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This Friday, the main stage at beloved Minneapolis venue First Avenue will play host to one of the local music scene’s most exciting nights of the year.

First Avenue’s Best New Bands showcase has, for over three decades, featured a diverse array of compelling musical acts across genres. Previous years have featured a number of “must-see” artists who, on those nights, would create countless memories of the “I can’t believe I saw them back then” variety.

Ten years ago a group called The Chalice headlined the night, and you may be familiar with that group’s members: Lizzo and Sophia Eris, both current international chart-toppers and media darlings. More recent years have seen local icons Gully Boys and Nur-D tear the house down, cementing their status as the new standard-bearers of the Minnesota sound.

Ahead of the March 4 show, we spoke to five of the featured artists to discuss how Minnesota shaped their sounds and styles, as well as what tracks they would consider to be the best introduction to their music — so you have plenty of time to memorize the words before singing along at First Avenue.

Durry

If you had to choose one song of yours to be the best introduction to your music, which would it be?

Definitely “Who’s Laughing Now.” It’s been the real breakthrough track for most folks, and I think it’s a great entry point. 

Do you have a favorite show you've ever seen at First Avenue?

We LOVE 7th St. Love seeing folks packing the place supporting local music. We recently caught part of the Gully Boys’ residency there with Ivers, Boyish, and Raffaella. Killer lineup all around, we had a great time. 

Why do you think Minnesota's music scene has such a worldwide reputation for quality emerging artists? Do you think it's had a specific influence on your sound?

So many cities have so few small artist-centric venues. I think the community just supports the little guys in a really unique way. Our sound has mostly been formed by old movies and stuff like that to be honest, but the locals are the inspiration to make it all happen. Probably my favorite part about being in a band is that nobody gives you permission. Anybody can just start making music with their friends and boom, you’re a band and you’re just as legit as anybody else. That’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.

VIAL

If you had to choose one song of yours to be the best introduction to your music, which would it be? 

"Roadkill!" It's gritty, but doesn't take itself too seriously. We hope people can have a laugh and feel the youthful rebelliousness of "Roadkill" that's frequent across a lot of VIAL's discography.

Why do you think Minnesota's music scene has such a worldwide reputation for quality emerging artists? Do you think it's had a specific influence on your sound?

Minnesota acts, such as Babes in Toyland, have had a huge impact on VIAL's sound. The Minnesota music scene has a strong Do-It-Together spirit that is really conducive for new artists to blossom into the community. 

Do you have a favorite show you've ever seen at First Avenue? 

Two of us, Kate and Taylor, went to see Babes in Toyland in 2017 at the Mainroom. The show was INCREDIBLE! 

Kokou Kah

If you had to choose one song of yours to be the best introduction to your music, which would it be?

I'd say "Bridges" for sure because it talks about how I'm struggling by all of us struggling. "City's on fire/and there's 10,000 Lakes" or "Death by cop they gone let em get away/trapped in a box/but they blame it on me"; all speak to the bridges being burned and the need to build new ones in Minnesota and beyond. My music has a mission, and that's to tell a story that hasn't been told before, my life, and to make people wake up to begin including all people everywhere for everything. 

"I'm not perfect/I'm just trying to find my way" is my life statement because I believe I will keep growing every day of my life, there isn't an arrival point for me. 

Do you have a favorite show you've ever seen at First Avenue?

My favorite show at First Ave was Jonny Darko & Bobby Rethwish with me in the 7th St. Entry. The crowd was [exceptionally] welcoming and people pushed the culture forward that night by never leaving the floor and going nuts for us. I love the community at First Ave. 

Why do you think Minnesota's music scene has such a worldwide reputation for quality emerging artists? Do you think it's had a specific influence on your sound?

I think they do because there is so much diversity amongst artists here. It's definitely had a specific influence. I have music friends who make hip-hop, Afro beat, rock, hyperpop, country etc. Being without family, my music friends became my family and I gained my sound from being raised by my friends. 

Lanue

If you had to choose one song of yours to be the best introduction to your music, which would it be?

I think the song "What I Love The Most" is a good intro to what Lanue is all about.

There's some strong imagery tied to a sense of place, an easiness and a lush lift that I think hones in on the sound and mood of what we've been crafting. 

Do you have a favorite show you've ever seen at First Avenue?

I think some of my favorite shows would have to be some of the first I attended as an underage kid … a handful of Minneapolis hip-hop shows in my late teen years when I was impressionable and everything was new and exciting. 

Why do you think Minnesota's music scene has such a worldwide reputation for quality emerging artists? Do you think it's had a specific influence on your sound?

There seems to be this kind of this trifecta of clubs/audience/artist camaraderie that allows for artists to explore and tap into each other's powers in a way that feels mutually supportive. There's also this deep respite and reflective cold period in our lives that gives everyone a bit of solitude and a chance to experiment and hone in on a particular craft which I think is really a gift. The deep and dynamic seasons here are a gift. The access to fresh air and clean water and the woods ... all these things shape what we create as artists and for me personally, especially being in Duluth, has influenced how I write, my delivery, and how I see the world.

Honeybutter

If you had to choose one song of yours to be the best introduction to your music, which would it be?

Of our released songs, “Bite the Bit” is a good introduction to our sound, but we've got so much more coming soon.

Do you have a favorite show you've ever seen at First Avenue?

A few of our favorite First Avenue shows are Hundred Waters in 2017, Panda Bear in 2018 and Little Dragon in 2020. 

Why do you think Minnesota's music scene has such a worldwide reputation for quality emerging artists? Do you think it's had a specific influence on your sound?

One thing that makes the Minnesota music scene so strong is that it is accessible. With better arts funding than most states and programs that intentionally highlight and support local artists like the Current and Radio K, artists with a diverse array of sounds have a space to create and grow.

It's also a smaller and more concentrated scene, and our experience is that everyone seems to have mutual connections with each other within the music community. 

We think the harsh Minnesota winters also have something to do with the quality music being produced — as Minnesotans, we know how to hunker down and we think that hardiness inspires raw, genuine and unique writing. Our songwriting and sound are definitely inspired by the brutal, beautiful winters as well as all the other incredible, innovative artists that surround us. For us, music is about togetherness — a way to connect people that may not otherwise share a space together. 

See Durry, VIAL, Kokou Kah, Lanue and Honeybutter along with Eve and Papa Mbye this Friday, March 4 at First Avenue’s Best New Bands of 2021 at First Avenue, 701 1st Av. N., Mpls.

Tickets: $12 advance, $15 at door. Ticket info here.

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