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Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Festivals are changing. When Coachella released their lineup on January 2nd — their earliest release to date — the news was met with a collective yawn. In fact, an “I’m Underwhelmed” thread in the festival’s sub-Reddit received nearly as many up-votes as the lineup announcement itself. And naturally, other major lineup announcements that followed didn’t fare much better.

As industry gatekeepers like LiveNation and AEG continue to snatch up one major festival after another, the once-thrilling concept of traveling far and wide for these experiences is becoming more and more passé. After all, why should anyone trek across the country to see a flock of performers they can likely catch closer to home?

The solution for festival goers is simple: think smaller.

Boutique festivals are becoming increasingly thrilling amid today’s vapid festival climate. By providing a thoughtful alternative, they’ve begun to satisfy a seasoned music vet’s desire for something extraordinary and something risky. While their long-term future is always uncertain, their commitment to a singular identity is key to their success.

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Photo by Jaime Fernández

Desert Daze, for instance, has carved themselves out a niche in the festival sphere by cultivating an experience around the Joshua Tree’s trip-inducing visual aesthetic. Each turn is host to a new burning-man-esque art exhibition, and the festival’s signature programming gives life to the location’s supernatural aura — though, not without its share of struggles.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher to have a unique lineup,” says Desert Daze founder Phil Pirrone. “Look, I’m in a band, too, so I get it. It’s almost impossible to make money as a touring musician. I get where agents are coming from. I get the mad dash for cash. But, it does make it increasingly difficult to have a unique lineup when you’re in Southern California.”

Like many festivals of its size, Desert Daze jostles with a number of larger festivals in close proximity for big gets. Pirrone competes with So-Cal-based, Goldenvoice-produced festivals Coachella, FYF Festival and Arroyo Seco for bookings. “I have real envy for festivals that are in a market where they’re the only festival,” he says. “You’re not always going to get the dream lineup together because there’s so much competition. You basically have to have a lot of backup plans.”

As Prionne suggests, artists have become increasingly reliant on major festivals such as Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Agents are in a rat race to secure their clients the best possible billings at the most possible festivals.

Adding fuel to the fire, festivals are, now more than ever, willing to offer up the same headliners as their competition in order to move units. Multifest deals mean talent is often contracted for a cheaper booking price to play a string of festivals. Remember Chance the Rapper’s whopping 11 appearances at American music festivals in 2017? This year’s festival darling? Eminem. These instances aren’t simply coincidence but, rather, the deliberate efforts of production companies working the best deals possible.

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Photo by Jaime Fernández

From a business perspective, such programming is sound logic. Music festivals are high-risk ventures, and things can turn south quickly. Sasquatch Festival, for instance, had its attendance drop by 50 percent in 2016. That same year, Bonnaroo’s attendance dipped by a reported 45 percent compared to its peak in 2011. It makes sense that those with a controlling stake would want to play it safe.

Other fests like Pemberton, Karoondi, Summerset, and Mysteryland have met similar fates in recent years, and, especially considering the bad taste the Fyre Festival left in the mouths of investors, independent festivals often disappear faster than they emerge. An Austin staple, Sound on Sound Festival (formerly Fun Fun Fun) was cancelled this year, with organizers citing “several recent roadblocks outside of [their] control.”

Such failures have caused companies like Live Nation and AEG, as well as investors, to constrict their business models. With the signature touchstones of festival culture falling out of existence, promoters have begun to think twice about experimental bookings in their top lines. The result? Different permutations of the same product.

As we’ve seen this year with Eminem, The Killers, and Jack White fronting a plethora of festival bills, promoters are more than wary about who they offer as headliners. As they become larger and competition threatens to cripple them, festivals have undergone a loss of identity: no longer can one guess a festival by its headliners alone.

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Photo by Jaime Fernández

Organizers are flailing to find a solution to the festival problem. But if industry executives continue to treat our cultural gatherings like dollar-churning machines, little room is left for innovation, and we’ll likely continue to see more of the same. Still, boutique festivals like Desert Daze stick to their mission, despite the overwhelming threat of saturation bumping them out of the market.

“In an oversaturated world, we still somehow found a little nook,” Pirrone says. Last year, he hosted the likes of Spiritualized, Velvet Underground founder John Cale, doom metal trio Sleep, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s only festival performance supporting their collaborative album, and the king of punk himself, Iggy Pop, who headlined the festival.

Such programming feels urgent, even unmissable, and for hardcore music fans, the lineup demands attendance in cult-like fashion. This is an itch that boutique festivals have begun to scratch, however, satisfying the avant-garde live niche once occupied by Coachella — and Desert Daze is hardly alone.

