It wasn't supposed to be like this.
The music industry is supposed to be dead by now. Physical CD sales plummeted in relation to the previous year again in 2007 – a whopping 15 percent decrease this time – and the entire concept of a “record store” seems antiquated. Tower Records, gone. Fopp is out – hell, Richard Branson sold Virgin Megastores to stop the hemorrhaging. The big boxes will save us, the RIAA said to itself. Then Wal-Mart announced they were reducing their CD stock by up to 20 percent. Best Buy and Target followed suit. There went that idea. We still have our big dogs, they repeated their mantra: Radiohead, Prince, Madonna. Oops. The entire model of the jet-set music exec has crumbled before our eyes, buried in the rubble of an optic-laser wasteland.
In terms of sales, it’s never been bleaker: Internet downloads skyrocketed, but not nearly enough to make up for the decrease in physical sales, and it’s said that for every CD legally downloaded, the same CD is copped 20 times illegally. Artists have never made less from their trade of choice: making albums. It’s common knowledge by now that artists make their money off merchandise and touring, but the major labels found a way around that: They introduced “360” deals, in which the label gets a cut of absolutely everything an artist earns. Artists can choose not to sign with a major, sure, but who’s gonna get the word out that they even exist so people will buy their merch? Musical servitude has never had less of an upside.
So how can you possibly explain the banner year that little-known artists experienced in 2007? Thank you, MySpace. Gracias, YouTube. Likewise to CDBaby, Last.fm, satellite radio, CMJ, NPR, iTunes and all you other beautiful acronyms and jabberwockies.
The musicians have turned against the labels, and listeners besides. Hoist by their own petard, the corporate tastemakers have relinquished their right as victors to pen the history books of music each year, and strangely enough – impossibly – Central Florida and its neighbors have moved into the leader’s spot.
Record stores are dead? Tell that to Park Ave CDs, who have grown into not only a successful record store but a synergistic multiplatform hotspot. Small labels can’t get the word out for their peeps? Talk to Orlando’s X:144 & SPS, staples in ’07 on college radio Top Ten charts, or Band Marino, whose profile as one of the top 5 “MySpace bands” in Rolling Stone led to a talked-about performance at South by Southwest this year, or local rapper S.K.I.P, one of URB magazine’s “Next 1000” for 2007-2008, or Jacksonville’s Black Kids, named by Rolling Stone one of the 10 bands to watch in 2008. Even in Tampa, Yo Majesty was featured in Stereogum as a “band to watch.” Label-less Orlandoans Summerbirds in the Cellar were so big this year that their CD release party spilled into two shows.
Of course, the industry hasn’t gone away entirely; it’s just that the majors left standing are now looking to Florida to provide the crutches. Universal snatched up Orlando’s Between the Trees earlier this year and then Anberlin in August. Atlantic grabbed up Carol City’s Flo Rida, who at press time sits at No. 1 on the iTunes singles chart, then they followed up by snatching Orlando’s Wes Fif. Virgin Records reached out to J-ville for Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. UCF-area residents the Runners have produced three Billboard Top 10 songs in the last year and a half.
What the hell is going on here? Everywhere you look there are tombstones for the music industry, but not in Orlando. If ever there was a year to look back and celebrate not only the survival of a local music scene but its stunning advances in spite of the odds, this is it.
We’ve got a barn, and we’re putting on a show.
Chris Anderson (Parafora Presents/Back Booth)
“Summerbirds in the Cellar’s new mind-blowing record, Druids, is undoubtedly the best local record of the year.”
Brandon Perkins (senior editor, URB magazine)
“To passers-by, the only thing further from hip-hop than the trancey-techno soundscapes that ruled over dance music in the early ’90s would be alt-country or Big & Rich, but 2007 bore witness to another collision of rave and rap. From Afrika Bambaataa flipping Kraftwerk records in the early ’80s to hip-house-defining singles of the late ’80s – Jungle Brothers’ ‘I’ll House You’ and yes, even ‘It Takes Two’ by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock – to Timbaland’s work with Timberlake, the two often disparate genres have gotten busy, Venn diagram–style, numerous times over the past 25 years.
