You've heard of rappers turning to film for a second career, but it's usually in front of the camera. Local hip-hop MC X:144 (aka Maged Khalil Ragab) – heretofore known best for his duo work with celebrated turntablist SPS – has once again flipped the script, turning his observational eye, which served him well as a writer of rhymes, toward his digital viewfinder.
The result: Beats.Rhymes.Films, Ragab's quickly rising, no-budget imprint that, although still in its infancy, has already proven X:144 as a director capable of hanging with the big boys. His first outing, a music video for local hip-hop legends Solillaquists of Sound titled "Marvel," managed to establish a narrative similar to SOS' album-wide concept while mining Orlando locales for fresh, unexpected angles. His follow-up video for SOS' "Gotham City Chase Scene" (both videos were produced for mini-major Anti- Records) built on the first and paid off on the title's promise; a razor-sharp action set piece as full-throttle as its accompanying song.
Perhaps Ragab's biggest accomplishment, however, was much more personal. His wide-eyed documentary, Export to Egypt – a 14-minute short film featured the director himself chatting about his experience near Cairo during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution with audience members at a nightclub or, in some scenes, over gunfire through footage he shot with his cell phone – is a festival-worthy display of Ragab's skills as a visual (and, of course, verbal) storyteller.
Anti-Pop Music Festival
Although organizer John Youngman has yet to order its gravestone, the Anti-Pop Music Festival, which ran for five strong years as just about the only alternative in town to the mainstream-minded Florida Music Festival, is most likely gone for good. Between the constant delays of the supposed 2009 follow-up and Youngman's success running the Fly South Music Group (Paramore, Supervillains), it's probably safe to put a fork in a fest that, over the years, brought the likes of Murs, Conor Oberst, Saul Williams and many others. Anti-Pop, you will be missed.
Norse Korea Presents
If everyone’s a critic, then every other person’s a promoter – and most are amateurs. But since lifting off in January, forward-thinking concert booking group Norse Korea is already responsible for a white-hot parade of bands including Surf City, KEN Mode, Thee Oh Sees, Davila 666, Young Widows, Capsule, Bare Wires, My Disco, Carnivores and the top of the local indie crop. They’ve been a big shot of electricity and street cred into Orlando’s main line, and we’re totally pissing our pants waiting for NK Recordings to launch.
There’s free live entertainment all over town. But the free shows we’re talking about are some of the ones that have been blossoming in the DIY scene at venues willing to take a grassroots shot at adapting to the times – Will’s Pub, Uncle Lou’s, Stardust, Hoops, Bar-BQ-Bar and Back Booth come to mind. They’re well-promoted, buzz-worthy and, most notable of all, spearheaded by some of the city’s top indie bands – bands who don’t have to play pro bono. From Basements of Florida to Mr. Pussy’s debut, some of the hottest vibes this year have been at these shows.
While some of the bigger, perennial music festivals have sputtered, one great development this year is the proliferation of focused, one-day and often themed mini-fests. From interesting new entrants like the Lowebow Fest, Two-Piece Band Fest, You Are Doomed Fest, WayBo Fest, Orange You Glad Sleigh Ride and Indie Summer Fest, these bite-sized, manageable and sometimes fascinatingly specific endeavors have splashed tons of welcome color all over the local music landscape.
Uncle Lou’s Entertainment Hall
1016 N. Mills Ave., 407-898-0009
It’s been like this for a while now, but there is perhaps no private business in the city that has become a DIY community venue so organically and authentically. Besides the street culture that its barflies provide, the fringe edges of the music scene have also adopted the joint as their clubhouse/incubator. Although known for its punk shows, its day-to-day offerings can be disorientingly diverse. At first, it’ll make no sense. But visit enough and it’ll make perfect sense. Truly the strangest, most raw cross-section of Orlando’s music underground.
For a city world-famous for sunshine and happiness, the social antagonism in town often makes our music scene resemble the Middle East. But thankfully, this year has shown that there’s a core under all that back-biting adolescence. From broad, faraway causes like Japan relief (Thin Lizzy Tribute, et al.) to nearer, native ones like Florida wildlife (Critter Crawl), neighborhood improvements (Orange You Glad Sleigh Ride), community members in need (Michelle Widmer and Harrison Snow benefits) and even simply helping fellow musicians realize a project (WayBo Fest), the support, participation and enthusiasm behind all of these benefit shows prove that we take care of our own.
