This Little Underground: North Avenue Studios’ big developments

Plus live reviews of Sabals, Brother Ali


Out there in the Orlando exurb of Orange City, just past Blue Springs, some defining, culture-moving work is happening. Between its Off the Avenue video series (featured on both Orlando Weekly and Consequence of Sound) and its solid production work, North Avenue Studios is already one of the area’s top indie names. But new stirrings over at the Orange City music factory are signaling next-level developments.

The first is Eye Four Records, a new label venture by studio co-owner David Plakon and Ian Maikisch that’s just about to launch. The other is the recent premiere of the Off the Avenue Live (Oct. 25) concert series. Before, the work the studio has done existed either in a cloistered creative lab or worldwide (but virtual).

Now, with OTAL, there is a public, real-time extension of that magic.

Unlike the studio sessions, these performances are on a live stage setting that’s open to all. The studio’s lot has been transformed into a nice mini festival ground with a permanent stage and, of course, pro sound. Although outdoors, the setting is cozy and close enough to create a meaningful and engaging live experience, this time with local legacy-band-in-the-making Thomas Wynn & the Believers, the Groove Orient and Hannah Harber.

Off the Avenue Live has all the ingredients to become a really great tradition. This debut featured good local music, local barbecue (Free Wil BBQ) and beer from a DeLand brewery (Persimmon Hollow) that just opened two weeks ago. Throw in that warm DeLand vibe and it’s hard to ask more of a night, especially for five negligible dollars. Plakon tells me that they’re looking to do this quarterly for right now, so start following North Avenue Studios now (

Heaven tonight: Photos from Off the Avenue Live with Thomas Wynn and the Believers

The Beat

New band Sabals has the distinction of being the maiden act for the aforementioned Eye Four Records. After seeing them live (Oct. 20, Will’s Pub), what’s clear is this is a young band with a sense of show, ambition and possibly vision. There’s nothing wrong with the basic get-up-and-play approach, but it’s just not enough for Sabals, who took control over their presentation with connective ambient sounds and their own stage effects. It wasn’t so much what their atmosphere was right now (fairly basic lights and some fog) as what it wasn’t (the same old same old). These simple gestures suggest a band that wants to be something a little bit special.

There’s beauty in their tall, romantic and pop-rich indie rock, but their performance was raw. However, even though none of them are exceptional players yet, frontwoman Beth Bynum’s voice is very promising. Sabals have a little street heat right now, but they’ll really be something to talk about once their playing catches up to her singing. No question, they have some real work in front of them. But their desire to make a mark is already showing. Look for their debut single release in early November.

It’s been some years since I’ve soaked in anything by underground rap hero Brother Ali and, about 10 seconds into the intro of his latest Orlando show (Oct. 20, the Social), I’m already blasting myself for ever losing touch of this master. One of the most cutting talents in the revered Rhymesayers stable, the Minneapolis sharpshooter makes music that seeks truth from the underside. His lyrics feature some of the most natural, humanist and devastating writing in rap music. Hell if I haven’t had to tough-guy it through some of his verses in order to prevent a grown-man sob scene from which I could never socially recover.

In skills, he’s the kind of roots hip-hop stylist whose snap-tight rhyming could, by contrast, underscore just how much popular rap has killed your soul if it weren’t for how much life force it fills you with to be in its presence. After all these years, he relies on no gimmick or crew, just a rare brand of authenticity. In skill and message, it’s the audacity of pure craft. Quaint or revolutionary, who knows? But it’s truth. And it was met with perhaps not the biggest crowd, but some of the best unity and communion you’ll see at a rap show.

Uncle Sam goddamn: Photos from Brother Ali at the Social


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