Elsewhere, a number of boutique festivals have disrupted the status quo with engaging interactive exhibits. Houston’s Day For Night does exactly that, fostering a rare curatorial experience that weaves visual and sensory exhibits into the festival’s programming. For 2017’s installment, art curator Alex Czetwertynski showcased more 15 large-scale visual installations and hundreds of hours worth of digital programming.

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

“Festivals themselves are done,” says Day for Night founder Omar Afra, who believes that curation is pertinent to the attendee’s experience. “We’re on the precipice of seeing this model become antiquated, right? [Even though] many festivals are still working within a festival construct, it’s the experience that’s changing, and that’s where the focus is. You can’t say, ‘We’re an art and music festival’ if we put a giant dragonfly in the middle of our stages and say, ‘Look, it’s art.’ When you say you’re an art festival, you have to fucking mean it and put the love and the time behind it, because people can tell the difference.”

Day for Night’s emphasis on visuals is a huge diversion from traditional festival model. Dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into visual production is a tremendous risk yet few exhibit the level of curatorial excellence that Day for Night touts each year. Whether it’s showcasing the mathematical glitch-work from Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda or the “attack of epilepsy” from light pioneer Matthew Pioneer, the festival proves that thematic identities can work as a festival model.

“You can’t imitate other people, and you can’t imitate yourself,” says Afra. “That’s probably the worst thing you could do!” The question, though, is whether or not emerging festivals will continue to pave their own paths, or will they fall prey to industry homogenization.

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

The idea of discovering new and emerging artists is another avenue for festival organizers to explore, though also not without its share of risks. Austin’s own South by Southwest pioneered the concept in 1987, and since then, several other music conferences have followed. Driven by proprietary algorithms, Emerge’s Rehan Choudhry wants to provide a forward-thinking curatorial conference featuring the highest tier of next generation talent.

“We’re looking to create an entirely new category of experience.” Choudhry eagerly tells us. “There are a lot of traditional festivals out there. The first thing we want to do is avoid having to chase the same talent based on touring availability, and who’s decided to do festivals this year like everybody else is.”

Emerge’s programming features a plethora of artists that haven’t quite reached mainstream recognition. The concept behind the festival is geared towards showcasing names that music listeners and promoters will more readily recognize and adopt 18 to 24 months from now. “We’re very forward thinking and that’s for our musicians, our speakers, partners etc.” says Choudhry. “What I like about it is that it promotes discovery.”

But discovery comes at a cost. “It’s definitely more difficult to do,” Choudhry admits. “[It’s] more difficult to sell tickets like that. More difficult for the attendee to be able to sift through it.” This is opposed to the typical contextualization of festival lineups, where wide-eyed readers are lured in by massive stars at in large-scale fonts.

emerge Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Such an experience sheds light on festivalgoers’ contextualization of lineup announcements in terms of font size. Coachella largely pioneered this process with their one-of-a-kind poster: a cultural statement about the current state of music that now largely determines the future asking price for tour musicians. The massive text is eye catching and does well to sell thousands of tickets in less than a few hours.

“The [usual festival] hierarchy allows for a very simple decision-making process,” says Choudhry. “You look at the top line and ultimately you’re making your decision based on location timeframe and the top three lines. Is this something you want to invest in or not?”

Scanning the font hierarchy on Coachella’s lineup is simple: gawk at the big names and move on from there. But what happens when a festival gets rid of font hierarchy altogether and focuses on crafting their experience around discovery? Choudhry discusses the potential pitfalls related to programming a festival like Emerge.

“Here are a bunch of names I may or may not recognize” he says, citing the synthesis between algorithmic data and human curatorial-judgement as the basis for a new festival-conference hybrid. “That’s all part of the process, but it all starts with, ‘How are you selecting the artists?’ What we did was, we put together a 25-person curator committee.” By involving executives from talent agencies and music industry insiders, including those from Spotify, Choudhry argues, “We have the upper echelon of talent to perform.”

 Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Whether it’s SXSW or Emerge, those attending a music conference are traditonally seeking out something more than the flavor of the week, and when the emphasis is placed on discovery rather than hype, it opens the floodgates to programming that was previously thought to be reserved for local music venues and dive bars. Festivals like Emerge are hoping that seasoned festivalgoers are willing to pay for that full experience.

