This Little Underground 

Our live music columnist checks out Emeli Sandé, AAHZ Reunion and Quitzow

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Hopefully, you read last week’s cover story by Jason Ferguson and me on Orlando’s EDM legacy. It was timed to coincide with the final reunion of AAHZ (July 3, the Beacham), the legendary club night that started it all. Reflecting on the eve of this last momentous hurrah was fun for me personally, but the bigger part of why we did the story was to duly log this somewhat-forgotten Orlando story.

The original AAHZ days (1988 to 1992) were before my time, but I was in the colorful, hyper-real mix right before, during and after the massive EDM bubble here – pretty deeply, actually. Now, I’m not going to romanticize things through the airbrush of nostalgia; I dipped out of the scene completely for fully considered reasons when I thought it had become artistically bankrupt. But before that, well, it was quite a time.

This packed-out reunion was an incredibly enthusiastic affair, capturing a remarkable degree of the original PLUR spirit and purity. Everyone was there to bask in the glow of what was a bright, forward-thinking and trailblazing local scene with astounding reach and influence. And, of course, DJs Dave Cannalte, Chris Fortier and especially Kimball Collins lifted us to that special plane of consciousness with great classic sets.

Back then, it was customary to list a DJ’s city of origin whenever billed. It was a sign of certification, and Orlando had lots of excellent ambassadors. But all that currency and street cred stemmed from the vibration inside the city itself. Each time an Orlando DJ was featured, it meant that person was bringing the heat from what was happening on our streets, in our clubs. It happened from within, from people doing cool things and other people supporting it. It’s both that simple and that difficult. Neither before nor since has any underground-minded Orlando scene gained that much groundswell and traction. It may’ve been fleeting, but that shit was international.

Not that size is the measure of quality or success, but it sure would be nice if there was enough sustained collective intensity – some sort of undeniable critical mass – in any of our worthy and organic scenes today to register beyond our immediate vicinity. Isn’t it about time the next class of notables steps up and forges a new name for Orlando in the greater conversation?

Say what you want about what you think you know about Orlando’s EDM heritage – most of my current friends totally don’t get down with it – but I can’t imagine any local scene currently or since that would draw this massively after 20 years. That time was a moment – a big one – and this reunion was a righteous celebration.

The Beat

Now-local New York expat Quitzow impressed at the latest Residents Showcase (June 30, Will’s Pub). Even if a little raw, the one-woman synth act – whose indie electro-pop is a little like Grimes crossed with Black Moth Super Rainbow – has a natural, fun quality and includes some very solid songs. With an ability to go from psychedelic voyaging to sharp dance anthems, she’s both accessible and interesting. And she actually plays live (two mics and ambidextrous playing), more than you’d expect from an electronic artist.

But the lady of the week was the dazzling Emeli Sandé (July 2, House of Blues). America’s just starting to get to know her, but she’s mega in the U.K. She’s a brilliant, rising R&B spark on the modern pop scene, well on her way to being a global nova.

Sandé fuses classic vocal finesse with forward musical taste, like a more hopeful Alicia Keys with just a splash of Massive Attack soul. But her approach is wholly viable commercially. There’s a difference between aiming for the universal and pandering to the lowest common denominator, and she shows how truly wide that gulf can be when done right. And her performance only deepened that universal quality. She was right there with us, fully in the moment and the rapture. There was none of the god-mortal divide common in witnessing these kinds of super-humans, even though she packs a voice that envelops you and lifts every hair on your body. I liked her before, a lot. But after seeing her live, it’s love.

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