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While there will always be a struggle to put a label on the ever-changing Denver music scene, the city will continue doing what it does best — give artists of any background and genre the opportunity to shine. Breaking into the Denver music industry is no easy feat, however. Artists compete for coveted venue space at some of the hottest nightclubs, bars and auditoriums — including one of the largest outdoor venues in the world — to etch their name into history. Denver continues to grow as a point of interest for international musicians while the city continues to produce its own homegrown favorites.
In between the sold out Red Rocks shows and Pepsi Center headliners, local musicians grind weeknights, late nights and opening sets for a chance to play in sold-out arenas. The energy put forth by local bands is unmatched — they know opportunities are limited and are here to earn them. Fortunately, their efforts don’t go unnoticed. We’ve compiled a list of a few local artists who’ve earned some recognition in 2017 that they’re riding into 2018. We hope all Denver musicians get their big break, but if 2018 plays out right, here are some of the artists you should look out for.
2017 was a big year for Maddy O’Neal. She opened for artists at both Red Rocks and The Gorge — two of the greatest outdoor venues in the world. She’s no stranger to Denver, either. O’Neal ended the year with her largest headlining show to date at Bluebird Theater. Her stage presence and energy is a breath of fresh air for the electronic music scene. Regardless of the size of the crowd, her enthusiasm remains unshakable. We’re ready to see more of Maddy O’Neal in 2018 and hope her headlining show at The Bluebird is the first of many. – Ellie Herring
With SoundCloud and other music sharing platforms becoming more accessible to virgin artists, the competition to create the freshest rhymes is fierce. AP combines catchy beats with lyrics that pack a punch to create songs that make you feel like you’ve known them forever — his addicting lyrics will be in your head for days. AP appears to spend most of his time in the studio — with three stacked albums and an EP under his belt, it’s time for Denver to take notice and for AP to make it big in 2018. – Ellie Herring
Nasty Nachos is a dance floor savant and one of Denver’s most exciting electronic artists. His use of modular synthesizers and his ability to improvise on the fly makes for performances as unforgettable as they are unpredictable. Watching him create tracks in real time is a meticulous art — a sonic journey that explores as much as it explodes with shimmering disco decadence. If one thing is for sure, Nasty Nachos will keep you dancing all the way into 2019 and easily beyond it. – Kori Hazel
Decatur is the perfect soundtrack for bike riding around Washington Park during a late afternoon. The five-piece experimental alternative rock group adds a unique, synth-heavy sound on top of dreamy vocals for a sound that’s easy to get lost in. Their sound is similar to alt-J and Kings of Leon but has a unique characteristic about it that keeps favorites like “Shake” on repeat. For only just forming in 2015, the band has a seriously professional vibe about them — one we’d like to see more of in 2018. – Ellie Herring
It’s hard to not fall in love with singer Emma Cole’s voice. Her angelic vocals were made for Wildermiss — and each musician’s unique sound fits together perfectly with the others. This upbeat alternative band didn’t skip a beat in 2017 and has no intention of slowing down in 2018. Wildermiss is one of those bands you know you’ll see in the future — they found something special within each other — and that resonates with fans. – Ellie Herring
When it comes to live music, charisma is the name of the game and Nathan ‘Napalm’ Palmer has gifted the Mile High City with a hefty dose of both charisma and charm. The former Denver Bronco released his latest album Therapy earlier this year and the effort is honest, chock full of searing vocals and melodies to die for. After his headlining show at The Bluebird Theater in December, Palmer proved he can carry the moments perfected in the studio straight to the stage with enthusiasm, gusto and realism. On a vocal level Napalm can hold his own in traditional R&B style, but paired with his own experimental style of production and thoughtful songwriting there’s no doubt he’ll do big things in 2018. Napalm’s energetic live show is only out-matched by his one-on-one personality. He’s charming, dynamic and holds an observer’s perspective like only a songwriter on the road to greatness can. From the football field to the stage, if there’s anything this singing phenom can’t do, it’s yet to be seen. – Ru Johnson
Retrofette may only have a handful of songs released, but they’re already making waves in the Denver music scene. The quartet played not one, but three nights at the 2017 Underground Music Showcase, and shortly after they released a remix EP which included remixes by Nasty Nachos, OptycNerd, Futurebabes and more. From their catchy dance sounds to their spot-on merch (“Synthpop or Death”), Retrofette is doing it right. The group recently hinted at new music on the horizon, which we think is all they need to get their big break. – Tyler Harvey
CRL CRRLL (pronounced Carl Carrell) is difficult to fit into one style of music. He mixes sexy R&B beats with a futurist electronic sound for a collection of songs that make you feel like you snuck into a rooftop pool party. He brings the heavy vibes and experimental electronic sound with his own personal touch, and we’re seriously digging it. He’s another one to keep an eye on in 2018. – Ellie Herring
