Charlotte once had this cool, no-holds-barred DIY music scene in the early 2000s that had me grinning ear to ear in my teens. This was back when Yardwork’s shows were essentially free and Bo White had just created Kinnikinnik Records (a name that is still very fun to say over and over again) and the now-defunct Yauhaus was still making noise.
Discovering Calabai Yau and Black Congo, NC was life-changing, but not because these groups were creating music that might be considered epiphanic; rather, it was the realization that my hometown, where the music scene had always paled in comparison to other Southern meccas like Athens, Atlanta, and Carrboro, could become a veritable music hub in its own right, albeit a more locally-sourced one.
A decade later, many bands from 2007 have separated, formed new bands, or moved away from Charlotte. While it was sad to see Charlotte’s music landscape shift, it’s comforting to see a new wave of artists and musicians continue to define Charlotte as a place where independent music can flourish. So, yes, while LiveNation is building a monopoly within corporate venues, the relatively-underground local music scene remains confident and sui generis. Many local acts—Late Bloomer, Junior Astronomers, Serfs, Benji Hughes—have even enjoyed national attention. Bo White’s still involved in the scene, too; he produced Mineral Girls’ 2015 album Cozy Body.
While the music scene in Charlotte has taken huge blows in the last few years as historic and loved music venues are torn down to make way for condos, this city’s artists are still putting out catchy, thoughtful albums and playing raucous shows. Here are a few musician highlights from the last year:
Faye, Faye (2016)
This indie punk band released their self-titled debut EP in May of this year. If you enjoy Speedy Ortiz’s vocalist, Sadie Dupuis, you’ll definitely appreciate Sarah Blumenthal’s style. Faye’s tunes are carried by catchy basslines, riot grrrl-esque lyrics, and an enjoyably amateur production quality. The EP came out just in time for summer, but it’s still perfect for the nostalgia characteristic of Fall. The final track, “Ancient Bones,” feels right for these days marked by increasingly abridged sunshine.
Highlights: “Teacups,” “Chow Chow”
See also: Alright.
Em Young, Em Young (2016)
This Boston-native has developed an incredible folky style that feels right at home with Charlotte’s “New South” personality. Em Young’s a singer-songwriter with a balanced, strong voice that floats effortlessly over her guitar. She released her first EP this year, and she often performs in smaller venues like Petra’s and The Milestone.
If you’re looking for a chance to enjoy Em Young live, find her at Snug Harbor on Friday, 18 November.
Highlights: “Letters My Worry Sent,” “Foolish Trend”
Shadowgraphs, Return to Zero (2015)
Shadowgraphs, who describe themselves as “neo psychedelic,” released their debut EP, Return to Zero, in the fall of last year to promising acclaim. The 6 track album is a slow burner, but with each listen you’ll find something new and wonderful. They worked with Greg Calbi, senior mastering engineer at Sterling Sound in New York City, on this brief but enchanting EP, and it’s certainly worth it. Greg’s discography is remarkable; he’s mastered albums for artists ranging from the Talking Heads to Baroness and Beach House. Last month, Shadowgraphs announced that they signed with Golden Brown Records out of Portland, Oregon for their upcoming LP, due out in April of next year. This is a band worth keeping on your radar.
Highlights: “Strawberry Lemonade,” “Voice in my Head”
The Business People, Dirty Feelings (2016)
While The Business People are technically an older band (c. 2010), but they’ve maintained their local, neighborhood aesthetic, and they’re danceable, so this party never stops. Their 2016 EP, Dirty Feelings, is punchy with a great blend of rock and post-funk—and punk and a whole lot more. They’re difficult to pin down, but no one’s trying to. Nic Robinson’s voice carries this unstoppable album from its addictive title track to its wonderfully balanced final track, “Holy Hell.”
Highlights: “Raygun Superstar,” “From NC With Love”
It Looks Sad., Kaiju (2015)
It Looks Sad aren’t wet behind the ears, but their work deserves mention. The two songs on their recent single, Kaiju, “Creature” and “Nagoya,” are emotional, honest, and conversational. This emo-punk quality is a must this season, and though these songs are now a year old, they still feel relevant and fresh, like revisiting an old emo band from middle school and finding that their words still resonate with you so many years later.