Sadly, the year opens with the loss of probably the city's most legit booking name in the heavy underground. True-as-fuck punk and metal impresario Non-Prophet Organization has officially retired with a recent farewell concert (Jan. 7, Will's Pub).
It is possible to make some money as a concert promoter. But for most independent ones, especially in scenes like these, it's purely a labor of love – with equal emphasis on both "labor" and "love." And true to the tradition of cultural endowment that NPO founder Ryan Pemberton has supported here, his swan song was a free blowout to thank the scene for supporting his efforts.
It was a night that started hard and fast with the blinding grindcore of Burn to Learn, the screech and thunder of Deformed and the wild hardcore swagger of Sinkholes. Early on, the party was lit with lots of singers getting into – and often starting – the pit. From then, shit just got down and dirtier with sludge from Junior Bruce and Atlanta's Order of the Owl, ending in the all-out savagery of Tampa's Meatwound.
As a concert spectator, it was a jackpot of brutality that was beautiful to see. As a member of the scene, however, the beauty was the vibe here. The turnout was big in size and heart, with a spirit palpable with appreciation, respect and community.
As much sorrow as I have over the departure of a scene cornerstone like NPO, Pemberton is exiting the game because he's a new father. That, of all things, I could never begrudge. Now, he's hung it up once before back in 2013 with his previous booking iteration as 90 Proof Productions. In my column bidding him farewell back then (Feb. 26, 2013), I said I know a lifer when I see one and even questioned how long he'd stay retired. Turns out, I was right; he re-emerged six months later with NPO. I'm not saying it'll happen again given the circumstances, but there are very few as diehard to the cause as Pemberton. Read those tea leaves how you will.
Either way, the mark he's made on Orlando music is indisputable. The caliber of the heavy scene here is measurably higher because of his work. Between Non-Prophet Organization and 90 Proof Productions – and even his formative work with Orlandooom – Pemberton has become one of the most trusted and essential names in not just metal and punk but in the Central Florida music scene at large. The footprint he leaves behind is mammoth, legendary and indelible. And the momentum is set for the quality to continue with a little enterprise and true belief. Thanks for all the ragers, Pembo.
The only way to start a new year is by seeing some young local acts for the first time. The recent showcase by Orlando indie label Retro Neon Records (Jan. 5, Will's Pub) introduced me to local band RV, who are so young that they're mostly underage. More importantly, though, this quartet is a distinctive new voice around here and well worth keeping an eye on. Skeletal but soft and warped, the dreamy economy of their reverb-soaked sound could pass for the Ocean Blue on sedatives, playing like a perfect little jangle-pop record underwater. As a band that's both new and young, they're rudimentary still. But purity shrouded in a little mystique like this is a combination that's always bewitching. And with songs like these, practice and clarity will only burnish their radiance.
Shania Pain, the duo of Andrea Knight and Jason Kimmins, is a group that's been wagging tongues in the Orlando underground lately and one that's been buzzing on my radar for a while. Like that great moniker, their music is a thing of intrigue, one that apparently is evolving rapidly. Their spare electronic sound conjures the spirit of dark wave and pre-dance industrial music, with a demo last summer that was harrowing and impenetrable yet strangely beckoning. This performance, however, revealed some deep and elemental acid-house throb, like the bleakest after-party ever. At the core of it all, though, is an atmospheric minimalism that's pregnant, purposeful, theatrical.