Forget everything pop-country told you about Southern identity. Sure, plenty of us love shootin’ whiskey and consider cowboy boots suitable attire for any occasion, but life below the Mason-Dixon Line is more than truck nuts, rebel flags, and backwards legislation like HB2.
Countless underground femme and queer musicians from The Bible Belt are on the front lines and redefining the sound of their homeland. Whether it’s creating an intentional space for folks of all identities to have a safe, rad dance party or using the mic to call out institutionalized racism within their communities, these artists are reshaping Southern identity one chord at a time.
Jacksonville, Florida’s Tomboi creates music to fuel the queer dance party of your dreams. Contagiously hooky, adorned in pulsating synth textures, punky guitar, and lead singer Alex E.’s dynamic vocals, the trio’s earned plenty of well-deserved attention, sharing bills with the likes of Big Freedia, of Montreal, Hurray for the Riff Raff, and more. Furthermore, their music video for “Lobos” is basically a short Tarantino script directed by Lisa Frank. ’90s kids, eat your hearts out.
2. Diaspoura — “Apology” (from Demonstrations)
Anjali Naik helms the electronic pop project Diaspoura. Naik, a first-generation American whose father is from Africa and mother is from India, felt a connection to the word “disapora” due to her family’s history and chose it to represent her political lyricism and atmospheric sound. While living in Charleston, South Carolina and attending college, Naik got involved with local grassroots nonprofit Girls Rock Charleston. Working with the city’s young women and trans youth empowered her to explore her own musical and performance abilities. She released Demonstrations, a lushly ambient eight-song album navigating the deeply personal, political, and intersections of the two, in June. “Apology” is an elegant, swelling number that dissects the whitewashing of yoga and stripping of the practice’s history and context.
3. She Returns from War -— “Threads” (from Oh, What A Love, 10 Ft. Woody Records)
Hunter Park calls her style “abandoned house folk,” but listening to the singer-songwriter’s up-tempo, rawly honest roots-influenced songs hardly makes one feel alone. Let Park and bandmate Jesse Ledford’s harmonies wrap around you like an old woolen blanket. The experienced wisdom in those melodies complemented by earthy instrumentation has fetched SRFW all manner of local and regional acclaim.
Durham, NC’s Bad Friends dish out sludgy, bass-heavy, incendiary rock that clears the pit of the conservative South. The “homo screamo” band’s only been together for a year, but they’ve already honed a sound that crosses stoner metal with punk and pen lyrics that chronicle the experience of coming up queer in The Bible Belt. “I was raised to be sorry/guilt grew like a forest in my heart/sold an acre to the devil/kept the rest for eternal winter/the timber bled when cut,” “Southern Cross,” the lead track off their debut EP, wails.Is that a Diva Cup pouring blood over the earth a la Sherwin Williams on their album cover? Yes, yes it is.
Not quite underground anymore thanks to an Atlantic Records deal, Nashville’s Adia Victoria spins unapologetic gothic blues songs that honor legends like Robert Johnson, R.L. Burnside, and Nina Simone and tell her own unflinching truth as a black woman growing up in South Carolina. Through haunting guitar riffs and a voice that will crawl deep under your skin and refuses to leave, this fearless and vulnerable songwriter has captivated legions of fans across the globe and released her debut LP, Beyond the Bloodhounds, this year. A completely hypnotic force live, Victoria always dedicates the chilling “Howlin’ Shame” to black victims of state-sanctioned violence.
6. Glittoris – “Scum” (from “I Feel Weird….”)
“We’ve fought too fucking hard for us to ever bite our tongues,” shrieks Glittoris’s Katie Sheridan on “Scum.” Brash, snotty, and furious, the four-piece band wields a scrappily eruptive punk sound that presses a butterfly knife to the patriarchy’s bloated throat.
7. Britt Scott – “Silence” (from “Diving Bell”)
Savannah, Georgia-based singer-songwriter Britt Scott merges pop sensibilities with soulful belting, blues tones, and warm, rootsy guitar to craft a distinctly Southern sound. On “Silence,” Scott demands justice and freedom for survivors of domestic violence. The powerfully bare track appears on her forthcoming EP, “Diving Bell,” due in 2017.
Atlanta’s “lioness with nine lives” blends spoken word, soul, jazz, and hip-hop to create a powerfully eclectic sound that’s entirely her own. While her college classmates were out partying, Yani Mo was honing her craft and sculpting community through poetry/spoken word and rap nights held in her apartment. In her elegant, brief incantation “Vine City,” Mo calls for amethyst, which protects from poison, and peppermint, which soothes pain. Sink into her smooth, percussive vocals and nod farewell to summer as its fierce orange sun sinks into the distance.
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