We’re highlighting the local artists and acts that won awards in last year’s Best of Phoenix. It includes notable bands, DJs, rappers, and other movers and shakers that help make our city’s music landscape what is today.
Check out the list and stay tuned for this year’s Best of Phoenix issue, which will hit the streets in late September.
Best BandNanami Ozone
Music writers get an exorbitant amount of emails about cleverly named, small, independent bands, filled with hyperbolic reasons explaining why the group's album should be the next thing they listen to. Most publications will regurgitate those releases as clickbait, making their readers wonder if the author even bothered to hear the hard work the band put in. But when publicists sent Nanami Ozone's second album, 2019’s NO, to inboxes, reviewers actually paid attention. The Phoenix quartet's hybrid of pop, shoegaze, and '90s alternative is too good to ignore. Since then, the band has toured the coasts (and Canada) to become the Valley's greatest musical export since AJJ.
Best Up-And-Coming BandSad Dance Party
It's easy to talk to Peter Resendiz, frontman of Phoenix's Sad Dance Party, and forget that he's in his early 20s— or that his band have only been around for a couple of years. Part of that ease is Resendiz's blend of charm and commitment, the kind of musician you'd follow even through a lengthy goth phase. With Resendiz as their screaming, beating heart, SDP make deeply expressive music, squeezing every intense, overwhelming emotion possible into two-minute punk songs.
Spontaneous Human Combustion, released in 2018, felt like an achievement in balancing earworm songwriting with deeply visceral displays of humanity, and yet the band already have moved onward and upward. Subsequent singles like "Older, Sadder" track SDP toward new, more streamlined territories that only extend their basic shelf life. And all that's before word one of their frequent touring, collaborations with other local bands, and music festival appearances. SDP are a true Phoenix band, typifying the city's restless energy and knack for trail-blazing. Now, everybody dance away all your deepest, darkest feelings.
Best Local Band Gone GlobalInjury Reserve
Of the few Phoenix-bred groups to make it out of the desert, Injury Reserve have to be the most boundary-pushing. After signing with indie-major label Loma Vista in 2018, they delivered their self-titled debut album in May 2019, preceded by a string of videos showing the trio staging a fashion show, taking a Tesla for a joyride, and other wild ideas. They're done a worldwide tour that took them to Australia, Japan, and Europe.
Brandon Decker, who records and tours as decker., moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2018. Judging from his tour schedule, you would had never known he left. The songwriter, who has since moved back to Sedona, returned on numerous occasions with his band to play his heart out, including a compelling performance at Last Exit Live in May 2019 for the live album Greetings, All Ye Playful Prisoners Of Spacetime (his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" brought some members of the audience to tears). The music scene felt a little emptier without him, which is why we were ecstatic that the rumors that he was coming back for good were true. Welcome home.
Best CameoOkilly Dokilly on The Simpsons
Last spring, the Phoenix-based "Nedal" band Okilly Dokilly, an outfit whose members all dress like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons, had something unexpected happen. The long-running cartoon's producers called the band and asked if they could play their video for "White Wine Spritzer" over the credits on the episode "I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say D'oh."
Okilly Dokilly were going to be on the actual Simpsons, a dream come true for a parody band that risks copyright infringement simply by existing. "I feel humbled, proud, and somewhat liberated. Almost like I'm wearing nothing at all," band leader Head Ned told Phoenix New Times after the episode aired. "I think when we get back home, we might just take a drive up to Vegas and celebrate with a white wine spritzer."
Best RapperTeek Hall
Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Asuka — the wrestling world loves a good winning streak. So it's only fitting that wrestling podcast co-host Teek Hall is on a streak of his own: 2019 was the Detroit native's second consecutive year holding the Best Rapper strap. It's a run that's well-deserved — the lyrically agile Hall is a beast incarnate on the mic (a la Brock Lesnar). When he's not co-hosting Mat Mania, Hall is decimating the competition with his dense, clever, and undeniable rhymes. In a way, his imagination is like a hall: wide and long, capable of containing a myriad of characters, scenarios, and flights of fancy. Anyone looking to take the title from him in 2020 has his work cut out for him if Hall keeps spitting at his usual level of intensity. When Teek Hall hops on the track, every syllable becomes a suplex and every chorus is a finisher.
