When you think of the creative arts in the Bay Area, San Jose is not typically the first city to come to mind. But California’s third-largest city—the United States’ tenth-largest—has plenty to offer. San Jose and the surrounding South Bay are home to some of the most diverse and creative talents in the Bay Area. Here are my top 20 bands from the South Bay to follow in 2021.
Life Size Models: Life Size Models burst onto the South Bay scene in 2018. Merging melodic guitars with honest lyrics and big harmonies, their hard-hitting, indie rock feels both retro and modern. Their performances are energetic and tight, perhaps made even more seamless based on how long twin brothers Chris and Stephen Seymour have been playing music together. Life Size Models’ debut record, “Everything Changed,” was released October 23, 2020.
Vudajé: Vudajé has been making jams since the age of 15. His soulful sound is reminiscent of Pop and R&B legends brought to life through danceable, chill, and modern grooves. Vudajé’s atmospheric vibe bends genres, and he remains an active collaborator in the local music community.
Socorra: San Jose’s Queen of Blues Rock, Socorra, is a drummer-turned-guitar-player-turned-singer-songwriter. Her incredible blues-driven, indie-rock sound is full of honesty, family, and personal reflection. She released her latest EP, “Coming Home Soon,” in February 2020. Socorra recently moved to Austin, Texas—I expect to see her quickly emerge as one of Austin’s top new artists.
First in Flight: One of the most uplifting bands in the South Bay, First in Flight mashes metal, jazz, and disco into catchy, 80s-fueled dance rock with an emotional backstory. Frontperson, Pat McCloskey, gives MasterClasses on fan engagement during their energetic performances and on their social media channels. Now under new management, they’ve teamed up with a platinum producer for their next tracks coming later this year
CJ Storm: CJ Storm combines arpeggiated electro-pop grooves with acoustic instruments and beautiful melodies. The result is an atmospheric indie sound reminiscent of the early 2000s. CJ also puts on some of the most impressive one-person shows to see live—either in-person or on a stream. When he’s not playing, you’ll often find CJ at the local clubs supporting other artists.
Ren Geisick: The hardest-working musician in San Jose, Ren Geisick’s gorgeous voice catches you right away. She is a jazz singer turned singer-songwriter, blending her Americana roots with elements of jazz, blues, and country. Ren delivers heartfelt performances with intimate lyrical delivery and vibrant energy that leave you feeling love and positivity. Check out her most recent single, “The Last Time That He Left.” Ren is also a member of the new funk and soul group, The Anachronistics, and “old school” cover band, Dolce Musica, and she is a talented music producer.
Frantic Romantic: My favorite description of Frantic Romantic is “a party on stage and a breath of fresh air.” Their most recent album, Celestina, is a synth rock journey to which you can both dance and headbang. But listening isn’t the only thing you should do with this band. You‘ll also want to watch their videos and live performances, where the band showcases great visuals with otherworldly characters and storytelling. Frantic Romantic recently moved to Los Angeles, where I expect them to continue breaking barriers.
Amy D.: The soulful, effortless sounds of vocalist and songwriter Amy D. envelop listeners in a dream-like fusion of jazz, soul, world, and R&B styles. She combines inspiring lyrics and heartfelt storytelling that invites reflection, healing, and growth. Amy D. is creating a stir in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, with her debut portrait album, Like You, and she is an active collaborator in the local music scene.
AP Tobler: Annapurna “AP” Tobler is a rising star with songs rooted in grunge and alternative rock. She “writes music about things that scare her” and that showcase vulnerable experiences with anxiety and depression. AP’s musical journey began with the discovery of drums at the age of eight, and have expanded to include guitar and bass with influences from grunge, hard rock, metal, and jazz. AP is definitely a local artist to watch.
Noah and the Arkiteks: Noah Kibreab is a soul singer-songwriter based out of San Jose. His latest single, “Soul Fire,” is a simple, beautiful, and intimate track that feels instantly recognizable and would fit into any Leonard Cohen-inspired playlist. While Noah has been mastering the art of online performing during the last year, I can’t wait to see this band live when we’re all back in our favorite local venues.
Shiloh Mae: Shiloh Mae calls herself “a songwriter with a strong proclivity for words.” That’s an understatement—she’s one of the best songwriters in the Bay Area. Her songs are full of emotional storytelling with beautiful melodies and dulcet vocals that feel like sipping tea with your best friend to get some honest advice. Make sure to check out Shiloh’s debut single, “Smoke Signals,” as well as her other project as one-half of the sibling duo, Bird and Willow.
Dogcatcher: Dogcatcher is the perfect mix of funk, soul, and indie rock with a touch of folk and Americana. You can’t help but tap your foot or head-bob when listening. While Dogcatcher calls San Jose home, they have played all the iconic venues around the Bay, chosen twice as one of the top-20 local bands by Live 105.
Sweet HayaH: Definitely one of the most popular bands in San Jose, Sweet HayaH is a staple of South Bay music festivals, as well as the life of any party. Their music is poetic and fierce, with a passionate blend of rock, soul, and funk music. Their songs, rooted in hard-hitting rhythm and blues beats, also bring a diverse and worldly feel that extends well beyond the South Bay.
Lucy Nirvana: Lucy Nirvana is an up-and-coming indie artist. She dropped her debut single, “San Francisco,” at the end of last year, and it was an instant classic. Her lyrics are filled with warmth and honesty, and her R&B and rock-inspired vocals sit perfectly in the track. I can’t wait to hear what she does next.
Space Giant: Ordinarily, I’d consider it tacky to include my own band in a top 20 list, but I promise it’s not all selfish. There aren’t many classic rock-sounding bands in the area, and
our debut album, Arrival, really fills a gap. If you’d like Gwen Stefani singing for Stone Temple Pilots, then Space Giant is for you.
Slimthic: Slimthic is a collective led by Brandon Walters (wicked cool beats) and Joy Hackett (smooth soul/R&B keyboardist/vocalist), who created the band to perform music blending pop, jazz, neosoul, hip hop, and electronic music. The duo brings in musicians from the South Bay to create high energy shows with complex arrangements—and they jam!
Casey Wickstrom: Casey Wickstrom is a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist looping artist. He plays guitar, lap slide, three string slide cigar box guitar, bass, drums, ukulele, harmonica, and he sings. He produces and writes his own music, and edits and produces his own music videos. Casey is also an amazing writer (check out the great stories on his web site). His fifth studio album is set to be recorded this summer.
ContainHer: ContainHer is a female artist and composer who weaves transcendental sci-fi dreams into indy electro-pop that scintillates with warmth and emotion. She is also a prolific collaborator, contributing as a featured lyricist/vocalist, and composing music for multi-disciplinary artistic projects throughout the Bay Area.
Nessie the Great: Nessie the Great’s goal is to “make people groove,” and that they do through their spicy blend of rock, reggae, blues, and hip-hop. Their latest single, “Midnight Rider,” harkens back to the Sublime of the 90s and definitely gets those toes tapping. Nessie the Great is Carlos Sandoval, Carson Lewis, and drummer Nic Corona.
Quigs: Quigs is another staple of the San Jose festival, coffee shop, and underground music scenes. This one-person band interweaves melancholy harmonies with eclectic songwriting and retro backbeats. Sometimes poetic, sometimes ironic, Quigs presents songs in a unique, 90s rock style that will confound and mystify fans and casual listeners alike.
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