Before You Upstream, Know Your Local Scenes

The 300-artist lineup is one of the most locally focused in the region—here’s who’s representing.

:: Rock

Rock is still the prevailing sound of choice in Seattle, the city where Paul Allen built a huge Jimi Hendrix museum designed to look like a smashed guitar. Luckily, the city’s guitar-slingers aren’t too nostalgic for Seattle’s rock history, although plenty still reference its grunge and indie heritage. Whether you’re looking for updated takes on old sounds or artists bending rock into new shapes and sounds, the local scene has probably got you covered. Artists to watch for: Charms, Wild Powwers, Gazebos, Dude York, Great Grandpa, Fabulous Downey Brothers

:: Hip-Hop

Local hip-hop is exploding right now. The talent pool stretches from up in Seattle, where the style is “defined” by its wide sonic experimentation—often cerebral, cosmic, and surreal—on through South King County and down through Tacoma, where a very particular fusion of dusky trap with punk and metal sensibilities has emerged. And of course plenty of folks are keeping that classic West Coast style alive in their own updated ways. Artists to watch for: DoNormaal, Ghoulavelli, J’Von, ILLFIGHTYOU, Taylar Elizza Beth, :30.

:: R&B/Soul

While artists are still making waves hewing closer to the classic sound, Seattle’s R&B and soul singers are breathing life into the genre by fusing it with lots of inventive, futuristic, spacey production that hits you from out of left field. The line between singer and rapper also continues to blur in town, with many artists seamlessly slipping between the two from track to track—fusing smooth hip-hop production into the vibe as well. Artists to watch for: JusMoni, Guayaba, Sassyblack, Zahara, Falon Sierra, GOODSTEPH.

:: Electronic

The area’s boom in quality producers and DJs emerges largely out of two concurrent scenes. First is a regional house/techno current from Vancouver, B.C., Tacoma, and Seattle that pays particular attention to ambience, mood, and inclusiveness, a product of its Northwestern environs. The second is a huge wave of club producers working in hip-hop and pop idioms, whose sounds have borne incredibly popular nights like JET and Night Shift in Seattle and served as indispensable partners to many emerging local rappers and singers. Artists to watch for: Aos, Biome, Luna God, Reverend Dollars, Ca$h Bandicoot, Yu Su.

:: Pop

Seattle pop artists are some of the most omnivorous in town, pulling from classic decadent pop melodies, moodier trends in electronic production, hip-hop and club rhythms, indie, and whatever else they see fit to throw into the mixing pot. Far from the one-trick, flavor-of-the-month style of mainstream artists like Katy Perry and Justin Bieber, Seattle’s pop artists emerge from their syntheses with very particular, consistently unique sonic smoothies to serve up, even if they all share the goal of writing the next earworm. Artists to watch for: The Flavr Blue, Shaprece, Sisters, Neu Youth, NAVVI, Eastern Souvenirs.

:: Punk

DIY was pretty much born here, and Seattle’s still got the whole freaky weir dos-with-guitars thing on lockdown, despite rising rents (I’m looking at you, Paul Allen). Some Seattle bands have turned the city’s very un-punk economy into source material for scrappy tunes as funny as they are incisive, while others have attacked it through brute industrial noise assault. Artists to watch for: Dreamdecay, Childbirth, Wimps, Haunted Horses, Steal Shit Do Drugs, So Pitted.

:: Country

Unsurprisingly, Upstream’s local country acts come almost entirely thanks to curation from Ballard—the Macefield Music Fest team and the Tractor Tavern. Even though Ballard has changed quite a bit over the years, its roots as a hub for blue-collar industry still lingers in its love for divey bars festooned with Western decor and good ol’-fashioned Americana. Artists to watch for: the Maldives, Evening Bell, Karl Blau, Ole Tinder, the Warren G. Hardings, Lydia Ramsey.

:: Singer-Songwriter/Folk

If you’re looking to go it alone, pick up a guitar, and start singing, the Northwest is a pretty fertile place to hone your craft. Both Sub Pop and Barsuk have built sizable chunks of their catalogues by signing singular voices who have emerged from the region, and the countless open mics, acoustic venues, and artist rounds serve as vital incubators for new talent. Artists to watch for: Planes on Paper, Naomi Wachira, Tomo Nakayama, Laura Gibson, Chris Staples, Ings.

:: Reggae

We may be 3,270 miles away from Kingston, Jamaica, but thanks to friendly clubs like the Nectar Lounge, local promotion collective Da808, KEXP’s Positive Vibrations, and a few old stars of the genre who live in town, a healthy reggae community calls Seattle home nonetheless. Artists to watch for: Kore Ionz, Clinton Fearon and the Boogie Brown Band, Kid Hops, Dubchamp, Unite-One, the Georgetown Orbits.

:: Jazz

Far from a cloistered niche scene, jazz in Seattle is diverse and accessible. The musicians in Industrial Revelation fuse their technical chops with a huge array of contemporary influences, a sound that has filled major rock venues. Groups like Bad Luck and the Tables & Chairs collective bring an academically rooted sense of experimentation to the form that’s as appealing to jazz heads as to punks and noisers. And of course, Earshot Jazz keeps all the new fusion rooted, holding up the classic players who made it all possible. Artists to watch for: Industrial Revelation, Bad Luck, Gail Pettis, Wayne Horvitz’ Electric Circus, Naomi Moon Siegel, Tezeta Band.

:: Metal

Seattle has lots of blackened, doomy metal, but the sort you’re going to find at Upstream traces its DNA to the shreddy-but-heady heavy rock that influenced grunge. The riffs are still raw and pummeling, but the arrangements eschew most classic blues structures in favor of something a little more challenging and off-kilter. Regardless, it’s still best accompanied by a tallboy. Artists to watch for: Helms Alee, Sandrider, He Whose Ox Is Gored, Great Falls, Heiress, Year of the Cobra.