Festival Review and Photos: Antiwarpt Festival, July 28, 2012 – St. Petersburg, FL

All photos by Michael Do

In the overall scheme of things, Antiwarpt Festival probably doesn’t mean a whole lot. Started three years ago as an answer to the ever present pop-punk behemoth that is the Vans Warped Tour, the fest gathers near the entirety of the active Florida music scene into a two block radius on Central Avenue on St. Pete. 99 bands, 10 venues, 12 hours. It’s a manic celebration of everything Florida has going for it musically, and this years iteration featured a full band set from the Mountain Goats, the biggest act the festival has ever booked. For the outside world, it may function as 9 hours worth of openers for a run of the mill set from John Darnielle and friends, but for those held in the grasp of the Sunshine State, Antiwarpt meant everything.

Even as we arrived, nearly seven hours before the main draw of the night was set to take the stage, venues were stacked with people. Whether within the stark walls of Sake Bomb, or the kitschy neon shop of Star Booty, the talent on display was relentless – quite the interesting surprise for a local scene that I’ve so often disparaged in the 14 years I’ve called Florida home. The acts represented below might not be the most familiar of names (save for a few), but they largely represent the brilliance that Florida offers just below the surface.

Make sure to check below for reviews and photos of each set, as well as a track from each of the bands, and a full gallery of photos at the end.

Hear Hums (Gainesville, FL)

Taking to a show space that might have seemed more appropriate in New York’s hippest of boroughs than downtown St. Petersburg, Gainesville duo Hear Hums put on one of the more energetic sets of the day–melding a Feels-ian take on organic psychedelia with drumming more akin to the fury of your stereotypical tribal drums. It’s a familiar setup–standing drums, keyboards, loop pedals, largely wordless vocals–but the presence that Kenzie Cooke and Mitch Myers each maintain manically sprinting between instruments is enough to provide quite the live spectacle. Though Opens, their outstanding record from earlier this year, chooses to indulge at times on their pastoral folky inclinations, this present live setup lends an energy unseen in many a young band. They’re not brash punks flailing about the stage, rather taking their energy from around them, slowly building their looped instrumentals into crescendos of overwhelming emotion that belie the songs origins as largely wordless percussive pieces. Wildlife samples and all, the band set about in breathing life into the already worthwhile skeleton of Opens. It was an astounding start to the day and one that wouldn’t be topped very often.

Auto!Automatic!!(Tampa, FL)

I’ve heard rumblings about the outstanding live show of these Tampa scene luminaries for what seems like years now, but it wasn’t until Saturday that I was able to witness it myself. Though it seems that, given the right circumstances, Brian Larsen’s smooth fingertapped guitar lines and the nimble rumble of the Adam Khan’s potent basslines might have been the sort of thing that could have blown me away, it all came across a bit flat in the late afternoon sun of the broiling stage outside the Morean Museum. The crowd was sparse, save for a dreadlocked teenager clad in combat boots hippie dancing his way across the dusty ground, and the crowd’s relative disinterest in the band’s smooth take on a mathy post-rock sound paralleled my waning desire to remain in the sticky Florida sun any longer.

Set and Setting (St. Petersburg, FL)

Before Saturday, it had been over a year since I last had the opportunity to take in Set and Setting’s punishing take on post-rock in a live context. Though my memory of the dinginess of the bar I saw them in outweighed my memory of their actual set, I was nonetheless heavily anticipating a dose of their potent blend of Godspeed! and Mono inflected tracks. What followed, during the first show of the night at State Theatre (which functioned as a mainstage of sorts), was shocking, even given my previous affection for the group. The band, though still heavily steeped in the tradition of post-rock, at some point picked up a second drummer and in the process acquired a taste for the post-metal inclinations of bands like The Atlas Moth, Deafheaven and Alcest. Though Set and Setting still appears to remain decidedly on the more post-rock end of the spectrum, Shane Handal’s guitar lines ran parallel to the work of Neige and his compatriots. It again was an unexpected turn for a band whose special touch on genre convention by my last estimation was just “loud.” What we have now instead is a band melding genres in a way rarely approached from the instrumental side. Though you could call Earth an obvious reference point, there’s something pointedly more focused about Set and Setting’s compositions. The band seeks not to smother you in large sweeps of distortion, but rather to send laser-guided gobs of fuzz straight for where it hurts. They appear to be in the process of working on a new record, and given the fact that some of the more transcendent moments of the show came during this new material, it should be an album to look out for.

Fortune Howl (Orlando, FL)

Though we’ve only just recently jumped on the Relief In Abstract Records bandwagon, the label has, over the entirety of 2012 provided an injection of much needed youth into Florida’s crust, typically noise focused electronic shows. Fortune Howl, the stage name of Bryce Linde, was the first of the RIA stable to take the stage at Sake Bomb on Saturday. Much like many an electronic set, Linde’s thrives largely on the stunning visuals that accompany his knob twiddling. Sake Bomb’s sound provided the visceral oomph that can be missing at times when you listen to Linde on a set of subpar headphones and the little tweaks and beat repeats that he brought to his already spacey instrumentals the provided the sort of glitchy breaks that might make a  Flying Lotus live show so entertaining. It’s the Baths method of live performance, largely focusing on creating live remixes of sorts through the manipulation of onboard audio and midi effects, but, much like Baths, Linde’s insistent bobbing and attention to the slightest details of his beats made the set more than worthwhile. Though the crowd gathered at that point was largely composed of artists playing Sake Bomb that night, it was still a more than serviceable set from a youngster who seems poised for exciting things not too far down the road.

