Local Current Blog

A look at the Vita.mn Are You Local? contest’s 236 nominees

I had really hoped to make this a trend piece. When I first surveyed the vast pool of entries for this year’s Are You Local? best-new-band contest over on Vita.mn’s site, I made a somewhat stubborn decision to listen to them all, track by track. At first there were 128 entries, and then, by the end of the contest, a whopping 236–I thought that surely a pattern or two might emerge, or at the very least that I’d uncover something new about the health of the Minnesota music community.

But if there was any trend to be spotted, it’s that these bands are all over the map. As I listened, I jotted down the names of roughly 85 bands that I thought were worth further investigation–and of those, the list of their genres would be nearly as long as the list of their names. So, with my trend piece dreams dashed, I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite new discoveries instead. 

Let’s start with a few bands that have been featured on this blog as a result of their contest submissions: Observer Drift and Wiping Out Thousands are two synth-driven pop bands with completely different aesthetics that I’ve profiled recently; the former makes introspective, ambient, and layered bedroom pop while the latter offers a dynamic, melodic take on EDM. Hooky rock band The Set also agreed to a Q&A recently after their single, “Here is My Heart,” caught my ear, and we’ve highlighted bands like the Further Adjustments, Very Small Animal, and Phantom Vibration in our weekly Local Radar roundup after being impressed by their Are You Local? tracks.

Dan Mariska was already a familiar name to me before the contest but his track stood out for its ’90s alt aesthetic, as did Wishbook‘s. Other bands to play up the throwback vibe were ’80s new wave-influenced acts like The Rope, Friends By Fire, and Still Pacific.

Portage led the pack on the folk-pop front and had one of the more fully realized sounds in that genre; it seems like they would easily win over fans of Bon Iver. Other bands in that vein worth noting are singer-songwriters The Ericksons, Brian Laidlaw, Dustin Thomas, and Kevin Steinman, plus folk-rock bands like The Dead Flowers, The Color Pharmacy, and one of my favorite new acts to emerge this year so far, Sleep Study.

Ashley Gold was another familiar name for me (full disclosure: we went to high school together; she sang “In My Life” at our graduation, which was awesome), and she’s really come into her own on her debut album with her sassy jazz-meets-soul vibe. Another artist to combine jazz, rock, and folk elements is Bomba de Luz, whose talented lead singer sounds like she’d be positively mesmerizing live. 

Hip-hop was heavily represented among this year’s nominees, but across a wide variety of styles and interpretations. My favorite submission (aside from contest finalist Xavier Marquis) was from Up Rock, a new project made up of members of longtime Twin Cities rap group Abstract Pack. Other rappers with distinctive approaches included the frenetic Lifted Mindz, the smooth, vintage-sounding Wize Guyz, emphatic rapper Sean Anonymous and his group Wide Eyes, and the prolific, tight duo The Tribe and Big Cats!

And then there were the straight-up curveballs: WHALE/S was at the forefront of a group of artists unabashedly employing Auto-Tune (in the heavy T-Pain way more than the subtle Polica way) to varying degrees of success; Marah in the Mainsail employ an electric banjo to make quirky, revved-up bluegrass; Oriel whirs and tinkers with twitching noises to create their charming avant pop.

The three artists to make it to the final round of the Are You Local? contest were also favorites of mine, and you can read about the Prissy Clerks, the Japhies, and Xavier Marquis in Vita.mn here. Each act will perform in the Entry tomorrow night at Vita.mn’s SXSW send-off show, and the winning band will perform later in the evening in the Mainroom as well as down at SXSW. And for even more new discoveries, you can check out the paper’s own set of “honorable mentions” here.