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;The latest example of the music industry's continuing cluelessness is the arrest of DJ Drama and others last week in Atlanta for felony violations of RICO laws. A magnate of the mix tape scene through his "Gangsta Grillz" series, he's a defining part of the meteoric Southern rap movement. Despite what it's become under the glare of the mainstream limelight, hip-hop at its core is a street culture. As such, mix tapes have always been a cornerstone; they're widely appreciated by the source artists and even honored as artistic works themselves.

;;Art and business, however, have seldom made good bedfellows. The bust, made by police working with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), once again spotlights how much the stilted industry is reeling from the rapid changes that are running around its elephant feet like a stampede of rats. It's either a symptom of blurred priorities or simply being out of touch, but the RIAA's hard-line interpretation has turned the mix tape from artistic homage to racketeering, a fact made doubly ironic by the history the RIAA's members have of exploiting mix tape DJs as a way to get quick-and-dirty promotional heat for their hip-hop artists.

;;But in the way of hip-hop, one good thing last week was the smoldering performance by Fighting Records' indie rap prodigy Astronautalis at the Social. The Jacksonville MC is part of a new fold of hip-hop, one that's not so self-consciously street but more in line thematically and emotionally with indie rock artists. As a rapper, his freestyling is absolutely water-tight, virtuosic even. At the Social, he had audience members yell out topics (a regular feature of his performances). He selected a handful of them, dropped a haunting Portishead instrumental track and spit a breathless, unbroken rhyme out of those topics. It's an incredible feat to witness.

;;Greater than his exceptional mechanics, though, is his emotion and artistry. Like the superb Buck 65, Astronautalis deftly and fearlessly jumps genres, and even sings with the rawest of passion. When he gets on stage, the little guy lays it on the line. He may be the brightest star on the Fighting roster, but Astronautalis also has the potential to be one of the brightest voices in indie rap.

;;Also playing that night was nuanced electronic act Attached Hands. Though it's the brainchild of local Henry Mays, he regularly enlists additional players. Assisted on this night by Tyson Pernell Bodiford (of Summerbirds in the Cellar), Mays cast the experimental ribbons of his compositions into the air using both synthetic and organic elements. Though the duo's sonic profiles were stroked with interesting detail, abstract electronica is an esoteric thing. If they hope to have a reach outside the small inner circle of disciples, their music will need to be more incisive; it needs to have more of a point.

;;A couple of nights later at the club was a well-attended CD release party for local mood-rockers Kingsbury. With an excellent debut album to unveil, the band rose to the occasion with a fully realized sound that unfolded in inky, opulent layers, their buddy Wes Jones from Apollo Quartet providing lots of the additional atmospheric sounds. To visually mirror this, they did their own lighting, which I always appreciate, no matter how low-tech. Most remarkable, though, was how incredibly professional they sounded. Take note; Orlando has a new indie rock contender.


;Philanthropy, part deux

;;Rolled into a bill titled "A Night of Diversity" at the Social were the Ettes, a stylish L.A. band fronted by Winter Park High School alumna Lindsay "Coco" Hames. Simple but effective, their music made for a high-octane set that mingled ragged garage rock, girl-group pop and a good dose of Detroit. Drummer Maria "Poni" Silver was a lively and charismatic smush of Cindy Blackman (Lenny Kravitz) and Torry Castellano (the Donnas). Whatever technical shortcomings they had — and there were a few — were more than compensated for by their pluck and sass.

;;Capping the evening was local band Between the Trees, who've been garnering major attention lately. It's the sort of vernal, melodic rock that's just two steps removed from commercial emo-pop — actually, make that one. But seeing it live, curiously, didn't push my gag reflex. They came with capable melodies, and that's really all you can ask from this candy fare.

;;It seems this is becoming a bit of a theme, but the show was a benefit for Invisible Children (, a California-based nonprofit that works primarily in Uganda through programs aimed at poverty, education and employment. Before Between the Trees performed, a short film titled The Story of Emmy was shown. It's a documentary about a young Ugandan orphan that reveals an intimacy so raw that it will absolutely devastate anyone with a pulse. Since this is the sort of effect they aspire to have, the likeminded local philanthro-pop outfit the Oaks should take notes from the film; it made me empty my pockets into the donation box on the spot.

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About The Author

Bao Le-Huu

Music columnist.
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