Our Man in Miami: A Night on the Town with Irvine Welsh & Public Enemy

“My God. Did that really happen last night? If I didn’t have pics I’d swear it was just an extended jetlag and writing fatigue hallucination.” That’s from my pal Irvine Welsh, who texted me as soon as he woke up last Sunday morning. It seems a particular portion of our Saturday night was a little far-fetched even for a man whose mind is behind some of the most out-there novels in the history of literature. Then again, catching Public Enemy in a locked-down burlesque joint on a sultry late summer evening is almost too surreal to be believed by anyone.

Irvine had flown into town on Friday and given me a ring, and we’d agreed to meet the next night. At the time, I had no idea where we’d go, but I figured something swingin’ would come up. Little did I know that it’d be something that swung in straight from another world.

Like all wild nights, it began with some splendid fortification. In this case, it was at the ever-hopping Mercadito, which opened in Midtown Miami back in May and hasn’t had a mild night since. As always, our host was the indefatigable Brian Hicks, a Chi-town native who seems predestined to table-hop. As a manager, Brian makes Mercadito move as smoothly as the Miami River. As a man, he’s the consummate gentleman. and he never fails to make patrons feel more than welcome.

Mercadito, which means “Little Market” in Spanish, knows how to feed folks too, with perfectly-portioned delicacies sourced as fresh and as fine as it comes. The cocktails are also crazy cool, and we opted for some pineapple concoction that tasted like a treat from Dionysius himself. Perhaps that’s why the rest of the night came off as some sort of ecstatic madness – we’d drunk from a god’s flask, and now we had to pay for it.

And how. The drive up to La Fee Verte was pleasant enough. As we crossed the 79th Street Causeway, Irvine filled me in on his August in Edinburgh at the legendary Fringe Festival, and I tried to counter with recollections of my summer in the thick of it all. We talked about books (he’s here to finish up a novel called The Scag Boys), flicks (he’s in L.A. next week to see about the filming of his book Filth), and women; or more precisely, his one and my lack of just one (Irvine’s longtime accomplice happens to be one of the most remarkable women alive).

We entered La Fee Verte expecting no less than sheer sexy from the get go, and we weren’t disappointed one bit. The art, the furnishings, the colors, the lights – all harked back to a time when burlesque was big business. Here, a man has to pinch himself to remember he’s actually in the 21st century.

But all the trappings in the world wouldn’t mean a thing if the entertainment didn’t also hit the mark, and here the joint outdoes itself. Aurora Natrix, Milena Hale, and my own personal favorite, Nicole Soden, shook and shimmied their way into our hearts as if they’d been designed to be broken. Call me a masochist, but there’s something about a tease that leaves me reeling; something delicious indeed. And these three knockouts knocked the proverbial wind out of me.

Then it happened. The lights dimmed, the room went silent, and a voice came out of the ether: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy!”

The crowd, such as it was, went nuts. And Irvine and I looked at each other with a note of utter surprise. We kind of expected Chuck D to be there – Flavor Flav, on the other hand, was always in doubt. That the two would then ascend to a go-go dancer’s poled platform and launch into some of the most riotous hip hop ever to blast from a boombox never once entered our minds. Sure, we counted on hearing the hits, but from a stripper’s perch? Not in a million years.

Things got even kookier when Chuck and Flavor started serenading the birthday boy, who’d obviously coughed up a good chunk of change both to lockdown the joint and to lure what’s left of Public Enemy. And from the way these hip hop heavyweights bantered about, the largest part of that chunk must’ve been going straight into their pockets. But who am I to criticize? The cat made it possible for me and Irvine to see two of rap’s most historical figures from within arm’s reach. And at the end of it all, we both felt as if we’d seen something few people ever would see – let alone believe.

