The floor was a shitstorm of flying beer cans and flopping bodies. At the judges' table, a bonfire fed by scorecards danced and flickered. On the stage, a band was performing — loudly and badly — in public for the first time, two of its members completely nude; one of them would end up in the emergency room in need of stitches by the end of the show.
Such was the scene at last year's inaugural Floridas Dying Rock Fight. It was the most destructive, and perhaps the greatest, musical happening of 2005. Dressed up as a battle of the bands, the Rock Fight reached the pinnacle of amateur absurdity by featuring acts formed for the event. The rules were simple: no pre-existing bands, two songs each. "It's just so ridiculous," laughs organizer and punk visionary Rich Evans. "A lot of the bands last year, the first time they practiced was the night before the show."
Though (justifiably) unhappy with the ruckus that ensued in his club, Back Booth owner Aaron Wright has agreed to host the event again. "I still love the idea," Wright says.
This year's highly anticipated edition comes with slight changes: Instead of the two songs, each band now gets three (one of which may be a cover), but no song can be more than two minutes long. And the pot's been sweetened, with a 7-inch record released on the Floridas Dying label going to the winner.
"This year, more than last year, there's so many people who are participating that I've never seen them do anything musical in their life," Evans reveals. "Even if it flops, which I'm sure it's going to, it's just fun."
While other parts of Orlando's music scene attempt to move toward credibility in urbane strides, the punk bloc known as Floridas Dying has already gotten there by thrashing in the gutter. It's sometimes difficult to see past the miasma of Hot Topic stores and the Warped Tour, but there was a time when punk rock was dangerous, when it crawled from the bowels of society and threatened to shake the foundations. Floridas Dying remembers those days, and the small-but-vibrant scene that's bloomed around the label in the past couple of years is the most punk thing to happen in this city in recent memory. Driven by the gritty punk ethos — one that's been whitewashed by layers of fashion, commercialism and commoditization — this diehard corps of fringe musicians is bringing the dirt and unpredictability back to local rock & roll.
Floridas Dying has turned out to be an ironic nom de guerre, since the faction has almost single-handedly spurred one of the most vital musical pulses in the city. Though the name rightfully conjures an entire subculture, Floridas Dying is technically a record label, along with a distribution and promotions organization.
Evans, the wizard behind this wayward Oz, is an unassumingly sharp man. Even at 29, his dark, curly locks and small, sinewy build still suggest adolescence. He holds a degree in literature, but his livelihood comes through a succession of odd jobs (cook, construction worker, etc.). "I've had all kinds of crappy jobs," he asserts. "I do whatever pays the bills."
A Floridian to the core, he came to Orlando in late 1999 from South Florida, where he grew up. He is unapologetic about where he lives. "I don't give a fuck what anybody says, I love this state."
It was the musical climate of mid-'90s Miami that taught Evans how to build a scene. "There was this guy Iggy Scam `of Scam magazine fame` and this girl Ivy," he says. "They would book lots of shows down there. They had this network. That was two people who made a whole entire scene."
He adds, "I grew up seeing that if somebody's really motivated then, yeah, it can happen." And happen it has.
While singing for the now-defunct trash-blues outfit the Studdogs in late 2001, Evans began promoting concerts under the tag Mutiny Productions.
"There was three bands, if that, that I liked playing with," he reflects. "And I didn't really wanna play with anybody else, so I started Mutiny Productions pretty much as a way to bring bands I like down here so there would be someone to play with."
Things gestated for about three years, establishing Evans as a creative, adventuresome and sometimes contentious promoter. "Rich makes things happen that only he cares about," says Will's Pub owner Will Walker, who's had a longstanding professional relationship with Evans. "And that ain't a bad thing either."
But the punk ethos didn't really take hold until the Studdogs' run came to an end. Their disbanding left Evans with time to simply listen to music. "I was like, man, there's all this great music that people down here don't listen to," he says. "You couldn't go to, like, Rock & Roll Heaven and get a Compulsive Gamblers record or Reatards or anything like that, so I started a distro."
In January 2005, Evans began the wholesale purchasing of records from small labels specializing in music that excited him for distribution in this market. And now, he says, "Distro's doing really good; we're probably sending out 20 packages a week."
Soon after, he made some fortuitous connections. "Right around the time Floridas Dying started, I met Fashion! Fashion! `and the Image Boys`," Evans recalls, "Derek `Duncan` had DLP `Derek Lyn Plastic` and then there was the F-Pipes and the Hex Tremors. All of a sudden it seemed like, whoa, there's a lot of people around here. It all came up out of nowhere. As soon as that happened, I was like, well fuck it, let's start a record label."
