Best Of 2016

Best Homage to Orlando's EDM Heritage

AAHZ's "These Are the Breaks" event

EDM is a major worldwide player in music again, but shockingly few realize that Orlando was both epicenter and forefront of the original American dance boom of the '90s. We were up there with the usual hotbeds like NYC, London, Chicago and LA with our legendary parties and clubs. But what really certifies us is that we weren't just an army of followers, but innovators with our own original sound that caught fire and inspired a whole generation of nu-skool breaks across the pond. And AAHZ's "These Are the Breaks" reunion party at the Beacham was a prime nostalgic capsule of that golden era.

Best City Soundtrack

Thad Anderson's "Northbound"

Some acts have specifically cited our city or its places in song, but how many have derived music from its actual physical and social context? Only one that we know of: local avant-garde composer, percussionist and UCF music professor Thad Anderson. For the March installment of the groundbreaking In-Between Series at the Gallery at Avalon Island, he debuted "Northbound," a suite structured around SunRail. For the show, he played the ambient recording he made of an entire south-to-north trip on our newest public transit option and performed composed pieces between the train stops. It was an audio-spatial voyage and a conceptual triumph.

Best "Head Exploding Scene from Scanners" live set
Photo by James Dechert

Hijokaidan, Jeff Carey, Atsuhiro Ito

April 1, 2016, at Will's Pub

In an evening already bordering on pure sensory overstimulation on all fronts, the MultipleTap Tour – a traveling roadshow of Japanese noise legends that somehow landed in Orlando – saved a trump card till the very end. To close out the night, the pioneering noise duo Hijokaidan took the stage with Baltimorean circuit abuser Jeff Carey and lightsaber-wielding Atsuhiro Ito to engage in an ear-killing improvised jam. Standing four abreast on the stage like a sonic Magnificent Seven, the ad hoc quartet crafted and wielded an immense roar like a weapon, like a blanket, like a canvas. Visuals were stripped down to the light from Ito's "Optron" and punishing strobes that, like the audio, offered no respite or quarter. Truly astonishing.

Best Valentine

"A Valentine for David Bowie" tribute at Will's Pub

We're not going to rehash how awful this year has been for celebrity deaths so far. You already know. But the most shocking death of 2016 happened right off the bat when David Bowie died on Jan. 10, days after releasing his final album, Blackstar. And while the subsequent "tribute" to Bowie during the Grammys by Lady Gaga was atrocious (and we don't care what Nile Rodgers says because he ruined "China Girl"), the local tribute on Feb. 14 was a thing of beauty. Whether solo or in groups, luminaries like Eugene Snowden, Kaleigh Baker, Jeff Nolan and even Watermark editor Billy Manes performed songs from pretty much every era of Bowie's career. And while the interpretations were diverse, the sheer fandom coming off the stage showed more respect and love for the incomparable artist than any number of dancing keyboards ever could. Here's our not-so-subtle nudge to make it an annual event.

Best Door

Will's Pub

1042 N Mills Ave.,

Standing out immediately, even on a glass door that's covered in a Tower of Babel's worth of band stickers and show flyers, is this stark command in bold black type: "If you are racist, sexist, homophobic, or an asshole ... don't come in." It's a perfect visual mix of underground DIY creativity and social consciousness. What lies on the other side of that door is different every single night, but that sentiment remains inflexibly the same.

Best New Fern Bar

The Guesthouse

1321 N. Mills Ave., 407-630-6574

Though not strictly a fern bar, the new drinking spot that popped up in the former Peacock Room space offers the same sense of grown-folks amorous possibility as those storied pickup bars of the '70s. Tasteful decor – with, yes, plenty of green plants – flattering lighting and well-built cocktails are the trademarks of the house built by former Bar-BQ-Bar principals Ashley McCammon Dishman and Hurst Marshall. We can't promise you'll get laid, but we can't think of a better bar to go looking right now.

Best Insanely Prolific Cassette Label

Illuminated Paths

When Illuminated Paths head honcho Joshua Rogers casually mentioned that he likes to release two or three things regularly, we figured that meant every few months, not every single week. And so far this year he's mostly held to that pledge, releasing new cassette titles every seven days. Rogers hand-dubs every tape and assembles every unique cover and cache of included ephemera (pogs, ad clippings, trading cards). Though known as a go-to spot for ambient, vaporwave and adventurous electronica, IP also ventures into noise, beats and videowork too, defining the concept "labor of love."

Best Remodel

The Copper Rocket Pub

106 Lake Ave., Maitland, 407-636-3171,

Locals were sad to hear of the Copper Rocket's closing last year, but it managed to cheat death by acquiring a new owner. The new management did a much-needed remodel, opening up sightlines, adding new furniture and creating a cleaner, brighter version of the beloved Maitland haunt. They ramped up their event schedule this year with a wide variety of live music, comedy and trivia. If you haven't stopped in for post-Enzian drinks, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Best Orlando-centric Deluxe Reissue

Death, Scream Bloody Gore

May 2016, Relapse Records

Though recorded in Los Angeles, by not-yet-of-legal-drinking-age Chuck Schuldiner and Chris Reifert, Scream Bloody Gore is Florida through and through. Schuldiner was an Orlando resident for much of his life, and the blood-soaked anthems on SBG kickstarted a death metal movement that was very much tied into Central Florida. When Relapse decided to reissue this beautifully ugly document, they went all the way with stunning two-LP and three-CD box sets packed with rehearsal and demo extras, copious liner notes, varying hues of splattered vinyl and painstaking reproductions of the horror movie-worthy cover art. (They even commissioned a limited-edition bobblehead version of it.)

Best Bathroom to Trip Balls In
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Tap & Grind's black-light wonderland

59 W. Central Blvd., 407-455-1100,

Not that we're saying that you should drop acid (well, like, you should, but not because we told you to), but if you were to find yourself in an altered state downtown and had need of a beer and a bathroom, the place you should make a beeline to is Tap & Grind. Once you hang a right down the back hallway and get into the beautifully mosaicked water closet, lock the door and play with the lights. One controls a black light that, when paired with darkness, reveals hidden messages and artwork festooned across the tilework. The decor ties right in with the posi-tropical vibe T&G has going, so don't worry that the secret messages are going to send you spiraling into bad trip land. Once you've had your fill, regain your composure, try to erase your permagrin and head back out to the bar room to calm your nerves with a nice, cold beer.