Mark Edgar Stuart
Memphis has been a hotbed for talented musicians of all kinds since rock-and-roll was first introduced to the world. We’ve got a little bit of everything here, from legendary garage rock bands to hip-hop moguls who currently have the rap game in a chokehold. We’ve also got some of the best venues in the country bringing in world-class talent to rooms large and small, a plethora of analog and digital recording studios that are sought out by some of the biggest names in the business, and a supportive base of music fans who oftentimes care more about local bands than the touring acts they are opening for. On top of that, we’ve got a record-pressing plant, tons of labels that put local artists first, and a summer series at the Levitt Shell that offers some of the best free concerts on the planet. Now that you know what we’re working with, let’s take a look at more than 20 bands to know in the local music scene.
On the Rise
Local songwriter Julien Baker has had the most productive year out of any new Memphis musician, landing spots on festivals like Hopscotch, Coachella, and Austin City Limits. In addition to playing Beale Street Music Festival, she’s been interviewed by everyone from The New Yorker to Pitchfork, and made friends with her idol Sharon Van Etten. Not bad for a songwriter who was relatively unknown until her breakout 2015 album Sprained Ankle took the world by storm.
The Band Camino is another young group of musicians who have been making waves outside of Memphis on the strength of their debut EP My Thoughts on You. The band has only played a handful of shows, but with the help of Spotify, their music has reached the masses and landed them shows at Beale Street Music Festival and the Bank Plus
Amphitheater. Expect big things from this band next year. Nots has been kicking up dust in the local punk scene for years, but 2016 has been their most productive year yet, having conquered Europe for the second time and already generating buzz for their second album Cosmetic, which drops at the end of the summer.
Punk, Metal, and More
Manateees is the Memphis punk band that just won't die. The band has undergone numerous lineup changes with Abe White still at the helm, and their latest incarnation includes bassist Tommy Trouble, a member of the excellent (but now defunct) band Final Solutions. Manateees is currently on a long tour that sees them dipping all the way into Florida before returning home. Aquarian Blood is another punk band that can be found playing the local dive-bar circuit on any given weekend, but their debut album dropping on Goner allows the first chance to take the band home with you.
Local weirdo rockers Rickie & Aimee are more of a movement than a band. The husband and wife duo publish a monthly zine, host shows at unconventional spaces, and often feature a large band on stage, including a full choir. The band doesn’t have an album out yet, but if goofy garage rock is your thing, Rickie & Aimee should definitely be on your radar.
Evil Army is a band that needs no introduction, as they’ve been playing memorable live shows and dropping new records for quite some time. Their latest album, Violence and War, holds up to any of the other material they’ve released, meaning it’s some of the best metal to ever come out of Memphis. Youngsters Dawn Patrol have also been carrying the Memphis metal torch, and the band is currently on a West Coast tour in support of their Police State EP. Dawn Patrol may be young (drummer Kyle Gonzales is still in high school), but the band has a loyal fan base in the Bluff City and abroad.
Rockin’ on the River
Southern Avenue has been on a tear lately, playing regional dates in addition to the morning news and just about every local club. Their brand of Memphis soul music is led by Memphis transplant Ori Naftaly, and sisters Tierinii Jackson and Tikyra Jackson have the ability to take command of any stage, no matter the size. Marcella Simien can frequently be found rockin’ the house at places like Bar DKDC and Lafayette's Music Room, but the singer’s recent residency at Zebra Lounge has been one of the highlights for the Overton Square piano bar. No matter where Marcella decides to sing, rest assured we are eager to listen.
When he’s not planning epic tribute shows for fallen rock legends like Prince and David Bowie, Graham Winchester and his band, The Ammunition, can be found playing any place that will have them. Winchester also frequently sits in for Devil Train, and his weekly performance schedule could make even the most seasoned professional musician blush. Folk singer Mark Edgar Stuart just released another excellent single called “Don’t Blame Jesus,” and Stuart can be found playing shows in Memphis at least once a month.
Yo Gotti is currently Memphis’ hottest musician, but since he’s been a major-label artist for years, there’s no reason to include him in the “On the Rise” section of this local music guide. Gotti’s latest album, The Art of Hustle, reached number one on the Billboard hip-hop chart, and his latest music videos have included cameos from some of the biggest names in the genre. His yearly parties at Mud Island Amphitheater are also becoming the best local rap concerts in town, with Rick Ross and Trey Songz both performing earlier this summer. Rap legend and former member of the original lineup of Three 6 Mafia, Kingpin Skinny Pimp is one of the best-kept secrets of the ’90s gangster rap movement. The rapper now spends his time between Houston and Memphis, but he’s starting to play shows again and recently held a birthday party at the Hard Rock Café, in addition to a memorable show at Bar DKDC.
Cities Aviv is another rapper Memphis music fans should be familiar with, as he keeps re-inventing his brand of witty, politically charged hip-hop. His latest track, “Melanin Drop,” received “Best New Track” on Pitchfork, and the MC has concerts planned throughout the summer. Tori Who Dat has been bringing her message of LGBT equality to the Memphis rap scene, and tastemakers outside of the city have been paying attention, as she was recently invited to perform at the Capital Pride festival stage during the Celebration of Pride in Washington, D.C.
In the Garage
Speaking of Graham Winchester, his other band, The Sheiks, has been absolutely killing it as the backing band for Jack Oblivian. Jack Oblivian & The Sheiks recently released what very well could be the best local album of 2016 with Lone Ranger of Love, and to celebrate, the band took Europe by storm on a five-week tour.
Time, the project of singer/songwriter Chris Owen, recently released their second CD, but the album is elusive and only available when Owen feels like bringing copies of it to his shows. Even if it’s tough to take Time home with you, their live shows are not be missed, as Owen has one of the most powerful voices in the scene.
Speaking of powerful voices, Chickasaw Mound singer Jesse Davis has pipes like a church organ, and his band has been getting some much-needed attention, having recently played live on the local news, in addition to performing a killer show at Wiseacre Brewery. The debut single from Chickasaw Mound should be out soon.
Longtime Memphis heavyweights the Oblivians just won’t quit. After 20 years, the band is still going strong, and if their recent show at Newby's was any indication, the old guys have still got it. They hit Europe this summer, but no word of a new record has been spoken.
Another new-ish band that deserves recognition is China Gate, a band that formed from the ashes of indie-rock group Berkano. China Gate has been on just about every indie rock show that’s rolled through the Hi-Tone, and a debut record should be coming soon. Dirty Streets has long been a household name for classic rock fans across the city, but these days the band seems to play out of town more than in. They recently conquered Europe, and they’ve got a tour coming up soon that sees them playing Psycho Fest in Las Vegas.