Even so, the festival experience will always be defined by the lens of perception. As David Byrne points out in his 2012 book, How Music Works, context — read: the creative production behind a festival — shapes our experience of the music itself. “Music resonates in so many parts of the brain that we can’t conceive of it being an isolated thing” he says. “It’s whom you were with, how old you were, and what was happening that day.”

Perhaps this explains why some festivals have started to put so much emphasis on the cohesive community fostered by their events. One such festival is Eaux Claires Festival in Wisconsin, which is curated by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner. “Each iteration of Eaux Claires has been a unique journey, unlike the festival that preceded it” says Michael Brown, Creative Director for the festival.

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Photo by Lior Phillips

Doing away with festival lineup hierarchy is one thing, but what happens when a curatorial festival gets rid of a lineup announcement altogether, focusing solely on their interactive community? “This year is no different,” Brown says, “as we’re currently participating in one of the most radical concepts in the music festival industry: presenting a festival with no marketed lineup.”

The decision not to market the festival’s lineup is an interesting, albeit risky, concept to say the least, but it’s an opportunity for artists and fans to all exist on the same plane. Again, most festival organizers would call it business suicide, but Brown is confident that Eaux Claires’ unique, immersive experience alone will continue to advance the festival.

“We’re pushing Eaux Claires in this direction because we want our audience and our artists to live together in the moment and willingly participate in something special” he says. “We want, for one weekend in the year, that folks stop being concerned with the popularized ‘fashion’ of music and be more concerned with its creative pursuits.”

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Photo by Lior Phillips

The dynamic festival is nestled in the serene, wooded community of Eaux Claires, where Vernon grew up, and it’s a fitting backdrop for the festival’s programming. Vernon, Dessner, and Brown have set out to evoke a sense of spiritual belonging throughout the festival.

“We want people to put value on life experience and living in the moment,” says Brown. “We want people, if just for one weekend, to willingly be a part of a community that openly embraces artistic failure as much as it embraces artistic success.”

By placing more emphasis on the experience itself than the names on the bill, Eaux Claires flies in the face of standard festival business strategy over the last two decades, but it’s that purpose that brings a whole new meaning for the music festival model. Such a model might be more successful than previously thought, too, seeing how The Wausau Daily Herald reports that Eaux Claires attendance surpassed 20,000 in 2017.

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Photo by Graham Tolbert

It’s clear that the festival industry is due for an overhaul, but it’s uncertain how such a shift will manifest throughout our nation’s cultural gatherings. As the focal points of music festivals shift towards more thematically programmed, extracurricular, and immersive experiences, the general public’s contextualization of festivals will shift dramatically. After all, music festivals are one of the biggest cultural touchstones of the 21st century.

As Choudhry explains, “In the last five years, we’ve seen the festival industry consolidate at an incredible rate, with two to three major players buying up independent events across the country. Each time this happens, you also see the pipeline of innovation constrict dramatically. The reason? Innovation typically takes place in smaller, more nimble organizations.”

Whether it’s immersive technology and virtual reality exhibitionism, expansive visual art installations, a unique set and setting, or an off-kilter programming scheme, the emergence of a new class of festivals is imminent. So long as music fans are vocal and innovators continue to test their luck with new and exciting festival models, fans will always have something to look forward to come lineup season.

They just have to be willing to squint.

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Coachella’s 2018 Lineup: One Day Later

If you came to this year’s Coachella announcement hoping for a return of the long-awaited reunions and impossible-to-get surprise acts of the past, you’ll once again leave disappointed. Once festival organizers reconfirmed Beyoncé after her postponement last year, the festival’s traditional biggest question mark already had a definitive answer behind it.

Perhaps not wanting to diminish their long-awaited headliner’s shine, organizers played it safe with the festival’s two other headliners; although Eminem and The Weeknd are both solid draws on their own, they don’t come near to matching the well-deserved fervor for pop music’s reigning master.

So, yes. The top line of the festival is devoid of any true shocks. However, a closer look reveals that America’s preeminent outdoor music festival is still capable of evolution. This year, that means a long-overdue focus on women and a surprising shift away from the dude-heavy guitar rock that helped put the festival on the map.

coachella 2018 Coachella’s 2018 Lineup: One Day Later



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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Queen Bey knows how to make an entrance. A year after her pregnancy postponed her 2017 headlining appearance, Beyoncé finally gets the chance to cap off her Lemonade victory lap on one of the world’s biggest stages. Plus, after Solange’s triumphant headlining set at last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, there’s also a little sibling rivalry on the line.

