Margate sits just a bit north and west of Fort Lauderdale. Population: 53,909. There are mostly single-family homes and condominiums. There is also a large senior population and a city-run senior center that offers an enviable variety of programs and services. Margate provides one of the most sophisticated shuttle bus services in South Florida. Its fire department was named EMS Provider of the Year in 1996.
The old Swap Shop Drive-In on State Road 441 has been closed for years and looks like a ghost town, with white tarps thrown over the speakers. The drive-in screen was recently torn down. Passing the plethora of restaurants and plazas that pepper the landscape, dizziness sets in as eyes scan for signs of life.
In Margate, the sound of car alarms lulls you to sleep, cops seem to outnumber citizens, and minimarts are the places to see and be seen. Down a dimly lit pothole-filled street are two gas stations and rows of warehouses. This street leads to the trifecta of Margate music: the Slants, Malt Liquor Riot, and the Shakers. Theirs is an incestuous relationship, to say the least. These three bands compose the soundtrack for Margate. It's been said you write what you know, and they provide the antidote for the angst, the confusion, the boredom, and the sprawling normality.
The Slants are singer/guitarist Kevin Crook, bassist Adam Kostrzecha, guitarist Jeremy Nielsen, and drummer Joey Belknap. Adam and Jeremy are also both in Malt Liquor Riot, and Jeremy and Joey play in the Shakers. Since their formative teenage years, when they all first met, they've also played briefly in infamous bands such as the Iron Fist of Margate, Boy Sets Table, and 9mm Headlock.
With its skyrocketing elderly population, neatly manicured lawns, and plentiful shopping plazas, Margate seems like a regular All-American city. It has staples like Shoney's, Cumberland Farms, Long John Silver's, and -- great Jupiter's thunder! -- good ol' Clock Restaurant. But beneath the shiny, happy, consumer-friendly façade, there must be something that was driving this group of friends to make music. And it wasn't just the buffet at Shoney's.
"Growing up, pretty much all there was to do was hang out, drink, and run shit over," Kostrzecha explains as we sit on the hood of a Volkswagen in front of their warehouse. Inside is a mini-skate ramp. The walls are covered with graffiti, and the fridge is stocked with Natural Ice. A giant oscillating fan rustles up a unique scent of dead animal and sweat. The warehouse a few bays down plays host to a gathering of souped-up cars with overclocked subwoofers. The smell of weed wafts over to us.
"We had to make our own entertainment," he continues. "Slants' songs are autobiographical. They're about skateboarding, cars, life experiences. We just love playing music all the time and playing as many styles of music as we can. That's why we're in different bands. We're not the popular people, and we're not about kissing people's ass. We're just friends who like to hang out and play music. I would die for any of these guys, and I know they'd do the same for me."
And to represent that solidarity, three of the guys from the Slants have had themselves inked with identical tattoos.
"Pat Stahl [singer from the Shakers who also has the tattoo] bought an old transistor radio book, and we were all hanging out and just happened to see the same image at the same time," Kostrzecha recalls. "It doesn't have a specific meaning, but it kind of represents we're all going down together or we're all going to make it together. Pat's mom also has the tattoo, because she was always there to help any of us out if we needed it. There are about 12 of us altogether who have it."
Nate Diaz, the tattoo artist who inked all the guys and Pat's mom, doesn't have the tattoo but confirms their camaraderie. "Anyone who has that tattoo will go out of their way to make sure that the other person is OK," he says. "It's not a status symbol; it's not a joke. It's just about people who are real."
A few months ago, the Slants and Malt Liquor Riot sonically demolished Tavern 213 as they played to a sweaty rowdy crowd packed into the Fort Lauderdale joint. Curious onlookers trying to squeeze into the club witnessed a pit full of arms, legs, and various flying objects. The majority of that crowd was there to represent the hometown boys with frenzied shouts of "Margaaate!"