"Have you heard of Pacha?" says a blonde-haired, blue-eyed twenty-something in dark skinny jeans and a slightly oversized crème-colored blazer. He's just asked me for a light, and drags on his cigarette casually. "The nightclub in New York," he tells me. "I'm here on business. They actually just upgraded my title. I'm master promoter now. All I do is party. Party and bottle service."
His friend chimes in. "Do you know where we can find some more upbeat music around here? Some tech-house music? We can't dance to this trap shit."
The friend is referring to the wobbling, slow-mo, fat-bottomed dubstep music emanating from Original Fat Cat's onto the sidewalk of Himmarshee Street in Fort Lauderdale on a balmy Monday night.
"How do you like to dance in New York?" I ask them, hoping I might get a demo. The friend likes to talk and has a permanent goofy grin and lots of energy. He pumps his arms in the air a few times and laughs.
"You know, we like to make circles on the dance floor," he says. "We make bro circles and then we take turns dancing in the middle." He does a little hunched over move with some fancy footwork. I laugh and make a joke about bar mitzvahs and excuse myself for a drink.
Inside, the bar is beginning to fill out. There's a girl in a camo coat, with a long, golden ponytail and full, red lips; another is clad in a silver minidress and six-inch stilettos, with lioness hair like Shakira, spilling over her tanned shoulders. Still another has neon blue bangs and a septum piercing; and there's a lady there with her little Shiba Inu dog on a leash and a T-shirt that says "Boys Don't Last," chatting with the doorman who's wearing earplugs.
There's a guy with parachute pants; a guy with dreadlocks gathered into a low ponytail and skate shoes with no socks; there's the guy who's with the girl in the stilettos; Another dude is sporting khaki cargo pants and a buttoned-up knit polo, lighting a cigarette, pushing his glasses up his face as he bobs his head to the music. There are black people, white people, Indians, Asians, a guy in a wheelchair, some people in chancletas and board shorts.
I face the bar and watch the 3D block text float around on the screensaver of the cash register as I await my drink. "The Chubby Pussy" bounces and rotates from one edge of the screen to the other and back again. A grizzled, backwards cap-wearing bartender hands me my Dale's Pale Ale. A fan from somewhere above blows a cool breeze onto the hot tips of my ears. It diffuses a smell like gardenia flowers throughout the bar.
Back outside, I watch two guys approaching the stools next to mine. One carries a vinyl record in a black sleeve, and a messenger bag filled with a few more records. The other wears a black T-shirt with the white text "SYSTEM" across the front. It's tonight's headlining DJ V.I.V.E.K., visiting Florida for the first time from London, and one of the dreadlocked fans who came to hear him play. I nod and smile at them as V.I.V.E.K. yanks open a black Sharpie and begins scrawling his autograph across the vinyl sleeves.
"Where can we find those here?" I ask, referring to the records off of V.I.V.E.K.'s new imprint, System Music. He tells me they're available in digital release online. "I liked the idea of doing something vinyl-only, but not everyone can play vinyl or buy it," he says. "This way, anyone who wants to play the music can."
We chat about the places he's visited so far in the U.S.: New York, L.A., Minnesota, Tennessee. He just came from playing a show in Tennessee, and it wasn't like anything he'd expected. "The crowd was wild, just nuts," he says. "And everyone here has been really nice."
"Are you the main DJ?" It's the blonde master promoter from earlier, with his friend, cutting in to introduce himself. "Have you heard of Pacha?" he says.
Around 12:30, V.I.V.E.K. begins his set and the emcee invites anyone left out on the sidewalk to come inside and dance. Dubstep has never been my favorite kind of dance music, but I move my hips and settle into the 70 bpm set, joining the rest of the crowded room.
On the dance floor, Gaurav, one of the party's promoters, leans in to tell me why he loves DJs like V.I.V.E.K., who are regarded as dubstep purists. "They don't rush through the track. They take their time with the music; everything they do is so technical. These guys are masters." Gaurav just got married two weeks ago. He's a salesman at a Ferrari dealership. "I don't really have money," he tells me, "but I have this."
Across the room on the outer fringes of the dance floor, I see master promoter and his friend standing mostly still, looking timid but with expressions that seem to say, when can I jump in? It's not the type of banging, in your face, mainstream house music you'll find in a trendy club in the City. It's the type of deep, low-frequency sound you wade your way into. The bass is vertigo-inducing.
Back outside, preparing to head home, I share a quick smoke with Eric, another one of the promoters from tonight's gig. He's grown up in South Florida, right down the street. "I've watched this whole area change, for twelve years," he says, "This place hasn't changed." Fat Cat's has always been a haven for alternative music culture, even if it gets swarmed with permanent spring breakers on the weekends. Still, he never thought this once-monthly Monday night dubstep party would do so well.
"Where do they all come from?" I ask.
"It's all the old drum and bassers. They come because they love the music," he says. "This place is my childhood bar. This night is like a kid's dream come true."