Jacuzzi Boys (Miami, FL)

After a brief bit of kicking around Central Ave trying to decide which of the local bands playing in the 8 o’clock time slot would be our best bet, we instead ended up taking in our first national act of the night in Miami’s Jacuzzi Boys. I use national act here in a weird way, just in the sense that it’s been a long time since Jacuzzi Boys have been entrenched in our local scene. It’s in the same way that if, say, Surfer Blood had played this festival they might have similarly seemed outsiders. At this point, they might as well really be from anywhere else in the world. That being said, the crowd seemed into the performance, treating the band as if they were one of their own. The boys brand of reverb-heavy garage punk certainly has its share of contemporaries (Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees) who do it better, but theres something to be said for a band that can set the kids with X’d hands into motion early on a Saturday night. Frontman Gabriel Alcala’s orgasmic noises in the bridge of one of the tracks was enough to bring smiles to enough faces around me, and though their “song about death” wasn’t really doing much beyond the surface level, it was nonetheless a pleasant set on the whole.

Jensen Serf Co. (St. Petersburg, FL)

It was at this point that we tried to make our way back to Sake Bomb. The venue, which had (as advertised) to that point remained 18+, met a sudden transition. As we waltzed up, expecting to take in a set from our second Relief In Abstract artist of the night, Marble (who is himself only 17), we were informed that the venue was now restricted to those 21 years of age and older. While we were obviously disappointed to be turned away from what was surely a great set, it forced us to scramble over to Fubar to take in a set from a Florida garage rock trio that have been generating quite a bit of local buzz as of late. Jensen Serf Co. far exceeded any expectations previously held. From even just the second song, bodies were sent flying through the cramped space. Heads bobbed along and thrashed about and we saw our first crowdsurfers of the night, diving both from a bench that lined the side of Fubar and Guitarist Peter Kokkinakos diving from the stage itself. It was pure electricity, and from an act that I’d yet to hear a single song from. Subsequent investigation of their recorded material confirms my live impressions. It’s something akin to the energy of the latest Ty Segall records channeled through a band with an immensely talented lead-singing drummer. Though they’re certainly aping the sounds of San Francisco, Jensen Serf Co. established themselves in my mind as a criminally under-heard gem of the local scene. I’d really never seen a local band generate that sort of crowd response, which is certainly a triumph for such a young group.

Mountain Goats (Durham, NC)

And then there was the Mountain Goats. Aside from Fortune Howl, who I’d previously seen twice before, they were the first known quantity of the night. It’s pretty much a given that at a Mountain Goats show you’re going to be treated to the immense power of the hyper-literate emotion of John Darnielle’s songs, fattened up with the punch of Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster’s drumming and coupled with Darnielle’s characteristic between song banter. No surprises here, aside from a few new songs from their forthcoming LP Transcendental Youth, and the omission of several of their bigger singles. Darnielle noted that it was their first show in months and as such he fumbled lyrics at points during “God Damn These Vampires”, during which he leaned over and picked up cues from a super fan in the front row shouting along every word. That’s dedication there, remembering lyrics to a song that the singer forgot. “This Year” was met with the biggest singalong of the night, “Jam Eater Blues”’ admonition to get out of Tampa drew huge cheers from the local crowd, and “The Diaz Brothers”, a piano ballad written about Scarface, drew the biggest applause of any new track. Though Darnielle seemed a bit annoyed with the chatty crowd, it was on the whole an entirely competent Mountain Goats set. That’s miles better than most bands can do and more than enough to make it an obvious highlight of the set.

GRANT (Orlando, FL)

My photographer and I were headed back to our car to call it a night after the Mountain Goats set, but on a whim we made a trip back across the street to Sake Bomb to see if we might sneak in and catch one last set. Lo and behold, no bouncers blocked the door and we squeezed in just in time to catch the closing half an hour of 17-year-old Orlando beatmaker Grant Peyton’s set. Though the portion we caught was light on originals lifted from his recent beat tape, he still got the crowd going with a set closing Waka Flocka Flame remix, as well as mid-set drop of “Zip and A Double Cup.” The originals that he did hit on were played in a similar style to labelmate Fortune Howl, effects modified live over existing instrumentals as psychedelic visuals accompanied the whole. Sake Bomb’s soundsystem was even more partial to GRANT’s bass heavy instrumental hip-hop blends, and it was without a doubt a perfectly turnt up end to a long night of local live music.

New music discoveries abounded, old favorites were confirmed and was a reminder that despite outside appearances, the Tampa Bay Area music scene is most certainly afloat. It may be a bizarre amalgam of various genres and bands, but for at least one night, St. Pete had the liveliest local scene in the country.