What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, we were getting ready to host the first-ever December version of our Dallas Observer Music Awards. Perennial DOMA nominees Sarah Jaffe and Old 97’s were squaring off for best album honors, with an upstart rapper, Blue, the Misfit, looking to score an upset — receiving not only his first nomination, but his first five.
One young singer from Fort Worth, however, would have to wait another year to get his chance. Leon Bridges’ career was just starting to hit high gear at the end of 2014 — a little too late to make an impression on the DOMA nominations (he would show up busking on the streets of Deep Ellum the night of the showcase) — but in the weeks afterward, the levee broke, kicking off with the news of his signing to Columbia Records on Christmas Day.
We’ve written thousands of words about Bridges ever since: performing on late-night television, topping the Billboard charts and playing with not one but two Beatles. And, believe it or not, busking once again in Deep Ellum.
Bridges’ name is inevitably writ large on the ballot for the DOMAs this year, repeating Blue’s 2014 feat of five nominations, including best album, best song and best male vocalist. But there’s a hell of a lot else to be excited about in Dallas music this year, and you’ll find much of it in the list of nominees, which we put together with the help of 200 local music experts.
Blue, in spite of not releasing any new music in 2015, hasn’t slowed down a bit. If anything, he has kept an even higher profile, collaborating with surf-punks Sealion and holding down multiple DJ nights, all of which was enough to earn him another six nominations.
He’s joined by a slew of rappers who have helped raise the hip-hop scene to new levels — and no, we’re not talking about Justus or Post Malone, who scored national buzz after moves to Los Angeles. The Outfit, TX come with the endorsement of Killer Mike; Buffalo Black received his from Spike Lee. Both, along with Bobby Sessions, released stellar albums too late in the year to make the DOMAs but still feature prominently in the nominations anyway.
Bridges and Blue aren’t the only ones racking up nominations this year, and the variety of other artists who join them demonstrates just how deep and eclectic the pool of talent in Dallas is these days. One-woman electro-pop songstress Sudie picked up five nominations, as did leather-clad dance-floor martyr Dezi 5. Even Sealion, on the back of a year spent mostly on the road, picked up four nods, plus a fifth for band member Sam Villavert in the best bassist category.
So it has been a pretty good year, with a lot more to look forward to in 2016, but before we call time on the Year of Leon, we have one more order of business: throwing a huge-ass party. That party is actually parties plural, the DOMA showcase and ceremony, and we’re devoting a lot of space in this week’s paper to giving you the lowdown on both. You’ll find a full map, a schedule and list of set times for the shows taking place across nine Deep Ellum venues, plus short profiles on the 44 artists who will be performing. Make sure to also find out all about what’s happening at the ceremony, which takes place at The Bomb Factory next Wednesday, December 9.
$kaduf, 7:40 p.m.
It’s not contentious to say that $kaduf had one of the most promising local hip-hop releases of this year. The Pleasant Grove artist seemingly came from nowhere when he released his single “40 Oz. & Big B’s Burger,” and it was love at first listen for Dallas. His self-produced, old-school storytelling style is refreshing and unique to the area. $kaduf aspires to be the next major artist to break from our fair city, and he’s making the right moves to meet those dreams. Brandon Mikeal
Wesley Geiger, 8:40 p.m.
One year ago, the release of El Dorado marked the start of an incredibly bright future for Wesley Geiger. A Dallas native, Geiger struck gold with his full-length debut, which masterfully wove the 1970s Bakersfield country sound into Los Angeles’ gritty rock from the same era. Just a few weeks ago, Geiger opened for Leon Bridges at The Majestic Theatre, further evidence of his ascendancy. Geiger’s soulful lyrics and equally wrenching voice prove just how happy a sad song can make you. Amy McCarthy
The Outfit, TX, 9:40 p.m.
