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The Electro-Funk Origins of Miami Bass

Strictly speaking, the roots of Miami Bass lie in mid-eighties to early-nineties electro, an era driven by blippy Atari video game sounds, topped with cheesy chick vocals and robotic vocoder riffs, filling a void between disco’s death and hip-hop’s renaissance. It was music played in roller rinks and cruising lowriders. These days, electronic bass music around the world carries a certain amount of musical DNA from Miami Bass, whether it’s during a set on the Mayan Warrior art car at Burning man, or something you’d hear deep into the night at Electric Daisy Carnival.

Pioneers like Luke Campbell’s Ghetto Style DJs and, later, his 2 Live Crew manifested the booty-down version of Miami bass, blowing up Saturday afternoons at Liberty City’s African Park with the holler, “Throw the D.” The Hialeah Hispanic set listened to DJs like Tony the Tiger and DJ Laz coke up their bass with longing freestyle tracks like Stevie B’s “Spring Love” and Nice and Wild’s “Diamond Girl.” The common denominator between the two was a devotion to bouncy, Kraftwerk styled synth-pop inspired by Cybotron’s “Clear” and Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock.”

Today Miami bass kitschiness is celebrated by DJ’s across the world. One of the purveyors of Miami Bass history is DJ Le Spam, who has been headlining Miami Bass music nights since the late 90’s.  For decades now, Le Spam has sent kids on a time warp, dosing them with Afro-Rican and Maggotron records. “I get a strong reaction whenever I play bass,” explains Spam. “It’s inherently funky.”

Miami bass is still a much-loved part of the city’s musical history, especially by anyone who grew up there. Whether it’s the 5:00 p.m. “Traffic Jam” on Power 96 (96.5 WPOW-FM), or a club DJ treating the crowd to a “dirty” bass track like Freestyle’s timeless track “Don’t Stop the Rock,” the effect is instantaneous: boyfriends finally get off their asses and dance with their girls; chatterboxes stop talking shit for a sec to enjoy the music (before starting up again to reminisce about the time when the song came out); and groups of revelers raise their hands in the air, bellowing, “Whaaat!” at their friends. One thing’s for sure: Miami bass will never die.

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