David Byrne

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Photo by Philip Cosores

The former Talking Heads frontman hasn’t worked the festival circuit with the regularity of some of his contemporaries, a fact which, when combined with his notoriously infectious live performances and a forthcoming record that marks his first new work in six years, makes this set one to watch. Literally.

Jean-Michele Jarre

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Before his 2017 summer tour, French electronic impresario and master of spectacle Jean-Michel Jarre hadn’t played in America since 1986. The exclusivity may be gone, but that may not matter; you don’t become a Guinness World Record holder for world’s largest concert without knowing how to put on a show.

St. Vincent

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Though this is her fourth Coachella appearance since 2008, Annie Clark’s penchant for Bowie-style reinvention (and blistering showmanship) injects even midday festival sets with a headliner’s urgency. Add that to the fact that she’s currently supporting some of the best material of her career, and you can see why some people would be happy to sub her in as Friday’s headliner.

X Japan

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Buried in the tiny text of Saturday, you’ll find a rare treat: X Japan, the long-running glam metal band that basically defined the genre in their home country. This is their first appearance in America since a triumphant Madison Square Garden show in 2014; come for the speedy licks and theatrical costumes, and stay for the befuddled joy on the faces of people in the crowd who mostly showed up to see Post Malone.


The Weeknd

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

As far as this year’s headliners go, it’s Beyoncé and everyone else. That includes The Weeknd, whose semi-regular festival schedule and listless most recent record (2016’s Starboy) render his the least essential marquee slot. This could all change if a surprise record drops between now and April (or he somehow gets Daft Punk to show up), but for now, this booking’s a miss.


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Though he had some well-received UK festival appearances in 2017, Eminem enters 2018 with the LP-shaped albatross of the dreadful Revival dragging down any potential excitement for this set. Plus, in a year focused on finally booking and celebrating women in music, closing out the festival with the guy who wrote “Kill You” feels a little tone deaf.


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Photo by Andy Moran

Man. Remember 2012? Barack Obama was still the President, the Mayan apocalypse was all the rage, and “Tessellate” made alt-J feel like the next truly massive British rock band. Now it’s 2018, and we’ve got Donald Trump, the ever-looming threat of actual nuclear war, and … still alt-J, just worse. I hate the future.

Portugal. the Man

photo by Philip Cosores

Photo by Philip Cosores

Look. I’m as happy as anyone that the alt-rock lifers from Sarah Palin’s backyard finally achieved breakout radio success with last year’s “Feel It Still”, but I’m also just as happy to admit that it feels like they’ve been lurking on the bill of every festival I’ve been to since 2008, and I just can’t get amped for that anymore.

A Perfect Circle

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Finish the Tool record, Maynard, and then you can hang with your friends.


My Bloody Valentine

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It’s been 10 years since rumors of an imminent appearance at Coachella 2008 kicked off one of the most surprising (and successful) reunions in indie rock history. With a new album on the way, it would’ve been a solid callback to finally see Kevin Shields and company take the stage in Indio.

Vampire Weekend

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The long-gestating follow-up to 2013’s Modern Vampires in the City may finally emerge this year, so what better way to reintroduce your band (and resurrect a little guitar rock) than a headlining set at Coachella? We’ll probably find out the answer to that soon, just not in time for the festival.

Foo Fighters

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Somehow, the Foo Fighters have never headlined Coachella, which seems like more of a statistical anomaly than an actual oversight. This year would’ve been a decent year for that to change; 2017’s Concrete and Gold occasionally sparked with brilliance, and Dave Grohl’s toothy grin beats Eminem’s sulk any day of the week (especially Sunday).

Justin Timberlake

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We’ve marked Coachella’s gradual-but-decisive embrace of true pop for years now, and would’ve been pretty thrilled if they’d snagged the genre’s President to go with Queen Bey. For now, the Super Bowl halftime show (and a new record tantalizingly compared to the latest Bon Iver album) will have to suffice.

Frank Ocean

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Just read what we wrote last year twice. It’s all still true.



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Photo by Amy Price

He headlined the festival himself in 2010 and released one of 2017’s best records in 4:44, but this time around Jay-Z’s most important Coachella collaboration might come as a designated hitter on Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” or “Upgrade U” (though we’d also accept a surprise run-in for “Renegade” with Eminem the following night).

Earl Sweatshirt

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

First, a couple of caveats: Earl Sweatshirt has been laying pretty low since touring with 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, and his on-again/off-again feuds with former Odd Future stablemate Tyler, the Creator are well-known. But with Earl’s new album on the way and Tyler in his biggest Coachella slot yet, a quick run-in for “Orange Juice” or something feels like a distinct possibility.

