There’s never been a weirder year for Portland music.
Clubs shut down, tours were canceled, whole festivals got scrapped. Bands couldn’t even get together in the same room to practice. Sure, it was still possible to upload a quarantine bedroom project to Bandcamp. But Portland is a city that thrives on live music—and for more than a year, the city was silent.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Portlanders stopped making music. It only made it harder to find.
That’s why we approached our annual Best New Bands issue a little differently this year. Instead of a wide-ranging poll of music industry insiders, we reached out to 10 of the most obsessive local experts—the musicians, talent bookers, journalists and curators who always have their ear to the ground, even during a health crisis—and asked them to share the best Portland artists they discovered during the pandemic.
This year’s artists are listed in alphabetical order rather than ranked, which is fitting: This is possibly our widest-ranging class yet, and it’s never been so hard to compare them.
It’s long been apparent that Portland music is way more than just dudes in jean jackets playing guitars, and this issue makes that abundantly clear. We’ll introduce you to rising stars in the city’s thriving jazz and hip-hop scenes, as well as artists in a category all their own. There’s a neo-soul singer who blew up on TikTok and a rising rapper who developed an online following in Germany. There’s a DJ who splices indie rock with go-go music and a sound artist who builds songs from the electrical impulses of flowers.
Hopefully, when we do this again, the list will come together as it normally does, from a year of stumbling into a house show and finding your new favorite band, or having your mind blown by a recommendation from a friend of a friend, or getting to a show early and watching the local opener outshine the headliner.
But this year’s issue isn’t just a placeholder. We hope it brings back the thrill of musical discovery—and serves as a reminder that, in Portland, that thrill is never gone.