54 N. Orange Ave., 407-246-1419; thesocial.org
These days web visibility is everything, and the Social has stepped up to the plate. This year, the live music venue unveiled a comprehensive, streamlined, mobile-ready, social-network-integrated website. They even have a free mobile app to go with it, featuring their concert calendar, an online box office, personalized reminders and more. Fancy!
Full Sail grads in Time magazine
Somehow, Time magazine found space between its early 2011 coverage of Egypt and Mark Zuckerberg to shine a spotlight on local entertainment and media school Full Sail University. The reason: Apparently, their audio program is a full-on Grammy factory. In fact, every nominee for Album of the Year in 2011 was either mixed or engineered by a Full Sail grad. “Could it be the best-kept secret in higher ed?” they wondered aloud. Not anymore!
The Beacham Theater
46 N. Orange Ave., 407-246-1419; thebeacham.com
The Beacham Theater on North Orange Avenue officially opened its doors in 1921 as a vaudeville venue. Since then, it’s had multiple renaissances, but none as dramatic as the one seen in March. Although the grand opening was technically on March 11 with G. Love & Special Sauce, we prefer to think of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ rollicking set a couple weeks later as the venue’s real start date. With an improved look and better acoustics, the Beacham is already a power player in town, and the hits keep coming as evidenced by last week’s Animal Collective show.
But wait! There is another? On Jan. 4, one Melvin Benn of event promoter Festival Republic, which has produced festivals at Reading, Leeds, Glastonbury and elsewhere, stood outside the Amway Center and proclaimed that he has chosen from on high the city of Orlando as the location for his next giant fest, to be knighted “Orlando Calling.” No details were given – no musical acts, a specific location or even a date – but they were indeed promised. Seven months later, here’s what we know (that they tell us): It will be held Nov. 11-13 at Citrus Bowl Park, more than 100 acts will perform on four stages and a “major announcement” will come July 18. In other words, now-ish. It will have to be a big enough info bomb to make folks reach for their wallets, since they say tickets will go on sale July 23. We shall see.
Bluegrass jam in the Twistee Treat parking lot
10920 W. Colonial Drive, Ocoee
It’s the unlikeliest of places to catch a stellar lineup of bluegrass musicians: A paved parking lot of a strip mall off Route 50 in Ocoee, bordered by a Twistee Treat and a Pizza Hut. But every Friday night at 6:30, a group of musicians comes to this spot with their banjos and fiddles and mandolins and guitars. Things may start out slowly, but as newcomers trickle in and join in the jam session, the pace picks up. Before you know it, it’s nearly midnight and there are more than a dozen players of all ages and skill levels pickin’ and grinnin’ under the eerie glow of the parking-lot street lamps. If there is a better time than this to be had in a parking lot in Ocoee, we’re guessing it’s probably not legal.
Billy Manes reviews Duran Duran’s newest album
He called it an impromptu album review – after all, his December 2010 exercise in torrid tongue speak was the world’s first taste of the new Duran Duran album, All You Need is Now – but we get the feeling that Billy Manes is always willing to gush a little ink for his favorite band. Yes, it’s a bit self-congratulatory on our part, but Manes scooped the back pocket music press, and we’re damn proud of him. How did he get ahold of the album before everyone else? Let’s just say that as a longtime fan and a friend of the band’s five still-hot-after-all-these-years members, someone may have telepathically communicated the raw intensity of this cathartic party timeline through ’80s paranoia, luxury and heartbreak. Or maybe they just accidentally sent him a copy. The review was tweeted and Facebooked into the stratosphere and became one of the most-read articles on our website. Duran Duran fans reveled in Manes’ interpretation of the album, and those born after 1985 gained something of a primer on one of the most awesome bands ever.
Ben Prestage is the hobo king of Florida’s blues troubadour tradition. At any given performance you’ll hear him coax swamp blues, delta blues and traditional tunes from his arsenal of instruments – a guitar, harmonica, banjo, lap-steel guitar, drums and a lowebow cigar box guitar – many of which he plays simultaneously. That’s impressive but it’s not what makes him special. After all, there’s been a recent resurgence of one-man acts in Central Florida who are challenging his kingship, most notably blues banjo shredder Lone Wolf. But Prestage is a guy who came in second place for solo performer at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2006 and 2008. He has successfully exported his brand of blues; in June he toured mainland Europe and appeared at the U.K. Cigar Box Festival. And to witness him perform is to understand that he deeply, urgently wants you to love this music from a bygone era as much as he does. Continuing a family tradition that began with his granddaddy, a Mississippi sharecropper, and his great-grandma, a vaudeville musician, Prestage will pass along these songs just as those who’ve gone before.