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Floor to ceiling with Below and Beyond 

Miami’s sludge punk band is back from obscurity

There's no reason why anyone should have heard of the band Floor. The Miami sludge-punk trio languished in obscurity from 1992 to 2004 and rarely played shows outside of their hometown of Gainesville, Fla., just up the road. So why, then, after fizzling out of existence six years ago, did Floor have to book two reunion shows in Atlanta to meet audience demands? And why is the group's catalog – most of which has remained unreleased – being issued in a mammoth box set from Robotic Empire?

As Factory Records founder Tony Wilson's character explains in the film 24 Hr. Party People, "The smaller the attendance, the bigger the history. There were 12 people at the last supper. ..."

Much of Floor's mystique comes from the fact that it's where guitarist/vocalist Steve Brooks cut his teeth before moving on to the more formidable band Torche. Floor was underexposed and underappreciated in its time, and went out with a whisper rather than a roar. Since then, the group has become something of a holy grail for Torche fans. The vast majority of their songs have been sitting on tapes, stored away in a fabled suitcase in a closet for years, their fate unknown. But after increased demand from Torche fans, the band has compiled almost everything they ever recorded into one ridiculously lavish box set titled Below and Beyond.

With the band Floor, Brooks, fellow founder/guitarist Anthony Vialon and three drummers (Beatriz Monteavaro, Jeff Sousa and Henry Wilson) unwittingly planted the seeds for the heavy balance of doom-laden riffs and sweet vocal melodies that culminate in Torche's epic, metallic pop sound. But neither Torche nor Floor have ever held any metal-minded ambitions. "We were the exact opposite of a metal band," Brooks says. "The music was sloppy, we never rehearsed, and we would write a bunch of songs the day before a show and then just play those songs. We did it for fun and we sang about things like Anthony's crush on a girl, or how much I hated my job. We never thought about making money, and we never played any songs about swords or dragons."

Brooks, who now lives in Atlanta, has carved out a niche for himself in the realms of noisy, post-grunge rock. As one of the only openly gay singers to front such an aggressive brand of music, he is a rare vocalist who understands that you can be in a heavy rock band without screaming your way through it. The first real sign of his melodic abilities appeared with Floor's self-titled '02 debut album (No Idea). Over the years, the group's sound went through phases as they sanded off the rough edges and settled on a streamlined hybrid of noise, staccato doom and pop.

As Vialon recalls, Brooks' burgeoning vocal style began on a whim. "Before we recorded the self-titled album, we didn't know what direction we were going," Vialon says. "We had the music down, but the vocals were literally an overnight decision. We just started writing these vocal melodies and hooks."

The self-titled record was the first album the group released, but it was by no means the first one they recorded. In '94 the group recorded an album titled Dove for Rhetoric Records. But when the label heard Brooks' nontraditional vocal style, they refused to release it because it wasn't heavy enough. "We were going to just rerecord some of the tracks and give them back, but Steve said, 'No, let's just do another record,' because we had a lot more material," Vialon says. "We went to Atlanta in '95 to record Saturnine and Tears, but we were disappointed with the production."

Dove was released by No Idea in '04, but Saturnine and Tears never got issued. Even after Vialon got kicked out of the band in '02, Floor carried on for a while, but drummer Wilson left the group soon after. Brooks returned with Torche in '04.

After getting kicked out of Floor for reasons he and the rest of the members refuse to discuss, Vialon removed himself from the music industry altogether. "That was it," he says. "Floor was mine and Steve's band and when it was over I didn't have any interest in playing music anymore." There's palpable tension in Vialon's voice when talking about Floor, but he's happy to be playing again, and the group's reunion shows in Miami, Gainesville and Atlanta offer him some closure. For each show the group is playing three sets, with each drummer featured on songs from their time with the group.

In the meantime, Robotic Empire has released Below and Beyond – a box set of 10 LPs, eight CDs and a 7-inch that compiles pretty much everything the group ever recorded – in a limited edition of 305 (because that's Miami's area code). "It's one of the coolest things I've ever seen and it blows my mind that enough people gave a shit," Brooks laughs. "There is some stuff that didn't make it on there, but dude, it's 10 records. ... That's good."

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