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.
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
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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)”
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”
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”
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”
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
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”