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Critter Comforts

Against the shadow of a day's stubble, a half-inch of gravity-defying ash hangs from a wrinkled Marlboro at the corner of the DJ's mouth. A look of intense concentration crosses the face of Corrado Bay (Corrado Bailone) as he studies his turntables and threads a new beat into the groove. Just as suddenly he stands back with nonchalance, looking like one more guy at the bar enjoying a little music on a Saturday night.

Just in front of the booth at a right angle, behind the back of a low couch, the DJ's tall, lanky partner peers down at his keyboard. A wild mop of brown hair completely obscures his face. Keyboardist 4mula (a.k.a. Simone Giuliani) pulls on a set of headphones, revealing his aquiline features for a moment. He loops a sequence into the sound, adding jazzy flourishes and wide, breathy washes.

The crowd in this small, couch-filled room in the upstairs lounge at Jazid in Miami Beach has come mostly to meet friends, shoot pool, and talk. But sooner or later a sound catches their ears, a beat hits their hips, and the chill congregation looks up to seek the source.

Known as Racoon, the DJ-keyboard duo flexes its groove-making muscles in this laid-back setting, far from the madding techno glitz of the South Beach scene. And whether it's making music for the appreciative klatch of lounge lizards at Jazid or manipulating the wall of components in Corrado's bayview apartment, the pair happily takes advantage of a collaboration that has brought them to the brink of international success with the May 15 release of its first album, Universal Vibes. Tracks from the CD are already appearing on the compilations Serve Chilled 3, Paradisiac 3, and the latest of the acclaimed Café del Mar series.

"We work at Jazid just for one simple reason," says the animated Bailone through a thick Italian accent. "Because over there nobody is bothering us for the music, nobody is asking us for "One More Time.'" Sitting in his sixth-floor apartment and music studio overlooking Biscayne Bay, he claims that he would like "I am not a jukebox" emblazoned on his chest. "Because the big problem on the beach is every owner of a club is following each other," he observes. "They don't want to be unique."

"We are from Europe," he explains, "and in Europe we have this thing of everybody making their own situation. But right here [in Miami], most of the people feel the same vibe everywhere. So when they come to Jazid, they say, "Wow, this music, where's it coming from? Who's doing it?'"

Indeed a listen to Universal Vibes reveals a sound that has little in common with the fast-pounding beat of Miami Beach, delivering instead a groove that seems unlikely to rise from the fog-machine mist of the club-clogged island. Yet the two Italian artists record for S.F.P., a local label run by Frenchmen Pierre Zonzon and Marc Sacheli that releases the work of artists from the United States, Brazil, and France. The cultural conglomeration is pure Miami. With its bossa nova grooves, Latin percussion, ambient soundscapes, and funky beats, the music has influences from everywhere, grounded in the shifting cultural sands of a city that's barely a century old.

Like everyone who comes to call South Florida home for any period of time, Bailone admits the biggest influence on Racoon's sound is the beautiful weather. Spectacular sunsets that shine through the sliding glass doors of his balcony refract across the consoles. "This is an amazing place to create music," says Bailone, gesturing to the blue sky and rolling clouds on the other side of the glass. "We get a lot of inspiration from that. When the sun is going down, we make music very, very easy. And because of the structure of this place, the melting pot, everybody over here -- and nobody -- has the right culture.

"You can say it's a Miami sound. I mean not the mainstream Miami sound, [but] because we do this over here, it's very Miami," Bailone emphasizes. "There is not one of our tracks on the dark side, because the dark side happens when you're working in the real underground. If you're working in New York City, down at the bottom of the building, you have to be dark a little bit, because even your surrounding is dark. The pressure of a city is a dark thing. Over here, dude, [there's] sun everywhere, chicks."

Ironic then, that Bailone and 4mula first met in the winter of 2000 in Miami's cultural and meteorological alter ego: London. 4mula had been working in the British capital for the past four years, playing jazz in a number of bands and leading a very expensive London life. "He was living in a place, [paying] 3000 pounds for a loft. Three thousand pounds is $5000 a month. Jesus Christ!" says an amazed Bailone. "So I tell him: "Come over to Miami.' First of all, it's less expensive. Second, we have the sun. Third, we don't need the [day] job or nothing; we just work. And now he's got a beautiful girlfriend from the Dominican Republic," Bailone adds, laughing.

For 4mula, South Florida has offered not just a sexy, sunny bargain but also the chance to cut loose musically, both on Racoon's crafted studio productions and the improvisations of live sets. "I like jazz a lot, but when you play with other musicians, you hold back. And when you write your own stuff, it's really hard," offers the mellow 4mula, edging some words in between Bailone's dramatic monologues. "I love working with Corrado, because you have a different perspective. On some of this, I'm basically just playing on top of what Corrado's doing. I like what he's doing; it's really easy to play on this stuff because it's really open."

Live sets highlight this partnership by tending toward the instrumental. Universal Vibes includes vocals on a number of tracks -- a concession to label head Zonzon. "I asked [industry] people in Europe, and they said it needed vocals," says Zonzon from S.F.P.'s office on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, "so then we had to find singers."

"Yeah, the idea of the singer was Pierre's idea, because we have an aversion; we don't like singers," laughs Bailone. "We are more in the music, because if you're listening to my music and there is nobody telling you something, you can think whatever you want. You can think bad things, you can think good, you can dream. But if there is someone telling you something, your mind is going with what he says, so it's like a deviation. I mean, we like the voice if it's going to be an amalgamation with the music, but if it's becoming a lead, we don't really like it."

When mixing tracks for the CD, Bailone cut out most of the recognizable lyrics and instead sampled whispers, sustained notes, and spoken French from singer Nancy Danino. But they also kept the Portuguese lyrics from local singer Rose Max because of the musical lilt of the language and Max's powerful delivery.

As the afternoon sun sinks beneath the horizon, casting an amber light across the apartment, Bailone and 4mula are busy creating a track for a BMW-sponsored short film. If things work out, they'll add an appearance in Munich to their late summer gigs at Café del Mar in Ibiza and various clubs in the cities of Rimini and Ricconi (Italy's version of South Beach on the Adriatic Sea).

Given their Continental cachet, why would the pair name themselves after a varmint synonymous with the backwoods of America? "It's the coolest animal in this place, dude," says Bailone with delight. One wily critter visited the DJ every day when he lived in Coconut Grove. "The raccoon is coming in your house," he recounts, "is looking around. If he sees you, he's looking at your eyes, not escaping like a dog or cat. [He is] looking at you: "So, what's up, man? Think I'm afraid? I'm not.'

"The animal is kind of a wild animal. Not a social animal, like a dog or a cat, but at the same time very human," Bailone adds. "And because it's an animal of this country, of this place, we feel like a kind of raccoon, because we are not into this scene. We are not the dog of this situation."

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John Anderson

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