Industry Insiders: Poplife, Miami Nightlife Kingpins

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For a decade now, Miami’s citizens have flocked en masse to a party called Poplife. Initially created as an antidote to all that’s tried-and-trite in nightlife, the weekly throwdown blew up into a bona fide event-hosting group. The Poplife principals are Barbara Basti, Jake Jefferson and Aramis Lorie. Basti and Lorie are two of the original four founders; Jefferson came on board after he’d been sneaking into Poplife parties for so long that the other members decided to induct him into the crew. Together, the current threesome have devised some of the most incredible evenings in Miami, from bringing in record labels Fool’s Gold and Ghostly International during the town’s much-heralded Winter Music Conference to one-offs with everyone from Calvin Harris to Black Moth Super Rainbow.

Why Poplife? Aramis Lorie: We originally wanted a party that reflected our life, and so we just called it “Life.” When we went to incorporate, of course, the name “Life” was taken so we thought about pop music and its relation to the underground, and about carrying on from Prince’s 80s song. Mostly we just thought it was a cool name.

Where was the first event? Barbara Basti: It was at Mezza Fine Art in Coral Gables. It was really small, held around 200 people. We had bands perform, DJs. And it was packed. We did it for a year. With the constantly changing artwork and the personable size, it helped us subconsciously form what it was that we wanted to do.

And then you outgrew the venue? BB: Yeah, and we moved to Piccadilly Garden in the Design District.

How’d you choose that neighborhood? AL: It was in an area that was unexplored, and our party was out of the mainstream. Why go to South Beach with everybody else? We wanted something that we could develop on our own in an area that we thought fit with what we wanted to do. It made perfect sense. It had a whole Northeastern feel in the center of Miami. Jake Jefferson: That’s the year I started going to the party. It was 21 and up, so I used to sneak in with one of the resident DJs. I wouldn’t go anywhere on South Beach back then, and neither would my friends.

After two years, you decided to open up your own spot, called I/O. How’d you end up in NoDo (North of Downtown)? BB: We were looking for something in the downtown area; we felt we needed to move on from the Design District. I wouldn’t say it was ideal — if you’ve seen to this neighborhood you know what I mean — but we were still approaching business from an idealistic standpoint, and making do with what we had. We were very do-it-yourself, and this is what we could afford.

How long before you took over the place next door for PS14? BB: It was only a year.

Was that because you needed a separate outlet? AL: People would get hungry, so we thought we’d open a little pizzeria and feed their appetite. JJ: Before it was PS14, it was a late night pizza shop. For awhile, we had a window out back that opened right to I/O next door. People could grab a slice and they didn’t even have to leave the club. You’ve left White Room after a 20-some month stand, and you’re moving Poplife to Electric Pickle this Saturday. What’s behind the move? AL: The reason for our success as Poplife, I think, is we’ve always evolved. We’ve been good at keeping our hand on the pulse of things and just going with that. As opposed to trying to resist change; we walk with change. We had a great run at White Room, but we were due for a move, a different sort of space. BB: Plus we do so many larger events now during the week. Electric Pickle was the perfect way for us to scale back a bit and return to some of the idealism we had when Poplife first began, especially towards the music.

You’ve been doing larger events on the Beach, especially at LIV on Wednesdays. How’d that come about? JJ: Basically, they came to us. The marketing company that handles the club approached us when they were only open Fridays and Saturdays. Both of those nights were doing amazing, so they said they wanted to do something like what we do but with a bigger budget. Jimmy Vargas, the Marketing Director at LIV, reached out to us. We had a meeting, and it was pretty much full steam ahead from there.

But Poplife always seemed to be anti-Beach. Why the switch? JJ: There’s been a shift. South Beach used to only be about tourism; now they’ve realized that they’ve also got to incorporate the local market. Since we’ve got a corner on the local market, they called us.

Poplife also throws “Just Add Water” on Sunday afternoons at Blade at the Fontainebleau. What’s that about? BB: I’ve always really wanted to do a pool party. A fun alternative to going out at night; a place where we could get some sun, see some friends and still hear good music. After we’d been doing Dirty Hairy at LIV for awhile we approached Jimmy, and he said, “Go for it.”

Of all the shows Poplife has presented, you must have some favorites … BB, JJ, AL: Super hard to choose. Mylo at The District, Calvin Harris at White Room, seven year anniversary with Jamie Lidell at The District, Fools Gold at Poplife WMC 2009, and any time Of Montreal or Ratatat have played with us.

Where do you hang out in Miami? BB: Lemoni Cafe. Sandwiches, salads, soups. The food is great, it’s personable, it’s comfortable. And it’s conveniently located. JJ: PS14. Believe it or not, I really do go there on my nights off. Even on the nights I say I’m going to stay home, I come to PS. It feels like home. It’s my Cheers. AL: The Room. It’s a good thinking room. It’s intimate. It’s a place I can run into people I know, have a glass of Prosseco and not be bothered.