Orlando native Andy White –– who releases and performs music under the moniker Andy Boay and is also one half of experimental rock duo Tonstartssbandht –– has spent the past few years living in Montreal, Quebec, getting intimate with a city known for its booming music scene. About a month ago, he decided to move back to his hometown and, despite expressing an affinity for Montreal, said he’s been looking forward to diving back into Florida’s musical underground.
After performing alongside local Sarasota acts Hapeas Porpoise and Baklavabalaklava and fellow Orlando band Choppers Out at New College of Florida’s campus on Thursday, August 30, White spoke briefly with This Week in Sarasota about what makes Florida unique.
“There’s a very active experimental music scene that I like here,” he said. “We do our thing, and it is what it is.”
The time White spent away from Florida helped to strengthen his appreciation for the dedication that many local artists and musicians show toward their own individual aesthetic desires rather than what they perceive will get them into the national spotlight. “There’s not an image or ego aspect to the music here,” he noted.
To illustrate this point, White compared Florida’s underground to what he’s seen and experienced in Montreal. While the Canadian city, he says, has its own dynamic experimental music scene, “there’s so much of a drive to do pop music and indie music that ends up getting big in Canada –– because Montreal is kind of a hub for that –– that it sometimes can cloud or kind of elbow out attention for really cool experimental music,” he said.
That pressure may have something to do with the fact that, in the past several years, Montreal has gained a reputation as a jumping point for indie bands with a more accessible sound or a wider appeal –– including the Arcade Fire, Tegan and Sara, Islands, Wolf Parade and others –– to break onto the international setting. The high levels of attention bands like these have received may make it more challenging for many underground musicians in the area to gain the level of recognition they desire without altering their artistic approach to reflect a certain popular aesthetic.
In spite of these pressures, newer Montreal musicians such as Grimes, D’eon and Tonstartssbandht –– White’s collaboration with his older brother Edwin White –– who have released music on small labels such as Arbutus records, have been gaining popularity as of late with musical stylings that, although occasionally demonstrating pop characteristics, continue to be experimental and unique.
But what happens in a place where these expectations are not as direct? Florida and its major cities may offer musicians a type of environment where musicians don’t feel the same level of pressures to conform or compete for attention that are felt in other locales. This may be because, although Florida does have its own share of musicians that have shot to the spotlight in recent years, the music has been diverse enough and the fame sparse enough to avoid developing a certain reputation that Florida musicians would feel the drive to uphold.
Regardless of what makes it possible, Florida does have its own unique ethos, and those in the audience on Thursday night were presented with an exhilarating display of just what bands in the area are bringing to the table.
The first act, multi-instrumentalist duo Hapeas Porpoise, traded off roles playing a synthesizer, a theremin, an acoustic guitar run through a number of effects pedals that made it sound as unlike an acoustic guitar as possible, a sparely crafted drum setup and heavily-treated vocals. The set’s overall tone was a textured and diverse level of noise and electronics that certainly held the crowd’s attention throughout.
Next up was Choppers Out, who are currently stationed in Orlando, even though the band started out while one of the two members, Andy Hess, was a Sarasota resident. The band delivered an entrancing set that had heads nodding in sync with heavy synthesizer lines accompanied by live beats played on a set of electronic pads that the drummer said were manufactured by Mattel. The low-register vocals and the overall energy of the set gave the impression of early 1980s minimal wave music had it been produced or transferred to a mix tape by the late Texas turntable master DJ Screw.
Andy Boay opted to perform his set in a room brightly lit by fluorescent lights that some members in the audience attempted to turn off, perhaps with good intentions, on a couple of occasions. The lurid lighting ultimately served to enhance White’s performance though, not only by highlighting its personal and confrontational atmosphere, but also by heightening each individual audience member’s awareness that he or she was standing in a crowd.
White began his set with a somewhat stripped-down song that he later told TWIS was inspired by 1970s German krautrock pioneers Amon Düül II and featured only an amplified electric guitar and vocals delivered sans microphone. The audience quickly learned that the microphone was unnecessary, though, when White’s vocal delivery shifted from singing to shouting in a way that felt emotive, genuine and relentless.
For the second part of his set, White donned a wireless microphone that was run through a guitar synthesizer and other effects processors, giving his voice an abrasive harmonic effect that made it sound like it came from another universe. Waves of harsh noise emitted from the speaker as White bellowed just as loudly as before and used his newfound cordless freedom to wander through the crowd and interact with audience members who didn’t seem to mind having someone yelling just a few inches away from their faces.
The final performer of the night, Baklavabalaklava, passed handheld lasers out to audience members, who shined the red beams around the room throughout the entire set. The music was a complementary mix of noise and post-punk that featured a synthesizer, a sampler, a guitar, vocals and massive amounts of feedback. At one point, audience members became anxious when the ringing guitar leaning on the face of an amp that was pouring out feedback threatened to knock down the precariously placed sampler above the speaker.
The sampler was saved, however, and the show went off without a hitch. The crowd was thankful to Matt Cutler –– who is a student at New College and a local musician who goes by Drut PD when he’s not playing synthesizer for Tumbleweave –– for putting the excellent show together and reminding them what Florida is made of.
All photos by Tyler Whitson. See below for a full gallery.