Best VocalistLuna Aura
We should be grateful Luna Aura has come into her own. The Phoenix-born singer shows raw, emotional energy on "Crash Dive," her 2019 single. Her vocals are like a shaken-up bottle of soda that someone just opened, letting go of years of repression to finally take control of her sexuality. "Crash Dive" has taken Aura out of the pop universe that she previously occupied and into uncharted territory.
If you didn't get in on the ground floor with Blossom, the local DJ/producer who's been performing in the local dance scene since 2016, better hop aboard now. That's because her career is headed straight into the stratosphere. In just the last year alone, Blossom (born Emilie Fromm) has made such money moves as serving up sounds at local electronic dance music festivals, releasing tracks and albums on influential labels like Night Bass and Insomniac Records, and performing a spectacular set at Bonnaroo.
She's notched all these high-profile accomplishments with a mix of hard work and plenty of talent. In 2015, Blossom was trained in the art of beat-making, mixing, and producing by such EDM heavyweights as Petey Clicks at L.A.'s famed DJ school, Dubspot. Blossom then began turning heads with her tracks, both online and at local club nights like BFF. And she hasn't looked back. "After Blossom returned to town, she immediately was doing stuff that was totally amazing. She's played everything from house to harder bass stuff and a lot in between," says BFF promoter Sean Watson. "She's a skilled mixer and skilled performer who creates her own music, and she goes out there and slays it every time."
Best EDM CollectiveTechno Snobs
Though the group's name implies elitism or exclusion, the DJs of Techno Snobs are a welcoming bunch. Anyone can attend the local electronic dance music collective's events, be they ravers, burners, club kids, or non-EDM fans. And it's because Techno Snobs want to share the genre with all, says collective co-founder Occultus. "We welcome all walks of life: the bass community, the hip-hop community, the glovers, the shufflers, the flow artists, the fire-spinners," he says. "Everyone's welcome."
The Techno Snobs have been spreading their love and knowledge since 2017, when Occultus and other members started out honing their mixing skills for hours on end at someone's house. Then came a biweekly party at Time Out Lounge in Tempe, which necessitated scoring equipment on the sly. "We'd buy a subwoofer at Guitar Center, unbox it at the bar, use it for one night, and return it," he says. These days, they can afford entire sound systems, which see use at events like the Full Moon Festival and underground parties. They've also brought in world-renowned techno artists like Exos, Volvox, and Keith Carnal. It's all part of their grand plan to get people to say yes to techno. "Everyone should have the opportunity to be exposed to techno," Occultus says.
Best MerchThe Maine's 8123 Shop
It's presumptuous for any band to open a boutique shop selling their merchandise a stone's throw from their hometown, but most bands aren't as bold as The Maine. The store, which opened in January 2019 to coincide with their 8123 Festival last year, isn't just another revenue stream for the quintet. It's an exciting way for the indie group to interact with their dedicated fanbase. The Tempe band use the space to test their ideas that most musicians on major labels can't even try, like a listening party for their seventh album, You Are OK. Even if you aren't a fan of the local pop-rock group, seeing the record's uplifting title plastered on T-shirts, notebooks, and all over the walls is affirming for your soul.
Best PromoterPsyko Steve Presents
Nearly every music promoter in town is finding a way to boost the visibility of local musicians, but Stephen Chilton, the man behind Psyko Steve Presents and co-owner of The Rebel Lounge, does it in a way that is fun for those on both sides of the mic. His crowning achievement is the Phoenix Rock Lottery. For one day in January, over 20 musicians are separated into bands to write a couple of original songs. They perform them (and a cover) in front of an eager audience that evening. Offstage, Chilton unites the local music community with the Basically Annual Phoenix Independents Bowl. The best part is that proceeds from both events benefit local charities.