The Outfit, TX are the official ambassadors of Dallas hip-hop. The trio has ingrained itself so deeply in the scene, sharing stages and recording music with a number of the city’s acts, that the group’s de facto leader Mel Kyle has on occasion penned columns for Noisey to keep the nation informed of the state of things here. Kyle’s gift of gab and rock star persona may nab much of the limelight, but the group is as well-rounded as they come, with JayHawk Walker’s aggressive, hard-edged raps balancing out Dorian Terrell’s production. The group’s Southern pride and Houston-inspired hip-hop has grown from trill anthems to socially aware manifestos. Mikel Galicia
Sudie, 10:40 p.m.
There’s no greater example of Sudie’s ghost-pop sound than her single “Heart Attack,” released in April. The singer has been taking vocal lessons and performing since age 7, with weekly acts at Johnnie High’s Country Music Revue at Arlington Music Hall (now called Arlington Music Hall Presents). She spent her high school years in Dubai, where she was cast in many musicals and plays before returning to Texas to attend classes in SMU’s music department. This is Sudie’s second year in the DOMAs and she’s nominated in five different categories. Sara Button
Straight Tequila Night, 11:40 p.m.
Heel toe, dosie doe. All my exes live in Texas. I’ve got friends in low places. Let the thunder roll. These aren’t just personal mantras, they’re also lyrics you’re guaranteed to hear if you’re lucky enough to catch the gussied-up shit kickers in Straight Tequila Night play their perfectly curated ’90s Top 40 Country covers in the seedier, bootier bars of Dallas. For those of a certain age, it’s a trip down memory lane to when country radio wasn’t a watered-down quagmire of bros and T-Swift wannabes, and damn if it ain’t also a lot of fun. Jaime-Paul Falcon
Ishi, 12:40 a.m.
Ishi are a band of survivors. When their debut album, 2010’s Through the Trees, met with mixed reviews, singer Taylor Rea left soon after, leaving Ishi’s future in doubt. The band soldiered on, releasing 2013’s Digital Wounds to critical acclaim and garnering a fanbase devoted to their slinky dance-pop and singer J.T. Mudd’s lustful dance moves. “Toss & Turn,” the group’s collaborative single with producer Artful, refines the Ishi sound down to frothy textures. Have no fear — Ishi are as smooth as ever. Caleb Wossen
The Door, 2513 Main St.
Fab Deuce, 8 p.m.
Fab Deuce are a high-energy, five-piece hip-hop collective based in Denton. Think a more comical (or maybe just less hardcore) version of Cypress Hill, but with dudes from North Texas. If you’ve been to a Fab Deuce show, you know it — the group is extremely energetic on stage, putting on a spirited show regardless of the venue. The group’s first DOMA nomination comes this year after the release of their 2015 mixtape, The Hangover. Sara Button
Le Cure, 9 p.m.
There are good cover bands and then there is Le Cure, who take it to the next level. Even the Cure faithful could be forgiven for thinking they’re seeing the real deal when Le Cure are on stage. The band is fronted by Mark Hernandez, who looks and acts so much like brooding and wild-haired Cure mastermind Robert Smith that you start to wonder if you unknowingly wandered into some super-secret Cure show. The Cure visits Dallas in 2016, but Le Cure is the best option in 2015. Caroline Basile
Justin Pickard, 10 p.m.
After touring extensively with his group Sidekick Mafia, Justin Pickard emerged as a successful solo artist, earning consistently high praise for his melodic sophistication. With his solo debut, 2014’s The High Price for the Low Life, he conveyed an extraordinary everyman, universal appeal, plucking our heartstrings with his innovative mix of hard rock guitar and bluegrass. Pickard has lots of Southern soul, and his finely blended brew of rock, country and Americana has made him a local favorite for years. Eva Raggio
Pearl Earl, 11 p.m.
Psychedelic garage rockers Pearl Earl pay tribute to the rock gods of yesterday with a retro sound that has power and charm to boot. Their single “Karaoke Superstar” and EP of the same name have become local hits since their release in the spring. The group have been playing it at various spots throughout North Texas (they call Denton home) to a very positive response. Sometimes all you wanna be is a karaoke superstar. Pablo Arauz
Dezi 5, 12 a.m.
