We admit: It's a strange time to put out a Best New Band issue.
No one has been to a concert in months, and the streets are filled with protesters. Even in Portland, where music is among our greatest resources, taking the time to rave about the hottest psych-pop and experimental electronic acts right now feels a bit…awkward, if not trivial.
But the truth is, music is not separate from this current moment. In some cases, it's on the front lines.
That's especially true in Portland. Over the past month, local musicians have contributed to the uprising against racism and police brutality in many different ways. Superstar rapper Aminé bought out an entire food cart to provide free meals to Black Portlanders, while Eric Howk of Portugal the Man testified for the group before the City Council in favor of defunding the police.
Almost every night, you can find someone you'd normally see onstage at a club giving speeches or performing at rallies, leading chants during protests or simply lending numbers to the crowd.
Each year for our Best New Band poll, we send out hundreds of ballots to music experts, insiders and enthusiasts, asking them to vote for the artists they think Portlanders need to hear. And every year, we have no idea what we'll get back.
This year, as most years, the results reveal a community that's constantly evolving, and impossible to pigeonhole. Some of the acts you'll read about are creating chaos with analog synths and making introverted hip-hop ideal for the age of quarantine. Others are using their platforms to contribute to social change, whether it's by rapping at anti-ICE rallies or releasing wall-of-sound electronica to benefit the Black Resilience Fund.
But this issue isn't just about acknowledging the strengths of our city's vibrant music culture—it's also about reckoning with where we need to grow. That's especially important this year. So we've also reached out to Black leaders in the Portland music scene and asked: What is music's role in this pivotal historical moment?
Clearly, we all still have a lot of work to do. But as daunting as effecting real change can seem, in the words of this year's first-place winner, singer-songwriter Maria Maita-Keppler, this is also a time of possibility in Portland: "It is evolving into a different place, and we have to be a part of this evolution to make sure that we can make it better."
Best New Bands 2020