This Little Underground 

Our live music columnist explains Thee Grotto’s re-emergence

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There’s a widely held impression of Rollins College that’s perfectly suited to its Park Avenue setting. But it’s also the home of the adventurous WPRK (91.5 FM). And clearly – with a bill stacked with Jacuzzi Boys, Saskatchewan, Levek and Girls on the Beach – that edge of the school’s culture is what’s driving the double-takingly cool lineup for the debut of Fox Fest (April 13). Someone up in there knows the deal.

The Beat

Trying to catch a DJ BMF set has become something of a unicorn hunt for me lately. The Brink cut him off, and Elixir switched up what was supposed to be his new Phat-N-Jazzy weekly: Funk It Up Tuesdays. But that night has finally found a new, hopefully permanent, home at the freshly resurrected Thee Grotto.

Well into the ’00s at its original Orange Avenue location, Thee Grotto was the last holdout of the ’90s Orlando house music underground. And from many of the old-school DJs featured on their calendar, it sure looks like that’s still the leg they’re grasping to, for whatever that’s worth anymore. Now, to make a very clear distinction, the house culture Thee Grotto has always represented is not – I repeat, not – the modern club wasteland depicted by the likes of Jersey Shore. This crew, to their defense, goes back to the city’s O.G. days when that scene was legit.

That said, the long-term viability of a place so referential to a specific time window as to be cloistered is a big question mark. I personally remember that time. I was there, I was a part of it, and I’m totally down with it. But socially and artistically, it’s aged and atrophied. And because life rolls on, a reunion clientele cannot be relied upon to keep the doors open. Just ask I-Bar. When the timeframe for these original scenesters was 20 years ago, it doesn’t take an Asian to do the math on where in their lives most of them are.

But through taste and longevity, BMF has managed to remain one of the city’s most timeless DJs, so he was as good a foot as any on which to step into the new spot with the Funk It Up Tuesdays debut (April 2). Unlike its former tiny bar digs, Thee Grotto has reopened as a roomy nightclub in the State Lane space that countless hopefuls, most notably Screamers, have desperately tried to make work. Given this setting, the hope of this new weekly is perhaps to return closer to the original B-boy vibe of the old Phat-N-Jazzy – I’m talking the Barbarella days before the martini set began to infiltrate. And, indeed, there were a couple breakdancers, as well as live painting, in the front room.

As for the new place, it looks great. However, the last couple of iterations there have looked decent, too. Fact is, it’s been a good space for forever. But it’s always proven difficult to get people out of their well-trod orbits to check the place out, which is completely retarded (and retarding) but sadly true. This only makes it that much more vital for Thee Grotto to be extra thoughtful with their programming to survive. Catering to the oldsters isn’t a viable business model. As much as the young new EDM scene is an arguably lesser bastard of the old school, to not tap it would be suicide if you’re gonna stick to your house music guns. As they say, evolve or die. But it’s a spot worth checking out and keeping tabs on. (Inside tip: Their Wi-Fi password is pretty funny, so make sure to ask for it.)

On the indie side of the dance spectrum, U.K. act Chad Valley (April 6, the Social) moved bodies with electro-pop swimming in plush melodic depth. Though the music’s pleasing enough, frontman Hugo Manuel’s bright, airborne vocals – which were carried on two mics, one just to ply the reverb – are really what made everything soar live.

Even not knowing much about Florida-born, Austin-based Sorne (April 5, the Social) going in, I could never have anticipated the mystic Billy Squier man-opera that happened. It’s an alloy of slightly weird tribal music with some conventional rock vocal histrionics, which makes the end result extra weird. An unusual recipe? Yes. A natural fit? Not exactly. Goofy? More than a little.


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