18 Local Artists You Need to Know
November 1, 2021 @ 12:00pm
Read on to explore a mélange of entrenched melodic stalwarts and artists on the rise, whose collective energy is foundational to the tectonic evolution of D.C.’s music scene.
Angela Byrd + MadeInTheDMV
Angela Byrd helms the organization MadeInTheDMV, “a think tank for artists, brands, creatives and individuals in the DMV who possess and showcase exceptional talent.” Since its inception, it’s served as a beacon, support system and advocacy shop for up-and-coming local artists, providing valuable resources and a critical platform for artists’ work and aspirations. Follow them on Instagram @madeinthedmv.
Baby Alcatraz and the Aurelions
Alyssa Bell, better known as DJ Baby Alcatraz, is famous for spinning retro soul albums across the District — from Mt. Pleasant to the now shuttered Velvet Lounge. She describes the sound of her band Baby Alcatraz and the Aurelions (a one-man outfit assumed by her husband, Mark Cisneros, who’s played in D.C. bands Des Demonas, Hammered Hulls, Kid Congo Power and The Monkey Birds) as something resembling a “muscle car engine.” It’s a rumble, thunder and boom materialized by her drum-kit and husband Mark Cisneros’s heavy bass. Follow her on Instagram @babyalcatraz.
This English-born American producer and songwriter boasts an infectious mélange of acoustic and post-punk, with a suggestion of soul influences and a balanced dosage of screaming, just in case you should forget his roots. The son of an opera singer, his vocal control is perpetually on full display. He most recently released “Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy” on March 13, 2020 and “Live Forever” on October 2, 2020. He is currently on tour with Lucy Dacus. Follow him on Instagram @bartees_strange.
Earning the title of “D.C.’s blues jazz maven,” the Afro-Indigenous artist Carly Harvey delivers spellbounding love songs that incorporate a mix of influences, including blues, jazz and Americana, in the mold of the legendary Etta James. Follow her on Instagram @carlyhmusic.
Chill Parents are savage, noisy, outlandish, deviant and swarming with energy. This three piece D.C. punk rock band combines samples, scream-worthy lyrics and harmonious instruments. The band released the “Two Parents” EP on June 28, 2021. Follow them on Instagram @chillparentsdc.
Clear Channel has deep dance-punk roots that lean heavily on shrieking vocals and bass. They are enigmas who give little attention to “coolness,” which effortlessly pervades their music. There’s an “It” factor to their sound which keeps you coming back for more (and more). Follow them on Instagram @clear__channel.
Imka occupies a rare space of pure meditative and restorative bliss. As he “translates biodata from plants into musical notes,” Imka invites listeners to explore an unworldly and tranquil biosphere of sounds and reflection. His EP “Health,” released on October 22, 2021, is now available to stream on Apple Music. Follow him on Instagram @officialimka.
The Julian Berkowitz Trio
Julian Berkowitz is an accomplished jazz drummer and bandleader whose trio (composed of a rotating cast of sidemen) plays jazz, swing and fusion ballads. Berkowitz and company are adept at conceiving a combination of high-energy and passionate compositions. You can see him perform on Thursday Nights at Green Island Cafe; Friday Nights at Right Proper Brewing Company in Brookland; and November 6 at the Wine Down Jazz at Library Tavern. Presented by Brij Coffeehouse and Juicebar. Follow him on Instagram @julianberkowitzdrums.
The six-person Lightmare coined the term Soulpunk to declare their contradictory sound: a mix of anger and intimacy. Recent releases include “All Cats Are Beautiful” (single, 2021) and “Kill the Butcher” (single, 2021), both from their upcoming new album “Dirt.” Upcoming releases “Sad Boi” (single, Oct 21 2021, streaming everywhere) and Dirt (full LP album, October 29, streaming everywhere). Check out their upcoming shows on November 26 at The Fuzzy Cactus in Richmond, Virginia, with North by North; and November 27 at DC9 Nightclub in Washington, D.C., with North by North. Follow them on Instagram @lightmare.dc.
This high-spirited power punk band evokes some serious late ‘90s/early ‘00s alt-rock vibes. They also have the coolest, most summer vibe-inducing name on the planet. The band released its second EP entitled “Friendless Summer” in 2020 and will record their first full length album in January or February of 2022. Check out their upcoming shows on November 5 at the Tabernacle (house venue) with Latchkey Kids, America Jayne and Bravely; and November 15 at Pie Shop with AllegrA. Follow them on Instagram @magazinebeachdc.
Channeling the full force of their collective punk roots, the Owners emerged from the chaos of the pandemic. The group is a superband of sorts, composed of Dante Ferrando and Catherine Ferrando (owners and stewards of the iconic Black Cat) and Al Budd and Laura Harris (yes, the very same Harris from garage rock band Ex Hex). Check out “Pandemic Demo – Live at the Black Cat,” released on March 21, 2021 at theowners1.bandcamp.com/releases.
