Houston is a transitory city where, with a few exceptions, longtime residents have little trouble taking big changes in stride. But even then, the past year has seen an unusually large number visited upon our music scene. Bookended by the opening of Satellite Bar and the Heights Theater, the months in between have been dominated by the saga of White Oak Music Hall, the ambitious indoor/outdoor Near Northside venue whose aim to elevate Houston into a top-shelf touring destination found a chilly reception from its neighbors. This spirit of renewal filtered down to the fringes, where The Clinic and rebooted Civic TV Collective opened their doors to the city’s more experimentally minded musicians. (Black Barbie, we hardly knew ye.) On the festival front, Day For Night arose amid an increasingly crowded landscape, pointing the way to a possible future in which innovative digital art and aesthetically adventurous music are synonymous.
With all that change in the air, it seemed high time to redraw the map of our own Houston Press Music Awards. The winners are still voted on by our readers, from a ballot curated by our music staff, but that’s about all that’s the same. No longer bound by traditional genres, this year’s categories reflect the way music is supposed to make you feel or what it makes you want to do. But at the same time, it’s impossible to ignore the fundamental methods of performing — singing, rapping, DJing, playing an instrument — so not only do those categories remain intact; they’ve been simplified. Several more new categories honor the hard work of the non-musicians who are also a crucial part of this community: the poster artists, booking agents, festival producers, sound engineers and the like. No music scene would be complete without them, either. So a hearty congratulations to this year’s winners, and to their worthy fellow nominees.
Winner: The Suffers
The Suffers poured nearly four years of gigs into their eponymous full-length debut album, released back in February, and then road-tested its ten songs as far away as Europe, Japan and Brooklyn’s Afropunk festival. They arrived in Houston earlier this fall due a hard-earned breather but instead started working on another batch of songs, before another West Coast leg and last weekend’s triumphant homecoming gig at House of Blues. Delivering their sweaty Gulf Coast Soul one hip-tempting set at a time, and selling out venues from here to Washington, D.C., the Suffers live for the stage.
Nominees: Gio Chamba & Trippy Cholo; Only Beast; Jody Seabody & the Whirls; Snooty Garbagemen; Young Mammals; Wild Moccasins
READERS’ CHOICE AWARD
Winner: Blaze X Black
Maybe it was election-season runoff, but this year’s Readers’ Choice nominees campaigned hard. Ultimately, hip-hop duo Blaze X Black emerged victorious, thanks in part to a solid platform: “THE HOUSTON PRESS AWARDS IS PRETTY MUCH HOUSTON’S VERSION OF THE GRAMMYS,” the band wrote its followers. “THIS IS A BIG DEAL TO US SO PLEASE SUPPORT.” Along the way, their refreshing mix of humorous, inspiring rhymes set to live instruments became known to the uninitiated, as did the work of their valiant competitors. Now that’s a campaign we can all endorse.
Nominees: Kyle Hubbard; Kimi Kent; Paulina Sjoberg; Sherita Perez; Positive Disturbance; Scubadiver; Soul Creatures
BAND FOR DRINKING
Winner: Poor Dumb Bastards
It’s unfair to say that Poor Dumb Bastards wouldn’t exist without booze, but then again, this is a band that has been proudly broadcasting its slogan, “Texas Drunk Rock,” since the early ’90s. This year the Bastards are celebrating 25 years of sloppy riffs and pillaged livers, and if the band members themselves are a little more teetotal than they used to be, you’d never guess it from the kind of bottle-draining mayhem that still reigns at their gigs — and then really hits home the morning after.
Nominees: Baron Von Bomblast; Blaggards; Dead Rabbits; Mike Stinson Band; Blackgrass Gospel; Sauce Twinz
BAND FOR DANCING
Winner: Catch Fever
When crafting a track for people to dance to, you can always count on three main ingredients to get the job done: thumping kick/snare patterns, driving bass and simple, singalong melodies. All three of these elements will be heard in the first 30 seconds of any Catch Fever song. The duo understand this on a primal level, and have built their sound on a skeleton of these sounds. Take all that and mix it with a positive, encouraging message to match the upbeat tempos, and merely bobbing your head will not suffice to express yourself adequately.
