Whenever you ask 175 of Portland's most knowledgeable music insiders about their favorite emerging local acts, as we do every year for our Best New Band poll, you never know what you're going to hear back.
Oh, you probably think you know. "A bunch of sad white guys with guitars, right?" At one point in time, that might have been a fair assumption. But as the city has grown and its culture has changed, in ways both good and bad, the results have become increasingly difficult to predict. And this year's list is perhaps the most eclectic yet.
It's a sign of the times, really. Our music scene is going through a transitional moment. Bands that once defined the sound of Portland, like Modest Mouse, the Decemberists and Sleater-Kinney, are entering the "legacy act" portion of their careers, while many other stalwarts are either breaking up, slowing down or moving away. What's left is a void of thrilling possibility—an opportunity to change how Portland looks and sounds.
You can get a glimpse of that potential future in the following pages. Our top act turns abrasive noise into post-Trumpocalyptic pop music, while our second is a first-generation Ethiopian-American rapper already halfway to global domination. There's a Caribbean soul queen who started out playing in her uncle's steel drum band and a jazz-pop futurist who cosplays as a mermaid and writes songs inspired by Japanese cartoons. There's a folk singer who isn't afraid to take on dubstep bros and a rapper who rhymes like Jackson Pollock paints. There's a queer soul-funk band, a dream-pop band better suited for nightmares, and a band that isn't sure what it wants to sound like and doesn't think it should have to choose. And if you think all that's wild, you should take a look who's coming up behind them.
We know this issue is never going to satisfy everyone, nor will it ever cover the full breadth of the music being made in this town. Our only hope is to give you, the non-insider, a place to start. And this year, there are more points to dive off from than ever.
To all the sad white dudes with guitars—better luck next year!
—Matthew Singer, Willamette Week music editor
Willamette Week's Best New Band Showcase, featuring Blossom, Donte Thomas and Coco Columbia, is at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., on Saturday, March 18. 9 pm. Free. 21+.