Ask party people around the world about Miami nightlife and they’ll rave about megaclubs such as Mansion and Space and the superstar DJs who jet in to rock the crowds with their pulsing house beats.
But not everyone enjoys following the fist-pumping masses past the velvet ropes and into the VIP areas. Ten years ago, as a backlash against the typical club experience, promoters Barbara Basti and Aramis Lorie created the weekly event POPLIFE, which offers an artistic, indie-rock culture, a mecca for those who crave entertainment far from the mainstream.
“Back then, Miami nightlife was socially kind of one-dimensional,” says Basti, 33. “I was pretty young, but Aramis and I didn’t really feel that there were too many alternatives of things for people to do. We had a great group of friends who all had common musical interests, so it kind of just started as an outlet for all of us, a place where we could go and hear music that we wanted to.”
From its modest beginnings, POPLIFE, which celebrates a decade of alternative fun Saturday night at downtown Miami’s The White Room, has grown into a true cultural force – and respected brand name.
“They have an audience that trusts them,” says Laura Quinlan, director of the Rhythm Foundation, a frequent collaborator with POPLIFE that focuses on bringing world music to Miami. “So when they put their stamp on a band, even though you don’t know the band, you know you’re going to have a great time and hear something fresh.”
Quinlan still sounds giddy recalling one concert she co-presented with POPLIFE: Os Mutantes in the summer of 2006 at the Artimes Theater.
“That’s something I can’t believe really happened,” she says. “They’re a legendary psychedelic Brazilian band from the ‘60s, and they did a really limited mini-tour where they reunited.”
Basti grew up loving all things British – “basically, anything out of the U.K., like Blur, Radiohead, Pulp, The Verve, all bands like that, and anything that influenced them, like New Order, Joy Division – their predecessors.” But her vision for POPLIFE is much broader.
The list of musical acts Basti’s helped attract reads like a hipster’s dream: Le Tigre, Peaches, MIA (“before anybody knew who she was at all, she played a Winter Music Conference party with us many years ago.”), Of Montreal, Interpol (“their first show they ever played in Miami, we did with them”), The Faint, Yelle, Ladytron, Green Velvet, Junior Boys, Mylo, Cat Power, Modest Mouse, and dozens more.
“We have had tons of performances, but instead of focusing on trying to attain those legendary bands that we’ve always been in love with, we focused on what’s up-and-coming and what’s new out there and what we felt deserved exposure,” says Basti. “Of Montreal, we’ve had them play like five or six times. And that in itself has been really rewarding to see how many people would come to their first show and where they are now. They’re probably not even an act that I would book now, because I like doing the up-and-coming stuff, and at this point their visibility is widespread.”
Andrew Yeomanson, aka DJ Le Spam, founder of the local Latin funk-electronica band Spam Allstars, performed for POPLIFE in the early days at Piccadilly Gardens in the
“When I started DJing there, I would bring the funk records, but when I brought late-‘80s, early-‘90s hip-hop and bass records, things would get crazy,” he recalls. “So I was like, ‘Wow, this is a little thing here.’ So eventually I did a monthly party that was just old Miami bass records, and that became a popular event. And that thing ran for several years.”
Yeomanson says events like POPLIFE are vital to Miami’s cultural pulse.
“You have an audience who is a little bit younger than your meat-and-potatoes club crowd on South Beach,” he says. “And this crowd is more open-minded or just looking for something that’s going to set them apart taste-wise from people who are 10 years older, listening to more commercial stuff. That’s part of their whole identity.”
In a city so driven by making a quick buck, Yeomanson says he’s impressed by the POPLIFE people’s passion and dedication to the music scene.
“Anybody who’s putting their a** out on the line and sticking their necks out to bring midlevel, independent touring acts into Miami especially, is kind of being heroic,” he says, “because it’s very easy to lose a lot of money doing that.”
For her part, Basti says she can see herself doing POPLIFE or something similar in Miami indefinitely.
“I love putting on shows, I love bringing artists down,” she says. “I don’t see that desire going away anytime soon.”
POPLIFE’s 10-year anniversary celebration features performance by Atlanta indie-rock band Snowden, plus surprise guests, 10 p.m. Saturday, June 6. at White Room, 1306 N. Miami Ave., downtown Miami; 305-995-5050