Nominees: Children of Pop; Deep Cuts; the Escatones; The Fab 5; Mikey & the Drags; Phantom Royals; The Umbrella Man
Winner: We Were Wolves
These Beaumont natives write honest-to-goodness rock and roll without all the studio polish. They’ve performed with the Dwarves, the Cult and, most recently, the Toadies, which should provide potential fans with plenty of reason to give them a try. Their latest release, 2014’s Ruin Your Weekend, is an exciting glimpse into the band’s future. An unrelenting 15 minutes of fun, it showcases the band’s songwriting ability coupled with in-your-face rock music, the kind you aren’t likely to hear on the radio anymore.
Nominees: Blood of an Outlaw; Cop Warmth; Funeral Horse; Oceans of Slumber; PLXTX; Venomous Maximus
There are no two ways about it — stage makeup has a unique ability to make things sexier. Take an already good-looking dude (Bowie), slap a sweet lightning bolt on his face (Aladdin Sane) and you get an instant, iconic sex symbol. Take the makeup off of the rock and roll demons/passable sexual partners from the cover of KISS’s Dressed to Kill and you get the weirdos from Lick It Up. With his signature blue-and-silver stripe across the eyes, some handsome guy named Avery transforms into the larger-than-life one-man band and sheer sexual powerwall we know as -Us.
Nominees: Bang Bangz; Dollie Barnes; Jack Freeman; Nick Greer; Chase Hamblin & the Roustabouts; JERK; MNYNMS
Winner: Dirty & Nasty
Dirty & Nasty are impassioned orators with the verbal acumen to express being “woke” in many ways, but at the root, they have a straightforward message. As David “Dirty” Landry explains, the rap duo’s message is “to make sure that no one is being mistreated, and that the people that need the most help receive the most constructive help.” Recent political events underscore how far removed America may be from that message, but Tomnique “Nasty” Roots replies, “People new to this reality should be concerned but not scared by the prospects of it. Historically disenfranchised people have been overcoming for centuries...”
Nominees: Days N Daze; Giant Kitty; Lyric Michelle; the Real McCoys; the Wheel Workers
Winner: Say Girl Say
There are bands with more members and there are bands who play louder, but no one in Houston fills space the way Say Girl Say does when Brigette Yawn and Suzan Zaghmouth sing together. With Luke Odom, this Houston trio mixes genres from around the world to create music that sounds both ancient and modern, suited for dancing under the sky or the lights of any of the local venues they play. When Yawn and Zaghmouth are at their best (and it feels like they’re always at their best), the results are magical.
Nominees: Ak’Chamel; Fiddle Witch & the Demons of Doom; Handsomebeast; Illicit Relationship; Rusted Shut
MORE PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT…
Winner: Space Villains*
The idea of sticking to a single genre, be it rock, blues, free jazz, metal, funk or punk, holds no interest for the folks in Space Villains*, who are seemingly dissatisfied with anything but a Vitamix blend of all at once. To carry the metaphor further, maybe the lid is open and the whole thing is in danger of rattling itself off the counter at any moment. Through either the power of suggestion or the perfect word choice, Space Villains* is the sound of a chaotic yet organized band of interstellar supercriminals, come to life from the pages of a comic book.
Nominees: Black Kite; Guilla; Nathan Quick; Alex Riddle; Satanic Overlords of Rock & Roll; Thrill; Whit
Winner: Los Skarnales
Under the “personal interests” section of their Facebook bio, Los Skarnales list only two things: drinking and making music, both of which appear in full force at their shows. The one thing that Felipe, Nestor and the rest of the crew are not is timid. They live and relish life in a space just between loud and rowdy. With cumbias pegaditas and punk-laced ska tunes in their arsenal, perhaps this Houston Music Hall of Fame band will bless our city with another 20 years of puro pinche party.