Brian Eno

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It’s been 10 years since Brian Eno and David Byrne rekindled their collaboration for 2008’s quietly brilliant Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, so it’d be cool to see them take the stage together for “Strange Overtones”. I would also settle for the more likely scenario of Byrne and St. Vincent reviving their brass band and taking down a track from 2012’s Love This Giant.

Nicki Minaj

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Migos and Cardi B are already going to be on the grounds anyway, so we’re going to be pretty bummed if somebody doesn’t bring Nicki Minaj out for her middle finger of a verse from “MotorSport”. Besides, in a year when the festival is finally giving bad-ass women their due, it wouldn’t be right to leave Nicki out of the fun.

Daft Punk

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Come on. I know it won’t happen, and you know it won’t happen … but what if it happened?


Led by Beyoncé, the women of Coachella form the festival’s highest highs this year. With featured sets ranging from established talents like St. Vincent and HAIM to meteoric sensations like Cardi B and SZA to small-font stars such as Japanese Breakfast, Cherry Glazerr, and Alvvays, the schedule is finally starting to reflect the broad cross-section of talent that’s been waiting for its due. However, the lack of any true surprises (and the continued presence of overbooked festival fillers that’s starting to ding even the biggest fests) keeps this year’s Coachella from perfection on paper, at least. Talk to us again in April, and we’ll see if we’re wrong.

Grade: B-


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Top 10 Music Festivals: Fall 2017 Power Rankings

It’s September, summer’s gone, and we now know the lineups to most of 2017’s music festivals. If we’re being honest, though, we’re drawing a fuzzy blank as we try to recall the highlights of this year. For starters, it wasn’t a particularly strong outing for reunions, save for Jawbreaker, and even worse, it wasn’t a particularly riveting year for headliners, either, outside of graduation stories for the likes of Lorde or Cage the Elephant.

But it’s more than that. For awhile, we’ve noted how the biggest festivals with the longest histories have lost parts of their identity, namely due to so many of them being owned by the same companies. Because of this, boutique and destination festivals have started to feel more and more appealing, offering slices of culture that extend beyond music.

Look, if it sounds like we’re coming down on music festivals, we’re not. Even outside of the top 10 below, we’ve found many events this year that are doing something special within the festival landscape, from the relaxed, mature vibes of San Francisco’s Outside Lands to the punk rock nostalgia of Chicago’s Riot Fest to the 90’s-inspired mass appeal of San Diego’s KAABOO.

Gripes aside, there are still many special events happening in the United States and around the world, only the field is more crowded than ever, as we’ve been saying for years. Sometimes, though, you have to make your way through the weeds to find the flowers, and let’s just say, we channeled our inner Ralph Fiennes for this one.

–Philip Cosores
Executive Editor


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20 Must-See Artists at EMERGE Music and Impact Conference 2017

Photo by​ Philip Cosores

From November 16th to 18th, the EMERGE Music and Impact Conference in Las Vegas is set to turn festival culture on its head. More than just an amalgamation of headliners and buzz bands, the conference is taking the idea of “emergence” to heart.

That theme extends to every corner of the conference, which eschews traditional concert sets and panel discussions for curated showcases that pair short, thought-provoking talks from renowned thought leaders with performances from musical artists on the cusp of domination. These minds are colliding not just for the purposes of entertainment, but also to bring modern issues of social impact into the spotlight.

In a recent interview, EMERGE founder Rehan Choudhry told us, “Right now we’re in an interesting time politically, and we believe that the next generation of relevant music is going to come from unknowns. It’s not going to be another album from another headliner; it’s going to be from new voices, largely in response to what’s happening around them.”

The new voices on EMERGE’s lineup encompass myriad genres and musical styles. Some have a dozen albums under their belt, others don’t have any. What’s brought them together is a careful curation process led by EMERGE in collaboration with Spotify and a crew of tastemakers that included Imagine Dragons, Gerard Way, Kaskade, Matt Pinfield, and Rob Carvallo.

As a means of introduction, we’ve compiled a list of 20 of the most exciting musical acts EMERGE has to offer. Whether they kickstart “the next generation of relevant music” is yet to be seen, but they sure sound damn good.


