Last Weekend: So Raw Festival, Miami

photo by Ben Thacker
Jacuzzi Boys played Saturday night.
So Raw Festival
'ISM Gallery and Upper Eastside Garden, Miami
June 19 and 20, 2009

Better Than: Packing into yet another dance club and emptying your wallet.

The Review:

I have only good things to say about the So Raw Festival, which celebrated its inaugural edition last weekend across Miami's urban wilds. The scrappy, triumphant, zero-bullshit vibe of the two-day event was a welcome reminder of what "indie" really stands for -- independent! Thank the organizers of this festival for providing a fun, music-oriented event outside of the usual circuit of overcrowded dance nights with expensive drinks.

South Florida has been plagued historically by a lot of complainers, people who would rather whine through their overpriced vodka than actually do much. Lately, though, that's changed, with homegrown festivals like Swamp Stomp and now, So Raw, geting truly into the d.i.y. -- do-it-yourself -- spirit. What impressed, too, was the scope of this event -- three shows across two days, at two different venues. And the lineup was about 75 percent local, but also featured touring acts from as far away as Ireland.
Did I mention what an excellent financial deal this was as well? A weekend pass was just $18, and even the free drinks included with that were good. For the free vodka, there was even a choice of Red Bull mixers -- regular and sugar free. Woo. And when that ran out, far into each evening, there was plenty of Naragansett beer left, which was ... okay-tasting, but, hey, free.

Oh yeah, the music itself. There were six or more bands at the Friday and Saturday night shows, at 'ISM Gallery in Wynwood. (I skipped the Saturday afternoon show at the Upper Eastside Garden -- sorry, but it was too hot to stand outside at noon). It was hard to count the distinct acts because it was clear they were all part of an emerging small scene. The same cast of local characters seemed to just rearrange itself into different bands.

There was a distinct sonic common thread here, too -- lots of fuzzy swamp punk mixed up with lo-fi noise, mixed up with the occasional weirdo solo experimentation. Teepee, for example, noodled around for a while on Friday night on a saxophone, while backed by most of his band the Electric Bunnies ... only to be followed by a set by, the Electric Bunnies! The latter, meanwhile, while struggling against a middling sound mix, demonstrated real recent leaps and bounds in songwriting. They're becoming both catchier and artier, and are a local band to watch.

On Saturday night, the award for most confrontational performance went to visiting Pittsburgh act Rotshit, who sound like a sped-up, early skate-punk/hardcore iteration of their name. They began their set by pelting the audience with meringue pies, sending a few whipped-cream-splattered bike punk types running and shrieking. A low point came, though, when the drummer lobbed the actual whipped cream can into the crowd. It hit a girl in front of me square on the head, and she ran away bleeding; I later sidestepped bright red blotches of blood mixed into the viscous muddy stew outside the venue's clogged bathroom.

The real winners of the night were the best local espousers of what's been dubbed (by whoever) "flower-punk," Jacuzzi Boys.  They were greeted with the most audience enthusiasm of pretty much any act of the festival, and their loveably jangly tunes keep getting more and more polished. They also got a fully uniformed cop to crowd-surf (okay, so that officer was a former member of Electric Bunnies and thus not fully out of place, but still.) 

Oh yeah, and that between-band DJ ruled. The old nuggets and Velvet Underground jams were great, but he gets particular points for dropping a track by the obscure English post-punk act A Certain Ratio -- I thought I was alone in liking them in Miami!

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I'm a longtime fan of garage rock and punk rock, and don't mind if these styles are sometimes played sloppily -- heart is what counts!

Random Detail: On Friday night, I witnessed one sweaty fellow stagger to a corner, then roll inexplicably in garbage juice, get up again, fall to his knees, puke for several minutes, and then spring up, almost like new, to begin dancing wildly to Teepee's set. This is the kind of serious party fortitude that almost deserves a medal.

By the Way: The Jacuzzi Boys recently got a favorable write-up on Pitchfork for their song "The Countess." Click here to read it. 

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