It Came from Outer Space
It's after 1 a.m. at Amp Fest '05, the recent local music weekend at Boca Raton's Surf Café. Amid a semi-mocking crowd, Monserrat, badass front woman for Broward County-based alternative dance band Dance Planet X, sings, "I got lots of tricks, daddy/I got magic in my fingertips." She flaunts lacquer-black hair and lots of black eyeliner, a Marilyn Monroe faux-mole on her cheek, blood red lipstick, and patent-leather Minnie Mouse platforms to match her black velvet gloves. Finishing her set, Monserrat belts out the last note of "(I'll Be Your) Plastic Doll" with a facial expression as serious as Annie Lennox's. In classic bitch-with-attitude fashion, over sparse applause, she finishes the song by taunting, "Maybe Ultra will like us better!"
If the half-empty bottles of beer along the walls are any indication, most everyone is drunk as hell. Having to follow the balls-out rock of Spork and the testosterone thrash of Trendkill (in their gas-station-attendant getups) is tough for a girl-heavy, new wave dance band that looks like Cibo Matto and sounds like Jellybean Benitez-era Madonna. Only a few people -- mostly females -- smiled during the short set, nodding their heads to DPX's electro-pop, looking on curiously, trying not to let their rocker boyfriends notice.
Hopefully, Dance Planet X will find an audience more appropriate and more appreciative in a galaxy far, far away from Amp Fest, like when the group performs this weekend on the Florida All-Stars Stage at Ultra Music Festival 7. With an expected crowd of 50,000, Ultra is the closing extravaganza of Miami's annual Winter Music Conference, the biggest dance-music forum in the country.
"We're really excited to present our new material, because we're excited to be a part of this new turn in the reintroduction of a live approach under the dance music banner," Monserrat says. In a music culture that has deified the DJ since the early '90s, a new wave of live dance bands like VHS or Beta and the Killers is making it safe for live acts to classify themselves as dance music again. InTune Records, the company responsible for marketing and merchandising the Ultra Music Festival, is also releasing DPX Goes Dance Planet X, the band's first EP. Needless to say, InTune is hoping the group will ride that wave.
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The primary member and lyricist of the group, Monserrat -- who goes by her first name only and asked that her age be withheld -- has been involved in various musical partnerships under the DPX banner during the past few years. The band's present lineup began to coalesce in April of last year, when she met Ire "Girl" Montijo, a keyboardist with a music degree from Florida International University and an honorable mention in a Billboard songwriting competition.
"Her melodies and transitions were very Basia, and I liked that," Monserrat says. At the time, she was doing a Friday-night gig at Lounge 16 on South Beach. "I told Ire: 'I want to write a song about South Beach. Do you want to work with me on it?'" By June of '04, Joe Risolia, CEO of InTune, had heard "South Beach" and offered the two women a deal to distribute the track. The electro-goth burner features Montijo's Transylvanian organ snooping around Monserrat's creepy Elvira talk-sing accent as she paints Deco Drive like a narcissistic creep show. "South Beach is a deco dream, we just call it home," she sings. "Vampires do roam/Sex, drugs, drinks, lots of money/We love you!" The track was in the top five downloaded songs on the Internet radio station thewomb.com for six months last year, but the label is still waiting to release the CD single, which will feature a bonus track called "Mercifully."
Around the time of "South Beach"'s success, in July of 2004, the two femmes met Eric Dez, a guitarist and bassist who had a new recording studio in Hollywood.
"He saw us performing at the Marlin one night and came up to us and said, 'You guys sound great. You just need a beat!'" Monserrat recalls. Dez provides the instrumentation for their performance tracks and anchors the women with his live bass. With Dez on board, it was just a matter of time before the trio's relationship with InTune Records got them the gig at Ultra. "Joe (Risolia) had gotten us to play at the Pawn Shop Lounge's Halloween Party, and some Ultra executives were there and said, 'We want them at Ultra,'" Monserrat explains.
Hours after the rough gig at Surf Café, the group is sitting in South Beach's Liquor Lounge, drinking Grey Goose gimlets and listening to a medley of rock 'n' roll. The band is in talks to begin a bimonthly gig at the trendy spot. "I think there would be a good place for the visuals," Monserrat says as she points to a wall beside the pool table. Suddenly, "A Piece of My Heart" comes on over the PA. "Oh, Janis Joplin!" she yells. Monserrat marvels at Joplin's drive: "She went out to the West Coast and failed miserably. But then she went out there a second time and she caught on. That was interesting that she tried it a second time."
As the vodka loosens her tongue and the long version of the Eagles' "Hotel California" comes on, Monserrat launches into a conversation about poet Anne Sexton. "She didn't start writing until she was 29. All she needed was one person to validate her as a writer -- to say, 'Hmm, this is good.' That's all she had been waiting for her whole life, and that's very true of all of us. We only need a few people around us to believe in us to really make us blossom." Once the band finally touches down at Ultra, it should be in full bloom.
Also playing Ultra is Dynamix II, a West Palm Beach duo that is one of Florida's first and most influential electronic acts. David Noller and Scott Weiser came together in 1986, right after Noller had released the seminal "Give the DJ a Break" on Miami's Bass Station Records. These days, as electro seeps back into hip-hop and rock 'n' roll, their sound has come back into vogue. They'll play a warm-up at Nocturnal in downtown Miami on Thursday night alongside other breakbeat luminaries like the Autobots, the Breakfastaz, Aquasky, and dozens more. Then on Saturday, it's on to the main event.
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