Beach Slang

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Photo by​ Ben Kaye

Who Are They? A band of Philly punks who toiled away in relative obscurity for years in little known acts like Weston, Cordova Academy Glee Club, and Crybaby before striking gold with a string of critically acclaimed EPs. Now, with two LPs under their belt, Beach Slang has perfected their sound: a sloppy, sincere brand of guitar-forward rock that was clearly made by dudes who grew up worshipping Paul Westerberg, Alex Chilton, and Johnny Rzeznik. Their sophomore album, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, arrived last year.

Essential Track: “Punks In a Disco Bar”, “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas”, “All Fuzzed Out”


Sir the Baptist

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Photo by​ David Brendan Hall

Who Is He? A Chicago-born rapper effortlessly blending elements of soul, R&B, and social activism into his energetic compositions. As his name suggests, however, it’s gospel that informs much of Sir the Baptist’s sound—”It has a church theme,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 2015, “because I’m a church boy.” He’s not kidding. Born William James Stokes, Sir is the son of an influential Chicago pastor. His religious upbringing also reflects the positivity inherent to his music. “I knew that if I came out that I had to say something that was really important and really try to save us from our own demise,” he said in a recent interview, a claim that’s backed up by his performance at last year’s Lollapalooza, where he performed a portion of his set from a coffin to raise awareness for Chicago’s epidemic of gun violence. His debut album, Saint or Sinner, dropped this year via Atlantic Records.

Essential Tracks: “Raise Hell”, “Southern Belle”, “What We Got”



rainsford 20 Must See Artists at EMERGE Music and Impact Conference 2017

Who Is She? Rainsford (née Rainey Qualley) makes sultry pop with shades of R&B, and counts the likes of Etta James, Marvin Gaye, and The Temptations among her inspirations. Though she also works extensively as a model and occasionally pops up in TV (she’s been on Mad Men!), Qualley prioritizes music among her numerous pursuits, and that sick falsetto she hits on “S.I.D.” makes us glad she did. As of now, she boasts a trio of strong singles, each of which underscores her silken vocals with soft, colorful beats. Rainsford’s debut EP is on the way, and, according to a recent interview, her mother, actress Andie MacDowell, thinks it’s a hit.

Essential Tracks: “Too Close”, “S.I.D.”, “Sweet Spot”


The Lique

lique 20 Must See Artists at EMERGE Music and Impact Conference 2017

Who Are They? That The Lique is from Las Vegas is the least surprising thing about this band, which weaves lounge instrumentation—jazz piano, upbeat horns, chill guitars—with the bright, emphatic rhymes of Amani, a seasoned rapper with nine solo albums under his belt. United, these diverse sounds coalesce into something as glitzy and romantic as anything you’d see on sparkling on the Strip. Still, there’s plenty to chew on here; when the band’s not indulging in its infectious irreverence, Amani’s spitting lyrics about oligarchies and lobbyists with a snarl. They also have a song about Batman, which rules.

Essential Tracks: “Batman”, “I Am”, “Democrashy Manifesht”


K. Flay

kflay 7262 20 Must See Artists at EMERGE Music and Impact Conference 2017

Photo by​ Autumn Andell

Who Is She? K. Flay began rapping in college, tinkering with beats on her computer before releasing a mixtape, Suburban Rap Queen, in 2005. Since then, she’s dropped three more mixtapes and two studio LPs, not to mention had her music featured in video games (FIFA 16), movie trailers (xXx: Return of Xander Cage), and playlists made by one of the most famous people on Earth (Taylor Swift). Her latest album, this year’s Every Where Is Some Where, highlights K. Flay’s genre-defying blend of hip-hop, freak folk, and industrial. She’s also pretty hilarious on Twitter.

Essential Tracks: “High Enough”, “Champagne”, “Make Me Fade”


Gold Star

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Who Are They? Gold Star makes the kind of appealing country-folk that’d play as well in a smoky dive as it would a sprawling arena. Backed by shimmering guitars, harmonica, and pedal steel, frontman Marlon Rabenreither’s voice aches with so much longing that it apparently brought tears to the eyes of Lucinda Williams, who invited Gold Star on tour with her. Rabenreither told Vice he recorded the band’s sophomore album, Big Blue, in a 100-year old Hollywood Craftsman; as such, it maintains an intimacy that pervades through the crisp, clean production.

