8 NYC Bands You Need to Hear

All Photos by Maggie Shannon


Since 2006, we’ve taken a yearly survey of the ever-crowded field of young bands in NYC, settling on an octet that our editors bossily deem “Bands You Need to Hear.” Some, like Vampire Weekend (Class of 2007!), have become world conquering heroes, while others broke big only in our hearts. But it’s never been intended as a prediction of superstar status so much as an earnest snapshot of the music that makes our city tick at any given time. This year’s inductees—swinging all the way from sugar-sweet alt-rock to wild, frightening noise—are, right this second, the 8 New York City bands you need to hear. — Lauren Beck & Jeff Klingman

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Kill Alters

The first cassette from Bonnie Baxter’s Kill Alters project is a traumatic listen. Pairing noise bursts, darkly melodic vocal fragments, and disturbing snippets of old home recordings made by Baxter’s Tourette’s-afflicted mother, adds up to challenging experimental music with an uncommon emotional weight. Live, performing as a three-piece with Nicos Kennedy (a collaborator in Baxter’s dark synth-pop group Shadowbox) and nimble drummer Pablo Douzoglou, the band hits on a different level entirely. The found samples are absent, so far, but the arrangements are much tighter and the effect is doubly urgent. (At recent shows they’ve insisted on performing with unflattering house lights all the way up, creating a subtle self-consciousness in club crowds who aren’t used to being observed.) The power applied elevates a heady concept into a ferocious noise-rock band.

Your first show in NYC as Kill Alters: Where’d you play? How’d it go?
First show was at Silent Barn. It was love, bare bones—real people, less robots. I’m happy this way.

What’s the first concert you ever saw here from the audience?
First live performance ever in NYC dates back to a school trip to the Met to see the opera Madame Butterfly. I can’t remember enjoying it much. I was a kid, I might’ve been passing notes or paging code texts with my beeper or something.

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Who’s your favorite NYC/Brooklyn artist right now?
Tyondai Braxton.

What’s the single thing that doesn’t exist here now that would help the NYC/Brooklyn music scene most?
Affordable rentssss…

If you had to relocate to another city, where would you be headed?
If we had to relocate it would be because of safety reasons, like if NYC goes underwater. Then we will be going far!


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Pill

The saxophone in Pill songs can occasionally sound sort of smooth, but it’s never chill. Ben Jaffe’s horn playing provides a load-bearing honk on the debut EP of the latest post-punk group to be nestled into the increasingly stellar roster of Dull Tools, the local label headed by Parquet Courts’ Andrew Savage. The brass skronk wrecks with inner-ear equilibrium, leaving the listener more vulnerable to the band’s more conventional pummeling. Jon Campolo’s broken guitar leads are a flat headache to go with that pre-established stomach churn. Veronica Torres’ vocals carry notes of despair and brutal mockery, sounding both in pain and eager to inflict a bit. “Are you keeping my feelings and my body safe?” she asks the titular creep of their early hit “Misty Eyed Porno Reader”. Her tone suggests that a bruised-ego could be the best-case scenario in response to the wrong answer.

What’s the best thing about playing music in NYC in 2015?
Jon: The fans

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The worst?
Jon: The fans
Andrew: VICE MAGAZINE EMPLOYEES AND THEIR RAVENOUS HUNT FOR BUTT TURDS. I can’t tell you how many Vice magazine, like, Product Managers and HR VP’s we have to fight off at night. They’re like zombies who hunt for human turds instead of brains. The worst is when you have to kill an intern, they’re so sad and under-paid you can see it in their eyes as you bludgeon them to death. Poor guys. All they ever wanted was a little butt turd. You’d think Vice would have the dough to shell out for some butt turds, but I guess not.

Ideal four-band bill: Who’s playing with you, and where are you playing?
Jon: Flipper, Ornette Coleman, Genesis P-Orridge, Pill, in a giant black bounce house

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What’s the single thing that doesn’t exist here now that would help the NYC/Brooklyn music scene most?
Andrew: Death By Audio
Veronica: A lower cost of living
Jon: Corporate sponsors!

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If you had to relocate to another city, where would you be headed?
Jon: NeoTokyo


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Dreamcrusher

Luwayne Glass is a displaced Kansan, seeking asylum in the tall weeds of Bushwick’s untamed noise community. “QUEER NIHILIST REVOLT MUSIC” is his own description for the intensely metallic, yet weirdly danceable sounds he makes. With EPs and remixes on his Bandcamp page stretching back over a decade into Glass’ middle teens, he’s made a lot of them. Glass’ best stuff so far has buried big 90s rave thumping below miles of crackling bomb-blast blackness. His latest EP, Katatonia, coincides with the increased visibility that’s come with a Brooklyn relocation, but it’s not cleaned up for a close-up. Glass has gained the confidence to slow his beats down, allowing the music to get somehow even heavier. Threading in heavily screwed up vocals he’s made his sound warmer, even as he’s refused to let it be any less difficult.

