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Two months ago, Dante's HiFi celebrated its first year in business. Since its opening in Miami, the hot-spot record bar has brought world-class talent to Magic City, hosting a plethora of listening parties and fun-filled nights led by its personal collection of 10,000 records and DJs from around the world. From the outside, the Wynwood establishment is unassuming, positioned down an alleyway and behind other storefronts with no visible signage. With no sight through windows from the concrete exterior, either, it's difficult to understand what happens inside.
But that's where the magic brews—around the bend, beyond the red rope, past the entryway, and nestled into Dante HiFi's one-room space. Divided by an expansive bar and record collection, as well as seating arrangements built from chairs, couches, and tables, the space glows with ambient lighting warmly cast down onto cascading velvet curtains that surround the room. To the tune of whatever music the DJ is playing live on vinyl at center stage, the room is buzzing.
In celebration of its one-year anniversary, Whitewall stopped by the Miami space during Art Week on December 4 to see Benji B spin records and chat with its founder, Rich Medina, about an unforgettable life in music and what he's listening to now.
WHITEWALL: You've been a working-class DJ for over 25 years, and have been active in music since middle school. What was your early "aha" moment in music when you knew this was something you wanted to pursue?
RICH MEDINA: I’ve known I wanted to do something in the creative arts since I was a child. I realized that in full in 1992 upon arrival in Philadelphia, after my basketball career. I left the workforce and dove head first into the arts full-time in 1996 and never looked back.
WW: How did your background progress into opening your own space?
RM: My business partners took a trip to Japan and fell in love with the Japanese Jazz Kissa culture, and reached out to me to inquire about whether or not I was interested in becoming a founding partner. Since Jazz Kissa culture is so deeply rooted in music played on vinyl—and I have spent so much of my time, money, and research into building my own 45,000+ piece collection of records—it was a perfect storm of an opportunity for me to utilize my expertise and collection in a public forum like the one we now have at Dante’s HiFi.
I personally wanted to get involved because it was an opportunity for me to display and utilize my record collection for both entertainment and educational purposes.
WW: How has the Japanese music scene—and its historic or contemporary record bars—impacted your approach?
RM: Without Japanese Jazz Kissa culture we would be operating from a different lens, even if we still chose to be an analog HiFi bar. The HiFi/analog culture for bars begins in Japan. There are no two ways around that.
WW: Has Miami's music history influenced what you do at Dante's HiFi?
RM: Miami’s music history is a deep well of musical taste and international influence. I'm influenced by the fact that the Winter Music Conference (WMC) introduced me to Miami at a higher level in the early 90s. WMC has been a staple event that represents the blue-collar promotional component of what it takes to be an independent artist. Not all of us will attain pop stardom, but we can all gain ground in music-making and presenting marketplace in markets like Miami because so many people go there strictly for entertainment and exploration.
WW: What do you feel is unique about your space as opposed to others?
RM: What makes us unique is my partners’ experience in food and beverage, my experience as a DJ steeped in analog presentation, and the way we program the space as a listening bar, a DJ showcase, and an educational forum.
WW: Dante's HiFi features a selection of personal records from your collection. What are some of your all-time favorites?
RM: The 10,000 records housed at Dante’s HiFi represent a smattering of the cream of the crop from just about every musical genre I own. Some highlights include The Philadelphia International Records catalog; the entire Black Jazz Catalog; staple soul artists like Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson; new age recordings from groups like Khraunghbin, Hiatus Kaiyote and Potatohead People; and staple basics in funk, soul, house, Jazz, African, Latin, and rock. Too many loves to name just a few favorites.
WW: Music-wise, how would you describe what speaks to you?
RM: I’ve been chasing thoughtful composition and sincere songwriting my entire life—from my grandmother’s choir rehearsals at my grandfather’s church to this very day in my own secular career and tastes.
WW: In September, Dante's HiFi celebrated its first year in business. What has the experience been like so far for you?
RM: Dante’s HiFi has been mind-blowing for me. I’m an owner now, after so many years as an artist only. Now I have both, with no conflict of interest. I pinch myself every day as a reminder that dreams really do come true.
WW: Dante's HiFi recently opened a second location at Soho House in Austin. How does that space differ to the Miami location?
RM: In Miami, we are a stand-alone business. In Austin, we have a one-year pop-up inside of Soho House Austin, so it’s a partnership with a publicly held hotel/members space. We still operate there as we do in Miami, but we do so within the confines of Soho House’s building in a partnership.
WW: Next year, when you're celebrating Austin's first anniversary, too, how do you want to remember the experience?
RM: Hopefully we will remember the Austin anniversary as a year of growth and expansion for both brands, and look forward to many more anniversaries and much more growth in the future.
WW: How would you describe your role in the music industry today?
RM: I would describe my role in the music industry as an ambassador and representative of DJ culture, and club culture, worldwide.
WW: What are you listening to right now?
RM: At the moment, I am playing Sault albums as if my life depended on it.