Our Man in Miami: Basking in the Beauty of Miami Horror

Incongruity becomes me. I drive a ’76 Buick Regal and use a 4G phone. I wear suits and ties where shorts and sandals are pretty much de rigueur. I dig listening to The Archies while reading Nietzsche, and reading Mickey Spillane while listening to Wagner. When most of the land lies down to bed for the night, I rise. When everyone’s hell bent on heaven, I’m among the heaven-sent who descend. So it stands to damn good reason that I’d dig Miami Horror, the nightmarishly-named Aussie outfit who make music so beautiful it hurts. I can’t recall exactly when or where I first came across the name, nor what went through my mind in the nanosecond it took for me to click back and see if I could believe my eyes. Some kinda tragic headline, I surmised. Most certainly, I didn’t think music, let alone a sound so robust it makes the disco it emulates almost pale in comparison. And when I did find out Miami Horror was a man (now a band), I figured he’d cribbed his moniker from a tabloid a la New York’s legendary 3 Teens Kill 4. You know, the kinda front page story that grabs folks by the throat.

Alas, as you’ll read, I was wrong, way wrong. In fact, I was so far off base I may as well have been on another playing field altogether. And when a know-it-all like me so completely misses the mark, well, getting to the core of the matter becomes of paramount importance. So when I heard the man (now band) would be holed up at The Fontainebleau and staging at LIV, I set my sights on a sitdown. And when I found out the man (and band) had barely left the grounds in the two days they’d been in town, I insisted we preface said sitdown with a drive around.

That’s how I found myself playing tour guide for Miami Horror’s main man, Benjamin Plant. The rest of the band had gone to the frolic in the sea, but managers Jerry Soer and David Kirkpatrick were courageous enough to jump in and join me on a whirlwind look at South Beach.

Backed by a monologue that must’ve sounded as mad as the cat in the hat who was uttering it, I pointed out local landmarks like The Octagon, where my French designer pal Daniel Venissac lives in Muhammad Ali’s old apartment, Frank Gehry’s soon-to-open New World Symphony complex, which bookends nicely Cesar Pelli’s Arsht Center across the Causeway, and our once dearly beloved Burdines, Florida’s first department store, which has now gone the way of Macy’s. I took ‘em on a stroll down Lincoln Road, and told of its boom and bust and boom again history, and how it was designed by the late, great Morris Lapidus, the very same mind behind The Fontainebleau. And after a dynamite meal at Rosinella (where else?), I dropped off the now fully-informed trio at Mac’s Club Deuce, the dive bar to end all dive bars, and the one remaining element of old South Beach.

It was while we were breaking bread that I managed to shut up and let Ben get a word in edgewise. Here are a few of them.

It just so happens that both Massive Attack and MGMT will be coming to Miami on the same date. If you had choose one of the two, which would it be? I’d have to say Massive Attack, because I’ve seen MGMT.

Really? How were they? A lot of people were disappointed by their show, because they basically just stand there and do nothing. But that’s exactly what I expected. Everyone else thought that because their music is so unique, they’d have this really crazy show or something. They don’t.

What other of the new crop of bands do you dig? There’s another Australian group called Tame Impala, and they’re pretty much Psych Rock with Cream influence and John Lennon-like vocals.

They’re also from Melbourne? No, they’re from Perth.

Is it something you might wanna remix? They wouldn’t really want a remix, because the music is so organic. There are a couple synth noises here and there, but it’s mostly all guitars, heavy phasers…

What about dance music? This guy Lindstrom from Norway, he has some pretty cool stuff. It’s not that dancy, but it’s that kinda new disco that’s goin’ on now.