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Your first show in NYC as Dreamcrusher: Where’d you play? How’d it go?
It was amazing. The first time I was on a plane in my life was coming from Kansas to New York. The night I got here, I played at Silent Barn with Copley Medal, SADAF & Radio Shock. I was scared shitless because I saw a bunch of people I only knew from the internet in the audience. I thought I did my best, but criticize myself quite a bit performance wise.

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What’s the best thing about playing music in NYC in 2015?
For me, it’d be learning the city and playing to an audience that’s actually listening. And meeting people that have been familiar with my work since I was on MySpace (which was a long time ago!). It kind of freaks me out to have gone so long without being noticed at all, to people wanting pictures are wanting me to sign merch, etc. It’s really fulfilling and I try to be nice to everyone, but occasionally it’s super overwhelming because I didn’t think anyone gave a shit, LOL.
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The worst?
I wish the crowds here would loosen up a little. I like being in a crowd where people are freaking out and enjoying themselves and not worried about what they look like. I feel like that element has been lost in obscure kinds of music. Most shows I play or go to, it’s mostly just a lot of people standing around. Personally, if I paid to see you perform, and I’m enjoying myself, I don’t care who’s watching me. I’m gonna get turnt and express myself, push my PMA [positive mental atitude] out in support of the artist. Although sometimes it sucks to be the only one getting turnt up at a show, so occasionally I cool it down. It’s a really vulnerable thing to perform your art for a crowd and we should make it worth their while, yeah?

Things to do at shows: have PMA, get turnt, compliment people’s outfits, don’t be an asshole, and cheer after every song.


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LVL UP

Maybe the point in life is just to get by? Hoodwink’d, the second proper full-length from LVL UP, makes a case that tackling the everyday is enough cause for celebration. The band’s collective songwriting navigates buzzing alarm clocks, the need to make money, and listening to nostalgia-inducing songs (for them, the Silver Jews), paring each sentiment with guitars from Rivers Cuomo’s bummed-out playbook. Frontman Dave Benton considers coping mechanisms in deadpan solemnity, sounding like the weight of the entire world is on his shoulders: “There is nothing wrong with being nice/Unless it’s just a front to get yourself by/And I can tell, so what the hell?” When he flatly sings, “I think I need a soda and an order of fries to get by” a few songs later, it’s with equal gravitas, but you can’t blame him. We are, after all, shouldering the weight of our own little worlds.

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Your first show in NYC as LVL UP: Where’d you play? How’d it go?
Big Snow Buffalo Lodge, one of our all-time favorite venues. Dave interned there while we were all still in school, and we started driving up from SUNY Purchase to play there and around Brooklyn as much as we could. Big Snow was the first, though.

What’s the first concert you ever saw here from the audience?
Mike Caridi [guitarist]: I saw WHY? at (Le) Poisson Rouge with a bunch of friends when I was 18 or 19. I tried to see Vampire Weekend play in Central Park when I was in high school, but it thunderstormed, and their set got canceled.
Dave: Built to Spill at Siren Festival!

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What’s the biggest misconception about being a band in this city?
Not sure what people think, but once we were at a small-town diner in Utah and the waitress asked us where we were from. We told her we were a band on tour from New York, and then she called in the owner to meet us and told all sorts of people in the diner we were from NYC. Not sure what that meant to her, but she thought it was cool I guess.

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Who’s your favorite NYC/Brooklyn band right now?
Excluding the bands on our label [Ed.’s note: Benton and Caridi run the excellently curated Double Double Whammy label]… Maybe Big Ups? Porches? Does Krill count yet?
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On tour for a month, what three albums would get the most play in the van?
Sun Kil Moon’s Benji, Alex G’s Trick or DSU, and Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits.


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Little Waist

With titles like “Stink Body,” “Sad Muscles,” and “Cops Confiscated My Lipstick,” the track list of Little Waist’s 2014 EP, Some Kinda Comfort, reads like a back album cover from 80s-Cal punk goofs The Vandals or The Mr. T Experience. Said songs are played with the same frenzied speed and sugar-rushed sloppiness as the Left Coast wisecrackers, too, though with one paramount difference: openly trans frontwoman Audrey Zee Whitesides isn’t exactly making jokes. In light of gender politics, Little Waist rough-hewn speedballs and deceptively serious subject matter take shape under the self-imposed principle of we-have-just-16-minutes-to-grab-your-attention-or-forever-hold-our-peace.” It leads to one crashing, exhilarating conclusion: You can say bold, meaningful things and still have a blast doing it.