It has been an interesting and groundbreaking year for Dezi 5, whom we declared Dallas R&B’s best-kept secret in January. Shortly after, Dezi 5 crucified himself during a dance party at The Public Trust (don’t worry, he’s OK), and he has continued to ride a hot streak this year, solidifying his place as one of the biggest and boldest acts of any genre in Dallas. That’s all incredibly fortunate, as the Dallas LGBT community has long been on the margins of the broader local music scene, and there’s no better person to bring everyone together than Dezi 5. Amy McCarthy
The Green Room, 2715 Elm St.
The Venetian Sailors, 8 p.m.
Since forming in 2012, the Venetian Sailors have grown from a charming roots act into a bonafide pop-rock contender. They’re constantly playing bars and small venues for now, but certainly not for long. The folky influence is still prominent, fortunately, but the band is consistently evolving, becoming a bigger and better version of its previous self. Being able to watch that happen in real time within the confines of a small and intimate scene has been incredibly exciting. Amy McCarthy
LEV, 9 p.m.
The popularity of electro-pop shows no signs of slowing down, which is pretty fortunate for an artist like LEV. The 2015 release of LEV’s Fear No Evil EP was met with exceedingly positive reviews, especially from local music fans. LEV, whose real name is Holly Peyton, has cultivated a synthy, ’80s-influenced sound that people are beginning to notice. In Dallas, LEV is just starting to build a dedicated fanbase, but her songs have already seen some club scene success in the U.K., and she has jetted off to California for a few top-secret co-writing projects and to record her first full-length album. To say that LEV is on her way might be an understatement. Amy McCarthy
Lord Byron, 10 p.m.
For several years now, Lord Byron has held a reputation in the city as one of the most avant-garde and experimental hip-hop acts around. His unique wordplay and stream-of-consciousness flows are unmatched by anyone in the city, and it’s a rewarding task for listeners to try to keep up with his verses. Don’t just take our word for it: The boastful Byron isn’t shy about bigging himself up when he gets the chance. Mikel Galicia
Yells at Eels, 11 p.m.
Brothers Stefan and Aaron González are staples of Dallas’ rich experimental music scene. But when the two aren’t performing solo, they are joined by their father, Dennis, the three of them exploring their shared love for free-form expression in the realm of jazz fusion. While time is limited, Yells at Eels manage to stop it entirely, if only for a moment. Each member is a master of improvisation and complicated textures, skills that evolve into a rare familial wavelength when put together onstage. Yells at Eels may just open your brain to a whole new way of thinking, and they should not be taken for granted. Evan Henry
Rahim Quazi, 12 a.m.
Rahim Quazi is having one of the best years of his life. His third solo record, Ghost Hunting, is his best outing yet, and he sold out The Kessler Theater for his release show. The guy radiates a positive vibe and his lush songs back that personality up. The year looks set to end on a great note as Ghost Hunting has been nominated for two Grammys: best American roots and best engineered. Here’s to 2016. Eric Grubbs
Club Dada (outside), 2720 Elm St.
Filth, 8:20 p.m.
Filth is the monstrous creation of enigmatic disaster/mastermind Rob Buttrum. With this project, Buttrum infiltrates not only the body but the mind as well. The result tears right through the listener. The music is a perfect blend of raw human spirit and infinite droning. Often seen in basements and dives, Filth will be unleashed upon the unsuspecting crowds of Club Dada come Saturday. Evan Henry
Bobby Sessions, 9:20 p.m.
After quitting his day job on the last day of 2014 to dedicate himself to rap full time, Bobby Sessions, a former member of hip-hop collective Brain Gang, released “Black America” on Martin Luther King Day, a track as aggressive as the tactics employed by the police the song criticizes. His recently debuted single “Peyton Manning” will take you back to those high school cypher days and leave you wondering why no one spit like that at your school. Sessions’ first album, Law of Attraction, dropped at the end of last month — that’s one hell of a turnaround from where Sessions was this time last year. Yvonne Cruz
Rat Rios, 10:20 p.m.
