Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Fort Lauderdale tends to get a bad rap for clinging to its old, sleepy boat-town mentality, despite being the largest city in Broward as well as one of the most promising waterfront metropolitan areas north of Miami Beach. That's why when anyone decides to go against the norm and break the old mold a bit, we can't help but get that warm, tingling feeling that makes us want to shout it to the whole world. Helium Creative in Fort Lauderdale's rising FAT Village arts district is the kind of out-of-the-box company that helps raise the bar for a city by providing an example of just how much better different can be, when it's done right. A boutique-style advertising agency with an edge for web development and graphic design, Helium Creative has created innovative campaigns for a diverse range of clients — everyone from the W South Beach and Levinson Jewelers to Burger King and Pollo Tropical — all from its cozy, alternative office nestled among some of the area's most exciting and creatively focused new businesses. Founder and creative director Christopher Heller's roots are in Philadelphia, where he graduated from the Art Institute of Philadelphia with a degree in graphic design, but since starting Helium Creative ten years ago, his heart and his thriving business belong to Fort Lauderdale. Helium Creative regularly opens its office space — an edgy, scaled-down version of something you might see in New York's SoHo neighborhood — to the public during the monthly art walk; and Heller, an artist himself, continues to promotes the arts through his virtual/real-life gallery space, Project Fine Art.
When Mike and Pete Campbell perform their mind-boggling, hypnotic prog-metal, it's a difficult phenomenon to ignore. Not only does the complexity of the musical arrangements crack open heads like calculus on acid but it's executed with joy and a flair so furious that audience members are often too happily captivated to notice that their brains are being rewired. Indeed, it could be the case that the twin-brother duo are up to something secretive and scientific as Mike does finger acrobatics up and down the neck of his ten-string guitar, smiling and shouting with excitement while Pete enters into a bug-eyed shamanic trance while working his 30-piece drum kit — featuring a razor-sharp saw blade and other oddities — in impossible ways. The nonstop, 45-minute ride may feature a salsa bit, a trip through fiery hell, and an extended homage to Zelda. Or maybe none of the above. The duo is constantly at work composing new, brilliantly orchestrated sets for their live shows. It's what they do. And it's quite puzzling, in a wonderful way.
Paul Wilson's music stains the mind like tobacco, rusty-gold. His voice hangs in the air like smoke. He carries on the tradition of the old singin' cowboy with the authenticity of a passing train. A cool, seasoned character with long white hair and beard to match, he's just the guy you want to have singing to you about riding the rails, chasing women (and catching a few), and running from the law. He does so with simple dignity, like it's his job and his joy. As he puts it: "I just want to say thank you to God for the talent to make up songs and to you for listening." As beautifully lonesome as his tunes can be, he doesn't work alone. He is continuously getting together with friends and family to write and perform, hence the name of his project. His 2012 debut release, Trains and Fools, features collaborations with a handful of fellow songwriters, including T.J. Howard and Lydia Milan, his niece. The song he wrote with Howard, "Lost in Texas," recently earned the pair co-Songwriter of the Year awards from North American Country Music Association International. Vintage, timeless, and trusty, Wilson and his band of friends offer something that will always have a place in American music, and it's great to have it here in South Florida.
The phrase "breath of fresh air" does not provide the oomph needed to describe just how special the Resolvers are. The Resolvers are like a ganja-tinged hurricane wind from the deep lungs of a giant Rastaman ripping out the end of a scorching-hot brass horn as just the funk the doctor ordered. Their unique sound, which the 11-piece calls "big band reggae," is a marriage between roots reggae and New Orleans-style funk, and its powerful vibes have spread out far beyond this peninsula. The band has uplifted audiences throughout the Southeast, as well as in California and Jamaica. And its 2012 EP, Big Band Reggae, debuted at number five on the Billboard reggae charts, establishing the band's presence in the reggae world at large. While the positive influence makes its way around the globe, it is certainly most concentrated here in South Florida. The band regularly, along with its ever-growing posse of sun-kissed fans, blows the roof off of local venues. And once a month, the Resolvers "fam" hits the beach for a day of service — picking up litter for hours. Driven by a group heart and a work ethic as powerful as their music, the Resolvers are getting bigger all the time. And with an album release and U.S. tour scheduled for 2013, they're showing no signs of stopping.