You know, I interviewed Calvin Harris when he was in town last year, not that you sound like Calvin Harris, but there is a similar slant. And it always puzzles me how this strange blip in the aural cosmos – ’77 or ’78 to ’81 disco – got a hold of you guys. Obviously you weren’t around then. What happened? Did you hear an old Donna Summer record and go nuts? Yeah, I think so. Pretty much. I tried to keep Illumination influenced by disco, but not really disco. I think what happened was that for 10 years there was this house thing, which was obviously influenced by disco; in fact it’s probably more disco than all this new stuff, just a newer version of it. And that’s where the influence first came from. Then people started looking into house’s influence, and that led back to original disco. Okay, you’ve probably answered this a million times, but where did the name Miami Horror come from? I was looking at visual words. I wanted something that had more depth to it than just a word, i.e with a more visual aspect. Miami was quite colorful. It was probably when I was into more ‘80s sounding stuff, too, so that made it appeal to me even more. Horror was a nice contrast with Miami, and both words together have a lot of repetition, you know, two i’s, double r’s, two o’s. Horror can almost be mirrored. It’s just a visual thing really.

So you didn’t come across some tabloid headline that led with “Miami Horror”? No, nothing like that. It’s just two words that happened to come together really well.

So what do you think of Miami anyway? Well, we’ve seen more in the last 40 minutes than we have in the entire two days we’ve been here.

That’s my fault. Had I known you’d be in town early, I would’ve snatched you up sooner – or at least given you an itinerary of hot spots to hit. There’s always something goin’ on. Next time, for sure. We’ll be back.

I’m gonna hold you to that. Please do.

Our Man in Miami: Taking a Drive with Desmond Child

Thank Zeus for cool friends. No sooner had a certain electronica act passed on having a chat with yours truly than a gal pal o’ mine set up an interview with someone infinitely more palatable—and enduring. So rather than having to force myself on a couple too-cool-for-school Canadians, I got to get with the cat who’s largely responsible the soundtrack of our lives. So there.

That’s how I found myself sitting in the backseat of a Dodge Nitro speaking with legendary producer and songwriter Desmond Child yesterday afternoon. The ever glam Debbie O made the connect, and I couldn’t have been keener on the prospect had I suggested it myself. Child just so happened to be holed up in one of Ricky Martin’s stately abodes wrapping up the Latin heartthrob’s latest LP. Martin’s home, as you might imagine, is literally fit for storybooks. But even more impressive was the fact that it had been converted into some kinda sound factory. The moment I crossed the threshold I could feel the magic in the air.

Child had to jet away for a few days to take care of a couple things, so I hopped on board for the drive to the airport. And while all I heard of his latest production came in snippets through one of Martin’s three studio doors, I nevertheless sensed something brewing that just may knock the proverbial socks off the whole wild world. Confirming my suspicion was Child himself, who told me just enough about Martin’s next collection of songs to make everybody’s day. But first, I asked him to backtrack through some of his career highlights, which still leave me somewhat agog.

Would you consider Kiss’ “I Was Made for Loving You” your breakout track? It was my first international hit, and yeah, it helped put me on the map as a songwriter with bands. Up until that point not very many bands wrote with professional outside songwriters. At the time, though, I was really an artist with Desmond Child & Rouge, and it was more of a collaboration between artists, because Paul Stanley was a fan of our group. He’d come down to the shows all the time, and one day he said, ‘Hey, let’s write a song together.” So he co-wrote a song on our first record called “The Fight,” and I co-wrote “I Was Made for Loving You” for Kiss’ Dynasty. I think I did better than he did in the exchange.

And Stanley is the one who recommended you to Bon Jovi, right? Right. Bon Jovi was on tour in Europe with Kiss—they were the opening act. And I think they really liked another song I wrote with Paul called “Heaven’s on Fire,” which also became a hit for them. Jon asked Paul about me, and Paul gave him my phone number. And then I went over to New Jersey to write with this new band called Bon Jovi. I ended up co-writing four songs from Slippery When Wet, including “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

And you’ve been working with them ever since? Yeah, I served as Executive Producer on the last four albums.

I know you’ve also worked with Alice Cooper, who gave me a great interview last year. Was that the Trash record? Yes, I co-wrote with Alice and produced Trash. That had a song called “Poison” on it, which was his big comeback song.

Have you worked with him since? Yeah, in fact, we worked recently with Bob Ezrin. Wow! The immortal Kiss producer! Yeah, but he also produced all of Alice’s early records too.

