Our staffs favorite acts that represent where our state's music is, and are pushing it further to where it's going …
From Fallon to Conan, EDC to Lollapalooza, the stretch of this state’s local acts reaches deep. And while getting to the top of the game takes time, talent and (most importantly) practice, there’s no shortage of musicians in Colorado that might be next in line for those defining moments. Here’s ten “Colorado Come-ups” — our staff’s favorite acts that represent where our state’s music is, and are pushing it further to where it’s going.
– by Luca DelPiccolo, Brian Frederick and Joe LaFond
It’s important to realize that an online persona doesn’t mean shit in the real world. Thousands of likes and meaningless heart icons are just 1s and 0s inside of an ego-driven (and often phony) electronic playground. To artists, what matters most is the live show, connecting to the audience — real worth. A performer who consistently delivers that kind of touching experience with her art is Lily Fangz. She’s a multi-faceted musician, delivering melodic hooks and beautiful serenades as much as she does powerful rhymes and quick-tongued cadence. She’s a rising gem, breathing positive life into a stagnant scene in desperate need of help. Seemingly birthed from her own planet (what she calls “Planet Fangz”), Lily exudes an allusion to her expanded mindset and dissent toward standard practices and rules. What seems to be most compelling to her audience, however, is that she’s a real human. One who touches the lives of those around her. Her single “BREATHE” — a directive for each of us to slow down and focus on the “thread that connects us all” — continues to grow organically into a movement, and one she hopes to further develop in the future. One of her latest efforts, a spontaneous cam recording (she posts many of those) finishing a 5-year-old song in memory of a lost friend, is well over a half-million views. She shines best in her live delivery, but touches strangers around her within a cold form of communication. That matters. This one’s going the distance.
A few years ago, not long after Povi turned 18, she moved to the Bay Area in search of a better self. She says it worked, but is now back home delivering her signature songstress style of soul and R&B to a larger audience. “Before leaving for California I felt pretty lost, but extremely drawn to the Bay,” she says. “I knew I would find myself there, and I did. Now that I’m back in my hometown, I feel like I have more tools to express myself without needing someone's approval.” In her own words, Povi describes her sound as being “all about the groove. R&B, Soulful, Pop. It's the type of music that makes you feel good, confident, and moved to dance.” She’s found a comfortable groove in Denver, and her upcoming tour, sponsored by the Red Bull Sound Select campaign with SZA, will help spread the word about this talented artist.
Over the past several years, electro-soul has become one of the most beloved subgenres in the Colorado music scene with arguably the most passionate following of fans. And although Colorado is home to more producers per capita than any other state (just ask Wikipedia), few acts are driving forward as steadily as Krooked Drivers. “Learning how to sample, chop, warp and arrange was difficult in the beginning,” says Maddy O’Neal and Donnie D’Albora, “but it also taught us a lot about musical composition. Once we knew how to make basic beats with vinyl samples, we wanted to take it to the next level … we wanted to find that balance between meaningful, emotional music that you can also party to.” From then on, Krooked Drivers started using Ableton Live as a canvas to piece together collages of samples and beats, achieving maximum dopeness, while still plucking a few heartstrings. Currently KD has three EPs, two full-length albums and a smattering of singles and remixes under its belt — and word on the street is that another fresh EP will be out this fall. “We have been focusing on incorporating more hardware and analog synths into our productions,” Maddy and Donnie say of their recent work. “(We’re) constantly trying to challenge ourselves to take it the next level; we always have to be thinking one step ahead.” Whether they’re aware or not, Maddy and Donnie have taken up a fairly prominent place in the Denver music scene, and it’s probably safe to say that great things are ahead with Krooked Drivers at the wheel.
It’s been a whirlwind year for Ben Davis, aka “Vibe Street” — one of the most in-demand acts in Colorado’s thriving electronic music scene. Born and bred in New England, Davis made his way west via Wisconsin, where he indulged in a taste for the twangy delights of bluegrass, eventually laying the foundation of what would soon become his calling card. “I realized that nobody was really blending those kinds of sounds — the electro-hip-hop type stuff and bluegrass samples,” he says. “When I moved to Denver, I knew it would be the perfect place to grow something like that.” With a full-length album and two EPs to his credit (in just over a year) and another album in the works, Vibe Street continues to push forward in the electro-soul circuit, while sticking to the tenets of free music and positivity that characterize the scene. “I’m just trying to keep the vibe as positive as possible.”
