I was 23 years old the first time my sneakers stepped on Ybor City soil. And I was a miserable motherfucker. My transition from New York to Florida left me disoriented and sour. And Ybor City was a monster. A monster unlike any I’d known.
I remember the streets being barricaded off and an impenetrable mass of hot bodies. Swimming through the bodies felt like navigating a dangerous maze. The pavement emitted danger, sex, sweat, violence and despite this, a liberating sense of escape and elation. Such was the mystery of 1998 Ybor City. You could get killed or fall in madly in love (or lust) only ten seconds in your future.
Swirling throughout the machismo and the hoochie mamas was the sweet sound of Ybor City music. This monster’s heartbeat had a pulse of its own. And it’s only twelve years later that I begin to think again of all these mysterious and forgotten songs. The soundtrack to my mid 20s. I would later realize that many of these songs were region specific. It was all about this exact time in this exact space. And while nostalgia can be a quite profitable enterprise these songs became phantoms. It is 2010 and the streets of Ybor often seem desolate and empty. The mystery is gone. I close my eyes and my imagination takes me back to the first time I heard these ghostly songs…
Here is a list of my top eight favorite Ybor City club songs I used to hear all the time back in the late 1990s/early 2000s. I know there were more songs than these. Everyone has their personal favorites. For one reason or another these were my favorites.
8. Let Me Be Your Fantasy – Baby D
With its shuffling beat and staccato piano this early 90s UK club anthem sounded fresh to my ears the first time I heard it in 1998. My sneakers pounded the dance floor as much heart beat in my chest ravenous for romance. The 21st Century was around the corner and this would be dance music’s end of the innocence. Gorgeous longing without shock value or gimmick. I just wanted to dance. And I just wanted to fall in love.
7. Running On Empty – Diana Fox
The dance floor provideded a release from the turbulence of coming of age. As the world became increasingly complicated so many nights ended disoriented, confused, and off center. This song provided a soundtrack to that desolation. As soulless as I often felt inside when the beat hit hard not much else mattered. And as simple as many of these songs were…sometimes only one or two lines…these lyrics became turbo-charged emotional mantras. To this day dance music retains its grip on the feet but I question its current relationship with the heart. To sing and sweat and scream about running on empty while my shape contorted to the music was a true out of body experience. As close to religion as this atheist has ever gotten.
6. In A Dream – Rockell
While this song was never truly one of my favorites at the time I now look back at it fondly and want to include it. I have waited tables at the same job for twelve years and the music that comes from the dishwasher’s radio changes with the times.
I remember hearing this song as I scraped old food off plates. I remember old and lost friends of mine dancing to this song. I remember thinking that the synth-trumpet line was absolutely ridiculous…and I still think that. What has changed is the world that surrounds this song. This is a simple cute valentine of a song. There was a time in my life when the concept of love seemed as simple as this song. I miss feeling that way. When I hear this song now it makes me recall a hope and motivation that has since escaped me. A generation’s call for love found in the nasal reverb-drenched vocals of the night.
5. Masquerade – Science
Some of the best times of my life were spent dancing at the Masquerade in Tampa. Thursday night. 80s night. After a year or so the play list felt stale and routine, but at first it was pure adrenaline. My feet responded with fervor to the extended version of Prince’s “Kiss”. I was awed (and eventually irritated) that a club actually played the “Churchapella” remix of Madonna’s “Like A Prayer”. And in the right mood, “99 Luft Balloons” and “Groove Is In The Heart” were sexless orgasms.
But then came the moments I would slip away. As my friends dancing on or near the stage got increasingly drunk, and as the DJ switched gears and went into the AC/DC set I snuck off to the side room. And in this small side room the 1980s jams were traded for these gorgeous and beautiful breakbeat and freestyle classics. I danced even harder in this room without my friends watching. I am sure I shared the room with glow sticks and cracked out ravers but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was the beat and the romance. The song “Masquerade” was no exception. The vocal delivery shared the aesthetic of The Chimpmunks, a 12 year old, and Lisa Lisa. But the beat pounded. And so did our shoes onto the sticky floor.
4. Stay In Love – Kromozone Project
With its super funky bass line and its earnest-as-fuck vocal “Stay In Love” moves us into my top four favorites. This track has shades of the marimba bass sound once used on Robin S’ “Show Me Love” but even this comparison is nearly non-existent. As the track builds and the music swells Mon A Q’s vocals get increasingly emotional and desperate. Many of us in our youths at the time were hanging on by dear life to shattered dreams, shattered relationships, shattered families, and shattered hopes and all Mon A Q wanted us to do was “Stay in love”. It’s what we all wanted….for things to just work out right.
3. Take Me Away – Mix Factory
Equally compelling is “Take Me Away” by Mix Factory. As sweat poured down our cheeks, as beer slipped all over our shirts, and as fatigue and desire encapsulated our bodies we all longed for sweet escape. And music could take us where a car or Grey Hound bus never could. Although this song only contains three words…it’s a plea and a prayer. Perhaps we truly believed that if we danced hard enough we could escape the mundane trivialities of daily life. This track was a one way ticket to the kind of euphoria that seemed impossible when music wasn’t playing. Especially moving to me was the latter part of the song when the vocals start to layer. Gorgeous and desperate. Just like being young.
2. Feel My Energy – DJ Mike B
This is the song that we danced hardest to. This is the song we sang at work. This is the song we screamed out of car windows. This is the song that made us feel like collapsing but still the dance couldn’t stop. My most gruesome memories of these days were the pathetic drug culture that surrounded them. All those douche bags talking about rolling and blowing up. I was sober through it all but despite the cliche these tracks made me high. As I look on the You Tube comments of this track (and many of the others) I begin to realize that these songs were mainly played in Florida. And it is now I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to share the dance floor with these songs. What if I hadn’t been here? What if I had ended up in San Francisco after all? I would never have this delicious memory of me and one of my best friends changing the words of this song to “come and feel my warm pussy”. There were a few other variations to the lyrics, but I won’t share them here. This song is magic.
1. Take My Love – Kromozone Project
And this song more than any epitomizes those lost days of my youth. This track resonated with a lush romance that seems to be sadly forgotten. And while we all flailed around the room with our baggy jeans and our tight shirts it came down to the desire to be loved, and to be in love. This song was the sound of desire. With its ambient synths, whispers, and unparalleled passion I can remember dancing and hoping so hard I literally cried. “Take my love baby…take my loving you take my love…”
This song still has it all. A strong hook. Gorgeous harmonies. And all these years later the longing remains intact. I’ve always wanted to be loved. And when the DJ put this track on I could dance away that hunger. If there was no love to be found in the heart…at least there was music to bring that love to my ears.
Years later I found out this song was created in Tampa, and that it was mostly a huge Florida hit. I look back in admiration at the way Tampa clubs both mainstream and alternative embraced the music being made by its people. So many of those glorious tracks coming out of the cars, clubs, and radios at the time were home grown and homemade. Today does anyone realize how important and special that was…and still is? If anyone wonders where the magic went…maybe it’s because too much of the outside world got let in.
And as I sat at Starbucks three weeks ago it crashed on me. Memories. An era long gone. And songs long gone. It took me a few weeks to track down, and even recall many of these songs. I had to write about them. I had to make sure that they will never be forgotten again.
Never forget romance, longing, love, and hope. And never forget the people that turned those dreams into songs. And us, the people who danced to them.