2016 was yet another year of struggle for the local music community. It was a year when our trepidation from 2015 was realized in the shadows of luxury condos and mixed-use development, when social and political chaos exposed more hatred towards minorities and greater contempt towards artists, and a sickening realization set in that our city is destined to become nothing more than a playground for wealthy suburbanites. Yet amidst rising rent, shuttering venues, and threats to studios, 2016 was the backdrop for an abundance of powerful records and killer comps from local labels.
Nothing is more emblematic of that resiliency than the local punk scene. By its very nature, the punk community is often the first group confronted by loss of venues and unchecked development, yet thanks to scene leaders like Ryan Fetter and Josh Feigert, the community continued to churn out a wide variety of ferocious tapes and records. As such, this year’s list of artists to watch is populated not only by many punk bands, but by groups which have shown an eagerness to challenge the status quo and artists which relish the dark, weird, and gritty aspects of music. Rather than simply rely on fickle internet buzz or rumors of major label contracts, we attempted to choose artists who are poised to change the face of the Atlanta music scene by pushing boundaries, challenging listeners, and inspiring other local artists.
There’s little cause to expect a swift change to policies which challenge and attack DIY artists and local bands, but this list proves there’s also no reason to doubt the ability of Atlanta and Athens musicians to push back in the wake of these troubling times. – Russell Rockwell
Art School Jocks
So far, Art School Jocks’ recorded output has consisted of just two murky, lo-fi demo cuts, but that hasn’t prevented the Atlanta foursome from becoming one of more exciting and promising acts to emerge out of the local scene in the last year. Between their obvious pedigree (the group features members of Places to Hide, the Wild, and Savant), strong live performances, and kinetic, no wave cool, the band has garnered a small legion of admirers and early adopters eager to see what the quartet has up their sleeves for 2017. Currently, Art School Jocks are shopping a five-song EP they recorded last September, so cross your fingers for a release sooner rather than later. – Avery Shepherd
This brand new comedy troupe/rock band from Athens pokes fun at hipsters with rambunctious rambles that recall the Meat Puppets and the Dead Milkmen. Their only recorded song barely contains a word — “knucklehead” — but frontman Larson has written enough witty tunes for at least one zinger of an EP, if not more. You’ll hear more of them round town once they move to Atlanta later this year. – Lee Adcock
With a major label release already under their belt (2015’s See EP), Chief Scout are hardly newcomers to the scene, but the band’s revamped lineup and expanded songwriting palette have them poised for even bigger things this year. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the group’s recent move from Athens to Atlanta will provide them a wider base of fans to draw from; or that they’ve already shared stages with the likes of Broncho, of Montreal, and the Whigs; but the group’s greatest assets remains their ability to marry anthemic hooks and rousing guitars with more exploratory songcraft. The band’s first full length, Stereo Terrarium, is scheduled for release sometime in early 2017. – AS
After releasing a double album debut in 2016, Mineral Mountain (One) and (Two), Crispin Wah will finally be translating their self-described ‘shred gaze’ sound into live performances. With a hard-to-pin-down aesthetic, the live renditions of their heavy guitar loop instrumentals will likely add another level of psychedelic haze to it all. Using a myriad of pedals, guitarist Se’nam Palmer and Monochrome Sweatsuit orchestrate guitar riffs that sound synthesized. The perils of prog are dashed away into the spacious robotics of a loop by the addition of the production and percussion of Bruther Brown and King Fractal, with keyboardist Loud Loyd adding the final texture. The results sound closer to a Metro Boomin track that’s exhilaratingly off-kilter and feels unabashedly Atlanta. With another album already in the works and expecting a spring release, Crispin Wah are going to make it real easy to keep a watch on them. – Matt DeBenedictis
If you have the opportunity to see Death Stuff live you’ll likely see some familiar faces. Consisting of former members of Lucy Dreams, Street Violence, and Twin Studies, the emerging trio is punk and noisy as hell, delivering snarling tunes with plenty of bite on both their five-track demo and the single they released earlier this year. Although the group has hints of math rock and copious amounts of feedback striding above their angular riffs, they expertly tie all of it together into catchy, compact screeds that are both dark and frenzied. With their self-titled debut due out February 10, Death Stuff will be a force to be reckoned with in 2017. – Blake Chapman