TECHNICOLOR TONE FACTORY
The Boulder-based jamtronica/improv rock ensemble, Technicolor Tone Factory, has been steadily making a name for itself here in Colorado, even though it's been going through adjustments. “We’ve had some lineup changes lately,” says guitarist Jarrod Guaderrama, “but it’s been a really good change. We’ve (also) been heading more in the rock-prog direction.” Nowadays, TTF blends together the sounds of rock, funk, jam and just about anything else, resulting in an eclectic auditory journey that shreds far harder than an average jam band. “We love to be eclectic and not bound by any particular genre,” the guys of TTF agree on. “That’s sort of where we get the ‘Technicolor’ in our name, by covering a whole spectrum of sound.” Although the band hasn’t released any studio recordings (studio time is “in the works,” they say), it’s still busy working on tracks, both old and new, to keep the vibes flowing while hitting the tour circuit hard.
In the realm of future bass, there are few people who throw it down better than Denver’s own Ross Ryan — better known as StèLouse (pronounced “stay loose”). “I started out trying to make dubstep,” he says of his arrival, “but I fell into future bass because it just felt more natural to me.” On top of his solo career, Ryan is also co-founder (along with Detroit producer Ahh-Ooh) of the Hebinomichi Collective, which brings together a variety of likeminded artists from around the country to collaborate. “We just wanted to make a platform that we could release the music we wanted, how we wanted,” he says. With two EPs already in his arsenal, Ryan is currently working on a full-length album that he’s been working on for close to two years already, as well as helping with a third Hebinomichi compilation featuring a slew of new artists.
It’s a beautiful thing when strangers convene on a raw dance floor and somehow become connected through music. But just as every ship needs its captain, a good dance party needs a DJ that can provide the music people use to communicate. That’s the role DJ Rosa Sparks fills. She’s plenty different than the average club DJ, though, because her music is influenced as heavy by hip-hop as it is house. However anyone else likes to describe it, her music — which she says is like “a summer night in Ibiza” — is here to serve a purpose: “I want people to leave their problems at the door and bring their stress-free hearts to the dance floor. The goal is to have men and women feel free and empowered by my music. When someone plays one of my tracks, mixes, or comes to a show, I want my music to be the confirmation of their beautiful existence.”
It’s not uncommon to see local musicians supporting each other or hopping on stage to fill a void — in fact it’s downright “Colorado” to do so. “What we do right,” says Jillian Grutta of the local scene, “is that we all are very supportive, we’re very collaborative. It’s not a competition; we’re all in it together. In all genres. I love that.” Aside from her acoustic, powerful solo work and production efforts, she often lends her various instrumental/vocal talents to a wide variety of acts, including Povi , Lily Fangz, Circus House and Vance Romance. As a DJ, Jilly.fm tries to do much more than just push a button. While the track is running — often an old school throwback to kick up nostalgia — she sings over its instrumentals, drawing a more personal vibe out of her performance. She says she’s in an experimental phase of her career, expanding in every which way so she can turn this thing into something bigger — success starts with a dream. “I’ve been wanting to go all the way, whatever ‘all the way’ means,” she says about her ultimate music goals. “I want to be on the road. I want to be on red carpets. I want a Grammy.” In fact, this could all be just the beginning. Recently Jilly.fm announced a residency at DADA Art Bar and will also be supporting The White Panda at The Ogden on October 2, Bob Moses at The Larimer Lounge on October 11 and will appear at the TITWRENCH Fest on October 3.
When Jon Shockness stepped away from being one of Air Dubai’s frontmen to embark on his own solo career as Kid Astronaut, he says he knew his creative process would be different. “I think the biggest challenge for me was finding my confidence to step out as a solo artist,” he says. “From working with such talented musicians to suddenly writing alone, it was a journey of realizing that my voice has value, and figuring out how I wanted to share it.” At the end of the summer, Kid Astronaut released his “Moon Theory EP,” which confirmed suspicions the talented singer has potential to be a blowout superstar on his own. But he doesn’t want to stop at just music: “I really like working with visual artists and dancers,” he says. “I think it adds another element to the music that can really elevate the listeners experience.”
Hip-hop is as much of a sport as it is a genre of music. The best emcees constantly butt heads trying to prove they’re the best. Trev Rich has been hustling that way for years and seems ready to take a seat atop Colorado’s mountain of hip-hop. It’s not cutthroat competition, though, because Trev is a humble dude who says he loves the local scene and tries to push other artists to step their game up. In his latest collaborative mixtape with Innerstate Ike titled “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” he says his confidence is at a point it’s never been before. “It’s the two biggest things in the city coming together,” says Trev. When asked about what drives him, Trev responds with “Life. The things I go through that other people may go through. The battle between depression and happiness. Being commercial and staying loyal to the underground.”