Nominees: 30FootFALL; Flamin’ Hellcats; deadhorse; Free Radicals; Rick Lee & the Night Owls; Trudy Lynn; the Suspects
Winner: Ashley Toman
Best New Artist, regardless of who is giving out the award, is always the trickiest one to grade. It’s based on potential, and Ashley Toman has been splitting her time between L.A. and Houston trying to deliver on hers. The power behind her voice means she could easily push further into the pop realm; recent single “Own It” proves she could do this and succeed. But as a girl with a little bit of soul trapped within her body, she’s been gifted plenty of options on how to take her craft — always on the scene, always asking questions, itching to make it all work. All of this year’s Newcomer nominees are primed to set themselves up for future acclaim, but Toman is the artist people most expect to do so.
Nominees: Colonial Blue; El Lago; Frog Hair; Ingrid; Mark Drew; Secret Sands; Vodi
Winner: B L A C K I E
Like any truly great mad scientist, B L A C K I E relentlessly pushes forward into uncharted territory with every new release. Whether he’s playing Doctor Frankenstein with thousands of watts’ worth of speakers and amplifiers, or full-on Mr. Hyde-ing out onstage, his literary predecessors smile on him. And really, beyond fitting into the broad aesthetic of noise-rap, he is peerless in terms of the rawness he’s willing to put out. Death Grips and clipping. may get plenty of credit for throwing anger and anxiety and abrasive noise against the wall, but nobody else lays his everything down to this degree.
Nominees: Chase DeMaster; Maxo Kream; Muzak John; Pfaff Pfaffenberg; The Wiggins; Twisted Wires
Winner: Lyric Michelle
Lyric Michelle’s win almost seems like a foregone conclusion from the moment she chose her stage name. Take, for instance, her song “Weekend (La Di da Di),” which features the instant classic party hook “La Di da Di / We like to party.” Rather than leave it there and continue as a straightforward party anthem, she details a myriad of topics that motivate her to drink it off, from war to welfare to trans fat. As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get wasted.
Nominees: Brian Is Ze (BiZ); Adam Bricks; Doughbeezy; DeLorean; Richard Kimball (Distant Worker); Craig Kinsey; Propain
Winner: Kam Franklin
With a diva’s vocal gifts and warm personality, Kam Franklin is one of Houston’s leading cultural ambassadors, especially now that her Suffers spend so much time on the road. Her funky print dresses, cowboy boots and Afro as big as Texas have made her one of the city’s most recognizable figures, but the foundation of her distinctive style remains a voice that could melt butter, rattle some windows or charm the rattle off a snake, depending on what the song calls for. Bam, it’s Kam.
Nominees: Kristal Cherelle; Cammie Gilbert (Oceans of Slumber); Lee-Lonn; Nathan Quick; Vockah Redu; Stephanie Rice (Colonial Blue)
Winner: Genesis Blu
Genesis Blu’s winning the Best Rapper category is what 2016 needs. Not only has the year been an ongoing funeral of music’s biggest names and a political train wreck from the start, but society is mired in an unfriendly (to put it lightly) climate, from the streets to social media. But for the first time ever, a strong, intelligent female voice is the perfect fit for our creative, diverse city, and Genesis’s win couldn’t come at a more critical time. Perhaps now more than ever we need a voice like hers — a voice of reason and reassurance and a reminder we do not have to accept change we’re uncomfortable with. Houston, meet your new rap Kween.
Nominees: Doeman; Fat Tony; Le$; Pyrexx; Slim Thug; Paul Wall; Z-Ro
Winner: Gracie Chavez
A good leader knows how to organize and educate a team. A great leader can turn that team into future leaders who will contribute to the community and elevate their art form with each project. Now at the helm of Houston’s ultimate tropical dance party, Bombon, for six years, Gracie Chavez is exactly the leader this city needs and deserves. Not only is she an amazingly talented and versatile music selector, but Chavez is also a mama bear to many of H-Town’s young DJ talents — plus two beautiful cubs of her own.
