State of the Scene

The year is finally winding down, and many of us couldn’t be happier. It was a complete pile of burning garbage for many reasons, but there were plenty of positive developments on the local music scene. Perhaps you enjoy slam-dancing to the strains of metal. Maybe you love to get an earful of meditative synth jams. Or you might be looking for that rare group that can turn a live show into a transcendent experience. Whatever your preference, there are many great options out there for someone who needs a little local music in their lives.

When it comes to local live performances, no one can beat the hardest-working musicians in the area: DigDog. The group is led by the legendary Brad Metz, who’s been performing throughout Northeast Florida for more than 20 years in a number of groups. Metz is joined by the equally legendary Jack Ringca, a kinetic drummer who’s played with so many people, he has most likely been a member of your band at one point in time. These two wild men take over the stage at each performance, sharing stories about aliens, bees and other ephemera, making every performance lively. The group is rounded out by the lightning-fast bass work of Alexei Dotsenko. He may not say much on stage, but he is most certainly an amazing performer when it comes to the group’s fast-paced “party prog” songs. If you haven’t seen them yet, then you haven’t been to a show at Rain Dogs, Nighthawks, Shantytown or any of the other many clubs around the region.

Yes, 2018 was a particularly great year for this group, as they finally released their first full-length album, There’s Bees in There. This CD features such live favorites as “Small Town,” “March of the Crusaders,” “My Baby” and “Mad at the World,” as well as the title track. When you hear this record, it’s hard not to compare DigDog’s music to that of groups like Ween and Pavement. That would be doing the album a disservice. What DigDog really offers with There’s Bees in There is a distinct sound you’ll never hear from other local musicians. Some of the songs are incredibly thoughtful; others showcase the abstract silliness that many of us have come to love from this group. The next time you read about one their shows, make it your solemn duty to attend. You won’t regret it. And pick up a copy of this album while you’re there. You can also stream it on Spotify.

Another performer you need to see as soon as possible is the sphinx-like solo artist Severed+Said. Go to his live show and you can find Jacksonville stalwart John Touchton behind a bank of synthesizers with a glass a wine, wearing loud buttoned-down shirts, focusing on making each song special. At the end of it all, you get a feeling you just left the altar after some mythical ritual, as the sounds of sequenced patterns and drum machines bounce around your head like neon balls from a Technicolor gashapon.

This year, Severed+Said released the fantastic cassette tape, Incorporeality, on LA’s Not Not Fun Records. A mix of synthwave and electronic meditation, it creates a mood that’s perfect for an evening traipsing around Downtown Jacksonville or a chill morning enjoying a hot cup of tea around the house. “Pyretic Dreams” is the standout track from the album. This song could easily be found on the soundtrack of a low-budget 1980s horror movie. It would also make a wonderful addition to a chill-out playlist for those quiet moments at 2 a.m., when you just can’t stand to stare at the TV screen but still have a need for a little sound before falling asleep. A video was also made for this track. Other excellent tracks from this tape include the near-industrial “Dimensional Drifter,” the darkwave “Crescendo Macabre” and the Berlin School-style drone track “Psychic Incision.” If you haven’t already gotten your hands on this tape, act fast. There remain only three copies in Severed+Said’s Bandcamp inventory.

Talent runs in the Touchton family, it seems—John’s brother Josh performs under the name Virgin Flower. He may not have released a hot tape this year, but Virgin Flower has kept plenty busy with live performances. He’s no shrinking violet, either. These shows are infamous for being anarchic and wild, with Touchton displaying the confrontational sensibilities of James Chance & the Contortions on local music stages. Instead of using a saxophone as Chance does, Touchton wields his trusty sampler to spit out abrasive loops and distorted live vocals. Many audience members discretely plug their ears to filter out some of the static sounds washing over them like a tsunami during these proceedings—a reaction that Touchton wears as a badge of honor.

Meanwhile, on the metal scene, few performers can match the intensity of Wørsen. This blackened crustgrind group performs throughout Florida, bringing a combination of grindcore, black metal and power metal to the stage. This is another act that has been known to force concertgoers to plug their ears, though even more aggressively. If you like your metal as loud as possible, this is a great act to catch. When performing locally, they share the stage with other metal bands as well as goth and noise acts.

Wørsen also put out a great cassette tape this year. In October, their second studio release, Stronghold, dropped on Dead Tank Records. You can always trust label head Josh Jubinsky to have his finger on the pulse of the Northeast Florida metal and punk scene. This tape is relentless in that way only metal can be. As the first track, “Into the Stronghold,” comes in, the listener is greeted with the sound of (approximately) 100 guitars blasting in unison and a legion of drums that might cause cardiac arrhythmia. The second track, “Defensive Isolation,” brings lead singer Tyler Barney’s tortured screams to the forefront. The album continues to abuse until “Flesh Paradox” gives momentary respite, then it plunges back into breakneck territory.

Is that it? No, dear reader, this is only a glimpse into the amazing local music scene. There have been plenty of other fantastic performances and releases this year which we couldn’t have ever crammed into the column space allotted, such as the return of folk legend Kevin Lee Newberry. Newberry dived back into music by offering custom cassette tapes, each featuring original music written for the person who purchased the tape. There were great shows by Kisses Only, Deathwatch ’97 and Shawn and Anna Lightfoot. Then there was the debut of Zygrot-24, a synth punk ruckus that evokes—duh!—the chemical for which it was named. The new band’s Nov. 4 set at The Island Bar was one of the best punk performances of 2018. Lasting a too-short expanse of about 15 minutes, it ended when the synth player had to run outside to puke over the balcony, for all of Roosevelt Boulevard traffic to see.

The next time someone tries to tell you there’s no good local music, it’s your solemn duty to correct them. Plenty of amazing Northeast Florida performances are met with indifference by a crowd that would rather be seen by their peers than take time out and actually hear a passionate artist. There are also amazing recordings that must be given a sincere listen. So go see your friends’ bands when they play Rain Dogs, Nighthawks, Prohibition Kitchen, Sarbez, Flying Iguana or any other local venue. You might find yourself having a great time.