Unity Rise is a cast of radicals more likely to belt out their riotous folk-punk songs in the trenches of an anti-imperialist protest than on a proper stage. In either case, they require no amplification. They are loud. They sound like a tightly clenched fist being raised into the polluted air of an unjust society. They hold nothing back. For an audience of three in a parking lot outside of a building they just played in, they will play all of their songs again, a few times over, each time with even greater passion. And each time, bassist Tyler Lewis will lay his double bass on its side without missing a beat, so that his bandmates may use it as a platform to shout out union-praising lyrics, new and old. When playing "The Ballad of John Henry," the band works like it's driving steel and sounds like a pissed-off locomotive. And the originals come across as being just as authentic as that timeless anthem of yore. It's good to have these guys on the streets.
After winning a contest to play Aura Fest 2012 in Central Florida, the Funky Nuggets were not invited back to play Aura Fest 2013. This was quite a bummer for Frankie Sensimilla, the band's charismatic, guitar-shredding leader, who got naked (except for an Aura wristband, which he is still wearing) for the band's 2012 Aura performance, and for the rest of the band and its ever-growing tribe of fans as well. How did the band respond? Exactly as one would hope a playful young jam band would: They smuggled a silent disco rig into the fest, set it up in the woods along with a pro light rig courtesy of Orange Blossom Jamboree, and jammed from 3 to 9 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights without making a peep, except for into the wireless headphones worn by the hundred or so grinning folks surrounding them. This glorious act of peaceful rebellion was the talk of the festival, won the Boca Raton band hundreds of new fans, and is but one episode in the Nuggets' fun-filled musical journey. And, as fun as their approach is, it is grounded in serious dedication to the music. This coupling of fun times and quality musicianship is what makes a good jam band, and the Nuggets have it as well as any band on the circuit.
Without knowing the backstory, the average listener will have a difficult time placing where and when Suede Dudes' droning, sludgy postpunk comes from. It is because of this timeless, unidentifiable character that we give this Fort Lauderdale quartet such kudos. The fuzzy guitar lines, reverb-drenched vocals, and white-noise-laden hue heard on 2012 effort Mutant Meat give the notion that it is a lesser-known contemporary of Sonic Youth's masterful late-'80s record Daydream Nation, indicating that the band is, perhaps, a member of downtown New York's no wave movement. Others might affiliate the band's overdriven, catchy, psychedelic buzz to the Velvet Underground. Most haven't a clue that the Suede Dudes and their sonic caterwauls originated from South Florida, and we love it that way. We are thankful that South Florida can emit more than just sunny garage rock. The fact that these dudes of suede have released two records on cassette (Burns From the Doghouse and Burns From the Doghouse II) specifically for Record Store Day adds to their other-era aspect and their kickassness too. The act is also a bit of a local supergroup, with each musician working on his own successful solo project as well — most notably bassist Raphael Alvarez's work as art-house electro act Chrome Dick, and drummer Will Alvarez in lo-fi project Minimalist Blasphemist. The four-piece has big plans to round out the year, being in the process of recording its first ten-inch vinyl aided by Jonathan Nunez, bassist from Miami doom-metal heroes Torche.
There's something oddly relaxing about listening to the roar of aggravated metal vocals backed with the rumble of pure evil. Sure, at first, your shoulders tighten to your ears. You're facing the deep, pounding speed that comes from the stage when Broward death-metal act Beastplague performs. Yeah, your blood pressure shoots up until the blood vessels in your eyes burst and you're punching the person next to you. But if you give it a minute and just settle into the experience, you will fully enjoy the intensity and talent of this three-piece. As bodies beat bodies into a frenzy, you can simply allow the tension to melt away. Your muscles will unwind, your head will hang, and it will bang. And you will feel the true allure of this genre through Beastplague. Just last year, these dudes of grindcore mixed and mastered their full-length release Manifestation in just ten hours. It gained a bit of attention on metal blogs around the country that likened them to Napalm Death, Exitium, Magrudergrind, and Mother Brain. They also put out a song on Anvileater Records' compilation Eaten Alive Vol. 1. The band has performed some gigs this year that don't ooze with doom and darkness of the underworld, like Sweatstock in Miami and Speakeasy in Lake Worth. But that doesn't take away from Beastplague's brutality; it simply brings those sunny venues that much closer to Beelzebub.
