In 1977, punk rock wasn't necessarily exploding in Phoenix, but it was happening. There were the Consumers, the Liars, and the Exterminators at the forefront of the local movement which was in its infancy in the desert, like the first bulb on a saguaro cactus getting ready to bloom. At the helm of the mighty Exterminators were the Clark brothers — Dan on vocals and Doug on guitar — who would later help bring bands like the Feederz, the Brainz, Mighty Sphincter, and Victory Acres to life; one Don Bolles (aka Jimmy Giorsetti) on drums who would go on to play in the Germs, 45 Grave, and Fancy Space People; and bass player Rob Graves (Ritter), who also played in 45 Grave, Gun Club, and the Bags. The band would only survive until 1978, when many of the early Phoenix punks made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles, but early in 2016, Slope Records brought the Clarks and Bolles back together, with Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets taking over on bass for the deceased Graves. The result has been extraordinary as the band released a seven-inch and a full-length LP on Slope in September. Viva weirdo Phoenix punk rock. There's nothing better.

Rock 'n' roll is best at its most dangerous, and L. Hotshot of Phoenix garage rockers Scorpion vs. Tarantula is undoubtedly the most dangerous vocalist around. Screaming over the band's turbo-charged riffs — which owe as much to classic rock as they do the punk underground — Hotshot is as physically imposing as she is sonically, her face painted, her hair wild, and her towering stature clad entirely in leather. On SVT's latest, a six-song, vinyl-only self-titled EP, she dominates songs like "Molly O" and "You're All Talk," and makes songs like "Showstopper" sound like an entirely appropriate theme song for her stage-commanding vibe. 

Wyves was a breath of fresh air in the music scene when they started gigging in 2015, and the group released its debut album, Spoils of War, in 2016. In addition to cementing guitarist Nick Sterling as one of the top shredders in Phoenix, the album really showed that the proper place for Corey Gloden is in front of a microphone. Gloden's voice sounds older and more soulful than you'd imagine. There's definitely some classic rock influence in Gloden's vocals, and he possesses chops powerful enough to make a room stand still when he desires. There's grit and pain in his voice as well, making his vocal cords some of the most interesting in Phoenix. 

Nerd rap may be a subset within the larger subset of indie rap, but Raheem "Mega Ran" Jarbo's lyrical chops are stellar without any extra qualifiers. He's not good for a nerd rapper — he's simply a good rapper. That said, he brings the geek cred, too. Working with a modified 8-bit gaming system, his beats bloop like classic Nintendo soundtracks, and his deft, positive lyricism is peppered with references to classic games, pro wrestling, and cartoons. He's been embraced by outlets like the Nerdist, who've proclaimed his "ferocious flow," but you don't have to be a gamer to dig what he does — it helps, but it's not required — because Jarbo creates a world within his records that's open to all. 

Allow us to modify Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's comments about pornography from 1964 to fit the definition of "real country": We're not sure exactly what it is, but we know it when we hear it. And that's the vibe you get watching Phoenix country band Junction 10 play at local bars like the Yucca Tap Room. Inspired chiefly by the late Merle Haggard, Junction 10 plays Bakersfield-style country (to quote Dwight Yoakam's quoting of Waylon Jennings, Phoenix is just "Bakersfield East," anyhow): twangy, hard-edged, and soulful. Vocalist/guitarist Robert Perez, a big man with a big voice and a big heart, leads the band with ambling charm, and his band always matches him with worn intensity.

Guitarist Tommy Connell doesn't need much to make his Sunday night performances on the Cibo pizzeria patio special — just his small amp, his tasteful effects pedal, and his big Gretsch guitar, which he utilizes to weave a stream of classic jazz, quiet lounge melodies, and rustic Americana. Known for his work with pedal steel player Jon Rauhouse (who plays for Neko Case, Billy Bob Thornton, and more), Connell knows how to find the sweet spot between Western swing — hillbilly jazz! — and evocative, twangy atmosphere, adding a lilting, understated ambience to Cibo's already cozy evening vibe.

Established in 2013, Phoenix-based label Moone Records has quickly solidified itself as the premier representation of Phoenix's indie pop underground. Cassette, vinyl, CD, and digital releases by country-rock super group Little Bobby Jr. and the Horsey House Band & Friends (featuring members of ROAR and Cherie Cherie)  and indie R&B-inspired outfit Pro Teens demonstrate the label's design aesthetic — clean, minimalist packaging — and speak to the genre-bending approach which seems to guide each entry in its catalog. The label wears its Phoenix pride on its sleeve, hosting shows around town and shining a light on little-seen corners of the art scene here, as well as committing to community-based activism (see the trenchant HB 2440 commentary offered on the label's Facebook page). 

Mill Avenue jangle pop wasn't the only guitar music coming out of the Phoenix metro area in the 1990s. Bubbling in the Tempe underground was the "Beautiful Noise" scene, encompassing bands like Halfstring and Alison's Halo which were more akin to guitar-pedal-obsessed British psychedelic groups like the Jesus and Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, the Boo Radleys, and Spacemen 3, all of whom are featured, alongside Alison's Halo, on Still in a Dream: Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995. In recent years, bands like Deerhunter and M83 have adopted shoegaze styles and become huge smashes, so it's exciting to see one of Tempe's finest represented alongside genre titans, a concrete representation of the desert's contribution to the woozy, distortion-drenched genre. 

Music festivals are all about lineup and vibe, and McDowell Mountain Music Festival checks both those boxes and then some. The nonprofit event brings major headliners to downtown Phoenix (for example, Avett Brothers, Beck, and Widespread Panic), all while being an exemplary model of how music festivals should treat their guests. Beer and cocktails are high quality and reasonably priced. Ticket packages go on sale early. There are no intrusive security pat-downs, no obscenely priced bottles of water. McDowell Mountain Music Festival is everything a great festival should be, providing the best fan experience in Phoenix and, above all, great music.

Best Nontraditional Music Festival

Viva PHX

Have you been to a music festival recently? Stifling crowds, terrible sight lines, muffled outdoor sound? Unless you're willing to get there early and forgo bathroom breaks and proper hydration, it's almost impossible to get a good view. Once you pass into your third decade of existence, the prospect becomes mighty unappetizing.

Enter Viva PHX, Stateside Presents' nontraditional take on a music festival. (Full disclosure: New Times is a sponsor.) Modeled around South by Southwest, the 2016 version brought more than 70 bands to 17 venues downtown. The sheer number and density of the music festival participants is impressive in itself, but what's more notable is the transformative effect the festival has on downtown. Streets that are normally quiet on a Saturday night overflow with people making their way from venue to venue. For one night, downtown Phoenix turns into a pedestrian-friendly musical mecca, and the energy is contagious and undeniable.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of