16 Reasons Philadelphia Is the Best Music City in the Country

Indie rock's most exciting players cut their teeth in the City of Brotherly Love. Here, our guide to the local bands who put us on the map.
philadelphia indie bands

Top row, from left: Strand of Oaks (digboston, Flickr), Kurt Vile (Jauhien Sasnou), Waxahatchee (k.par.photo, Flickr), Hop Along (CRUSTINA!, Flickr), Cayetana (Chloe Muro, Flickr), The Menzingers (Chloe Muro, Flickr).

Before we even had time to take notice, Philadelphia has situated itself as the capital of indie rock. Just ask any in-the-know music aficionado. In April, Noisey wrote that “It feels like ALL the bands are from Philly at the moment.” When Rolling Stone put local band Hop Along’s latest album on their list of the 45 Best Albums of the Year So Far, it wasn’t without a “What’s up with Philly lately?” shoutout to the City of Brotherly Love. But perhaps the most impressive declaration of Philly’s indie rock dominance is Stereogum’s recent, nearly 8,000-word cover story on the our city’s budding indie-rock scene.

This might be a bit overwhelming to the casual music fan, who may still think of The Hooters when asked about “Philadelphia rock and roll.” If this is you, and you’re looking to better familiarize yourself with the key players, look no further. Here, we present 16 local bands you should blast in your earbuds right now.

Hop Along

Hop Along is arguably the torch bearer of the Philly indie scene. Their latest release, Painted Shut, is a blisteringly narrative album showcasing the gorgeous, raspy voice of lead singer Frances Quinlan. Hear them for yourself when Hop Along come to Philly’s Made In America Festival on September 5-6.

The War on Drugs

The War on Drugs are champions of so-called “space rock.” Adam Granduciel is the frontman, and his nasally retro voice mixed with the grandiose, synth-driven sound make perfect listening for fans of anybody from Neil Young to Genesis. The War on Drugs are currently touring Europe in support of their latest album Lost In the Dream.

Kurt Vile & the Violators

Kurt Vile used to be in The War on Drugs, but then went solo. Turns out this was one of the best things to happen to Philly’s indie scene, because now we have two more awesome bands to call our own. The shaggy-haired rocker has a new album out soon, and the lead single, “Pretty Pimpin,” has that classic acoustic-electric sound Vile is known for. Kurt Vile will be in Philly October 9th at Union Transfer.

Cheerleader

Cheerleader just released their debut album, The Sunshine of Your Youth, that’s rife with a clear indie-pop groove. It’s catchy and poppy. It’s music that’s made for teenage girls, but not so much that you can’t enjoy it, too. Cheerleader will be playing with CRUISR (more on them later) when they headline TLA on September 12.

Son Little

Son Little only has one album out, which he calls Things I Forgot, and it’s ridiculously good. Son Little is blessed with the bluesy sexiness of Gary Clarke Jr., except with the guitar playing taking a backseat to the vocals. Moral of the story: If you’re feeling the blues, throw some Son Little onto your turntable—or see him when he comes to Philly on August 20th at Underground Arts.

DRGN King

DRGN King are are known for their energetic live shows, case in point their excellent performance this January at the 2015 kickoff of WXPN’s Free at Noon showcase.

Strand of Oaks

Strand of Oaks frontman Tim Showalter is from Indiana, but has fallen in love with Philadelphia since moving here in 2009. His band has a classic alt-rock sound á la the Foo Fighters or Smashing Pumpkins, and one of the coolest lead singers. Showalter was a second grade teacher before turning into a bearded and tattooed rock and roller. Strand of Oaks will play Philly’s Made In America Festival on September 5-6.

Cayetana

Cayetana, along with The Menzingers, are the current darlings of Philadelphia’s punk scene. The band was one of the headliners at Key Fest at MilkBoy back in April, and was also prominently featured in the aforementioned Stereogum article. Cayetana play Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on August 13th.

Sheer Mag

Sheer Mag is one of the biggest up-and-comers of the indie scene, bringing a scrappy, danceable rock-and-roll sound. Lead singer Christina Halladay’s voice makes the band, which is recorded with a Julian Casablancas-esque filter over her voice à la the early Strokes records. Sheer Mag will be opening for Royal Headache when they play PhilaMOCA on August 28th.

Cheers Elephant

Unfortunately, Cheers Elephant left Philly for sunny Los Angeles, but there’s no denying they were born here. In fact, a few of the guys met each other teaching at the Paul Green School of Rock in Downingtown. The band’s got three fantastic albums out, but their latest, Like Wind Blows Fire, easily takes the cake. You’ve probably heard their track “Doin’ It Right” on that Drexel LeBow College of Business commercial.

The Districts

If Hop Along is Philly’s No. 1 indie band, The Districts are 1A. The band now have two crazy-good albums under their belt, and “Young Blood,” the penultimate track from their latest release, A Flourish and a Spoil, is one of the best songs to come out of the Philly scene in the past 50 years. Not to mention, the band played an excellent WXPN Free at Noon show back in April. Check out “Young Blood” from that very performance above, and catch them at the Electric Factory on November 6th.

The Menzingers

The Menzingers are a straight-up punk rock band. Not pop/punk—just punk. Think Sex Pistols, Ramones, and Johnny Thunders. It’s catchy, power-chord-laden, moshable music done Philly-style. The Menzingers are playing back to back nights at the Union Transfer on October 23rd and 24th on their co-headlining tour with mewithoutYou.

CRUISR

If you’re looking for catchy indie-pop, CRUISR is your band. “Throw Shade” is the band’s latest single, and is a great place to start if you’re looking to dive into CRUISR. CRUISR will headline TLA on September 12.

Waxahatchee

Katie Crutchfield is the brainchild of Waxahatchee, a catchy Philly indie-folk music project. To be fair, Crutchfield is from Birmingham, Alabama, but moved to Philly after she was won over by the city’s music scene, among other reasons. Waxahatchee is playing Made in America September 5-6, and they will open for Kurt Vile at Union Transfer on October 9.

Alex G

Alex G is another one of the national media’s indie obsessions. He was profiled in Rolling Stone a few months back—but not before we caught up with him last April (just saying). His claim to fame is writing songs in his South Philly bedroom while studying English Lit at Temple. After he generated buzz in the Philly  house show scene, his music took off, eventually leading him to his first European tour back in February.

Spirit of the Beehive

Spirit of the Beehive, who is currently on an American tour with Amanda X, has a more drone-like sound than many of the other bands on this list. Although the sound is darker, it’s also very melodic, making it great music to study or read to.  Catch Spirit of the Beehive opening for Pile & Big Ups at First Unitarian Church September 9th.