Friday, November 2, was meant to be a night for Remembrance, a benefit for the victims of the September 11 tragedy. Hyped as an unforgettable evening, it boasted an all-star lineup of top national electronic music acts, six participating Fort Lauderdale nightclubs, and the $10 and $20 plastic wristbands that are de rigueur at such events. In hindsight, however, Remembrance is memorable mainly for a bitter battle over its proceeds.
Remembrance organizer Kai Thorup, a founder of Rock the Boat, a New York City-based nonprofit organization, says management of two participating clubs, Sutra and Chili Pepper -- which are owned by the same person, Eric Levin -- took money intended for the victims of the September 11 tragedy. Club management insists Thorup is simply trying to recoup lost revenue and save his reputation in the wake of a poorly organized, less-than-successful event.
The debate has already circulated far and wide -- an electronic-music scandal perpetuated, apropos of its origins, electronically.
"[Chili Pepper general manager] Russ Davis should be slaughtered alongside bin Laden for being such a disgrace to humanity," writes one member of a Website devoted to the local drum-and-bass scene, www.floridadnb.com. "Fuck the Chili Pepper, Fuck Sutra.... Someone should torch those fucking places."
It doesn't take Gucci sunglasses to see that in the wake of the Remembrance debacle, the universal club credo of PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect) has devolved into D and D -- Discord and Drama.
The lights were, natch, dim inside the side-by-side downtown clubs that Friday night. A written agreement would've been hard to read, but the deal, which Thorup and Davis made in late September, was oral anyway. The two sides knew each other from the small, local scene. Davis sometimes booked the Nova Southeastern University DJs with whom Thorup also worked. Thorup and Davis had collaborated on a 2000 event (ultimately canceled) at South Beach's Crobar, where Davis worked at the time. Even Sutra-Chili Pepper marketing director Heather Gilchrist had met Thorup before; both attended Nova.
Chili Pepper management and Thorup agree that Davis offered Rock the Boat $3100 on the night of the event -- $2500 from Sutra's door revenues and $600 from the Chili Pepper. The two parties agree on little else.
Thorup says Davis asked him to sign an agreement that he would accept 33 percent of the proceeds and waive Chili Pepper-Sutra from any further financial obligation. Thorup says he refused and exited the club -- or rather, was asked by Davis to leave -- without a dime. He expected much more money based on his estimate that more than 1000 people were in the Chili Pepper; most of them, he contends, purchased their wristbands at that club. "[The public was] funneled to Chili Pepper," Thorup says. "The place was blowing up." He says that he asked for the door receipts but that Davis refused.
Club manager Davis explains that security for the event, which the club contracts from an outside company, had to be paid first from the wristband profits. Gilchrist and Davis say that, regardless of how packed the club appeared, the number of wristbands sold at Sutra was 333 and that around 300 patrons were in the Chili Pepper.
Thorup and fellow Rock the Boat members have since vented in typical activist fashion, with a flurry of press releases and livid e-mails alleging that Davis stole money intended for the already-beleaguered victims of the tragedy. The offense is particularly egregious, Thorup claims, because of the somber nature of the cause. "In my opinion," Thorup declared in a November 3 release, "these men are thieves of the lowest sort."
The two sides have agreed to meet with Levin in an effort to settle the matter. Thorup, for one, remains unrepentant. "It happened, period. Now what they can do is make it right."
For their part, Davis and Gilchrist say the ordeal has prompted them to consider donating roughly $4000 directly to the United Way September 11 Fund rather than Rock the Boat.
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Even a boatload of glowsticks wouldn't illuminate the complicated dispute to outsiders, yet by using Websites like floridadnb.com and sfl8-up.com as venues for the feud, the parties involved conducted their disagreement for an audience of hundreds if not thousands. In spite of this, Gilchrist seems surprised when she says for a while she received hate mail like this: "I lost family in the Trade Center," writes "Dvan" in a November 5 message. "You (Chili Pepper) just stole from us.... You are despicable...."
Thorup, on the other hand, sounds proud of the hubbub he helped create, rooting his outrage in righteous indignation. "I have a feeling they didn't think we would react," he muses. "I think this is supposed to be a cliché: The old club owner gets screwed over by the promoter."
So far, though, an equally pervasive cliché is at play -- the one of the navel-ring-gazing club scene, oblivious to anything but the beat. Noel Sanger, a trance and house DJ and South Florida native, was quoted in a pre-event press release suggesting that the benefit "offers a chance for the grossly misunderstood fans of electronic music to come together and lend an unselfish hand to those who need it most."
That helping hand has yet to be extended; the electronic music community that offered it remains as misunderstood as ever.