Samantha “Rat” Rios’ rise in 2015 suggests that she has what it takes to be a star in the local music game. She’s an active and compelling performer — a jill of all trades, so to speak — who brings theatrical creativity (she’s also an up-and-coming playwright) to music that has a lot in common with the ’80s new wave sound. She’s still relatively new to the scene, but her unique passion and voice have already made her essential. Pablo Arauz
The Rich Girls, 11:20 p.m.
As far as cover bands go, you can’t do much better than the Rich Girls. The relentlessly upbeat, catchy tunes of Hall & Oates aside, this much-beloved band’s stage charisma is unparalleled among artists who perform other artists’ music. You can frequently find them in local bars and at private parties leading the most drunken singalongs of “You Make My Dreams Come True” that you’ve ever seen. Fortunately, they also happen to be among the most fun. Amy McCarthy
Blue, the Misfit, 12:20 a.m.
As a rapper, producer and DJ, Brandon Blue — aka Blue, the Misfit — has become one of the most interesting and entertaining voices of the Dallas hip-hop scene. A tireless performer, he has been seen bringing the house down at venues like Trees and Off the Record, and wowing the masses at larger events like Oaktopia and Fun Fun Fun Fest with trippy multimedia effects backing his bouncy stage presence. Logging time in the studio with Kendrick Lamar ups Blue’s cred, but the infectious energy and savvy lyrics of last year’s Child in the Wild prove that his work stands up just fine on its own. Jeff Strowe
The Prophet Bar, 2548 Elm St.
Mariachi Quetzal, 8:20 p.m.
Mariachi Quetzal are one of the most distinctive acts to come from Denton in recent years. The 11-member group was founded in 2008 by members of Mariachi Aguilas, a student ensemble at the University of North Texas. The passionate ensemble is loaded with violins, vihuela guitars, trumpets, a guitar and a guitarrón. They don traditional mariachi charros while playing everything from mariachi standards like “El Toro Relajo” to putting their own twist on classics like Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Caroline Basile
Kirk Thurmond and the Millennials, 9:20 p.m.
As if the smoothly infectious tunes of this R&B act weren’t enough, the buttery voice of Kirk Thurmond sets the music of the Millennials wholly apart. With Bruno Mars-style versatility and irresistible charm, Thurmond is an ideal bandleader for this act with equally powerful R&B and roots influences. You don’t hear a whole lot of R&B that sounds like this, but if you did, it would be a better world. Amy McCarthy
The Free Loaders, 10:20 p.m.
The Free Loaders are a Deep Ellum staple, frequently found at The Free Man and other local venues, and for that we should count ourselves very, very fortunate. The jazz and swing influences here are strong, but there’s almost a sort of ska-like aesthetic that makes these frantically played, always fast tunes feel about a thousand times more intense. The growl of gravel-voiced lead singer John Jay Myers against the backdrop of a rapidly gentrifying and changing Deep Ellum gives us hope that at least some things will remain the same. Amy McCarthy
Charley Crockett, 11:20 p.m.
A sort of modern-day relic and actual descendant of Davy Crockett, Charley Crockett effortlessly blends classic Texas swing and the eclectic sounds of Louisiana jazz and blues. A hardscrabble upbringing as a poor kid in South Texas provides Crockett with the perfect frame of reference for this style of music, adding a layer of authenticity to a guy who came up busking in New York City subway cars. Now that he’s finally hitting his stride and welcoming more and more fans into his retro, bluesy fray, we can’t wait to see what happens. Amy McCarthy
Oil Boom, 12:20 a.m.
Fort Worth’s Oil Boom seem destined to break through to the mainstream as they continue to build on an eclectic sound that was one of our favorites to spin in 2015. The group’s star seems on the rise as they bounce from one packed show to the next on the strength of last year’s Red Metal, building a reputation as one of the most solid acts in not just the area, but the nation as well. They are not to be missed.
Club Dada (inside), 2720 Elm St.
The Azalea Project, 8:40 p.m.
The Azalea Project comprises a group of high-school-aged boys who all attend Dallas’ creative public secondary school, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Despite their youth, their sound is a throwback to indie rock kingpins of the 1990s, with vintage vocal patterns, soft yet quick guitar hits and mostly clever lyrics. The Azalea Project are up for their first-ever DOMA in the best new act category. Sara Button
Teen Slut 9:40 p.m.