Essential Tracks: “Sonny’s Blues”, “Blue Sky to Blue Sky”, “The Line”


The Palms

 20 Must See Artists at EMERGE Music and Impact Conference 2017

Who Are They? The Palms, not to be confused with Chino Moreno’s Palms, make the kind of music they feel is “the perfect soundtrack to a summer night in Los Angeles.” Johnny Zambetti and Ben Rothbard’s “hip/pop” duo achieved two viral successes—“Push Off” and “Future Love (We All Make Mistakes)”—without the help of a single label, publicist, or budget. A profile in Interview Magazine describes their sound as being “as catchy as pop, yet melded with poignant elements of blues, hip-hop, rock, and reggae.” That’s tough to imagine, but it fits—their music is certainly catchy, but also consistently surprising, with Ben Rothbard’s fluid vocals routinely adapting to the music’s chameleonic blend of lounge-like piano solos, slippery beats, and beach guitars.

Essential Tracks: “Push Off”, “Don’t Waste My Time”, “Future Love (We All Make Mistakes)”


Madame Gandhi

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Who Is She? Madame Gandhi used to drum for M.I.A., though her patient, subdued electronica stands out from that of the British firebrand. That said, it’s just as confrontational in its social message; a song like “The Future is Female” laments “toxic masculinity” and asserts that “the biggest threat is a girl with a book.” Madame Gandhi’s melodies are just as intoxicating as her message, with songs like “Moon in the Sky” and “Gandhi Blues” trading in moods as melancholic as they are romantic.

Essential Tracks: “Yellow Sea”, “Moon in the Sky”, “The Future is Female”


Residual Kid

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Who Are They? Residual Kid was founded when its members were literally pre-teens, which is kind of hilarious considering their sound is thoroughly indebted to the scuzz of ‘90s grunge. As it’s evolved over the course of three EPs, the Austin band’s knack for incorporating pop-infused hooks into their heavy sound evoke acts like Wavves, Cloud Nothings, and together PANGEA. In 2014, the band found itself an ally in Warner Bros. executive Seymour Stein, who helped launch the careers of The Ramones, Madonna, and the Talking Heads, so there’s that. Their latest release, The Volcom Sessions, dropped last year.

Essential Tracks: “Light Speed”, “Scentless Princess”, “Friend”


Yoke Lore

 20 Must See Artists at EMERGE Music and Impact Conference 2017

Who Is He? Yoke Lore is Adrian Galvin, a former member of Walk the Moon who’s spent the last few years building a catalog of catchy, curious folk-tronica that pulses with good vibes. Just last month, he released his latest EP, Goodpain, which he described in a recent interview as exploring “pain in the perspective of time; not as a state or place, but as a tunnel.” Despite the artist’s penchant for layered vocals, anthemic choruses, and drum machines, all of his songs were initially written on banjo, imbuing them with a pronounced sense of intimacy. They’d sound just as good unplugged as they would plugged in.

Essential Tracks: “Beige”, “World Wings”, “Goodpain”



starcrawler 20 Must See Artists at EMERGE Music and Impact Conference 2017

Who Are They? Ozzy Osbourne and Iggy Pop are the core influences of Starcrawler, a band of young, black-clad, cross-wearing rockers fronted by a badass teenager named Arrow de Wilde. Though they’ve only got a few songs floating around the Internet (one, “Ants”, was featured on Elton John’s Beats1 radio show), the band’s lined up Ryan Adams to produce their debut album, which is currently in the works. Their live show is also something to behold: de Wilde’s onstage antics involve blood, rhinestones, and some sick-ass dance moves. Rock ain’t dead, bro.

Essential Tracks: “Ants”, “Used to Know”


Lauren Ruth Ward

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Who Is She? Lauren Ruth Ward is a musician/hair stylist (“As long as I have hands, I’ll do hair,” she told LA Weekly) with a sound that marries the swagger of ‘70s rock with the sensitivity of modern folk. Her raspy, throaty vocals are the real showcase here, however, with LA Weekly describing them as falling “somewhere between Janis Joplin and Courtney Barnett,” which is accurate. While some songs, like standout single “Did I Offend You”, amble by gracefully, others, like the loud, aggressive “Blue Collar Sex Kitten”, kick down the door and smash all your lamps. A full-length album, Well, Hell, is due in September. It’s gonna kick ass.

Essential Tracks: “Did I Offend You”, “Blue Collar Sex Kitten”, “I Feel Cool”



machinedrum 20 Must See Artists at EMERGE Music and Impact Conference 2017

Who Is He? Machinedrum may just be breaking, but the man behind the boards of this eclectic electronica outfit, Travis Stewart, has released dozens of records under a variety of aliases that include Syndrone, Sepalcure, and Jets. Machinedrum remains his true passion, however, and over the years the project’s signatures—syncopated beats, elegant arpeggios, manipulated vocals—have evolved into something suitable for dancing or deep contemplation. His latest album under the moniker, Human Energy, arrived last year.

