We’ve learned a few important lessons about Phoenix’s music scene in 2016 – and it's only halfway done. A lot has happened locally during the first six months of the year, ranging from old venues saying farewell to new bands making a splash, and we’ve tried to take something from each occurrence.
When the Trunk Space closed its longtime location on Grand Avenue at the end of May, for instance, it underscored the notion that even the most beloved of music venues won’t be around forever. It’s a lesson that was emphasized even further when word broke earlier this year that the property housing the Firehouse Gallery near Roosevelt Row is up for sale.
Then there was the unfortunate situation that unfolded in February when the pompadoured jerkfaces of touring rockabilly band Three Bad Jacks decided to start a minor fire inside The Rebel Lounge back in February. It was part of an ill-conceived stunt that the band pulls off regularly, and resulted in the venue closing for a week after being doused by its sprinkler system. The particular lesson in this case – other than the fact you should never book Three Bad Jacks – in this case is that bands should never have to rely on stupid stunts to succeed.
We’ve got plenty of similar wisdom to impart that's been gleaned from the first half of 2016, including many things that local musicians and bands have taught us. So, in honor of the fact we’re (more or less) halfway through the year, here’s a rundown of everything we’ve learned about the Phoenix music scene so far.
30. The annual Phoenix Rock Lottery is a fantastic and creative showcase of some of the best musicians that the Valley has to offer. And it will never fail to be entertaining.
29. Giving outsider artists, D.I.Y. bands, and "weirdo musicians of color" the attention they deserve, which just happens to be the M.O. of Casa Butthole Record Collective, has helped make the local music scene way more interesting.
28. The Valley is gifted with a slew of phenomenal female-fronted bands right now, including Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, Battered Suitcases, Cherie Cherie, Doll Skin, and the Venomous Pinks.
27. Local bands will always have to remain vigilant against gear theft while out on the road. Just ask the members of Sundressed and the Iris, both of whom had their stuff was stolen during their respective tours earlier this year.
26. The mind of legendary Meat Puppets co-founder Cris Kirkwood is a fascinating thing, as is his podcast.
25. Music can offer anyone redemption or a second chance in life. Anthony Fama of the aptly named local band the Redemptions has used it as a vehicle to right all of the wrongs in his life, for instance. Meanwhile, rapper Vee Tha Rula's burgeoning hip-hop career has allowed him to bounce back from his criminal past.
24. Thanks to the sheer amount of music and artistic talent we’ve got in Phoenix, there will always be a fresh crop of interesting, evocative, and downright entertaining bands making their debuts each year. Guaranteed.
23. A theme band doesn’t always have to be a hokey endeavor that collapses under the weight of its own shtick. Case in point: Couples Fight, which stars Travis James and Alaynha Gabrielle and features a unique concept (intra-relationship squabbles transformed into songs) executed flawlessly with a great deal of style.
22. The Valley scene has helped foster a number of world-class electronic dance music artists and DJs, ranging from the legendary Markus Schulz to up-and-coming superstars like Mija.
21. There are no shortage of venues around Phoenix where you can hear great music without spending a dime.
20. Jackass antics can potentially destroy a music venue. Milquetoast rockabilly act Three Bad Jacks are living proof of said statement, as evidenced by fire they ignited during a February set at The Rebel Lounge. The ill-conceived stunt, which venue staff forbade them from attempting, set off the sprinkler system, caused several thousand dollars in damage, and temporarily closed the joint. Jerks.
19. If you pick up some of the high-quality and affordably priced gear at one of the many pawn shops around town, keep in mind it’s probably covered with the dried tears and broken dreams of the broke-ass musicians who had to sell it.
18. The vocalists of the Phoenix Chorale are some of the most talented performers in the Valley – and they’ve got the Grammy Awards to prove it.
17. Something that once seemed cute and clever, like naming your folk-punk band Andrew Jackson Jihad, might wind up becoming something you regret 12 years later. And, ultimately, something you wind up changing, like when the band rechristened themselves AJJ in February.
16. Phoenix was well-represented in NPR's Tiny Desk Concert Contest by more than a dozen different artists and acts, including the Technicolors, Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold, North Brother Island, and Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra. Even if none of these hometown heroes were selected as the winner, they're aces in our book.
15. Girls Rock! Camp Phoenix is the sort of forward-thinking, confidence-inspiring, and equality-minded project that the local scene — and ultimately the music world as a whole — needs. The one-day event, which takes place a few times each year, is geared towards encouraging and teaching rock music, a primarily male-dominated musical genre, to young girls. Rock on.
14. Local punkgrass act the Haymarket Squares are not only Phoenix's best protest band, they’re also the perfect salve for Arizona’s ultra-conservative and oftentimes maddening political milieu.
13. Local musicians have some rather unique and eclectic pre-show rituals, ranging from starving themselves before a gig to enjoying a "good poop and a cigarette" prior to performing. Whatever works.
12. Viva PHX and McDowell Mountain Music Festival should never be held during the same weekend, something which occurred back in March. We love 'em both equally, as do countless locals, but there's admittedly only so much time and energy and it's difficult giving your attention to both.
11. It’s not only possible to write an entire album in a single month, as local musicians Darrin Robertson and Jim Saccoman did while participating in the annual RPM Challenge earlier this year, but also have it wind up being great.
10. The drummers of Phoenix’s metal scene rank up there with some of the fiercest percussionists in the genre. No joke.
9. Local artists have a habit of crafting music videos worthy of MTV, such as Fairy Bones’ fantastical visual feast for its song "Notes From Wonderland” — if the network still focused on the medium like it did during its heyday, that is.
8. Harrison Fjord earned the honor of being the only local band to open for a major presidential candidate during this year's campaign when they performed at a Bernie Sanders rally in March. They even got a shout-out from the Vermont senator to boot.
7. Phoenix’s bands aren’t necessarily beholden, or ultimately defined, by any specific genre, and that’s not a slight by any means. To wit: Nanami Ozone’s recently released album, Desire, alternates between what we described as “sparse, jangly garage rock” and “dreamy, synthy pop” with a few ventures into “abstract, no-wave territory.”
6. The Tempe Police Department seems to really have it out for live music in the Maple-Ash-Farmer-Wilson neighborhood. After all, they regularly enforce the city's noise ordinances, and have pulled the plug on more than a few memorable house shows, including shutting down most recent "Vanishing Show" back in March.
5. Tempe’s ordinances have also stifled sidewalk performances along Mill Avenue, a street that once was the pride and joy of the city’s once-renowned music scene.
4. Goth Brooks is arguably the best name for a band. And we mean in the history of ever.
3. Phoenix needs venues and spaces that are open to outsider artists and embryonic talents. Much like the Trunk Space has done during its lifespan, such places function as incubators of creativity and help facilitate a low barrier of entry for new bands and musicians trying to develop their art, get their bearings artistically, and gain a foothold in a scene. As such, they play a vital role that can't be matched by other music venues.
2. We should appreciate and embrace the venues we've got while they're still alive and kicking. The Trunk Space closed its doors back in May and there's no guarantee it will ever return. Meanwhile, the Firehouse Gallery, which has hosted many shows during its lifespan, is facing a possibly bleak future due to the gentrification of Roosevelt Row. In short, it's exactly like that famous quote from Joni Mitchell: You don't know what you've got till it's gone.
1. The bands and musicians of Phoenix will always create great music, no matter what year it happens to be.