“But when O-Town native Wes Fif teamed with Georgia’s B.O.B for ‘Haterz Everywhere,’ it felt like a gangster rap revelation. Simultaneously paired with ‘Birthday’ from I-95 neighbor Flo Rida and the bombastic rap operas of Orlando’s production stars the Runners, well, it became a full-on party.
“The oddest part of this decade’s rap-fueled rave is that it’s happening in the mainstream and the underground at the same time. In addition to the Floridians bouncing kilos and paper stacks off of rising synths, independent acts like Spank Rock, Flosstradamus, DJ Benzi and Diplo are redefining underground hip-hop from the spectacular vernacular and abstract production to rap that just plain … raves.”
The Sexy Savannah (mornings, O-Rock 105.9-FM)
“I was on the Night Train, ready to crash and burn, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt from the Dew Action Sports Tour. Then again, the best show I saw this whole year was at the Dew Tour after-party at the Social. I think the band was called Appetite for Destruction, a Guns N’ Roses cover band that rocked a crowd that included pro skaters Tim Johnson, Benji Galloway and Greg Lutzka. The ever-present horde of insignificant skate mattresses and Pro-hos were also in attendance, lurking in the shadows. Fueled by PBR and sweat, the band rocked so hard that it felt like Axl himself was on stage (before the Botox and cornrows made him fucking crazy). The lead singer belted out the lyrics to ‘Live and Let Die’ while my own heart was breaking due to an earlier personal issue that gave the song ‘Patience’ a whole new meaning. Devil-horns up and the crowd goes wild, girls get slammed in the face with bathroom doors, a little puke here and there, and the occasional fight almost breaks out – one specifically involving the Dew Tour emcee. Welcome back to the jungle, bitch!”
Chris Cucci (owner, Post Records)
“Floridas Dying did the Wet T-Shirt Wild Weekend. The bands were great and people actually came out to support `the event`. Enough cannot be said about the support for the scene and the hard work behind this event and everything else Floridas Dying does. Maybe others will take `a cue` from this and start doing more to help grow the Orlando music scene.”
Jordan Wynn (musician, Heather Lee and Jordan Wynn)
“The best musical event of 2007 was actually a series of unrelated events. Last year more than one ‘established’ band found itself disbanding. Things happen. The beauty of these initially unfortunate occurrences is found in the aftermath. The decisions that are made – the thoughts that are formed, considered and ultimately decided upon when one’s path is shifted from its previous direction. Some of the greatest music and expression our area has experienced in quite some time has been revealed in the past few months, from many of those affected by change. To me, the greatest musical event in 2007 entailed the demise of a few, the resurrection of a couple more and a whole new year in which to enjoy them.”
Pauly Crush (DJ/promoter)
“There is one newcomer to the scene that has stolen my heart: Rockstar Karaoke on Sundays at Voyage is one of the most fun activities in the city. I am not into karaoke and have given up on my dreams of ever becoming a rock star but there is something about getting up with a live band and wailing the unintelligible lyrics to ‘Big City Nights’ in front of 300 people that does it for me. I have to recommend it to everyone as one of the most no-nonsense, unpretentious parties of the week. The band kills and promoter Matt Smith gets every set started flawlessly.”
”Summerbirds in the Cellar: Infectious sounds that remind me of years ago and years from now at the same time. Their songs have more than meaning: They are an honest description of what life feels like when you see more than most and still stay in the mud; when the times call for fighting in your own way; when it hurts to be a part of such real chaos – losing friends, dying by their hands, and loving them still.”
Jason Ferguson (former music editor, Orlando Weekly)
“Maybe it’s because I wind up drinking too much when I go see them or maybe it’s because they play the best kind of punk rock – the straight-to-the-point, fists-in-the-air kind – but whatever the reason, the Attack warm my wrinkly old heart. The video they did for ‘Time to Collect’ is possibly the best video ever made.