Brent Cowles knows how to write those rock anthems you sing in your car and the ballads you cry over in your shower. His soul is poured into each of his songs and performances, something Cowles had a bit of practice in from his previous band. Cowles switched gears from his folk band You Me & Apollo to start his solo project, Brent Cowles. Cowles, with all of his energy into his solo project, is right on track to gaining national recognition in 2018. Listen to his soulful vocals in “9th & Lafayette” in our playlist above. – Ellie Herring
What happens when Glass Animals spawns a three-way love child with Cherub and Tycho? Denver’s Motion Trap. Comparisons aside, Motion Trap has created a unique electro-pop sound that’s influenced by some of music’s past and present heavy-hitters. This past summer the band performed at both Denver’s Underground Music Showcase and Loveland’s Arise Music Festival. Motion Trap has been in the works for over 10 years and there’s no doubt that their combination of eerie ambiance, danceable rhythms and funky vocals have set them up for success. Check out their newest album Heavenly Bodies released in September of 2017. – Tyler Harvey
Ray Reed just might be the rapper that puts Denver’s hip-hop scene on the map. Cities like Atlanta and Houston get all the rap fan’s attention — but once they hear Ray Reed — that will change. Reed raps about street life, growing up in D-town and more on his latest mixtape PacMan. During his time in jail, Reed realized his dream of rapping, developing a promising career at one of the most difficult times in his life. And we’re glad he did. – Ellie Herring
TNERTLE has been making music in Denver for quite some time — and a lot of it, too. Their mix of electro-beats, hip-hop samples and a shit-ton of brass is balanced out by the band into an irresistibly funky combination. But with their recent release of EP Monsters Out West and a packed performance at the Bluebird Theater with Dynohunter, we have high hopes for this Denver band in 2018. If you have yet to catch TNERTLE live, do yourself a favor and snag a ticket to their next gig (they open for RJD2 at the Ogden for their fourth year in a row on January 27). – Tyler Harvey
The Gasoline Lollipops found the perfect name for their sound — gritty yet oddly charming. The alternative country band hits the sweet spot between that classic folk sound and no bullshit punk appeal. It’s the perfect American band — a mash-up of different sounds and people — and it works. We wish them the best in 2018 — but we doubt they’ll need it. – Ellie Herring
Slow Caves brings those relaxing West Coast-influenced tunes to Colorado — an injection of beach vibes we so desperately need. Sundays are almost made for listening to Slow Caves. After gaining the attention of their hometown in Fort Collins, Slow Caves began regularly playing to Denver crowds in 2017. Check out their latest EP Desert Minded for some seriously ’80s vibes. – Ellie Herring
YaSi’s sound is as exceptional as her persona. She knows how to create both unique tracks and looks without giving the appearance of trying too hard. Inspiration comes naturally to YaSi — both in the form of audible melodies and killer fashion statements. Her sultry voice will pull you in and the sexy R&B beats will keep you listening for hours. She’s Denver’s Rihanna but in her own completely unique and original way. We can’t wait to see what she has in store for 2018. – Ellie Herring
The Still Tide
The Still Tide is one of those bands you can listen to for hours — Anna Morsett’s smooth voice resonates with even the saltiest of listener. Their newest EP Run Out features five songs about growing up, leaving home and trying to find your own way. “Dance with me till my heart changes,” Morsett sings in “Give Me Time.” The Still Tide recently opened for hometown favorite Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats at the Ogden Theatre, and we’re confident they’ll be headlining that same venue in no time. – Emily McCarter
With a recent album titled Dorothy Alice and a growing dedicated fan-base, Kyle Emerson is setting himself up for a great year. Not long ago, Emerson played guitar in a band called Plum, but now he’s solo and he’s never sounded better. His soft vocals can coo you to sleep or help you through a lonely day. We’re excited to see what he does in 2018. – Emily McCarter
Eldren continues to make waves in the Denver music scene with their psychedelic space pop. Although their latest album Welcome to Deathville dates back to 2015, the band is set to release some more fire tunes this year. They already have a show on the books — they will be opening for Dragondeer’s LP record release party on March 10 at the Bluebird Theater. Get tickets before they’re sold out. – Emily McCarter
RUMTUM is a name you all should know by now. Real name John Hastings, RUMTUM’s electronic beats are resonating with the Denver and the national music scene alike — he’s opening for Flamingosis at Larimer Lounge on January 20. There’s a reason he’s being booked so heavily too — his beats are so sick that you can’t help but to dance around with delight. Catch his smaller Denver shows before he’s selling out larger venues. – Emily McCarter
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article featured local band Greener Grounds but the band recently broke up and have been removed.