Solana, who is still surprised by its success. "If you would've asked me a year ago when I was starting if [Gryphon] was going to be around a year or two later, I would've said no way," he says. "So I'm surprised [but] happy and grateful the party's going strong."
Of course, much credit for keeping the party going can also be given to Bellini. The local dance star has parlayed the popularity of his legendary "Sunrise Sessions" at Miami's Club Space as well as fetes graced with the likes of Prince, U2, and Madonna into another winning night up north. Having also resided at Gryphon since the club's beginning, the affable, jet-setting DJ says the proof of the club's value is found in the crowd itself. "We have a lot of faces that are coming every Friday, from Hawaii to Boca and Miami," Bellini boasts. "They follow me, and they follow the music. Seventy-five percent of the crowd is regulars. It lets me go further and play stuff I couldn't do if I only saw them once in a while. When you have regulars like that, week after week, you can educate people and you can surprise them."
To commemorate his yearlong residency, the Swiss-born Bellini is set to release The Gryphon Sessions on Miami Beach-based SFP Records this week. Compiled from tracks spun live during his Gryphon tenure, the continuous-mix CD is Bellini's deep house valentine to his faithful and to his second home in Broward County. "It's the sounds that I've been playing there that reflect the vibe and energy of the last three months," Bellini explains. "It's house, but house is a very big name that involves a lot of music. It's mostly happy, energetic but still underground not too commercial or cheesy."
The pounding, upbeat Gryphon Sessions, mastered and edited at Bellini's Miami studio, features contributions from fellow producers Peter Bailey, Matthew DeKay, D-Nox & Beckers, and Dirty Vegas' Paul Harris. During the April 28 release party at Gryphon, Bellini will not only sign copies while he sips Dom; he'll splice every track from the record into a marathon late-night set. "With this CD, we wanted to make sure that people who [regularly] come to Gryphon were the first ones who had access to it," he says. "I want the people to hear all of the songs I have played there. It's not going to be new stuff but songs I know people are going to like."
Celebrating by his side will undoubtedly be Charlie Solana. The latter, though, is not just a mere foil to Bellini but an established producer in his own right. The success of his Southside project which has already spawned a handful of number-one remixes was enough to spur Solana, a former label owner/music buyer, to evolve from warm-up act to top spot on the marquee. As an appropriate encore to Bellini's Friday bash, Solana is striking out on his own with "Beauty of the Beat" party the following night. "I've always been in Ivano's shadow," he concedes. "But now on Saturdays, I'm going to make a name for myself."
To aid Solana's cause, Miami mainstay DJ Amalia will make her Gryphon debut. For Amalia (née Leandro), a Toronto native who veered from modeling to wowing crowds with her beat-matching skills in Ibiza and London, traveling to Broward should make for a truly different experience. "I'm not going to play an underground style like I play at Space or after hours in Miami," she says. "I definitely want to keep it more fun and vocal, a little more mainstream house, just so they don't get scared. I'm sure [Gryphon's] great on its own, but it will definitely be a different sound."
Just don't expect diva-led, Power 96-ready material. Gryphon weekend events, according to Charlie Solana, come alive with a dark, hypnotic feel. "We don't play trance," he proclaims. "It's about the drums, the pounding drums, and it's got to have a deep bass line. Our average closing time is 7 a.m., and everyone else closes at 2. It's a Miami sound, but then, we've got the nitrous to throw your hands in the air to just let it go."