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This weekend's So Raw Festival, a day-and-night affair across Wynwood and the Upper Eastside, is one of the most exciting homegrown festivals in a long, long time. With a scrappy, sprawling lineup of music and art, it's a snapshot of a burgeoning local scene full of raw, punk-style DIY energy and shoestring psychedelia. While the city's world fusion jam bands and acoustic darlings have been getting all the attention, the So Raw set has been plotting garage rock domination.
The vibe will be "mostly rock, do-it-yourself sort of bands that are rough around the edges, but something that Miami hasn't been exposed to," says 23-year-old Nicole Irizarry, one of the festival's three founders. So Irizarry and friends Daniel Camargo and Christian Allen contacted all of their favorite bands, local and abroad. Then they went door to door looking for a venue.
"Business-wise, it was hard to get people to want to be involved with us," Irizarry says. "But people who wanted to attend were really excited and supportive from the beginning. That is what kept us going."
When the trio walked into Wynwood's 'Ism Gallery, the owner said yes on the spot. The Upper Eastside Garden, farther north on Biscayne, offered a daytime venue.
Then came the name of the festival, cribbed from one of Camargo's favorite catchphrases for anything great. "The music, the art, the area — all have the 'so raw' vibe," Irizarry says.
The organizers also eventually scored liquor sponsorships from Narragansett Beer and Select Vodka; all festival passes include an open bar. That perk, along with heavy promotion on Facebook and real-life flyers, promises a healthy turnout.
"It seems like the right time," Irizarry says. "People in our age group are moving towards new things other than drinking and hanging out."
About 20 mostly local bands will play in two days. Rest assured it's all, well, raw. Here are some picks for each day's highlights.
Friday, June 19 — Night Show
The Yolks: This Chicago trio claims to "put the soul back in rock 'n' roll." And they live up to it. Don't mistake them for a slick '60s throwback act, though. Their sound is a sped-up proto-punk, with the Stooges' bite and the psychedelic pop chops of old Bomp Records bands. The laziest contemporary comparison is perhaps to the Black Lips, but the Yolks' songs are pleasantly sweeter.
Electric Bunnies: This threesome is one of the longest-running acts in the burgeoning psych-garage-derived thing going on in Miami. And while their earliest material was charged-up fuzz punk, with time they're getting weirder. New songs show these guys experimenting with trippy acoustics and hippie-ish arrangements, adding a new palette of moods to their loud, high-energy gigs.
Fey Gods: In contrast to the louder acts on the bill, this Columbus, Ohio duo sounds positively tranquilized. Guitarist Nick noodles on a guitar while vocalist Lula twiddles knobs and sings as though she were buried under layers of gauze. The result, actually, can sound like a messy version of post-punk '80s coldwave.
This Heart Electric: The local, mostly one-man act manned by Richard Guerrero similarly picks up on a post-goth, post-punk, post-whatever thread, but with a more calculated, slick air. Guerrero combines shiny, Gary Numan-style keyboards; tribal drumbeats; and death-rock-style wailing vocals with a Kraftwerkian, Teutonic frost. It's one of the most unique and interesting musical projects going on in town today.
Also playing Friday night: TeePee, Hahahelp, and Palm Trees. 'Ism Gallery, 167b NW 23rd St., Miami. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Saturday, June 20 — Afternoon Show
Little Beard: This co-ed Miami quartet heads for a slightly janglier, more Anglo-influenced sound than most of its peers playing this festival. Think lots of sweet but snarly female vocals, tambourine shakes, and driving, handclap-worthy choruses.
Flux Forces: Another male-female duo, this new local act builds shamanic, soul-style vocal hell-raising over hypnotic, repetitive tinny drumbeats. The overall effect is enthralling in its unpredictability — will Ryan's wordy, literate lyrics give way to random yelping? With this pair, you'll never know until it happens.
Also playing Saturday afternoon: Fluffy Lumbers and Ghost Slums. Upper Eastside Garden, 7244 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Show runs from noon to 4 p.m.
Saturday, June 20 — Night Show
So Cow: It's a long way from obscure western Ireland to Wynwood, but still, here lands So Cow, a quartet mostly helmed by a red-headed chap who, for reasons difficult to divine, often sings in Korean. Regardless of any language barrier, Mr. Cow's songs are bratty indie toe-tappers that kind of sound like the Violent Femmes gone soft. That's a compliment, really!
Pink Reason: The Brooklyn-based project is more or less a trio, headed by a fellow named Kevin Failure. But any number of Miami artists has been known to contribute, including Federico Nessi and basically everybody from Electric Bunnies. This is a cotton-cloaked, coming-apart-at-the seams freak-out, sounding a little like a band rocking out in a factory full of breaking machines. The group must be experienced live, a realm where it is notoriously unpredictable at best.
Jacuzzi Boys: Ah, Jacuzzi Boys, Miami's best psychedelic punk threesome. They seem to work leisurely, swan destructively around the city's booze-fueled late-night dance parties, and still somehow tour nationally and get written up on Pitchfork. If you were going to San Francisco with flowers in your hair but still really preferred to rock out, their vaguely surf-influenced jams would be a good soundtrack.