Nelson Fernandez, aka DJ Nova, always felt out of place in Miami. Sure, he loved the emphasis the city had on dance music and club culture. And he liked the tans and the tits, and especially the Asses. But it was never a place for him to prosper.
I know because I was there.
Nelson played hardcore, unrelenting techno and purer genres of house music than I had ever heard. He was all about minimal, repetitive, but high quality sound. His emphasis as a DJ and producer was texture and rhythm, not necessarily the catchiness of the beat or melody.
“It’s frustrating when you have music that you know is of the highest quality and people would rather listen to a Tiesto remix of a Madonna song.”
When Nelson played the clubs on South Beach, he refused to spin commercial dance tracks, and he had grown out of the electro/breaks sound that Miami’s underground was known for back in the day.
“The rhythm. That’s the sexy part. That’s what messes with your head. Look at what Richie Hawtin does with one single note. And makes a whole song that blows your mind with it, but it’s classy,” Nelson once told me about subtleties of minimal techno.
It took me a while to get it. I was a raver. I was all about huge JNKO jeans, Plastikman, and Florida Breaks. So I needed a history lesson. Nelson taught it to me.
When he’d spin the “real” techno, he’d explain where modern electronic music came from, in this country anyway. And it was created by trio of black artists in Central Michigan back in the early ‘80s. Namely, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Atkins, the Holy Trinity of Techno.
The rest of Miami was also slow to catch up with Nelson as well. Most clubs would frown when he’d forgo the requested tropi-pop, Euro-house for the steely, serious techno.
Still, Nelson kept trying.
Nelson would go on to collaborate with local DJ/producers such as Duncan Ross and Stryke on music and events, but his main focus was bridging the techno scene in influential Detroit to his home in South Florida. In those days between ’98 and ’03, Nelson did everything he could to introduce Miami to top-shelf techno from the Motor City.
“…the first time I saw these black guys making this kind of music and learning where it all comes from and what they had to do with it definitely inspired me.”
I’ll never forget one night in ‘98; during his weekly techno show on the then pirate station The Womb. We’re up in some dingy studio overlooking Lincoln Road during Winter Music Conference. He’s throwing down Carl Cox, Stacy Pullen, Kenny Larkin, and Jeff Mills, the who’s who of electronic music which nobody in Miami was listening to.
So there I am sitting on the couch as Nelson spun at the pirate radio station, and around 1 am, this elegant, older black man in a Shaft brown leather coat walks in with his Nubian Goddess-looking wife and a crate of records and tells us, without flinching, “I’m Juan. Before I spin, you all got grass right?”
It was Juan Atkins. I will never forget that scene. Me sparking up Juan “Cybotron” Atkins to a big fat bowl as Nelson spun a remix of “Clear” in tribute.
Over the following years, Nelson continued associating with Detroit techno through his Miami Meets Detroit parties held every WMC, as well as his frequent forays to the Motor City, to work with the likes of Stacey Pullen. There were ups and downs. And he made some headway. Miami is definitely more open to the purer electronic music forms than it was at the turn of the century, when cheesy shit reigned supreme. But to produce the kind of music he wanted, and gain grassroots support, Nelson knew had to leave the 305.
“It was tough. It’s frustrating when you have music that you know is of the highest quality and people would rather listen to a Tiesto remix of a Madonna song. I needed to get out, because Miami has not been kind to me,” Nelson told me.
So he did. And as fate would have it during a foray to Detroit, at the Black Nation Records party during the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, he crossed paths with someone who knew where he was coming from.
Luis Rosario, likewise, felt out of place growing up in his part of Brooklyn, where hip-hop was the sound of choice. As young as 14, Luis would venture out to the City, where he’d hit gold standard clubs like Limelight and the Palladium. It was there his affinity for house music grew. And like Nelson Luis got fixated on Detroit.
“In the ‘90s things were going more towards that progressive, euro sound, and that’s cool, but I just like the sound that Detroit techno had. And I got be honest the first time I saw these black guys making this kind of music and learning where it all comes from and what they had to do with it definitely inspired me,” Luis says.
Luis would make his way to Boston where he spun regularly. But as he says, “when I got to Boston the house music started changing. Got more commercial, appealed to frat boys. I grew up in the ghetto. So when I got to Detroit I educated myself on where techno came from and what it was really about.”
“Dance music will weed you out if you’re not committed to it. Music has definitely affected our personal lives. Art is built on struggles.”
Musical soul mates who both felt out of place because of their techno tastes, Nelson and Luis stayed in touch, even as Nelson moved back to Miami from Detroit and Luis relocated to Los Angeles. Ideas crossed back and forth over the Internet, but it wasn’t till Nelson took a trip out to LA to visit Luis that the two connected on a level worthy of making meaningful music together.
“I don’t know if Nelson told you this, or if I should even say it but, the turning point for me is when I got a divorce. It made me realize that I got brainwashed by that mindset that you’re never doing enough, or that certain superficial goals are what’s important. And you lose site of what’s really important in life,” Luis says.
“Nelson went through a divorce himself. And we just connected and confided in each other. We talked about almost anything but music. And I think that is when we got that clear mindset that allowed us to make the music we ended up making.”
That music is the product of a week up in Luis’s Marina Del Rey pad. The pair, facetiously calling themselves D’s and C’s (pronounced Dees and Cees as in Dominicans and Cubans) would produce a series of tracks that would ultimately become their debut album Placing Ourselves Elsewhere.
Just to make fate seemingly central to all this, the label’s showcase is where they met, Black Nations Records, signed them.
“The name of the album is about music that places you elsewhere. It’s about both of us leaving our past behind us, everything that has held us back. Putting me somewhere else but Miami,” Nelson says, unapologetically.
“Dance music will weed you out if you’re not committed to it. Music has definitely affected our personal lives. Art is built on struggles,” Luis adds.
Placing Ourselves Elsewhere is real techno, not that fake stuff. Hard house music, the kind with attitude featuring vocalists Meeshel and Carrie Golden. A Latin flare, the kind of rhythmic tugs that flirt with you like a Spanish dancer, but nothing that is shoved down your throat. They save that for the raspy tech riffs. Stacey Pullen featured the duos calling card track #3 off the album “Trouble-Featuring Meeshel” on Pete Tong’s Essential Mix this past summer! “Moon Over Miami,” track 9 from their album, also has gotten some love and support recently landing on Maya Jane Coles top 10.
“We have a specific sound. It has some Latin elements, with Detroit techno. It’s a new take on Latin music without sampling any old Latin tracks,” Nelson says.
Ds and Cs have also just released their latest EP, “Attract the Flux” on Black Nation Records. And after a listen, it’s easy to hear the frustration this duo has felt about music unleashed on tracks that just might represent the new pulse of techno.
“The idea of genre is broken,” Luis says.
If you think music is something you sometimes have to fight popular opinion about, check out this duo’s work. If only because their music is a product of a long battle that they may have finally won.