By: Thomas Rodriguez & Heather Bushman
Swamp Records’ annual Fall Fest looked a little different Friday night, but with nine incredible acts broadcasting from across the state, the vibes were immaculate as always.
The University of Florida’s student-run record label took it virtual this year, and after setting up shop in Tommy’s apartment, we were lucky enough to catch the nearly three-and-a-half hour show through the computer screen. Some artists stripped their sets and took it acoustic, others went entirely electric (lights and all), but all gave a great show in their own rights, giving all the more reason to support Swamp through their Fall Fest Fundraiser.
Opening the show was singer-songwriter Jordan Burchel, perched in front of a bookcase with a houseplant at his side. The acoustic set screamed home-y and intimate, like a cozy morning curled up on the couch with a good book and a cup of coffee. It was clear that Burchel was having a good time, playfully introducing titles like “Duck Yourself” and getting lost in his own strums. Off the bat, this was a perfect representation of what Swamp Records stands for: artists that we can believe in, the talented that we both can rub shoulders with and be truly inspired by. Burchel’s setlist, while brief, was a stellar teaser for what the whole fest would present. It would be close to the heart, personal, and quality as hell.
Tallahassee’s Boys Who Cry took it next, and they did more than just carry over the quality of the Fest’s opening. They expanded upon it.
Right away, Boys Who Cry presented themselves as a much more maximalist, sensual outfit. With a mix of Spanish jazz and vocals, the Tallahassee group presented themselves in both a familiar and exotic setting, showing off those personalities that were as colorful as Alexis Howard’s tracksuit. This attractive, slower setlist allowed for a reflective moment in the concert, wherein the group flexed their songwriting and funky muscles: whether it be through tracks like the powerful “Lejos” or their new song (still untitled), they showed that Western rock and Spanish alternative could mix in a truly beautiful way. Catchy, romantic, and close to the soul, this is the music anyone could want from a quality indie outfit, which Boys Who Cry present themselves as being…and much more.
Continuing the intimate nature of the Fall Fest lineup, R&B upstart Bianca Jade arrived, complete with a setting of sparkling lights, bright pajamas, and a lone keyboard. While her presentation perfectly reflects the way many creatives have been experiencing quarantine, her vocals were what truly sold the show. She exercised beautiful vocal control, gliding through complicated runs with ease and switching from her head voice to her chest voice at will. It felt as though her range was nearly unlimited. As we sat and watched during this set, both of our jaws dropped as she incorporated lines from TLC’s “No Scrubs” into her own song, “Used to This.” Even with bare instrumentation backing her voice, her lyrics and language were as hard hitting as a speeding truck: the heart was hurt. Her setlist was mostly barren in terms of pomp and grandeur: more so than any other setlist, her songs felt truly from the soul, even if they were sexually spicy or heartbroken. It was very much a rare glimpse into Jade’s soul, one few could view if they didn’t know about Fall Fest’s intentionally revealing nature.
And no group can really capture that nature quite like Bandanna. With only two of the four group members, Anna Griffith and Mason Palanti at the helm, they gave a wonderful mix of rustic and new sounds with their livestream. Armed with only a guitar and piano, the duo repurposed songs from Uncertain/ty, their new album that dropped Friday. Their performative style stole the whole set, whimsical piano, soft-spoken vocals, clean guitar strokes, was the musical equivalent of a warm blanket. Even as singer Anna Griffith said “cool” in genuine emotion into the mic, every heart watching fluttered…this was one of the most cute and natural performances of the night, perfectly accentuating the generally heartfelt nature of Bandanna’s work.
But of course, every concert needs a head banger, and Tampa outfit Rohna supplied it. Based on a psychedelic foreground and garage rock background, this group’s hard-hitting setlist brought a sense of energy that was needed at exactly the midpoint point of the set. Their mix of psychedelia, grunge, and freestyle guitar strumming gave a sense of chaos and confidence that made audiences bop their heads along to the ever-changing beat. The opener in particular was effective in showing the free nature the band had in regard to their song structures and heavy soundscape. It matched the visuals and virtual vibe in a way that was infectious, a true entry into the Matrix. As songs like “American Siesta” bled in, the band’s genius playing became clear: without any huge effects or manipulations, their sound was hypnotic. As songs constantly changed and progressed, I was reminded of some of the great names running in the mainstream, specifically Tame Impala. If an indie group can handle these progressions as well as any big act can, nay better than any big act, what’s to stop them from taking over?
