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Beat Down

Two DJs methodically hack and mix behind the decks. Whenever the audience and the music reach a boiling point, they mix in a dark, brooding record and let the crowd catch its collective breath. Then, before anyone gets too relaxed, the BPMs build up to another frenzied crescendo. The process is painstakingly repeated throughout the evening, and the effect on listeners is obvious. By the end of the night, everyone looks as if he's been slapped silly by the beatmasters.

Sweating is good for you, say the DJs, Robert "Obby" Ledee and Joey Andron, who are known as Sounds of the Underground. They did their show on a recent Monday night at Mama Mia's in downtown Hollywood.

"Our DJ styles always depend on our moods," says Ledee, who started SOTU with Andron in 2001. "Sometimes we feel melodic and soft; sometimes we feel hard and loud. We always like to take our listeners through a musical voyage filled with hills and valleys, taking them up and down and shaking them up for a grand finale."

As its name suggests, this creative partnership is devoted to dance music that isn't represented on commercial radio or in huge nightclubs. This duo isn't interested in spinning dance-flavored remixes of Top 40 tunes for the masses. "Both of us decided to use [SOTU Records] as a platform to express our opinion of how underground music should be: intelligent-sounding and passionate," Ledee says. "The underground feeling -- the very essence of this style of music -- was being ruined by the commercialization of it."

Just because a particular track isn't in heavy rotation on local radio doesn't mean it isn't worthy. In fact, the opposite often seems true. "Dance radio has a good and bad influence on South Florida," Ledee says. "It's been good due to the fact that it has exposed electronic dance music to a larger audience." The positive influence of dance stations like WPYM-FM (93.1) and, to a lesser extent, college radio, is clear to Ledee: "People went from thinking EDM was 'that crazy rave music with no vocals' to bobbing their heads to it during their morning and afternoon drives."

Unfortunately, the grim reality of the radio business (translation: maximizing advertising revenue) forces broadcasters to target the broadest possible demographic. As a result, playlists are frequently limited to the same 20 songs that test fairly well in every major market. The demand for sugar-coated synthesizer riffs, repetitive lyrics, and pseudo-sexy singers has displaced more substantial fare from popular culture. But SOTU has a more egalitarian purpose. "Our goal is to return electronic music back to the people," Ledee says. "We are not promoters; we are providers."

And SOTU does provide; it is a DJ collective, a record label, and an underground dance music resource center. The duo's website features current top ten lists of vinyl picks and mix CDs compiled by local DJs that have caught their attention. SOTU Records is also involved in other projects, apparently. White labels? Bootlegs? Unauthorized remixes? "I don't know what you're talking about," Ledee laughs.

"People in the industry might view labels such as [ours] as mere pawns in the electronic dance music chess game, but it's labels like ours that make up the backbone of the South Florida scene," Ledee says. "In the long run, people will notice what we're all about and start understanding our goals."

In addition to numerous Miami Beach venues, the two have brought their underground sounds to clubs in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Lately, SOTU has been playing to an upscale crowd at Resort in West Palm Beach's CityPlace. "You'll find us there on Fridays for the 'Miami Beach Takes Over West Palm Beach' parties," Ledee notes. "I had my doubts about West Palm, but the appreciation and interest in EDM that they have shown us has proved me wrong."

Behind the decks, both DJs play a healthy mixture of dance music, from breakbeats to different subgenres of house, including progressive, deep, and tribal. Although many of their tracks share the same infectious, four-on-the-floor drumbeats as the formulaic trance pop that currently dominates the airwaves, the melodies and song structures tend to be more subtle and sophisticated. "If [people] knew all the work that goes into making this music," Ledee believes, "they would appreciate it so much more."

So what's coming up for SOTU? "We plan on staying the course and not getting caught up in all this mainstream and commercial bullshit," Ledee says. "Money and club politics have poisoned the scene, and we intend on being the antidote. Our goal for the future is to educate listeners and to bring them the most intelligent, innovative, and groundbreaking EDM that the industry has to offer. I hope that EDM survives. Right now, it's anyone's guess on where [it's] going. But underground sounds can be addictive."

And, of course, they can be healthy.

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John Landers

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