Did he do Killer and School’s Out and all of those? Yeah, and Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome to My Nightmare… He’s an amazing producer and one of the most wonderful people I’ve even known.

You’ve also co-written with Joan Jett. Was “I Hate Myself for Loving You” the only song you two wrote together? No, we did “Little Liar” and “Get Off the Cross I Need the Wood”…

You guys wrote a song called “Get Off the Cross I Need the Wood”? That’s brilliant! (Both laugh) We did a few other songs together too.

I also wanted to ask about that Hanson track, “Weird,” which is a really beautiful song. Thanks. Maybe other than “Livin’ on a Prayer,” that is singularly one of my all-time favorite songs. I always perform it whenever I’m asked to sing somewhere.

I’ve also got Cher in my notes, with three exclamation points. How did that come about? John Kalodner, the legendary A&R man at Geffen Records, signed Cher when no one believed in her as a recording artist anymore. I had been working on Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation, where I had co-written “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” and “Angel,” and I was also having success with Bon Jovi at the time, and he asked if I’d produce her. I’d met her back while she was doing the play Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean when another producer had used a couple of my songs, so Kalodner re-introduced us, and she was thoroughly enchanting. I ended up bringing in a bunch of my friends to do the record, including Jon Bon Jovi. And that’s when she met Richie Sambora.

Oh, so you’re responsible for that? (laughs) Yeah, it’s all my fault! (laughs) Not that I could’ve stopped it. Instant chemistry.

Another triple exclamation point I’ve got is for Lindsay Lohan. She did your song “I Live for The Day.” Really? How? Why? Actually, I didn’t work with her. The song was pitched to her and she cut it. In fact, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never even heard her version. The record company didn’t send me a copy, because they don’t do that anymore, and at the time I didn’t know how to download, so, through one thing or another, I never got to listen to it.

More recently you worked with Mika. What’s he like? Yeah, we co-wrote a song with Jody Marr called “Erase.” He’s wonderful. A great guy, very smart.

Then there’s Katy Perry’s “Waking Up in Vegas.” Yeah, that went number one a year ago. She’s amazing. She’s absolutely adorable and gorgeous and funny and irreverent – exactly as she is in her songs.

Okay, that brings us to the next Ricky Martin record… I’m really excited about the music, the content, because since he’s come out it’s unleashed his creativity and the scope of what he can sing about and say and do. He’s a formidable person – an activist, a philanthropist, a humanitarian. All of the work he’s put into his charity—it’s all going into the music. His personal life too, and how much his life has been changed by his children. Once he opened that door a floodgate of energy and creativity just really exploded.

So, it’s fair to say that the next Ricky Martin record will be unlike anything we’ve ever heard before? Definitely. We really reached a creative fusion of rock and pop and electronic and Latin music – it’s all over the place in a really great way.

Our Man in Miami: Drinking Dewar’s at The W with Danny Clinch

If there’s an artist in the rock or rap pantheon that famed photog Danny Clinch hasn’t shot at least once, I don’t know who it is. From Johnny Cash to Tupac, he’s set his lens on the best of them, and the results are as iconic as the figures he’s captured. A few years ago, Clinch started branching out into film—he’s shot shorts of Jay-Z (NY-Z) and full lengths of Ben Harper (Pleasure and Pain), among others. But it was Clinch’s live action madness for Tom Waits’ “Lie to Me” that really got me giddy. So when someone from Dewar’s rang and asked me if I’d like to meet Clinch over drinks at The W, it took me all of one second to say “yes!”

Bruce Springsteen, David Byrne, Jay-Z, Eddie Vedder, the list is endless—is there anyone you haven’t photographed but want to? I’d like to have my couple minutes with Keith Richards. I’ve had a couple live opportunities, but no one-on-one as of yet.

Who was the most fun? Tom Waits, when we were shooting for Orphans up in Northern California. First of all he showed up with a truck full of vintage gear—bullhorns and speakers and cassette decks and amplifiers. And he said ‘C’mon, we’re gonna build a speaker cabinet!’ And I said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ So we got our coffee and we spent an hour building this thing out of all this crap he brought along.

I dig that clip! It looks like that Dr. Parnassus movie he was in. Yeah, exactly. So we set it up and he pulled out his guitar to make like it was plugged into this monstrosity. Then he went ‘Oh, man. It would be great if we could shoot this as a video.’ And I was like ‘I don’t have a video camera, but I can put my 35mm on motor drive and we can shoot it like that. It won’t sync up, and it’ll look all screwy, but…’ Waits said ‘Yeah!’ And then he went crazy, jumping up and down with his guitar, moving back and forth in front of the camera, he just went nuts!

Who was your most unfun subject? I would say the most unfun was the guitar player from System of a Down…. (long pause)

No further comment? I could say a lot of things but I won’t.

I wish I could write a disgusted head shake into this, but we’ll leave it at that. (Both laugh)

You got your kickstart with Annie Leibovitz, who I’ve also interviewed. What was the most important thing she taught you? The first thing that comes to my mind is to not take ‘No’ for an answer. That there’s always a way to make something work, you just have to figure it out. Her whole crew that surrounded her, their job was to do whatever she asked them to do. They never said no.

She just had a way—I mean, you can see it in her photographs—of having people, though they were posed, look completely relaxed and in the moment. And I hope that rubbed off on me a little bit.

You got a Grammy nomination for your dual-disc bio for Springsteen’s Devils and Dust. Any similar projects coming up? Yeah, I was just down in New Orleans and I filmed the Preservation Hall Jazz Band playing with My Morning Jacket.

You did it on site, without a/c, amid all those ghostly paintings they have there at Pres Hall? Yeah, it was wild.

Is that a short or full-length? Full-length. We’re hoping to set an example for other artists by showing that Preservation Hall is a national treasure, and if you come down and make some music with these cats, we’ll film it.

That’s fantastic. I’m also cutting a documentary on Ryan Adams that I shot when he did Cold Roses, Jacksonville, and 29.

Live stuff? Some, but it’s more vérité stuff we did in New York.

Are these all projects with your production company, Three on the Tree? Yes, there all for Three on the Tree.

Are there partners we should mention? No, actually, the name comes from when I was a kid. My dad drove an old Ford Econoline van that had three on the tree [three gears on the steering column]. We also had an old Falcon wagon that had three on the tree, too. One day, someone asked me the name of my production company, and I blurted out “Three on the Tree.” It stuck.

How’d you get involved with Dewar’s, anyway? Let’s see, I originally did a job with Dewar‘s photographing in Hong Kong. It was a lifestyle shoot for the Asian market. It was a great job, we had a great time, I worked really hard, and we got a lot of great results. So they had me on their radar. Then someone contacted my other agent and said, ‘Look, we’re doing a redesign of the bottles, and we’d like Danny to photograph them.’ So I asked them if they wanted lifestyle shots, a party, or what. And Dewar’s said ‘No, we want you to shoot the bottles.’”

Is this your first time shooting product? It is. But there’s something cool about switching up, and we just went for it.

The results are classic. Thanks!

Speaking of classic, Dewar’s is kinda like the classic rock of scotch, isn’t it? (Laughs) Yeah, I like that line. Now you’ve gotta have a drink with me.

I would but I’ve got another interview ahead and I’m afraid it might mellow me out. Nothing’s gonna mellow you out, Hood.

Our Man in Miami: Going Gone with Pete Tong

Labor Day is usually a time when nightlife veterans such as I retreat to anywhere but Miami Beach. The crowds are colossal and their behavior is generally just as monstrous—anyone in their right mind tends to avoid it at all costs. But when Pete Tong is flying in for a spin at SET and you’re offered some face-time, well, dealing with rash behavior seems not to matter so much.