A particular brand of digital punk is brewing in the Dallas underground music scene and Teen Slut are a prime candidate to be its ambassador. In keeping with the most hardcore of traditions, Teen Slut embrace the nihilistic punk attitude by rejecting traditional instrumentation in favor of a Nintendo Gameboy and a vocal effects processor. They draw closest comparison to seminal New York art punks Suicide, but the sound is reinvented through a technology-driven, modern generation. Wanz Dover
Kaela Sinclair, 10:40 p.m.
Kaela Sinclair released her debut album, Sun and Mirror, in 2013, introducing her to a world starving for her jazzy pop stylings. The former jazz student now has a multitude of people clamoring for her attention, resulting in offers to sing at Texas Rangers baseball games and a surprise invitation from Scottish parliament to play the Making Noise for Poverty, Equality and Diversity music festival. Sinclair is working on her sophomore album with producer and Midlake drummer Mackenzie Smith and she’s nominated for three different DOMAs. Caleb Wossen
Mayta, 11:40 p.m.
One of the most buzzed-about performances from last year’s DOMA showcase was Mayta’s rooftop set at Green Room, which featured salsa dancing, guttural roars and, well, lots of tequila. The Latin rock band used that buzz to turn 2015 into the year of Mayta; the group dominated Latin music in Dallas by securing a spot at the Panchega Fest and supporting every major Latin act that rolled through North Texas. Knowing what the hype from last year did for them, it’s almost certain things will be even wilder this year. Jaime Paul-Falcon
Party Static, 12:40 a.m.
With every performance it seems Party Static further refine their fun-filled cherry bomb of sound, and they will make you glad to be part of such a blooming scene. They’ve always got smiles on their faces, even when they’re shit-talking Mr. Sexypants or screaming about their bad sides. Last February’s EP, My Cat Doesn’t Like That, is full of earworms that we just can’t get enough of, and a string of local slots opening for bands like the Coathangers and Parquet Courts should have them in red-hot form Saturday. Absorb it all, why don’t you. Evan Henry
Three Links, 2704 Elm St.
Bad Mountain, 8:40 p.m.
Led by Jesse Anderson, Bad Mountain play an eclectic blend of folk and gospel driven by ragtime piano and Anderson’s gritty and distorted vocals. Bad Mountain take two different forms: Sometimes it’s just Anderson as a one-man band and other times he gets a little help from his friends and has a stage full of musicians. Either lineup grabs the attention of even the most casual listener of Bad Mountain’s toe-tapping tunes. Caroline Basile
Claire Morales, 9:40 p.m.
Claire Morales has been picking up her guitar and playing solo shows since the ripe age of 13. She’s based in Denton, and her songs beautifully spin stories of her dreams and her past. Her song progression is similar to that of Aimee Mann by way of 2002’s Lost in Space, and her vocals are at times reminiscent of Patsy Cline. Morales’ debut album, Amaranthine, was released last February and landed her a DOMA nomination for best folk act. Sara Button
Buffalo Black, 10:40 p.m.
Born and raised in Oak Cliff, rapper Buffalo Black began writing music in 2010 when he was a student at the University of North Texas. He has come a long way with great songs like “Warpaint,” “Enter the Void” and “1984,” off his recently released full-length, Surrilla. More like a street poet than a rapper, Black is deeply connected to his music, which he relates to current events in America’s turbulent social climate. If you ever need music that touches the heart as well as the ear, you’ve met your match. Aria Bell
Lily Taylor, 11:40 p.m.
Lily Taylor uses her voice as a multilayered instrument through the use of electronic gear. Minimal synthesizers and a drum machine largely play supporting roles to her looped, layered and affected vocals. The music recalls the more ethereal side of old-school 4AD bands without directly aping their sound. Taylor’s live presence is enhanced by video, making her an electronic siren for the modern age. Wanz Dover
The Vandoliers, 12:40 a.m.
