Unfortunately, it’s been quieter than usual on the local music festival front this year. Fortunately, however, the annual Total Bummer Fest (Aug. 29-31) returned to Orlando for the second year in a row to give oasis in the desperate summer desert.
Even better news is that this fourth chapter of the itinerant Florida indie music fest (themed numerically as Total Bummer 4Ever) showed needed and notable improvement this year. Their bright marquee blend of national names, homegrown greats and nice surprises continued as usual. But improved logistics made this edition a tighter affair with more structure and production, a key step to being taken seriously.
Most set times seemed to more or less adhere to schedule, although times at the Orange Studio – the festival’s HQ – were consistently behind. But the event made better overall use of the Orange Studio. The two-sided setup of the warehouse space made for good nonstop action. And between the vendor booths, the art-forward audiovisual performances and dance party energy, the studio was more of a festival village and art wonderland this year. Another particularly brilliant visual touch was the wildly fantastic mural done by noted Florida art collective Milagros.
When Total Bummer Fest first came to town last year, it arrived with a noteworthy reputation for arty DIY ethos and underground momentum, and that counts for a lot. But since coming here, the event has increased its stock as a rising scene-maker and shows signs of maturing into a real contender, with this year being a laudable leap in progress. In fact, when I asked the organizers why they chose Orlando for the second consecutive year, they said it was because of the reception (no doubt helped by ties to established and reputable local groups like Tiny Waves and Relief in Abstract). So, you see, support and enthusiasm count in measurable ways. The city’s music culture is richer for it. And, for mutual reasons, Orlando is the ideal home for this forward-thinking, community-minded event.
Of everything I saw at Total Bummer, the single most pronounced aspect was how hard Detroit represented this year. JT Bringardner, one of the festival organizers, told me he’s been digging into Detroit techno recently, and the lineup showed. With Total Bummer’s DNA already sporting a strong electronic strand, it’s difficult to go wrong with the original-gangster EDM cred that Detroit brings.
In that vein, the house music of the Motor City’s Dakota Bones (Orange Studio) shined with bright, upbeat energy and nice breaks. Unquestionably, however, the best straight-up dance music I heard all festival was from their hometown brother Slufter (Orange Studio), whose sound was all smoothness, fluidity and excitement. It was a supremely kinetic set that turned a crowd of spectators into a hive of electrified bodies.
Of the full bands from Detroit, Lord Scrummage (Will’s Pub) brought lots of street buzz with their splashy, party-starting dance-rock kaleidoscope. Their stylistic ambition sometimes sprawls to a blur, but they overflow with ideas, attitude and live energy. But fellow Detroiters Jamaican Queens (Orange Studio) were unconditionally exceptional with organic psych-pop that bursts and shines like fireworks in the sky. Their music is unpredictable but natural, and beaming with joy.
In terms of Sunshine State representation, one surprise discovery was St. Augustine’s Uncle Marty (Lil Indies), whose funny-goofy-cool soul jams are surprisingly tender and melodically astute, despite his screwy sensibility.
Amid all the Total Bummer hum, another significant Orlando celebration rocked the north end of Mills Ave.: the debut LP release party for rapper Midaz the Beast (Aug. 31, Peacock Room). Any record release by a local roots-rap luminary is notable enough, but AU: Artificial Universe is especially momentous because it’s a signed release on HiPNOTT, the indie label founded by hip-hop blogger Kevin Nottingham. And the turnout was as live as the performance.
Outside of the festival, the first-ever Florida appearance of Athens’ New Madrid (Sept. 3, Will’s Pub) was a nice surprise. With tight pop chops, irrepressible spirit and echoey textures, the crystalline melodies of their Southern psych-rock shoots through a dreamy mist like a more free-spirited, less country-fried Futurebirds. Signing to Normaltown/New West Records earlier this year, this band may only be a few steps away from being a real force.
Check out photos from Total Bummer 4EVER 2013:
Trippy photos from the first night of Total Bummer 4EVER Music Festival
More pictures of Total Bummer 4EVER madness
Photos from Colorsphere’s last show at Total Bummer 4EVER
Final photos from Total Bummer 4EVER 2013