With the diversity that Black Locust Society has brought to Broward County, there is no shortage of talented 20-somethings making music of all kinds and certainly no shortage of the hip-hop sound within the confines of a group. Though there is one that stands out above the rest this year, and while the hunt for Best Hip-Hop Act grew increasingly more difficult the closer to deadline, Gaps (Ricardo Tejeda) gave a performance a notch above at this year's Block x Blog festival that sealed it for New Times. With rhythms that break tradition and soar beyond delay and feedback, Gaps has been refining his sound for the past ten years here in Broward. Currently working with Pax (Astrea Corp), who is lending a hand in the production of the next Gaps release, Tejeda's influence is as selective as it is diverse. "I really enjoy performing with my BLS crew, obviously, but love to branch out with other artists like Iron Ora, the Goddamn Hustle, Suede Dudes — cats like that. Anything that will keep it interesting for everyone involved."
The guy with the gaunt face and freestanding black hair that you see all the time as you slink through the aisles of Radio-Active Records is Richard Vergez. He's the creative director there, but making the store's website is definitely not all he does with his time. Vergez is a musician who gets dark and synthy with Mothersky and totally atmospheric and experimental with his electronic solo project, Drowning the Virgin Silence. For the latter, he creates surreal music — influenced by Stockhausen and Daphne Oram — under a title taken from Federico Garcia Lorca. He uses analog equipment and creates loops from splicing cassettes to weave soundscapes that are tense and relaxing, complex and ambient. Under DTVS, he's opened for former Harry Pussy guitarist and singer Bill Orcutt, brought his brand of dreamy electronica to Churchill's annual International Noise Conference, and worked with dancer Ana Mendez to offer a sound installation to enhance her intensely emotional Joe Meek tribute. His upcoming tape with this project will be out on New York's Goat Eater label. An artist working not only with sound but also with visuals, Vergez composes images with feeling and place for each of his releases and is showing all over the world, from London to Chicago. DTVS elevates sound art, making it something you'd want to hear at home, at the pool, by the ocean, or in your car.
Like you dipped your whole head into a vat of liquid acid. Like someone you truly love and trust massaged your eardrums, bringing them to the heights of orgiastic pleasure. Like your brain cells took the shape and colors of Sesame Street numbers, connected by taut, then vibrating, guitar-string synapses. This is the effect Cop City Chill Pillars' 2012 album, Hosed, has on the body. "Hosed," band members say, means to have bad luck. But there's nothing unlucky about this release, their second LP on Orlando's Florida's Dying label. It's sent them playing around the country and alongside the Jesus and Mary Chain and Swans at Calgary's Sled Island Festival this June. The sounds of guitarist Chris Jankow Jr., drummer Jordan Pettingill, and bassist Jimmy Bradshaw are experimental and psychedelic; they are slow, they are solid, and they will mess with your head and weigh on your heart. There isn't a queer subgenre that suits this Lake Worth band neatly, but Hosed needs no defining. It is a crazy, unexpected embrace you can't struggle your way out of, so you lie back and enjoy the feeling.
You take one more shot at the bar and you're basically ready to sing your favorite song in front of a crowded room of strangers. Then you turn back for another. Just because. OK, now you're totally ready to belt it out — you're going to morph into Madonna up there! You are the Material Girl! You grab the mic and grab your crotch and say, "Come on! Vogue!" At Gaby's in Pembroke Pines on Thursday nights, you're not alone on the karaoke stage. And we're not talking about the 20 of your best friends yelling the lyrics into your ear; we're talking the band Boys Night Out, bringing Rockstar karaoke to this strip-mall staple. This live act plays instruments while you stumble drunkenly through the tunes of Metallica or Usher or Evanescence. And when you can't rap along with Biggie, Merv Thompson, Erin Hagerty, Wayne Hood, and David Bertok are there to help pick up your slack. These guys have been around for about a gazillion decades, or maybe like three, so they know what you're trying to say, and they'll sing it for ya. Ladies drink free till 1, so no doubt you'll be nice and lubed for your big moment in the spotlight. Now, sing!