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What’s the best thing about playing music in NYC in 2015?
We are a pretty openly queer band, and it’s so cool to get to play with lots of other queer musicians and for audiences with a lot of queer folks. I [Audrey] can’t think of any other city where that would be quite as true. I can’t imagine doing what we do if I stayed in the South, where I grew up.

What’s the biggest misconception about being a band in this city?
The idea that everything has to be super cool and professional and aloof here compared to smaller cities with more active DIY scenes. We don’t have as many basement shows or acoustic living room jams compared to other places I’ve been, but people are just as encouraging and supportive here. I think almost every show we’ve ever played has been a result of friends we’ve made, bands we’re stoked on who are stoked on us, and such. Maybe you have to hustle to make money on shows in a different way, but, for me at least, it still feels like Brooklyn’s music scene is based on people doing what they love with people they love, like anywhere.

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Ideal four-band bill: Who’s playing with you, and where are you playing?
Let’s say Against Me!, Downtown Boys and Cutting Room Floor, and also Death by Audio comes back for just one night to have us play? I’ve played with all these bands before so maybe I’m being boring, but they are all inspiring in different ways. I like shows that feel necessary.

What’s the single thing that doesn’t exist here now that would help the local music scene most?
I wish a lot for more accessible venues. I am lucky to be as able-bodied as I am, but I do have scoliosis, and it makes standing up for a whole show pretty hard unless I want to be in a lot of pain. Most venues don’t have seating, or just seating where you can’t actually see the bands, which means I go home before the show is over or come late and miss bands. I don’t have it the worst, but it’s still something I think about often.

Who’s your favorite NYC band right now?
Definitely Aye Nako. [Singer/guitarist] Mars [Ganito]’s lyrics have always been so evocative and rich, and since Jade [Payne] joined on second guitar, holy shit, there’s no other band who has as cool and complex instrumental parts as they do. Their new songs are about very intense things like white supremacy and being isolated from family, and they really go in. See them play every time you can.


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Eskimeaux

Proving that a supportive Brooklyn music community isn’t just a thing talked about in biweekly pocket-sized magazines, Eskimeaux’s new album O.K. is a direct product of Gabrielle Smith’s surroundings. In addition to it being released via LVL UP’s Double Double Whammy label (and featuring vocal cameos by LU’s Dave Benton, to boot), Smith writes and produces as part of The Epoch, a Brooklyn-based arts collective whose class of overlapping bands includes Mitski and Frankie Cosmos. Smith—petite and ponytailed—sings a very angelic “fuck you” to ward off haters on her last album, essentially distilling her and her cohorts’ take on bedroom pop into a few seconds. O.K. applies bright and dainty melodies to songs beyond school crushes and typical diary fare, dealing with sickness, broken necks and “rotting, peeling skin” head-on with unassuming strength.

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Your first show in NYC as Eskimeaux — where’d you play? How’d it go?
[It] was in Washington Square Park. My friends were putting together an informal series of shows in the park and usually five or six bands would play. I played with Henry Crawford (now known as Small Wonder), Felix Walworth (now known as Told Slant), Calamus and The Eskalators. It was really fun, but really scary, as it was my second show I had ever played. Halfway through my set it began to rain heavily, so we moved under the Arch. I felt pretty discouraged about having to regain everyone’s attention and really wanted to see the Eskalators play, so I cut my set short. Overall, though, it went well!

What’s the first concert you ever saw here from the audience?
Sugarcult at the Knitting Factory when I was 13. I don’t remember who else played because I only cared about seeing Sugarcult, haha.

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Who’s your favorite NYC/Brooklyn band right now?
I can’t name one, so here’s a short list: All of the bands in The Epoch, Mitski, Frankie Cosmos, Crying and LVL UP! And I don’t know if he counts, but I’ve been obsessively listening to Owen Pallett for the last month or so (and I know he’s around here somewhere…)

Ideal four-band bill — who’s playing with you, and where are you playing?
Shea Stadium with Free Cake for Every Creature, Jawbreaker Reunion, Sharpless, Emily Reo and Eskimeaux. (It’s a five-band bill, and it’s happening on May 15 at our album release show!)

