If you give a shit about music, you should give a shit about Sound Off!, because even though the annual battle of the bands features only artists who are 21 and younger, it isn't just for kids. Every year, more than a hundred young music makers enter—hoping to win studio time, radio airplay, and even a slot at Bumbershoot—so you can be sure that the 12 that remain are the best of the best. For a glimpse of the Pacific Northwest's musical future, read on to meet this year's Sound Off! semifinalists.
Listen at: damesband.bandcamp.com
What you need to know: When I was a teenager, I was a mopey little shit, but this year's Sound Off! lineup is full of feel-good vibes, including Dames' relentlessly bright pop that'll shine through your bad mood with keyboards that sound like happy steel drums and sing-along-able oh oh ohs.
Listen at: laserfoxband.bandcamp.com
What you need to know: Rock bands don't always rule at Sound Off!—there have been plenty of beloved electronically inclined acts, including Idiot Pilot and Brite Futures. The key is to put on a show as energetic as any full band, even if your stage setup is filled with computers and samplers, and Laser Fox's synth-pop has enough potential to cause a dance riot if delivered well.
From: Whidbey Island
Hear at: sophiaduccini.com
What you need to know: Sophia Duccini—who can play guitar, banjo, mandolin, and harmonium—has a stunning, rich voice that comes with the subtle confidence of a seasoned performer. For evidence, watch her performance of the song "Brightest."
From: West Richland
Listen at: tommycassidy.bandcamp.com
What you need to know: Tommy Cassidy's feel-good hiphop is clearly born out of a love for music. His songs, with a smooth flow reminiscent of Macklemore, keep it posi, even when he's recalling some of life's struggles. Also: horns! More hiphop should have horns.
Listen at: manateecommune.bandcamp.com
What you need to know: Manatee Commune is one man, Grant Eadie, and his ambient electronic soundscapes will make you feel like you're a drop of dew on a freshly bloomed flower on a summer morning.
Listen at: soundcloud.com/verydopekids
What you need to know: Nabii Ko$mo has a playful flow reminiscent of Geologic of Blue Scholars, and you only have to listen to 30 seconds of his song "Wolves" to learn that he loves weed and BasedGod.
Listen at: theonlies.com
What you need to know: Fiddle tunes fit for a square dance or a bluegrass festival aren't what you'd expect to get from a trio of your average high schoolers, but seeing as how the Onlies have been playing together since basically birth, they're clearly well-rehearsed and ready for the challenge of standing out among Sound Off!'s flashier performers.
Listen at: theesamedi.bandcamp.com
What you need to know: This lo-fi, grungy garage rock with wailing, freak-out vocals is fit for the most cramped of sweaty basements, so it'll be very interesting to see how Thee Samedi's raucous and less-than-polished live show plays out in the squeaky-clean confines of the EMP. It could get weird.
From: Boise, ID
Listen at: itscalico.com
What you need to know: Calico are the first Sound Off! band to come from Idaho, and they represent the Northwest sound well with sincere string-laced folk tunes that will appeal to fans of the Head and the Heart and Of Monsters and Men.
Listen at: faunashade.bandcamp.com
What you need to know: They have the loose guitar sensibility of Modest Mouse circa 1997 and the danceability of the Killers circa 2004. Also, if you want a pre–Sound Off! sneak peek, they're playing the Sunset on February 16.
Listen at: yfe-ke.bandcamp.com
What you need to know: Rapper KSneak (aka Seattle high-school student Akeda Jones) comes to Sound Off! armed with Macklemore's support—last year, the Grammy winner was so impressed by her performance at a local talent show that he gave her video for the cocky (but great) song "I'm On" some love on Twitter.
Listen at: soundcloud.com/otieno
What you need to know: Otieno Terry is the most experimental Sound Off! semifinalist I can recall, dabbling in everything from an instrument-free spoken-word/rap hybrid to R&B piano ballads about summertime. Also worth noting: He won first place tenor soloist at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.
To find more information on any of these artists, see the full Sound Off! program, or buy tickets to upcoming shows, visit empmuseum.org.