Music » Music Stories & Interviews

14 local artists who are reshaping the Orlando music scene

by and


Live music fans in Orlando are really in a prime position right now. Besides an ever-increasing flow of touring acts, even more impressively, there's no shortage of new and exciting local music to turn on to this year, with new faces and established veterans mixing it up and sharing ideas, to make for an ever more intriguing blend of sound in the City Beautiful.

We decided to follow that example ourselves in our spotlight on local acts this year, with some artists on the verge of a breakthrough, new groups spicing things up and a few true-blue lifers who help form the foundation of Orlando's sonic spectrum.

  • Photo by Jacob Bailes

TV Dinner

A very new and young entrant into the local indie rock field, TV Dinner impressed straight out of the gate with a sinewy, energetic sound and an onstage presence that brings to mind rule-breakers like the Raincoats. Starting in October of last year as the duo of Julia Joyce and Madeleine Elise, TV Dinner has expanded into a quartet with the addition of Ian Turner and Dan Drennen. The band gigs regularly – often as part of upstart promoter Ugly Orange's shows – honing their live set considerably in a very short period of time, and opening for national acts like Death Valley Girls and Allison Crutchfield in the process. The recently posted digital single "Veins" on their Bandcamp page is evidence of a group evolving in fast-forward. Don't be surprised if TV Dinner quickly become standard-bearers for the more challenging end of the indie-guitar scene here in Orlando. Find out for yourself when they drop debut album Table Manners on Dec. 13. – MM

  • Photo by Jim Leatherman

Beth McKee

On her own, Beth McKee is already an established name with an unmistakably Southern sound that's all roots and soul. Her next John Pfiffner-produced album, Dreamwood Acres, is already deep in the works and features collaborators from the official circle of jangle-pop legend Mitch Easter, and its release will coincide with the next big Swamp Sistas La La event at the Orlando Fringe Festival in May 2018. But McKee's footprint on the city is exponentially larger in both reach and mission. Most notably, she's the founder and cornerstone of Swamp Sistas, a sorority of artists that's as creative as it is civic. Comprised of women who span both genre and generation, the Swamp Sistas society includes seasoned vets like McKee, Terri Binion and Kaleigh Baker alongside bright upcomers like E-Turn, Zoya Zafar, Hannah Harber and Renee Arozqueta, musically encompassing everything from roots to rap. And besides collaboration and support in regional tours, the Sistas organize and perform to raise money for necessary local causes like Second Harvest Food Bank. – BLH

  • Photo by Matthew Ventura


Though Acoqui has been around for several years, it's only very recently that the project has genuinely crystallized. Originally a solo bedroom outlet for noted local musician Alberto Hernandez (known best as a member of Kanine Records-signed act Viernes), it eventually bloomed into a full-band affair but still had scant street presence due to physical distance within its ranks. Now, they have a cast in place that's not simply all native but also happens to boast credentials in heavyweight Orlando bands like Summerbirds in the Cellar, the Sh-Booms and Moon Jelly. Sonically, Acoqui has risen from ambient beginnings to a current thrill ride that zooms between shoegaze and dreampop. Both their recent live performances and a debut album (A Heart Fills This Way) that was one of the best local releases this year are proof of a band emerging with one of the most textured and realized sounds to come out of Orlando in ages. – BLH

  • Photo by Gregory Gutierrez

Bubble Boys

In the past year, perhaps no other Orlando band has shown as much progress and lightning as Bubble Boys. Even among the city's historically crowded punk herd, there was something else about them from the beginning. Frontman Dani Jalali formed the band to fulfill a promise to a deceased friend, whose love for bubbles inspired the group's name and whose non-binary identity has influenced their stance (they have a song titled "Not the Kinda Guy [You Think I Am]" and slogan stickers that read "Bubble Boys piss where they wanna"). They hit all the requisite sweet spots that any card-carrying garage punk desires, but they're no clones. Instead of just ripping the basic genre tropes, Bubble Boys flame it out with raw rock & roll flourish. Equal parts romp and flash, they're powered by the kind of "It" quality that makes them seem like they're only a couple of short moves away from catching wider fire. Though they currently only have a couple of demos available online on Bandcamp (for free), those are but a sliver of where the band is now. So a show's really where to experience them, which you can do next at Austin's Coffee on Dec. 16. – BLH

