Bliss on This

Fireworks boom and crackle outside, smoke fills the streets, and bottle rockets emblematic of revolutionary bombs burst in the air. Inside, four young men -- members of the band Orgasmic Bliss -- are sitting in a sprawling Florida room. However, instead of partaking of the Fourth of July traditions of roasting weenies and lighting firecrackers, they are talking about their own musical revolution.

Over the past three years, a handful of local original alternative bands have cropped up whose music flows with the subtle melodies and rhythms of dream pop. These bands -- Muse, the Wilcoxes, the Bureau, 23, Phineas J. Whoopie, and the Miles (from Fort Lauderdale) -- have enjoyed varying degrees of success, often performing together and offering each other support. In effect they've created something of a subscene within the larger South Florida music scene. And even though these bands all differ musically, a common vein exists that pulls them together and attracts the same fans.

Orgasmic Bliss has reached the upper level of this subscene, but their sound departs from the crowd in its sheer joyfulness and its Latin American influences. There is a buoyancy in the hypermelodic pluckings of lead guitarist Christian Escuti, in the lilting strummings of rhythm guitarist Marthin Chan, and in the layered soundscapes of keyboardist Vincenzo Bove. Albert Howard's speedy drumming boasts a playful inventiveness, while the melancholic, boyish vocals of bassist Luis Tamblay -- with backing vocals by Chan and Escuti -- could best be described as nostalgically wistful. The band's sound makes you think of the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen maybe, even early Duran Duran in some places. But the music's biggest charm lies in the way it just makes you wanna bop. It's happy, just...well...kinda blissful.

The band -- whose name was inspired by the spermazoidal drawings of drummer Howard rather than by anything cheery in their sound -- has been together in its current form since November 1992, when founding members Howard, Tamblay, and Escuti were auditioning vocalists, keyboardists, and guitarists. They called in Bove, who at the time had no keyboard. To play at the audition, he borrowed one that belonged to his friend Chan. The latter tagged along, decided to audition as a guitarist, and in the process showed the band some tunes he'd written. Both Bove and Chan joined up.

Orgasmic Bliss started rehearsing in January 1993, practicing songs Chan had written. (Chan and Tamblay are the group's primary songwriters, with lyrical contributions from Howard.) A little over a month later, the band played its first show in a warehouse; a month after that, in March 1993, they notched their first club gig at the Red Room, beginning a long string of shows at now-defunct South Beach hot spots such as the Mission, the Patio at Boomerang, and Sanctuary.

"What benefited us -- which was something that could make you or break you -- was that we rushed," says Chan. "Bands probably shouldn't play out right away, but within a month that we were together, we played for a crowd."

In the summer of 1993, the band recorded a tape of the song "Penelope," which received airplay on WVUM-FM (90.5) and charted in College Music Journal. Its followup, "A Month of Sundays," also was placed in heavy rotation at the station. The band theorizes that having their first song on the radio not only gave them more confidence, but also brought in an impressive crowd when they played their first major show, at the Kitchen Club in Coconut Grove in December of that year.

"When you play a show at a club where you yourself go and listen to music and hang out with your friends, it's a big deal to you," notes Escuti. Chan agrees that the show was a step up for them. "Before that [Kitchen Club show], we had played some places on bad nights, when it wasn't our type of crowd, but after that things have really been on the up. We could have played places like Washington Square or Churchill's, but we didn't. It's not to say those are not good places, but to play a club where people go dancing to our style of music...well, that was the shit."

Since that show, Orgasmic Bliss has played the Kitchen Club four additional times, while simultaneously building a following at alternative dance clubs such as Marsbar and the Church. And they're favorites when it comes to benefits, having participated in several, including ones for the Lighthouse for the Blind, Earth Alert, and Florida PIRG.

Things have not fared so well, however, at area bars and rock clubs, where the band has found they don't experience the same success. "We had three bad gigs in a week -- two at the Talkhouse and one at Musicians Exchange -- and after that week we were really depressed because those shows were really crappy," sighs Tamblay. "After that we said, 'No more bars.' It was cool that we got to play there, but now we're trying to do things strategically."

Chan points out that it's not a matter of pickiness, but rather of being conscientious. "It's not that we think we're above that, it's just that we can play those big [dance] clubs and people who listen to our music will go," he contends. "We can make some money and get a good crowd. We can play the bars, like Rose's, and it's been cool, but we feel that if we prepare ourselves for one big gig a month, it's better than killing our sound off playing every week."

Rather than kill off their sound, the band has been attempting to expand it, using more distortion and aggression, yet maintaining that happy edge. "Before, Marthin would show us a song, and we'd say, 'Okay, let's play it,'" explains Tamblay. "And now we analyze it before we decide 'we like your idea, but let's put another chord in it.'"

The band counts Eighties New Wave and alternative bands such as the Cure, the Smiths, New Order, and Depeche Mode -- as well as Latin rock bands such as Chile's Los Prisioneros -- among their influences. (Tamblay says he is heavily influenced by the Doors; Bove's style draws from his classical training.) Then there is the undeniable influence of traditional Latin American culture on their music: Escuti, Chan, and Howard are Chilean, Bove was born in Italy and raised in Venezuela, and Tamblay is Peruvian. In fact, in the middle of an otherwise rocking set, Orgasmic Bliss frequently pulls out traditional Latin American instruments such as charangos, bombos, zamponas, and flutes to perform Andean lullabies.

It comes as no great surprise then that one of the band's long-term goals is to break into the Latin American rock market, particularly in Chile, Argentina, and Peru. Recently they appeared in a segment of the music show Control on Univisi centsn, which is broadcast in several Latin American countries. Tamblay also traveled to Chile last month, where he says he made several contacts with television and radio producers.

"I would love to go back there and play in front of our people, our roots," says Escuti wistfully. "We don't sing in Spanish, but I think that's better for us. [Latin American audiences] want to hear English-speaking bands."

As for short-term goals, Orgasmic Bliss wants to release its CD-in-progress, Surreal. They have recorded more than seventeen songs at the music studios of Miami-Dade Community College's South Campus, where Tamblay studies music engineering with producer-engineer-backup vocalist-pianist Mike Blatty. The band plans to release another single, "Decay," in advance of the CD. Additionally, they'd like to play bigger shows, possibly with national bands appearing in the area. After headlining a show this Saturday at Marsbar with the Wilcoxes, 23, and the Bureau, they'll perform an outdoor concert on Lincoln Road the following Saturday with Muse, Mobias, and the Miles. A fall tour of Florida also has been discussed. Meanwhile, wherever the band plays, they'll bring along their joyful melodies, evocative lyrics, and danceable rhythms.

"We want to make it, like everyone else, and we've had to market ourselves the right way and play the right venues," Chan says. "Overall we've chosen the right places to play. Now we're in the position where we can choose what we do next."

Orgasmic Bliss, the Wilcoxes, 23, the Bureau, and Lunabelle play Saturday, July 22, as part of Marsbar's first anniversary party. Admission is $7. Showtime is 8:30 p.m. Marsbar is located at 8505 Mills Dr (in the Kendall Town & Country mall); 271-6909.

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Georgina Cardenas