“Incest, schmincest. There’s a reason I asked Bao Le-Huu to write for Orlando Weekly back when I was music editor: The guy is a great writer who cares about – and understands – the local scene. He also puts forth a valiant effort to spotlight said scene’s better components. The Bao Show, his semi-regular series of shows held at various venues, is Good Orlando Bands 101.
“My ‘retirement’ show – this little party I threw for myself upon leaving the Weekly – was, if I do say so myself, not too shabby. From the opening acoustic set (and comedy) of Bloom’s Devin Moore straight through the barnstorming closing by the Legendary JC’s (with great performances by the Attack, the Country Slashers and Matt Butcher in between) it was a hell of a Monday night at the Social.
“For the record, the first time I was exposed to garage pop band Tres Bien’s greatness was at the Back Booth, and not on America’s Next Great Band. For the record, they’re completely awesome.
“I got my review of Spacebar’s new album wrong, and this is my humble attempt at a mea culpa. Our Fight is the best pop record to come out of Orlando in 2007.
“Here are my 12 favorite local CDs of 2007, in alphabetical order:”
The Attack: self-titled demo
The Country Slashers: Love, Lost & Found
History: Ghosts in the City
Jeanie & the Tits: “Slut Fame” 7-inch
Kingsbury: The Great Compromise
The Legendary JC’s: Open Day and Night
Mumpsy: Sings Those Golden Hits From the Misfits
Spacebar: Our Fight
The Sugar Oaks: Red Grapes in the City
Summerbirds in the Cellar: Druids
various artists: Stone Soup Compilation
Q-Burns Abstract Message (DJ)
“Last September at Crooked Bayou, a tiny, jokey germ of an idea unexpectedly brought out the passionate ’70s lite-rock lovers. Inspired by the stupid-but-hilarious viral video series Yacht Rock, attendees donned mustaches, feathered hair and captain’s outfits while the Bayou was decked out in the cheapest of marina bar décor. The duo Los Diggaz performed live Yacht Rock-ish cover songs which were soon followed by sets by DJs (yours truly included) spinning smooth tunes; Doobies beat-matched into your Steelies, for example, as the crowd grooved on. The non-ironic guilty-pleasure aspect was apparent as a few of the DJs dropped their own exclusive studio-tweaked dance remixes, of which Atnarko’s remix of ‘Sailing’ and Sleazy McQueen’s version of ‘Year of the Cat’ were highlights. At one point, two folks disguised as Hall & Oates appeared to make mischief, just like in the videos that inspired the event. This was by far my favorite party in Orlando this year, and not just because I got to rock a mustache and an actual jacket worn by the Captain of Captain and Tennille (it’s true).”
Michael McRaney (co-owner, the Social, McRaney’s Tavern)
“The best music was Jose Gonzalez’ In Our Nature, and locally, Summerbirds in the Cellar’s Druids. I think both acts transcend musical trends and write amazing music.”
Billy Manes (staff writer and columnist, Orlando Weekly)
“The echoing chimes of pop’s death knell a-ringing aren’t really as tragic as they may seem. In fact, a palm-press to the eyes and they may just be the glittering, throbbing backing track to glorious, slightly ironic hedonism. At least that was the case when the glamour-MILFs of Bananarama windmilled their forearms while side-prancing into town for Parliament House’s sloppy-but-fabulous Gay Days extravaganza on June 2. Armed with a pair of go-go boys and a veritable karaoke machine of frenetic, ridiculous troubles with treble, Keren and Sarah ably proved the point that pop stars don’t go away, they just change venues. For this mirrorballed instance, that meant playfully walking through their rumor-hearing and summers of cruelty in front of a well-lit swimming pool full of floating plastic anemones. Glamour escapism of the caricatured variety ensued, as every shirtless boy who ever owned a mirror in the ’80s lost his camp virginity all over again, this time screaming ‘Goddess on a mountain top, burning like a silver flame’ at the top of his lungs with a drink in his hand. She’s still got it.”