  • Photo by Jamie Johnson

Lush Agave

Lush Agave, the solo vehicle for longtime Southern experimental musician Alisha Erao, is many, many things. It is a singular attempt to meld classical and baroque songforms and vocal styles with modern electronic soundcraft. It is a merging of dance and voice, of the personal and the political. It is a mix of the gently ethereal and the earthy visceral. It is an enchanting filigreed web of looped, operatic vocals, crystal synths and head-nodding beats that gives way to choral ambience. It is a callback to classic 4AD trailblazers like Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil. And it is Erao's finest musical statement to date. Recent live shows have upped the Lush Agave ante considerably: Gone are the choral robes, replaced with stark black attire and the sole ornamentation of a few candles, to keep the focus on Erao's incredible voice and dramatic movements. Music fans and performers outside our city limits are starting to notice her work too; the secret is out. – MM


Sean Shakespeare

Of all the young new MCs in the Second Subject crew – the local label and collective overseen by Solillaquists of Sound's Swamburger – Sean Shakespeare is the brightest and readiest. He's known as a member of hip-hop triad Table for Three alongside notable rappers TKO and Jamar X, but his new solo work is his most focused. His collaboration with the battle-tested Swamburger has produced some standout sounds that are a modern reboot of the kind of literate and technical rap that is hip-hop in its most elevated state. With that partnership, Shakespeare has a new 11-track album (Bloodline) in the can and slated for release before the end of the year. From what he's been showing on stage, it's got all the ingredients of a distinctive new voice ready to assert itself. And in addition to a short tour with Carnage the Executioner in January, that voice can be heard next at the Second Subject Sunday Sampler on Dec. 10 at Mills Avenue wax den Remix Records. – BLH

  • Photo by Andreas Volmer

Alterity Chamber Orchestra

Alterity Orchestra are a real-time exercise in sonic exploration the likes of which has never been attempted in Orlando's creative music/avant-garde circles. To wit, a group of promising and adventurously-minded classical musicians are being steadily put through their paces onstage with tutelage from high-shelf practitioners of the avant arts like Chris Belt and Thad Anderson, with a musical brief squarely focused on the works of contemporary classical composers. And the experiment is bearing spectacular sonic fruit – Alterity's ensemble performance of Quartet for the End of Time at the Timucua White House was like a sonic séance (in all the best ways), and the October debut of the full, 15-piece Orchestra at Factur playing the works of John Adams and Julius Eastman dazzled attendees. What's next? Expect the unexpected. – MM

  • Photo by Vikka Perez Puelles


Synthwave is in full renaissance right now and probably the best – certainly the most textbook – example of the genre in Orlando is Troy Simpson's Moondragon. Like our own resident Jan Hammer, he's fast become the go-to opener when notable national names like Perturbator and Gost roll through town. But his commitment to the neon age of the '80s goes beyond just action-sequence synthesizers. With perfectly curated and edited vintage video that's an equal part of his live show, a Moondragon concert is pure time travel. His latest album, Grand Prix, released in September, is a total retro adventure that's a sonic narrative to the history of Formula One racing. All it would take for this synth crusader to write the next score for Stranger Things is one dark turn. – BLH

  • Photo by Jim Leatherman

Ray Brazen

Lo-fi troubadour Ray Brazen is an underground lifer and true believer, a welcome reminder that you can reach a certain age in your musical life and keep pushing forward, instead of retreating to the comfy confines of a fedora and some righteous Clapton covers. Part of a lineage of eccentric home recording going back to Syd Barrett and filtering through Daniel Johnston and Sebadoh, Brazen was bitten by the creative freedoms of the lo-fi revolution in New York in the late '80s, where spontaneity was the only rule. Brazen relocated to Central Florida in 2004, and continued cranking out records – including a heartfelt paean to local newscaster Wendy Chioji. Brazen has, of late, found kindred spirits in the Illuminated Paths collective, who have reissued a sprawling sampler of earlier works and provide the encouragement for him to continue to let his freak flag fly proudly. His methods are refreshingly the same: Bash songs out on a fuzzed-out electric guitar, record the results, and release them on hand-dubbed tapes. For Brazen, "get weird" is more of a sacred commandment than a glib, normie catchphrase. – MM