Even though they only started playing shows earlier this year, the Vandoliers shot into the DFW music scene like a round from a six shooter. The alt-country outfit led by Joshua Fleming, known as the leader for 2014 DOMA Best Punk Act winner the Phuss, plays an aggressive blend of country, rock and Americana. The songs are catchy and the personality is contagious. Equal parts Stetson and rock ‘n’ roll, the Vandoliers are one of the most exciting new bands to hit the DFW music scene this year, and definitely one of the best local country acts around. Brandon Mikeal
Off the Record, 2716 Elm St.
Bemyfriend, 9 p.m.
Bemyfriend has a finger on the pulse of the local and national music scenes. He has amassed a huge online following as a local tastemaker and DJ. His approval matters, and his DJ sets are always on the forefront of the best new music; he can get a show warmed up better than most rappers. On any given night, it’s not surprising to see Bemyfriend double- or triple-booked for shows. Mikel Galicia
Wanz Dover, 10 p.m.
Wanz Dover has just about seen it all in his multi-decade run in the North Texas music scene. Fluent in rock, soul and modern electronic music, his musical knowledge rises above all. Dover, a contributor to the Dallas Observer, spins records or performs almost nightly. He’s perhaps the hardest working man in town, and he has the catalog to prove it. Just look him up. Having survived a health scare earlier this year, his is a particularly welcome face at this year’s showcase. Evan Henry
Cygnus, 11 p.m.
This has been a banner year for Dallas electro prodigy Cygnus. With an all-hardware and no-laptop electronic rig, he brings a high level of technical wizardry and real-time performance often absent from live electronic acts. Early this fall, Cygnus took that live show across the country, opening for legendary IDM originators Autechre, one of the biggest gigs of the year for any Texas electronic artist. This tour exposed him to every diehard electronic music nerd in major cities across the country. Wanz Dover
Sober, 12 a.m.
At this point, it’s hard to imagine Dallas’ music and nightlife scene without DJ Sober. His versatility as a DJ and ability to work any crowd in any setting have made him one of the city’s most celebrated DJs. Sober has deejayed private events for Dallas’ elite, such as Dirk Nowitzki and Erykah Badu. Big Bang!, his Thursday night residency at Beauty Bar, is consistently one of the liveliest and most jam-packed parties in the city. Mikel Galicia
Reno’s, 210 N. Crowdus St.
The BoomBachs, 9:20 p.m.
Hailing from Denton, the BoomBachs blend hip-hop, jazz, rock and funk to create an oddly distinct sound. The seven-piece band, which includes a tenor sax player who doubles as a flautist, reached their Kickstarter goal earlier this year to fund the recording of AlienNation. That album’s sound is mature and complex, each song offering something completely different and suggesting that this band is really onto something. Sara Button
Supersonic Lips, 10:20 p.m.
It’s impossible to fit Supersonic Lips into a neat little box, especially when you consider that the band describe themselves as making “dirty alley, acid-trip Tejano music for punks who don’t consider themselves punk.” But even if you can’t find the right words, just know that Supersonic Lips are good. The electronic elements keep the gritty, punky sound fresh and current, along with giving you an excellent soundtrack for your Friday night debauchery. And that’s exactly what a rock band should do. Amy McCarthy
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iill, 11:20 p.m.
iill are the product of a modern reinvention of punk that could only exist in a dystopia-obsessed digital age. Raw electronics played with reckless abandon surge behind the wild-eyed mystique of frontwoman Greer. (Yes, just Greer.) The sound is dominated by overdriven synthesizers and no-frills electronic beats, a cold wave approach to gutter-punk ideology that has a lot in common with the Germs conceptually and with art-damaged cyborgs in actuality. Their live shows lie at a nexus between confrontation and performance art. Wanz Dover
In Memory of Man, 12:20 a.m.
In Dallas’ excellent and crowded hardcore scene, In Memory of Man manage to stand out. With heavy, rock-influenced riffs and intense vocals, the sound here is much more classic than most of what you’ll hear in 2015. The raw energy is equally heavy, resulting in a sort of homage to “real” rock music with a distinct hardcore influence. Amy McCarthy