The peace was broken and a scene was born.
Erik Grincewicz, longtime local and singer of punk band Fashion! Fashion! and the Image Boys, had just returned to Orlando after several years in Atlanta and Gainesville. "When I was here before there was nothing like that. You're gonna see the Fat Wreck Chords rip-off band or you're gonna see the Bad Religion rip-off band play, the booger-eater bands.
"I think that Rich and the Hex Tremors guys really changed that. That's a pivotal point in Orlando, and to come back to that — I felt lucky. I made a good decision to come back here."
Through his distribution work, Evans made contacts that proved handy for the newly born label. Floridas Dying's records can be found not only in the U.S., but also Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
A host of bands has sprouted from this fertile bed. Even if many only survive for a couple shows or so, they're always succeeded by new offshoots, making for a genealogy more convoluted than the Bible. "Now we've got like 12 or 13 bands in our scene," he estimates. "And it's less than two years since this started coming together."
To chronicle the syndicate's path of destruction, Floridas Dying will release a 15-track compilation in January featuring homegrown talents Buttercups, Racin' for Pinks, Derek Lyn Plastic, Polluted Youth, Lechers, Rad Kids, the Bradleo Administration, Jeanie and the Tits, SuperAids, Fashion! Fashion! and the Image Boys, the Runn-a-mucks, the Hex Tremors, Tooth and the Enamels, Recycled Ruins, the F-Pipes and Awesome Party.
Serendipity figured into Floridas Dying's spark, but its sustenance comes through events that raise funds for the label and build community. Band battles, chili cook-offs, garage sales and bake sales — it's an aspect of the business in which Evans has demonstrated a singular flair.
"I think he was playing NASCAR on the PS2 and smoking weed when he came up with the chili cook-off and the battle of the bands," says Grincewicz. "That was one afternoon for Rich."
Evans posits, "Who wants to be part of a scene where there's nothing more to it? You should inspire some sense of community."
And so far, the undisputed pièce de résistance of community-building is the Rock Fight, whose purpose was to "stimulate more bands."
Once again, Evans references his teenage heroes Iggy and Ivy from Miami. "They had all these friends in other states who were in bands and they would come down and live in Miami for a little bit and play down here," he recalls. "And then they would go do the same thing. And whenever any of these bands went on tour, they all played each other's cities."
Floridas Dying has some sister cities itself, particularly Mobile, Ala.; Austin, Texas; and Milwaukee.
"Milwaukee's always been our favorite," Evans says. "They all call Orlando ‘Milwaukee South' and we all joke that Milwaukee's ‘Orlando North.' Their bands come down here and we go up there and it's always a big party.""Milwaukee's always been our favorite," Evans says. "They all call Orlando ‘Milwaukee South' and we all joke that Milwaukee's ‘Orlando North.' Their bands come down here and we go up there and it's always a big party." "Milwaukee's always been our favorite," Evans says. "They all call Orlando ‘Milwaukee South' and we all joke that Milwaukee's ‘Orlando North.' Their bands come down here and we go up there and it's always a big party."
Floridas Dying could accurately be called a group of spit-hurling separatists, but the Commish himself is rooted in the broader local fabric and is one of its most stentorian advocates. "The scene's just growing and growing," Evans says. "We're starting to get some respect, and I think we deserve it. I'm even happy when I see stuff going on in scenes I'm not even a part of, like Sol.illaquists of Sound `who just released their debut LP for indie giant Epitaph Records`. I think that's awesome."
In fact, Evans is biased to a fault in favor of Orlando. "I hate people who just complain about how bad it sucks here, or people who move to New York City and then come down and visit and tell everybody down here how great it is where they live now, but they're here every fucking month."
Besides "giving dirtbags a sense that they're part of something," as Will Walker puts it, where does Floridas Dying fit into the local picture?
Back Booth's Wright says, "I think it's one of the truly sincere homegrown music organizations. There are no delusions of making millions, just some folks who like the music they're making and want to put it out there. I think that is commendable."
As for Evans, he see his creation "somewhere outside. I like it there. I like doing shows that are fun and stupid. I don't want to be part of any of the pretentiousness."
Currently the flagship band for the label, FFIB is the most defiled and dangerous act of the lot, with performances hailed for raw, abusive power and showers of beer. “I don’t think this band’s out for applause,” says singer Erik Grincewicz. “It’s more of a ‘fuck you’ kind of thing. It’s more adversarial with the crowd. We’re the enemy to every other band in town.”
Conceived in Gainesville by Grincewicz and guitarist Derek Duncan, the band sprang from the age-old impetus of frustration with the music that surrounded them. “It was just a lot of really over-privileged kids whining about their girlfriends or their Jettas,” Grincewicz says. “The whole Hot Water Music thing had fizzled out and it was just all just rehashed crap. We didn’t listen to the same kind of music as a lot of those kids.”
But the band was shelved until Grincewicz and Duncan reconnected in Orlando among like-minded musicians who would prove to be the seeds of a new underground. Not long after being granted a first show by Hex Tremors drummer Benny Lewis in late 2004, the two met Evans and found a benefactor.
FFIB’s touchstones are sleazed-up ’70s outfits like the New York Dolls. And true to the mold, their relatively short past is already rather checkered. On their tours, says Grincewicz, “You’ll have peaceful days. You’ll have crazy days. You’ll have days where the drummer shits his pants. That’s happened twice with two different drummers, either incapacitated or the coke was cut with baby laxatives. That happened last week. My buddy’s underwear’s in the middle of the street, y’know? It’s pretty fun.”
The pointed frontman summarizes their approach thus: “Rock & roll means fucking. And it takes balls. It’s an animalistic thing.”
Fronted by Evans’ girlfriend and aide-de-camp Jeanie Smegma (née Jeanie Peaden), the Tits are the female contingent of the Floridas Dying militia. Born in January of this year to perform on an edition of The Brian Costello Show With Brian Costello (hosted by the author and drummer of Chicago’s Functional Blackouts), the estro-punkers originally formed as a Teddy & the Frat Girls cover band. Though they’ve become the city’s pre-eminent girl punk band, they’re more likely to make statements about irritable bowel syndrome than gender politics.
However, their contribution to feminism, at least on the local level, shouldn’t be discounted. Of her childhood, the ever kid-sisterish singer says, “I grew up with my mom and my sister, so there was already that basis of community, we’re women, gotta-stick-together kind of thing. That’s how my mom was and she would always really push that on us. So when I first started getting into punk rock and hearing L7, Bikini Kill, Seven Year Bitch, Huggy Bear, Sleater-Kinney and all those kind of bands, then I was like, ‘That’s it.’”
But misgivings got in the way. “I always thought I’ve got to be a good musician,” Peaden says. “Then once I realized, no, I don’t, then I went for a girl band because that’s what I always wanted.”
It was a move that would pay emotional dividends. Now that the Tits are regulars around town, she says, “So many girls approach me and e-mail me. Even though there was the whole riot-grrrl thing, girls feel like they aren’t a part of things until something happens to make them feel that way. But now that we’ve done it, more and more girls are feeling comfortable doing it. I think it’s opened up a lot for girls in this town, which makes me happy. That was the whole reason why I wanted all girls. I feel like a lot more girls realize that they can be a part of something.”
Primarily a vehicle for FFIB guitarist Derek Duncan, this act is the kook of the clique. “I moved up to Atlanta to be in a band that I wasn’t gonna be in,” the quirky Kentucky beanpole states. “They were like, ‘Oh, we got all this goin’ on and we’re gonna be on the road in no time,’ blah blah blah. I went up there and we totally fuckin’ butted heads.”
However, he still held an internship at Nickel and Dime Studios. Though it didn’t pay, he was able to record, so DLP was born. It remained a solo recording project until he moved to Orlando. “After I got down here and met enough people,” Duncan remarks, “I realized I could find musicians to strike it back up.”
With influences that range from the Dickies and the Screamers to the Cars, the tense punk-wave of this particular band is, by the frontman’s own admission, an anomaly in the Floridas Dying camp. “This is more of a synthesized punk band. I probably listen to poppier stuff than anybody in any of the bands I’m in. I’ll listen to overproduced pop music for days. But it all just comes down to the hook, in my opinion. I don’t wanna listen to music that doesn’t go anywhere.”
He may’ve grown up on a diet of Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana, but he was eventually led to punk rock, thanks to Duncan’s high school bass teacher. “He insisted on showing me punk. He was like, ‘What you listen to is pretty much bullshit.’ And then there was a girl we hung out with when I was in high school. She was the girl who showed me the New York Dolls. She was the girl who showed me the Stooges.”
His own sound? “I wanted to make something you could sing along and dance to but with an edge of danger.”