  • Photo by Sarah Modene

Expert Timing

As relics like high waists and hi-top fades roam the streets anew, it's the '90s all over again in indie rock too. One of Orlando's best emergent bands influenced by that pivotal decade are Expert Timing, a trio fronted by the wife-husband partnership of Katrina and Jeff Snyder. Their indie rock is as classically '90s as it gets with heart, melodies and guitars that are all equally big. In just over a year after putting out a demo, their particular take on the style has shown such natural shine that it's earned them a slot at the Fest this year and a growing fan base that includes some key scene figures. The band are currently in the middle of tracking their first full-length album with Dikembe's David Bell, which is planned for release in early 2018. The next chance to swoon in their sweet nostalgia is on Dec. 3 at Will's Pub with Flashlights, another exceptional local band that pack some of the best of the '90s. – BLH

  • Photo by Jim Leatherman

Tight Genes

Out of all the members of the Total Punk extended family, Tight Genes get slept on a bit locally and that's a damn shame because their Germs-y street punk is undeniable both live and on record. The quartet of Noah, Eddi, Alexis and Kayo can regularly be seen throwing down at grittier venues across town as the stalwart local anchor for out-of-town malcontents like the Nots and the Mold. What's more, the group has casually one-upped a good number of their area peers with both some touring under their belt and the release of the truly excellent Prison Wallet 7" single last year. But live is where the band truly thrives, with the three instrumentalists bashing it out in the background and vocalist Noah getting down and dirty in and among the people. Don't miss their next show on Dec. 5 at Will's Pub with Dark Thoughts; you never know if they'll implode – or explode – at any minute. – MM

  • Photo by Jim Leatherman

The Wildtones

Although local trio the Wildtones have been around for several years, it's really only recently that they've hit their stride. Led by incredibly dynamic guitarist and singer Joshua Ramsey, the Wildtones are currently the city's purest champions of early rock & roll and rockabilly. Their effective line celebrating both the flair and primitive heart of the tradition has attracted touring invitations from the likes of the Legendary Shack Shakers, Reverend Horton Heat, Bloodshot Bill and Deke Dickerson. They've also chalked up festival appearances at Meltasia, the Rockabilly Rave and the New England Shake-Up. Their latest promising development is the involvement of Simon Palombi, a young local musician whose profile is enjoying exponential rise between his stints as frontman of the excellent Woolly Bushmen and as a budding producer. Palombi isn't just filling in on drums, he's recording the Wildtones' new songs. – BLH

  • Photo by Jim Leatherman

Flying Limbs

The artists formerly known as Deformed are, to our ears, the best extreme ensemble currently playing – hell, razing – venues in Central Florida. Containing members of Ad Nauseum and Wrapped in Pale, this trio takes the grindcore template and unsentimentally strips it down to the barest of essentials. Think Napalm Death's Scum or Insect Warfare at their most unrestrained. A guitar, a drum kit and one hell of a scream are it all it takes for the band to whip up a storm of noise. Drummer Mike Sweeney is an octopus, playing a kit that appears to be welded together to withstand earthquakes; guitarist Glenn Stefani keeps his head down and cranks out pure distortion, while vocalist Summer Jewell is a maniac, throwing themselves into the crowd, unafraid of confrontation. Flying Limbs aren't apolitical fence-sitters either; the band recently played a benefit for Puerto Rico post-Irma and raised a decent chunk of change for their efforts. Catch them at Florida Is Loud and see the inheritors to the thrones of Assück and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. – MM


Zoya Zafar

Zoya Zafar released a demo back in 2014, but it wasn't until last year that this very distinctive singer truly emerged on the radar. Since debuting at Will's Pub for Southern Fried Sunday, Zafar's name has been increasingly seen on notable bills. She's been keeping good company as one of the freshest young members of Beth McKee's Swamp Sistas and has been making fans of scene movers. Graced with a beautiful jazz voice that can captivate with just the faintest exhalation, her torch-folk sound was always a thing of quiet allure. But lately, the longtime soloist has been showing new sonic ambition with some modern texture and sometimes performing with an accompanist on guitar and keyboards (Matthew Verdier). Zafar will release a single titled "Sweet Talk" soon and is currently working on a full-length album for next year. The next chance to bask in her radiance is when she headlines the Bad Balloon event on Dec. 18 at Will's Pub. – BLH

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