The Underground Music Showcase (UMS) returns to South Broadway and the Baker neighborhood July 27 to 29, 2018, and its lineup of national and local acts is as extensive and overwhelming as ever. The eighteenth annual festival, now run by boutique events company Two Parts, will showcase hundreds of artists at more than 25 venues and stages. Of course it’s impossible to experience all of it, so here is a selection, in alphabetical order, of our top picks of can’t-miss sets for the 2018 UMS.
Kadhja Bonet is the daughter of an opera singer and grew up studying classical violin. Now the singer-songwriter makes psych-soul that draws from these dramatic influences while defying categorization. Bonet’s sophomore album, Childqueen, came out in June, and its orchestral dreamscapes sounds by turns like Curtis Mayfield, French pop and intimate folk.
Deezie Brown, an Austin-based hip-hop artist, returns to the UMS this year, and comes recommended by UMS director Tobias Krause as probably the best rapper on the bill. Brown recently put out his debut full-length, Judith, which offers thoughtful lyrics and hooks, layered production, and echoes of 808s & Heartbreak-era Kanye.
The Corner Girls
Since 2016, the Corner Girls have been dropping glitter bombs on the Denver music scene in the form of their witty and fun “pastel punk.” The trio, made up of frontwoman Breanna Ahlgren, drummer Madi Pietruzka and bassist Jessica Pulido, released a new single in June called “Boyfriend,” a reflection on the complexity of hating your friend’s shitty significant other that;s balanced by a lighthearted chorus and laid-back surf guitar. Based on this "shitty" story they told Westword, pay attention to their stage banter, too.
Frankie Cosmos, led by singer-songwriter Greta Kline, makes indie soft rock that focuses on tiny, highly emotional moments that feel like they contain your whole life. On the act's latest album, Vessel, Kline’s sweet-toned voice and earnest lyricism still course through the center of the songs, but the band has upped the tempos and beefed up the instrumentation, so even when she’s singing about intense insecurities, you may find yourself bopping.
Digable Planets is legendary — beyond influential in both ’90s “classic” hip-hop sounds and the alternative hip-hop movement. The Grammy-winning trio, which comprises Ishmael Butler, Mariana Vieira and Craig Irving and is known for hits like “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” and “Where I’m From,” broke up in 1995. The artists reunited in 2005, and then again in 2016 — so catch the group of jazz-rap visionaries while you can.
One of the most exciting and most important aspects of the UMS is discovering – or stumbling upon – mind-blowing local bands that you’ve never heard before. Drawing from dream-pop, doo wop and ’90s alternative (self-described as “the Cranberries on acid”), and powered by Lela Roy’s vocals, Oxeye Daisy is an up-and-comer to whom you should lend your ears.
Parallelephants is a pop-psychedelic act out of Texas, ready to soundtrack your UMS frosé-sway. Producer/songwriter Thomie released Supply at the end of 2017, an album-length ambient meditation on desire, complete with sensual synths (and a collaboration with fellow UMS performer Deezie Brown).
Superchunk has been making influential indie rock for nearly thirty years, but its 2018 album, What a Time to Be Alive, proves the band remains in top form. There’s not much more to say; this is just a sure bet.
Wheelchair Sports Camp
Wheelchair Sports Camp hasn’t played the UMS in a while, and the local experimental hip-hop group’s return in 2018 is made even more exciting by its extra-musical endeavors: MC Kalyn Heffernan is running a mayoral campaign, and her platform is as straightforward, clever and radical as her rhymes.
Local outfit Wildermiss includes vocalist Emma Cole and former members of Red Fox Run Josh Hester, Seth Beamer and Caleb Thoemke. The radio-friendly band makes upbeat, heart-on-sleeve pop rock and put out the Lost With You EP last fall. None other than crown prince of emo Chris Carrabba shouted out Wildermiss as one of his favorite recent discoveries.
This L.A.-based glam-rock trio has a different take on “hair metal”: It’s three dudes dressed up as yetis, and it looks like a helluva good time.
Bud Bronson & the Good Timers
These unabashed “beer rockers” are some of Denver’s favorite party-starters — and just like your best-loved craft brewery, Bronson’s set will go down smooth but leave you on the floor.
This Denver-based Chicano funk band brings the party — and the revolution. Which is exactly what the world needs.
It’s been a long minute since Tarmints, the Kurt Ottaway-fronted veteran Denver rock act, performed live. This set is sure to be a celebration of the scene’s pioneers in the midst of its present.
The 2018 Underground Music Showcase runs July 27 to 29 at various venues on South Broadway.