Favorite song about NYC?
“Bottom Lip” by Frankie Cosmos. (“I am Fifth Avenue and I am trafficky…”)


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Tonstartssbandht

To start, it’s pronounced “tahn-starts-bandit”: “Because it’s [a] made up [word], it confused people… But it’s totally pronounceable; it depends on how open-minded you are,” drummer Edwin White told Interview. Like their band name, Edwin and his brother Andy’s shape-shifting psych-rock could be easily tossed off as confusing but, upon closer listening, unwinds into a million distinct melodies. By default, references to Brian Wilson and Noah Lennox tend to get thrown their way, but a trembling 12-string guitar and Deep South swampiness, presumably rooted in the brothers’ Florida upbringing, contradicts any typical head-in-clouds blissfulness. Odd as it is that their breakout LP is a live album recorded during a 2013 European tour, Overseas best captures this balance of familiarity and novelty. Confusing for some, exciting for the rest of us.

Your first show in NYC as Tonstartssbandht: Where’d you play? How’d it go?
July 18, 2008 at Baghdad (in the McKibbin Lofts) with Social Junk, Totally Dad and The Groits. It was our fourth performance ever as a band—it was super fuckin’ hot and sweaty. We played well, but I [Edwin] felt stupid for sending the kick pedal through the kick drumhead, and it was Social Junk’s drums and they were on tour. That part was a bummer—sorry forever yo.

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What’s the first concert you ever saw here from the audience?
September 17, 2005 at The Hook. The bill was Circle, Mouthus, Psychic Paramount, Khanate, and Coptic Light. I was so happy. I had just moved here, never been to Red Hook, and was stoked to see bands I could only listen to in Florida but never hope to see. New York is great for that.

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What’s the biggest misconception about being a band in this city?
That you go to lots of shows, or that you moved here for your band. I feel like people forget that it’s a great city, one of the best, and that sometimes you’re just a musician who loves living here for so many reasons beyond music.

What’s the single thing that doesn’t exist here now that would help the local music scene most?
Add more aliens to the scene? A benevolent benefactor? A mass exodus? A sick skatepark in Bushwick? I don’t know, we’re pretty lucky here if you think about it—you can buy beer 24 hours a day on the corner. I wish I worked part time though. Does everyone in the scene feel that way? Should we find a solution together? What if there was just this one holy guitar that everyone shared; would that bring us all together and into the future?

Who’s your favorite NYC/Brooklyn band right now?
Yonatan Gat


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Charly Bliss

Alt-rock, that sometimes misunderstood juggernaut of the 1990s, is not a style that’s often emulated well. It’s cryptic cousin lo-fi is more often attempted and, honestly, a lower bar to successfully clear. The stuff that really dominated MTV and FM radio was commercial at its core, super-fun and ultra-hooky, with a sharp sense of humor. Charly Bliss sure aren’t trying to bury anything under layers of sonic grit. Singer Eva Hendricks, just out of NYU, has a high voice with an appropriate amount of mischief. Guitarist Spencer Fox deploys pedal stomp crunch with that perfectly emphatic “Buzz Bin” timing. But it seems wrong to portray the band’s music as a careful reconstruction of some fashion passed. They’re too alive in the moment, too young to feel old.

Your first show in NYC as Charly Bliss: Where’d you play? How’d it go?
Technically, our first show as Charly Bliss happened at Arlene’s Grocery on May 15th 2012…I think it went about as well as it could have gone? We were still pretty unclear about what we were trying to do – we had one of our friends rap on a song. We’ve come a long, weird way…
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What’s the first concert you ever saw here from the audience?
The first show I ever saw on my own in New York was Harlem Shakes, Born Ruffians and Tokyo Police Club at Webster Hall when I was 15 in 2009. Weirdly enough, that was the night that I met Spencer for the first time. My mom drove Dan and I into the city (on a school night!!) and we met up with Spencer, who Dan knew from summer camp: they were in musicals and played Red Hot Chili Peppers covers together. Spencer was drinking rum from an emptied out sprite bottle in line before the show and I remember being in awe/terrified by his maturity and coolness.

What’s the best thing about playing music in NYC in 2015?
Being a band in New York is great because music still feels important here. It’s a place that’s brimming with a ton of loving and passionate people that all want the best for each other, it’s never really felt competitive, more so that everyone is fighting for the same team. I’ve heard people say that the scene is oversaturated, but that’s the wrong way of looking at it. There’s something for everyone, and by way of that, you have a lot of happy bands and happier fans.
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The worst?
Nobody likes to dance.

What’s the single thing that doesn’t exist here now that would help the NYC/Brooklyn music scene most?
A roller rink (ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:·゚✧

If you had to relocate to another city, where would you be headed?
Probably LA or Philadelphia. Or back to Westport to move in with our parents and eat endless homemade meals/never change out of lounge wear/play with my cat. •

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