Essential Tracks: “Do It 4 U”, “Center Your Love”, “Celestial Levels”


Mercy Music

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Who Are They? Fronted by Las Vegas rock n’ roller Brendan Scholz, Mercy Music makes ‘90s-influenced alt-rock interwoven punctuated by radio-ready choruses and the earnest tone of modern pop punk. Their latest album, 2015’s When I Die I’m Taking You With Me, is relentless in its hooks, the likes of which he crafted in between nights and afternoons playing cover songs on the Las Vegas Strip. Scholz told the Las Vegas Weekly that he’s “a lifer,” and you can hear that devotion in every fiery note.

Essential Tracks: “Undone”, “Fine”, “Repeat”


Mondo Cozmo

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Photo by​ David Brendan Hall

Who Is He? Mondo Cozmo is Joshua Keith Ostrander—his stage moniker is influenced in equal parts by his dog and an early John Waters movie—an American songwriter who writes songs as grandiose as they are emotionally resonant. Their spacious, choral qualities were likely inspired by his religious upbringing, which rears its head in the traces of gospel you can hear on songs like “Shine”, “Higher”, and “Plastic Soul”. Mondo Cozmo’s sound is undoubtedly modern; though Ostrander’s work has roots in acoustic folk, the wonders he works weaving samples and vocal loops into his songs makes them that much better. His debut album, Plastic Soul, arrives in early August via Island Records.

Essential Tracks: “Plastic Soul”, “Shine”, “Hold On To Me”


Billie Eilish

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Who Is She? Billie Eilish was just 13 when she wrote her first single, “Ocean Eyes”, which she recorded for use in a dance recital. After it went viral, Eilish embraced songwriting head on, with cuts like “Six Feet Under” and “Bellyache” following in its wake. Another new song, “Bored”, was even included on the soundtrack to Netflix’s hit series 13 Reasons Why. Her subdued, romantic sound evokes Lorde’s shadowy pop, and her lyrics reveal a songwriter that’s wise beyond her years. Now, just two years later, she’s on the verge of releasing her debut album on Interscope.

Essential Tracks: “Bellyache”, “watch”, “Ocean Eyes”


L.A. Witch

la witch killian young 4 20 Must See Artists at EMERGE Music and Impact Conference 2017

Photo by​ Killian Young

Who Are They? As one might expect of a band called L.A. Witch, this West Coast trio plays pitch-black pop-rock wrapped in blankets of reverb. There’s a playfulness to these ladies, the same kind of shambling spirit that possesses the likes of Hinds, Bleached, and The Kills, the latter of whom L.A. Witch recently joined on tour. Only a smattering of singles are available online, but a full-length LP is set to arrive before the year’s end.

Essential Tracks: “Untitled”, “Get Lost”, “Drive Your Car”


Luna Aura

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Who Is She? Luna Aura is, in her own words, “a cosmic pop princess.” Across two EPs and numerous tours with the likes of Steve Aoki, Aloe Blacc, K. Flay, and The Ting Tings, she’s forged a style of electro-pop that’s gently nudging its way into the future as it nods to its contemporaries in Halsey, Katy Perry, and Lorde. Carrying her through it all are versatile vocals that never fail to soar above each song’s wash of kaleidoscopic synths.

Essential Tracks: “Madhouse”, “Radio”, “Like You”


Ofelia K.

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Who Is She? Ofelia K.’s music is an oddity on the pop scene, as it seems to embody a place in between electronica and chamber music. Layered within a song’s synth washes you’ll hear what sounds like violin plucks, flute trills, and ukulele. All of it serves to add a tactile texture to Ofelia K.’s music that’s otherwise lacking in many of her contemporaries. It helps that her voice is equally compelling, a hushed, yet robust, coo that’s suffused with genuine feeling.

Essential Tracks: “Killing Me”, “White T-Shirt”, “I Love My Lawyer”


Malcolm London

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Who Is He? You might not know Malcolm London, but the artists you love do. His debut album, 2016’s Opia, featured collaborations with Jamila Woods, Donnie Trumpet, How to Dress Well, and Vic Mensa, amongst many others. His upbeat, socially aware hip-hop reflects his off-stage activities, where he’s made waves as an activist and slam poet in his hometown of Chicago and elsewhere. Chance the Rapper has helped shine a brighter light on the Windy City’s hip-hop scene, and Malcolm London is yet another example of the city’s surplus of talent.

Essential Tracks: “House Party”, “Opia”, “Northstar”

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