Faith and Majesty slowed things down with a wonderful acoustic set, taking a simpler approach rather than the deep bass lines and pounding beats of their recorded soundscapes. The sister duo opened with a cover of Billie Eilish’s “Ocean Eyes,” this rendition significantly darker with the added acoustic elements and full lower harmonies. Their chemistry was off the charts, and they complemented each other perfectly through the stripped-down performance. Musically, they were haunting, those full harmonies accentuating the words of emphasis and the richness of tone casting looming shadows over each song. With record covers hung on the back wall and minimal neon lighting, Faith and Majesty expertly communicated their folk-y aesthetic with a modern flair. From the painfully honest lyrics of “I Can’t Lie” to the brisk pacing of closer “Poison,” Faith and Majesty’s perfect harmony shone through in a set supported by a real connection between each other and their audience.
One of the best aspects of watching a local label like Swamp is seeing what surprises their artist lineup has in store…and Tamayo gave fans tons of surprises in their performance. Their music hit hard in a polished, coy manner. The acoustics of this particular set were great, with sliding strings and fast melodies taking me back to the best moments of Green Day’s Warning era. Most modern indie lacks true energy, but Tamayo refuses to follow trends: they bring a gravitas to their sound that is as soaring as the guitar solo they whipped out in the middle of their set. There were even some tropical vibes presented throughout, reminding me of a band stranded on an island and playing their music as a final SOS. The group functioned more as a collective of musicians than a traditional band, embarking on a jam session that allowed each individual member to shine in their own musical contribution. The third act was head bobbing, utilizing a surprising mix of elements that they controlled perfectly: reverb, guitar solos, oceanic keys…it was a chaotic ocean of sound that was somehow experimental and accessible at once.
Driveaway, the next band that Swamp has under management, popped off in a much different way. The band, lacking a true “drummer” tends to opt for a more synthetic, melodic sound, but despite that aesthetic, they were a true highlight. “Opening Credits” was an incredible opener, with the programmed drums and synths slapping harder than a speeding car. Frontman Trenton Ropp brought a charisma that was infectious: Whether he brags about his earrings, talks about his drinks of choice, or sways his hips, he has absolute control of the mic. The second track, “I’m Scared and It’s Okay,” brought to mind the 80s-revivalist tone the group sometimes delivers in their music, but with a more modern crunch: the bass throughout was flirtatious, a glancing look that lasted longer and longer as time wore on. Despite ending with the somber “8th Song, Goodnight,” the finish Driveaway delivered was touching, mixing auto-tuned soul and indie rock in a way that only the group can. It’s the perfect music for a small concert setting, all the more emphasized by the Youtube stream platform.
Every concert is as good as its closing act, and The Forum definitely pushed the show into the stratosphere. All four members of the Gainesville outfit rocked quarantine masks in their cozy home studio, bringing to light the tough times that we all face…but they fought it with great tunes. The high synth intro that bled into the cycling notes of “When Did Everything Fade,” made it clear that these guys were ready to bring it. And bring it they did. Whether it was drummer Ethan Klohr’s forceful performance or frontman Michael Higgins’ bravado, the whole set was an encapsulation of what Fall Fest 2020 brought: thought provoking emotion, great energy, a bit of experimentation, and a very cozy feeling. Hell, the final song “Comet” was about cosmic brownies, an oddly perfect way to cap off the night. The whole concert was a delicious experience, loaded with color and memorable melodies that make you want to return for more.
And that’s why any reasonable music fan should support Swamp Records. The label is out to bring back this very same memorability for local artists in the Gainesville area; rather than following trends or playing it safe, each group offers something new to indie music without restriction. Labels like these are important for growing the talent that may be right under your nose. This concert was full of those kinds of artists, and we can WHOLE-HEARTEDLY say it was a fantastic experience.
Swamp Records is currently running a merchandising raffle in order to help further support its local artists, and it would be truly appreciated if you could contribute in any small way to make sure local music stays alive. For only $1, you can win merchandise from some of the industry’s biggest and brightest names, including Tame Impala, Taylor Swift, Mac DeMarco, Graceful Anon, and so many more! Details can be found on any of Swamp’s socials (@swamprecordsuf on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook).