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THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND

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The ethos of the annual Anti-Pop Music Festival, the sophomore edition of which occurred last week, is very much in line with my own. That's what makes the tepid sensation it left me with all the more perplexing.

The verdict

The single biggest deficiency of this year's event was that it didn't feel like a festival. It's an intangible quality, but it's definitive when it's there. Say what you want about the Florida Music Festival, I certainly have, but that music event at least captures a distinct sense of "fest." Last week was more like a heavy week of concerts. True, it was a blockbuster week for the indie-minded, but there was not enough connective atmosphere to elevate the event much higher than that. Fundamental to a sense of festival is movement and permeability. It's what makes going to one special.

There were operational foibles that muzzled the mobility between the various showcases. For example, there was still an absence of posted set times, which resulted in shattered itineraries. And could the pricing structure be any more complicated? With tickets to some shows valid everywhere while tickets to others only good for select places, it took a Ph.D. to navigate a field so mined with exceptions and asterisks. It was confusing at best, deterring at worst. Furthermore, as the organizers work so hard to try and make a name for this event, it's odd that many of the touring bands didn't even know they were part of a festival.

What Anti-Pop did well, however, were several things. The caliber of national talent remained strong, with a notable exception I'll get into in a sec. And the vital local component was much better represented this year in showcases that brought exposure to indigenous bands, labels, promoters and, hell, critics. Even the panel discussion topics were interesting, innovative and relevant to the demographic ("Music and Marketing for the iPod Nation," "Social Responsibility in Music").

The moments, the memories

Though it thankfully wasn't illustrative of the rest of the proceedings, opening night got out to an interesting start at the Club at Firestone. Apparently, headliner and grotesque exception to the talent bar She Wants Revenge was steamed over the feature this paper ran on them, so much so that they refused to play until all our banners were taken down from inside the venue. Wow, that's quite a cat fit from a group of guys who "really don't care what anybody says." Sure, Billy Manes gave them a good spanking, but he also wasn't the one who confused Bauhaus with Joy Division, the band whose grave they're flagrantly robbing. So it ruffled some of the powers that be. The fact that Orlando Weekly was a sponsor for the event doesn't change our raison d'être. We're gonna continue to call it like we see it.

More nourishing — though not nearly as funny — moments occurred at the other opening-night showcase at the Social. The Elected's twanged California softness was brightly stroked while Margot & the Nuclear So & So's served up another live performance so rich that it makes the blandness of their record even more confounding. Other highlights were the street poetry of Saul Williams and the frayed joyousness of The Whigs. UK act Kasabian sounded pretty good but I wasn't quite prepared for the sheer magnitude of their wanker contingency. At the Nonsense Records showcase at Back Booth, I encountered a sharp display of hot-blooded battle skill by local rapper Madd Illz, who (with Miami rapper Parable as a partner) recently made it as far as the final battle of the U.S. division in Jump Off TV's 2on2 World Rap Championships.

The showcase curated by music editor Jason Ferguson and me was probably the strangest bill of the festival, though that wasn't entirely without design. The jabbing electronic beats of gadget jockey A-Scissors and the new-waved punk oddity of Derek Lyn Plastic were cool. Despite the writhing antics of Dan Preston (aka Danny Feedback in his other eponymous project), the psych meandering of Hippy Gone Wrong was an uninspiring misfire on our part. However, the always surprising and ever amusing Happy Valley stole the show … handily. Two words: Pillow fight.

We're watching

What can and has been said about Anti-Pop is that its heart is in the right place and its brain is evident, which is as fine a bedrock as you'll find, but it's only being honest to say that the learning curve still slopes. The philosophy is there, it's just that the impediments to its expression need to be removed, or at least sanded down.

The festival's still only two years old but that's long enough to begin expecting evolution beyond the wobbles of infancy. Game time is approaching and the clock starts now.

music@orlandoweekly.com

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