When it comes to live music in Miami, the scene offers only a few options: a wild and drug-filled night listening to EDM, moving your hips to merengue at a Latin club, or getting smoked out of midgrade marijuana at a local rap show. Rock ‘n’ roll in the Magic City seems almost nonexistent. Though Churchill’s Pub and Gramps offer a rockin’ good time, their shows sell out quicker than lemon-pepper wings at a strip club, and if you’re looking for people of color (POC), don’t bet on it.
In rock ‘n’ roll, people of color get the short end of the stick, but, in fact, rock was derived from black gospel, jazz, and R&B. The genre evolved largely in the United States during the late ’40s and was led by black pioneers such as Lloyd Price and Fats Domino. Sadly, when rock ‘n’ roll comes to mind, most people think of Nirvana or Metallica and knockoff band T-shirts from Forever 21. As POC representatives in South Florida, the bandmates of Free Dystopia can always be counted on to add edge to the rock scene.
Free Dystopia is different from a typical band. Its four members — lead vocalist Markus Caesar, drummer Ron Don, guitarist Q, and newly added bassist Ariel Lopez — create a genre-less, instrumental-based sound that fills a void in South Florida’s music scene. While hip-hop has shifted into synthetic sounds and vulgar lyrics, Free Dystopia rides the wave of eclectic live instrumentation paired with self-reflecting verses, making the band one of a kind.
“It’s funny how hip-hop has evolved,” Caesar says by phone. “In the ’80s, it was very popular to have an electric guitar on a track. In the ’90s, everyone had a horn sound. Now we’re moving into synthetic beats like Travis Scott uses, but if you listen carefully, it’s just slowed-down rock.”
Thankfully, Free Dystopia sounds nothing like the 26-year-old rapper best known for his relationship with Kylie Jenner. The group’s first album, 2017’s Trial & Error, easily infuses hip-hop, jazz, rock, and soul to create an alluring blend not often heard in mainstream music other than the Roots. The release contains only four tracks, highlighting each member of the band distinctly, but as a whole, the songs produce a vibe that allows the listener to escape the usual. Although the project offers only 15 minutes of music — available online to stream or buy — the band promises that quarter-hour is well worth it.
As a hip-hop band, the foursome is easily influenced by rock, but having a black vocalist doesn’t do much overall for the group in the rock world, leaving the bandmates to travel out of South Florida for their fans. “Our best shows and fans are always outside of Miami and full of foreigners,” Caesar says. “Online, a lot of our fans are from the U.K. The problem with Miami culture is that no one really says, ‘Hey, there’s a band playing tonight; let’s go check it out.’ New York, L.A., and even Tampa have more rock venues than Miami.”
Because there aren’t many acts in the 305 that sound like Free Dystopia, most would think the band’s uniqueness would be a benefit, but that’s not always the case. “Having a black frontman is beautifully damaging. At the end of the day, your ass is black,” Caesar says. “Even if I don’t rap on the song, it’s still hip-hop.” Regardless, fans of all shades and backgrounds follow them.
Making hip-hop with a rock edge — while being black — and seeking a raging fan base might seem tough, but Free Dystopia is up for the challenge and ready to release new music in the upcoming year. “We’re playing five new songs if you want to hear something new next week,” Caesar says. “But we’re releasing a new project next year for sure. It’s 90 percent finished.” With hip-hop on the rise and rock being its derivative, Free Dystopia knows its place in South Florida’s music scene, and the fans know it too.
Free Dystopia. With Mustard Service and special guests. 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 28, at 1306, 1306 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $15 to $35 via eventbrite.com.