Rich Evans (idiot savant, Floridas Dying)
“2007 was the year I got the stupid idea to host a music festival, and this wasn’t like one of those other music festivals that go on in town, the ones with corporate sponsorship and an uninspired list of participants.
“This was one dumbass with no money asking all of his favorite bands from around the country (Wizzard Sleeve, Hibachi Stranglers, Jeanie & the Tits) – and one French guy – to come to Orlando, board a party bus with him and moon all the kids dancing to Interpol remixes. To put it simply, this was the most fun weekend in my entire life. It was a vacation in my own hometown. Friends came from Texas, Washington, California, Georgia, New York, Alabama and various other places less cool than Orlando to dance, drink and live out the spring-break dreams they were too jaded to pursue in their late teens. For three days, I got to show people everything that’s cool about Orlando, from our boob-shaped strip clubs to our Christian-themed amusement parks to our horned king of beef. We threw beers, we punched beach balls, some did cocaine in the bathrooms and only one person broke a bone!”
Dominic Umile (contributor, Orlando Weekly)
“My better, wiser half arranged for us to see U.K. gypsy songstress Bat for Lashes at Manhattan’s Knitting Factory over the summer. Honestly, I’d rather sit in the living room and listen to records than overpay for beer, tolerate idle chatter about shitty bands/someone’s day at work – i.e., the irritating ‘live show’ element – but I regretted thinking such things when Natasha Khan and Co. walked onstage. Khan’s command extends far past the thrown-together appeal of her wardrobe and mystic-esque headdress, makeup, etc. She and her backup musicians relayed truly eerie melodies that evening, gracefully capping the compositions with chimes and unconventional stringed instruments, while Khan swayed back and forth behind her mic stand. I wondered if she was going to produce a crystal ball before midnight.”
Angel Rivera (SBK Live, Real Radio 104.1-FM)
“My favorite fucking anything this past year has been the grass-roots hip-hop scene from Orlando getting some run outside of our state. Coming in second was the sick 15-minute freestyle session we had live on the air with X:144, S.K.I.P, and P-Doxx (with SPS cuttin’) to close out our show.”
Curtis Brown (keyboards, Summerbirds in the Cellar)
“The Critical Mass Halloween bike ride. Nearly 100 masked cyclists took over the streets of Orlando in honor of our nation’s greatest holiday.
“Riding alongside a bumblebee, Richard Nixon, numerous Indians and Satan space commander, I was glad to be back in Orlando.”
Justin Strout (music editor, Orlando Weekly)
“Call me wishy-washy, but I think that there are events and then there are stories. The former term acts as an impetus to the latter, where a seismic shift might have occurred but is not yet in the pervading consciousness (the event) but once it plays itself out to its own possibilities, it affects us all (the story).
“When beloved folk-rock family act the Wynn Brothers disbanded – proving the theory once again that if everyone in Orlando agrees on anything, it must die – the seed was planted for a shift of barn-burning proportions. Singer Thomas Wynn recruited local singer/songwriter/guitar virtuoso Justin Beckler, chopped his dreads and formed Thomas Wynn and the Believers. Individually, Wynn and Beckler are phenoms of the road-trip blues (Beckler’s solo album, Oh! My Troubled Mind was one of the best CDs of ’06), but together as the Believers – as witnessed in their epic opening set for the Tennessee Three at Anti-Pop – they’re an event.
“The ‘story’ of 2007, however, had to be the swept-under-the-rug ass-kicking that the ladies of Orlando laid upon the guys. As October’s E.L.L.A. Music Fest and femme-friendly hangs like Dandelion Communitea Café continue to shout at a brick wall to get them some love, the women of Flevoland can move any crowd, any time. Here we’re blessed with face-melters like Jeanie & the Tits and Milka, the Sondheim-in-a-dress wordsmith Emma Wallace, hip-hop Gaia Alexandrah, tongue-in-cheekers Jenny K. Surrounded by Wolves, shoegaze heartbreakers Courtney Keesee and Geri X. and loads more, but we show our appreciation by relegating country veteran Terri Binion to the dark corner of an Irish pub, drowned out by yammering yuppies and 12 flat-screens blaring Monday Night Football?
“C’mon, Orlando: Let’s try to muster the energy to allow these ladies to knock our knickers backwards.”
Terri Binion (musician, Terri Binion & the Bible Belt Orphans)
“I have to say that this year might have slipped through the cracks in regards to absolute highlights in music. Honestly, I think I spent more time detached from music this year and I’m pretty sure that I worked hard to find my way around feeling just plain shitty about music. Tried not to fear It. Tried not to judge It.
“I would be far reaching to name any new CDs, or even previous records, that came simmering back to shake my world. Gratefully, I did find sweet relief in the recent Robert Plant/Alison Krauss release, Raising Sand.
“Sometime this summer in Greenville, S.C, I did witness that Will Kimbrough is as good a songwriter and performer as he is guitar player for Rodney Crowell. His current CD, Americanitis, proves he’s smart and kind and has a lot to say and nudges folks leading our country to look in the mirror.
“I read a handful of bios and some autobios that filled the warm weeks of summer – Nina Simone, Gram Parsons, Warren Zevon, Townes Van Zandt – stubborn, hard-headed artists. Exhausting.
“When I point my finger to a time when my heart might have been beating fastest in relation to music and feeling in some happy zone with it, it was probably in the moments my fingers finally got the rhythm of claw-hammer banjo. July, sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair and looking out at the Blue Ridge Mountains, 40 miles east of Asheville, fingers rapping ‘Old Joe Clark’ into a dervish. Head spinning.
“I’m pretty sure that was it for me.”
Heather Fritz (marketing director, Club Firestone)
“My favorite part of 2007 was leaving the corporate whore side of LIVE ENTERTAINMENT and bringing my skills back to the downtown Orlando music scene at Club Firestone! I think ’07 was a ripple in still waters compared to what’s going to happen to the Orlando music scene as a whole in ’08. There are tons of kick-ass local bands out there.
“Keep the faith, Orlando, there is still hope for us all.”
Bao Le-Huu (columnist/kingmaker, Orlando Weekly)
“My lifelong dilemma is having an unrelenting need for stimulation but very finite stores of patience. The fact that I go out nearly every night of the week in this city and am sated most of the time speaks to the health of our scene. But for all the buzz-worthy sights and sounds brought in from all over the world by hardworking promoters around town, the real proof of viability is a strong local core. And, for me, the best part of this year was the impressive quantity of encouraging homegrown developments.
“With the resurgent Club Firestone having a banner year for concerts and the Plaza Theatre finding its legs with a remarkably improved musical menu, downtown grew by two large venues. Also notable, though stupendously underappreciated, are the efforts behind turning College Park restaurant Taste into a very welcoming music room and late-night hang.
“Another sign of vitality is a sense of solidarity, and that’s why local record labels Post, Nonsense and Pinky Ring get big community-building propers for uniting to produce last summer’s charity-minded Stone Soup Festival. Speaking of music festivals, the single most notable blossoming this year was Anti-Pop. With its third year seeing quantum leaps in presence, quality and attendance, the underground music parade came of age in grand fashion.
“But it’s not all about the big things. Nah, man, it never is. Some of the butter even spilled out into the street, literally. Swing by the downtown vegan hotdog stand by Lizzy McCormack’s on a Monday night and you’ll see rhymes and beats being spit on the sidewalk by rappers and beatboxers locked in freestyle sessions called Ozone Cypher. This is some seriously dope shit and it don’t get any more organic than that.
“What all these things say about our scene is that there’s quality, range and wholeness here. These are just highlights and they weren’t all met with such hot turnout, but the fact that they happened means people are trying to make good things happen here. They, however, are only half the equation. You are the other half. Don’t look at me – I was there.”firstname.lastname@example.org