But I couldn’t get gone with Pete Tong without prefacing it with some good new-fangled rock music. So I snuck in the side door at Bayfront Park and sidled up to the stage for a set by Paramore, perhaps the most rambunctious young’uns touring the world these days. It was a strange affair, what with the shrill shrieks and massive crunch of neo-classic power pop. Then again I don’t often stand between 6000 screaming teens and their idols.

On to SET where things were decidedly more adult. That’s not to say there wasn’t some frenzy in the air, mind you—it’s just that the frenzy seemed to be tempered by everyone’s concerted effort to impress each other. Tong of course, has no such need. The cat’s been at it for so long his name is pretty much ubiquitous with the night. And though in person he’s coolly understated, on the decks he’s no such thing. There’s good reason this DJ’s a superstar. Just ask the masses who lost their minds at the foot of his booth.

Tong had flown in from spinning Randall’s Island Electric Zoo, and was set to floor SET before heading out to Vegas in order to do it all over again. That he found time to get with your Man in Miami between spins only means he’s not just a superstar DJ, he’s also a gentleman.

Okay, you literally just flew in from spinning at Electric Zoo in New York. How many people do you think were there? I didn’t count ‘em (laughs). It was a very, very cool location, just at the top corner of Manhattan under the bridge between the Bronx and Queens. The weather was fantastic. When I was back in England there was all this talk of hurricanes, so I didn’t know what to expect. The only unfortunate thing was that I literally just flew in, did it, and flew out again. I’ve been coming to New York since 1979 and this was by far my shortest visit. But taking off from La Guardia I got the most stunning view of Manhattan I’ve even seen. It was a crystal clear night and we flew right over the city. I didn’t think you were allowed to do that anymore.

Tomorrow you’re in Vegas for another drive-by? Yeah, I’ve been coming to America for a long, long time but I’d never done Labor Day because it’s always in the middle of the Ibiza season. But it’s obviously getting more and more hot over here, and this seemed like the perfect year to do it. So you want to sort of maximize it, and do as many shows as you can in a short span of time. It’s three shows in 26 hours: Electric Zoo, SET tonight, then on to Vegas for a daytime party at Encore Las Vegas.

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Then it’s back across the pond for Wonderland Ibiza right? I do Wonderland every week for 16 weeks. This last Friday was the only Friday I would’ve missed. It ends on October 1. That is the closing weekend.

Did you open the Ibiza season with another of your International Music Summits? Yeah, we did our third year of the Summit. It’s kind of inspired by the old New Music Seminar and Tony Wilson’s In the City; kind of a hybrid of the two. There really isn’t one in the UK right now, Miami’s Winter Music Conference is in March, and the Amsterdam dance event isn’t until October, so it seemed sensible for me and my partners to do this in Ibiza, and kind of set the agenda for the whole summer.

The Summit itself is about 600 people, and we do a big scrum around the evenings, different showcase events, and then it ends up with the big concert in a heritage site on top of this town that no one’s every used before, which is beautiful. It’s meant to be a bit intimate so everyone gets something out of it. It’s a kind of antidote to Miami, which I now call ‘an exhibition in nightclubbing in one week.’ Most people that come to Miami for Conference don’t even realize there’s a conference going on.

Is this your first time at SET? No, no, I did SET back when it first opened. I used to do a lot of Opium Group shows; then I started doing one-offs – Ultra and Space. Lately I’ve been spinning Mynt Lounge a lot. My friend Roman [Jones] owns it. This time I’m changing up.

Winter Music Conference 2011. What do you have planned? We’ll be doing another pool party, but we may move from The Surfcomber, I’m not sure yet. It’s easy to overdo it during Conference. Last year I did only two events: The Surfcomber and Space.

Underworld, U2 and Spoon are the first three mixes on your site right now. What do you have to hear from a song for you to get involved? There has to be something quite remarkable about it. I always look for some kind of soul in the music – and I don’t mean soul singer soul; just something special, something magic. It’s kind of a sixth sense really.

Kinda like your DJing? Exactly.