Gonna Make You Sweat: Sweat Records promotes Miami’s independent, local music scene

It’s impossible to talk about the arts in Miami without mentioning Art Basel – how does this or that scene/event compare to Art Basel and how does it contrast; does it “fit in” with the culture surrounding Art Basel or does it stand in thematic opposition?

It’s also impossible to divorce Art Basel from its own slickness. Art Basel is a lot of things, but “gritty” is not one of them.

So when we talk about Sweat Records and the genre-inclusive indie music scene it promotes, we’re not really talking about the Art Basel crowd. Not that the people at Sweat Records position themselves as being anti-Basel.

“We love Art Basel!” laughs Lauren “Lolo” Reskin, co-owner of Sweat Records. “The people-watching is the best on earth! All the freaks come out; it’s amazing! One of the things [about us is that] we’re not a snobby a record store. We think even South Beach can be fun sometimes.”

Reskin and her best friend Sara Yousuf started Sweat Records in 2005. Reskin had spent may years working in music retail for a major chain retailer and was also a DJ and club promoter, while Yousuf was a former DJ and then-current defense attorney (she left Sweat in 2006 to be a full-time public defender). They wanted a portal where people could come together under the banner of independent music. “We knew Miami had enough people to support and independent store, it’s just really spread out,” says Reskin.

In October of that same year, Hurricane Wilma ripped through Miami and destroyed the building that was home to Sweat Records. “It was one of the worst-damaged buildings in all of Miami-Dade County,” Reskin remembers. The newborn record store was homeless until the iconic Churchill’s Pub – the CBGB of Miami, a haven for hardcore and punk fans as much as jazz fans – offered them space in a small warehouse in the back of their venue, located in Little Haiti. After a year and a half, the retail space next to Churchill’s became available and Reskin, with her new business partner Jason Jimenez, jumped on the opportunity. They have been in that space, with its easily-recognized teal-and-white mural of alt music icons like Iggy Pop and Morrissey, since September 2007.

Sweat Records is a combination independent record store, live performance venue, café (serving locally-roasted coffees), and worldwide online retailer. “From the beginning we wanted it to be inclusive instead of exclusive,” says Reskin. “Miami Beach definitely has that air of exclusivity with all the velvet ropes; we didn’t want anything to do with that. We just wanted to promote the local music scene.”

The store has the largest selection of new vinyl in all of South Florida and has been featured in Zagat travel guides, Nylon, the Boston Globe, and Trip Advisor. Famous faces that have passed through store include indie legends Thurston Moore, Jello Biafra, Daniel Johnston, and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.

Their in-store event space has all-ages programming there on regular basis, including a standup comedy night every Tuesday called Casa de Haha, the longest-running comedy night in Miami run by Reskin’s brother Daniel. Bigger-name local comics will go there to work on new material, but newcomers are also welcome. “It’s a really cool kind of springboard and a great thing for South Florida’s comedy scene, which is growing,” Reskin says.

The space is also used for live music, naturally, ranging from national acts to local bands just getting their start, and all events are either free or “really, really cheap.” Reskin says, “It was really important to me to have an all-ages event space. When I was growing up it was hard to find something like that, a place for teens to go to where it’s not about being cool or being on drugs.”

They sell local music on consignment and encourage local musicians to come in and leave their flyers and posters to promote their shows and releases. But fostering and promoting a local, independent music culture takes a lot more than allowing a few stacks of flyers to sit on a countertop for customers to gaze idly at, and Reskin and Jimenez knew that.

In 2009, Sweat Records received their first grant from the Knight Foundation in the amount of $150,000 for the development of SweatShopMiami.com and the “Event-O-Matic” event management software system. Sweat Shop is their online store through which they distribute music made by local musicians. “We’ll put out anything custom that people make,” Reskin says. “We remove the burden from musicians of having to distribute their own music.” She jokes, “Some of these guys will forget to pay their cell phone bills – [they’re not going to] go to the post office to mail vinyl!”

The Event-O-Matic WordPress plug-in is an events management tool that anyone can download for free to create their own events listings page. Sweat Records has had over 5,000 unique events go through their own listings page, and the plug-in has been downloaded over 13,000 times for use in websites all over the world.

That first grant also allowed Sweat Records to launch the annual Sweatstock Festival in 2010, a free day-long music festival that celebrates the store’s anniversary as well as the internationally-celebrated Record Store Day, held every year on the third Saturday in April. In the morning they focus on the hundreds of exclusive Record Store Day independent releases as well as their own limited local vinyl releases, and in the afternoon the street next to the store is shut down with a stage set up outside and Churchill’s next door featuring local bands all day. Last year drew a crowd of 2,500, and in 2012 Iggy Pop was the guest of honor.

A second grant for $140,000 was awarded to Sweat Records through the Knight Arts Challenge in 2012, which is helping them to re-design the stage area and allow them to film live shows and put the videos online.

Next year Sweat Records will celebrate their 10-year anniversary, surviving and thriving during a period of time when independent record stores across the country have struggled and shuttered.

“It’s really exciting that the community and the Knight Foundation have been supporting what we’re doing,” Reskin says. “We think it’s very necessary for Miami to have a place like ours. As someone who grew up here and almost left but didn’t because I got involved in music scene, things like Sweat and other places like it create the quality of life that will keep others from leaving. [We are] ambassadors and [offer a] portal to cool stuff – music programming and cultural offerings – throughout Miami. What are you into? [We’ll help you find it.] We definitely try to be the indie tourism department for Miami!”