Best Local Music Label 2015 | President Gator Records | Nightlife | Phoenix

Spearheaded by local promotor Jeremiah Gratza, President Gator Records releases limited-run vinyl titles representing some of Phoenix's brightest. Adhering to no genre specifications, Gratza has released hip-hop from Mega Ran, video game prog from the Minibosses, lo-fi gospel by the Through and Through Gospel Review, Gypsy jazz rock by the Dry River Yacht Club, minimal synth pop from Vial of Sound, and crushing metal by Take Over and Destroy and Gatecreeper, and lots more, all packaged in beautiful, full-color sleeves and including digital download cards. Releasing the records he wants to hear, Gratza is pulling double duty by documenting the ever-growing sounds of the Phoenix music community. 

Led by the dynamic Tommy Ash (that's Miss Tommy Ash to you), the Tommy Ash Band leans just as hard on its Sonoran roots as the twangy sounds of Bakersfield and classic Nashville country. Ash's vocals echo the slapback rockabilly of singers like Wanda Jackson and the rootsy grit of Patsy Cline, and her band of gunslingers rock as hard as they swing. Hailed as a potential breakout star by outlets like We Hate Pop Country, the Tommy Ash Band's approach is well represented by the group's album, Sinner's Blood, and live performances have turned clubs like Last Exit Live and Crescent Ballroom into genuine honky-tonks for an evening.

A night with Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta is a trip back in time to a dusky mambo club, where a sharply dressed horn section blasts backing melodies to a guitarra-wielding frontman. He's Tucson's Tito Puente, if the iconic percussionist played guitar. La Orkesta brings two singers, a pedal steel guitar, a bassist, a drummer, multiple trumpets, and even more instrumentation depending on the night, creating a powerful wall of sound. Few bands in Arizona guarantee as fun a dance party as Sergio's orchestra. Playing a combination of traditional mambo covers and blistering, fun-as-hell originals, the Tuscon band truly is something special. Luckily for us, La Orkesta is a common presence in Phoenix, making the trek north at least once a season. Hell, they play so frequently in Phoenix they might as well live here. We wouldn't complain.

As far as local rappers go, no one has dominated the scene recently more than Futuristic. The Tempe rapper (who now lives in Los Angeles but still reps the Copper State) has recently exploded. The rest of the world is slowly catching on to what Valley residents have known for years: The 24-year-old McClintock High School grad is the real deal. When most locals get 10,000 views on a YouTube video, it's considered a success. Futuristic's most popular song received more than 15 million listens in just a few months. The rapper combines sharp wordplay with blazing speed and lyrical dexterity, and his on-stage and on-camera charisma is magnetic and undeniable. He's not just Phoenix's best rapper; he's Arizona's greatest shot at this moment for producing a hip-hop superstar.

Jay Valdez has had a hell of a year. The Phoenix DJ is now in his 40s, and he has been spinning and scratching around town for decades. But he's no hobbyist. Under the name of DJ Akshen, Valdez is a professional turntablist, and he's got the accolades to prove it. In 2015, he won the regional finals for the Red Bull Thre3style competition, essentially earning him the crown of the Southwest's best DJ. The win also propelled him into the national finals (which took place at downtown's Monarch Theatre), but he failed to advance to the global competition, where he could have competed for the title of best DJ in the world. Nevertheless, Akshen is still king of the hill around here, and there's nobody more deserving of the title.

Mija is Spanish for "my daughter," but you can use it as an endearing term for any younger woman you think of sweetly. Having a DJ name like Mija welcomes listeners to explore your music, and over the past year or two, more and more people are answering the call. People outside Arizona really began to take notice of Phoenix-born Mija in 2014, when she and Skrillex performed a surprise set at Bonnaroo. With the crown prince of EDM's blessing, Mija exploded, moving to Los Angeles and steadily moving her way up in the EDM world. She's now getting on major shows and raves around the country, and though she's at the bottom of the bill these days, we have no doubt she'll soon be headlining.

Readers Choice: Elite

In Old Town Scottsdale, clubs come and go so quickly that it's hard to pick a favorite, as there's a good chance it'll be gone in five years. BLUR, for example, is less than a year old, taking the place of Smashboxx, which itself had a shelf life of less than one presidential term. But for now, we'll enjoy BLUR, which has the best atmosphere around. It's got a big old dance floor, carefully lit with colorful lights, VIP tables galore, and a patio filled with comfortable couches for when you need a break from the tasteful EDM playing inside.

Scottsdale's Livewire is a spectacular place. As Tempe lost numerous music venues and bars in 2014, Scottsdale gained Livewire. The club is in the heart of Old Town, where live entertainment usually means a top-shelf DJ or a cover band. But Livewire is different. The 11,000-square-foot club boasts a top-notch stage and brings in high-quality touring bands, a rarity for Scottsdale's entertainment district. Everything about the club screams class that doesn't take itself too seriously. There are pictures of famous musicians on the walls, sure, but the frames are digital, meaning that they change and occasionally display video throughout the night. The bars (there are multiple, as the venue is two stories) are sleek and beautiful. And then there's the crowning jewel of the venue: A giant wooden eagle, with a wingspan that must be 25 feet long, towers above the stage, wings spread valiantly to each side. Instead of feathers, there are guitars and speakers. Could a piece of art be more rock 'n' roll?

Benjamin Leatherman

You could shorthand Valley Bar as Crescent Ballroom's little sister, and though you'd mostly be correct, it doesn't quite capture the vibe of Charlie Levy's new subterranean venue. Getting in has a wonderfully speakeasy aura: down an alley and then down a flight of stairs, where the club is divided into the music hall, where bands like Tanlines and Screaming Females play and local DJs provide themed nights, and the Rose Room, a lounge named for Arizona's first female governor, Rose Mofford, with games, beautiful pool tables, and a selection of cocktails named for Arizona's political elite (don't worry, the McCain is much smoother than its namesake). One of our favorite activities? New Times' monthly Bar Flies, in which Phoenicians share hilarious and touching anecdotes (we admit — we're biased). With food from Short Leash Hot Dogs, Valley Bar is another winner, and much like its big sister down the road, it's quickly become a go-to hangout for locals of all stripes. 

Readers Choice: Valley Bar

It is 100 percent accurate to call promoter Steve Chilton's Rebel Lounge a new music venue. The space opened in 2015, after all, and before Chilton bought the place, it had been two different gay bars for more than a decade. But we're calling this a "reboot venue" because of the history of the building where the Rebel Lounge resides. From 1979 to 2004, the building housed the Mason Jar. Any old-school music fan's ears will perk up at the mention of the storied venue, where bands like Tool, Nirvana, and others reportedly played shows early in their respective careers. But the Rebel Lounge is more than its history. With a brand-new sound system, stage, lights, and bar, the venue is primed to start its own chapter in Phoenix music history.

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