This hardcore three piece band’s vocals linger on two wavelengths: clamorous and volatile. Saffron delivers loud, fast, hard and decisive ballads. Check out their next show on December 11 at the Ottobar in Baltimore with The Ergs and Dinged Up! Saffron released the album “Demolition Now!” on January 28, 2020. Follow them on Instagram @thebannedsaffron.
Local indie-rockish darling Ali Vega’s recent work ranges from ballads with an ethereal levity to kinetic sounds you’d happily stream on a sunkissed Sunday drive. Best known for her time strumming bass and guitar strings for local dream-pop band Lavender, she launched a solo project under the name Scorpio. Her first EP “Afterthought,” released in March 2019, earned praise from DC9 Nightclub as “bedroom and surf pop played with the sensibility of an Adidas lesbian.” Follow her on Instagram @scorpio.MP3.
Eva Moochalan, known as “Sneaks,” is a spoken word and post-punk artist whose musical creations are undeniably of the dark synth-pop persuasion, likened to an ‘80s video game soundtrack. Her album “Happy Birthday” was released on August 21, 2020. Follow her on Instagram at
Guided by hosts Matt Jackson and Avery Showell, THFCTRY radio is a weekly dive into the DMV’s rap and hip-hop community. The duo has been busy, launching a monthly party series at Eaton Hotel’s famous Wild Days Rooftop called THFCTRY & Friends. They also recently played the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage for Labor Day weekend, which included DJing a set of upcoming local music to open for Questlove’s screening a “A Summer of Soul.” Follow them on Instagram @thfctry.
TOB is a D.C. go-go band of the highest order. They carry on the proud bounce music tradition, with a high-energy, innovative, powerful and contagious call-and-response sound that pulls in hip-hop influences and the creative artistry of its multiple members. Follow them on Instagram @tobbandandshow.
It’s rare for an African-American artist to ascend the throne of punk royalty. Bassist Franz Lyons and Turnstile, who subscribe to an aggressive, high-speed sound that drips of ‘80s rock and ‘90s alt-rock influences, are breaking the mold. Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, the five piece band boasts the title “standouts of the hardcore punk scene.” Turnstile released the album “Glow On” on August 27, 2021. They are currently touring North America with two stops in the U.K. in early 2022. Follow them on Instagram @turnstileluvconnection.
Two Thumbs Down
Self-described “Indie-punk cuties + gremlins from D.C. and NYC,” Two Thumbs Down’s sound fluctuates between backyard high school nostalgia and matter-of-fact lyrical genius. They have the dexterity to throttle down or escalate their speed on a dime. Check out their new LP “END ALL BE ALL,” available November 15. Follow them on Instagram @twothumbsdowndc.
Secret Track: Ankush Kumar Bahl
The torchbearers catalyzing the District’s musical metamorphosis are not limited to punk and go-go standouts. Classical maestros like Ankush Kumar Bahl are blazing the trail for the many artists that will surely follow in the years to come. Ankush Kumar Bahl, the 13th music director in the Omaha Symphony’s 100-year history, is based in Arlington, Virginia and widely recognized among peers, orchestras and audiences for his superb and unique approach to conducting.
District Fray: Do you have a ritual or routine that helps ground you before creating or conducting?”
Ankush Kumar Bahl: Before the week of [a] concert, I make sure I have done all of the prep work required to have a great performance: studying scores, working out my interpretation of the piece and thinking about my goals for each rehearsal. After that, I spend a lot of quiet time deepening my relationship with the music and visualizing through the rehearsal process and the performances. When I am able to do that, I feel energized and excited for the phenomenal music making opportunity ahead of me.
Do you have a favorite venue in D.C. where you’ve performed?
AKB: I have conducted at a number of amazing venues in D.C. and am very appreciative of those opportunities. Of course the Kennedy Center is a beautiful and monumental place to ‘go to work’ but I have had the fondest memories of concerts where we were in the community doing concerts as part of our “In Your Neighborhood” series all over the D.C. area. I have had amazing experiences doing concerts at community centers in Kenilworth, high school auditoriums in Columbia Heights, [ Atlas Performing Arts Center] on H Street and Union Station. Sharing orchestral music where residents of D.C. already live is one of my favorite things.
How would you describe your unique approach to the art of conducting?
AKB: I chose to pursue conducting because I felt like it was the singular best way for me to make music and share this art with the greater public. Also, since I played in orchestras for decades, it was those experiences that inform the way I rehearse and conduct. My goal is to always empathize with the 100 musicians on stage and try to set them up for a very successful concert, whether through my physical gesture or the rehearsal process and then have fun in the performances. I believe when the musicians are extremely comfortable and confident and are also engaged with each other and the music, the show will go well. The audience feels that energy and it can be a transformative experience for everyone. When we can get to that place in a concert, it is completely intoxicating and makes me feel extremely fortunate to be able to do what I do.
To learn more, visit ankushbahl.com // @omahasymphony.
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