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The 16 Best Artists in the Phoenix Music Scene

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The 2016 Best of Phoenix issue is on stands now, meaning we're giving you our take on what makes Phoenix such a special place to live. Here's a look at the best of the local music scene.

Best Local BandPlayboy Manbaby
Playboy Manbaby is one of the most popular bands in Phoenix for good reason. The group makes punk rock with a trumpet, but don't call it ska. Frontman Robbie Pfeffer's onstage persona channels rock stars and Pentecostal preachers equally, and not many bands get roomfuls of people as engaged in punk rock call-and-response like PBMB.

Best Latin Rock LegendsLawrence and Mark Zubia
Fixtures in the fabled Tempe scene of the 1990s, the Zubias and their band the Chimeras, or the Pistoleros, could have easily been the most internationally popular of all the local desert rock notables — but fate was not on their side in the early days of their career as it was for peers like the Gin Blossoms or the Refreshments. Regardless of national or international fame, Lawrence and Mark Zubia continue to crank out exceptional rock 'n' roll music, as well as what they describe as "traditional Chicano wedding band" music with their Zubia Brothers combo, which never strays far from the strong musical roots planted by their father, Raul, a longtime Valley mariachi musician.

Best Girl BandBetty Duarte-Matwick’s Mariachi Pasion
They've never topped the charts like the Supremes or the Spice Girls, and they're definitely not going to play Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville — no matter how much you beg after tossing back too many tequila shots. But Mariachi Pasion, a 13-member girl band that mixes strength with femininity, is a local legend. With hot pink sashes, bow ties, and flowers in their hair, these musicians and vocalists are energetic evangelists for traditional mariachi music played with guitar-like stringed instruments, violins, trumpets, and a flute.

Best DJBenjamin Cutswell
Over the last 18 years, DJing has pretty much been the sole purpose in Benjamin Cutswell's life. As a matter of fact, it's akin to an obsession. "My whole life is about DJing, everything I do," he says. "I'm completely consumed." Since getting his hands on some secondhand turntables at age 14, it's been a nonstop grind of constant practicing, finding music, creating mixes, networking, and, of course, performing. And there aren't many joints in the Valley where Cutswell, who spins an open format during his sets, hasn't gigged.

Best TurntablistTricky T
Tommy Laurie enjoys the sort of career that any local DJ would envy. A onetime protege of Z-Trip, the performer known as Tricky T honed his considerable skills during Phoenix's DJ heyday of the late '90s, battling local legends like M2 and Pickster One, melting wax at influential venues like the old Nita's Hideaway, and opening for the Roots and Outkast. He's able to drop hip-hop and party-rock sets with aplomb, he can beat-juggle and trick-mix with the best of 'em, and his remixes and mashups are both innovative and creative.

Best Non-Latino LatinoDanny Torgersen
Danny Torgersen is the quirky frontman of local psychedelic rockers Captain Squeegee, but he has been touring a lot lately with the Phoenix-based reggae/Latin rock outfit Fayuca. He may speak the universal language of music, but his pasty skin and red hair make it impossible to not notice that he is a very white dude, performing with a bunch of brown bros. That hasn't stopped him from mingling at shows across the border and during the band's Spanish-language television spots. He has since rightfully earned the new nickname "El Capitan," and his honorary "Latino Card." 

Best Local Band to Get You MovingPhoenix Afrobeat Orchestra
You know when you hear a song and you can't help but react? The bass syncs up with your hips, and the drums seem to tell your feet exactly when to move. Pretty much every single one of the songs by Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra (charmingly known as PAO by fans) holds this power to make you move. And we mean move. We dare you to sit still while this 15-piece orchestra does its jazzy thing, and singer Camille Sledge demonstrates the actual definition of funk.

Best Genre-Bending BandSunn Trio
There's a woozy, heatstroke feel to Sunn Trio's innovative blend of surf rock, free jazz, mystical drone, and world music. Consistently recording and releasing material via self-distributed cassettes, the Trio's sound mutates in concert, with fantastic flurries of distorted guitars butting up against mantric psychedelic saxophone runs and looping bass.

Best Local Punk Rock ComebackThe Exterminators
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. The Exterminators 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.

Best Female VocalistL. Hotshot of Scorpion vs. Tarantula
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.

Best Male VocalistCorey Gloden of Wyves
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.

Best Bilingual RapperNefftys
Priscilla Rodriguez is a Nogales-born bilingual rapper, currently living in Mesa and performing as independent hip-hop artist Nefftys. She is a deft lyricist who grew up very much on both sides of the Arizona and Mexico borders. Like a lot of Latinos in Arizona, she moves seamlessly between English and Spanish without missing a beat.

Best Mariachi BandMariachi de Grand Ave
Mariachi de Grand Ave only has been around for about a year, but these centrally located folks do it right. Led by David Marquez (of the renowned Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra), the traditional mariachi band regularly performs at ThirdSpace on Grand Avenue (at the junction of Grand and 11th avenues) as well as other venues around the city.

Best RapperMega Ran
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.

Best Country BandJunction 10
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.

Best Jazz GuitarTommy Connell at Cibo on Sunday nights
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.

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