Nominees: Damon Allen; Big Reeks; Josh Dupont; Flash Gordon Parks; Ill Faded; Mr. Rogers; Riddler
Winner: Jose “Chapy” Luna
Every generation is blessed with a musical sparkplug, someone who not only is a master of his instrument, but also serves as an inspiration to both fans and fellow musicians. Houston is blessed to have Jose “Chapy” Luna play that role. One of the absolute nicest people you will ever meet, the percussion man for the Suffers will make sure his friends and family are taken care of before even thinking about his own needs. That love and energy translates into a ferocious yet smooth playing style that wows audiences at every turn. Chapy makes slapping hands onto two congas akin to a masterful pianist’s performing a symphony.
Nominees: Peter Bernick (Only Beast); Jordan Donald; Sandy Ewen; Steve Krase; Roberto Rodriguez
Winner: A Fistful of Soul
Now seven years old, A Fistful of Soul is more than the city’s favorite dance party devoted to ’60s R&B and soul music. It’s an inspiration to the many other vinyl-spinning shows across town, being devoted to niche genres like Chicano soul or emo music. It has brought guest DJs (Archie Bell, Jello Biafra, etc.) to share their obscure but worthy selections with some of Houston’s most cardio-fit dancers. If you’ve somehow missed all this fun, tighten up your tie, button up that jacket and make it for the Continental Club door the third Friday of any approaching month.
Nominees: Bombon; Classic Numbers; Saves the Tuesday; Tejas Got Soul; Vinyl Ranch; Waxaholic Thursdays
Winner: Day For Night
Well, that happened quickly. Despite debuting in 2015, Day for Night has already been named the best festival in town, with good reason. The two-day event isn’t just a music festival, but a multimedia experience that includes immersive art installations. Musically, last year the festival came storming out the gate with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Dillon Francis; next month it ups the ante with a bill that includes Aphex Twin’s first U.S. show in almost a decade and performances by Björk and Texas’s own Butthole Surfers.
Nominees: Free Press Summer Fest; Houston Whatever Fest; Madness On Main/Yes, Indeed!; Praia Urbana; Something Wicked
Winner: The Nightingale Room
Local officials have been trying to make downtown happen as a social spot for some time now, so the fact that Houstonians voted a downtown locale for best venue sound is no small feat. That holds true particularly considering the quality of the Nightingale’s fellow finalists. Somewhat small and quaint as music venues go, the Nightingale benefits greatly from its friendly acoustics and well-kept sound system, features that have local artists flocking to play here, often at one of the club’s frequent free shows.
Nominees: House of Blues; McGonigel’s Mucky Duck; Revention Music Center; Rudyard’s; Walters Downtown; Warehouse Live; White Oak Music Hall
Winner: Bassman PEP
After having earned his name as a literal bass man in bands like Muddy Belle, Bassman PEP integrated himself into a different side of the local scene — booking. If you’ve been to shows at Notsuoh, Alley Kat or, more recently, Satellite Bar, you’ve seen the fruits of his labor in action. Two of the best local festivals Houston has to offer, Madness on Main and Yes Indeed!, are largely the result of his involvement and curation. Now that he has won this award, he may consider adjusting his nickname to reflect his new role. Bookman PEP doesn’t quite have the same ring, though.
Nominees: John Baldwin (Walters/Satellite); Cactus Music (in-stores); Havin’ a Ball Productions; Nameless Sound; Pegstar; -ScoreMore; Punk Rock Stacy (Rudyard’s)
Winner: Miguel Flaco
Miguel Flaco isn’t just a visual artist; he’s also a dance-music producer whose work can be heard around town, most specifically at Grand Prize Bar’s monthly Love Tempo dance party. Visually speaking, he has designed T-shirts and an EP cover for Houston dance act //TENSE//, but more recently has focused on flyer work. “It definitely adds to the puzzle if an album cover or flyer is visually striking,” Flaco says. “I’d be far more inclined to check it out if it grabbed my attention over something I just casually glanced at and soon forgot about.”
Nominees: Adam Goode; Wesley Mitchell; mobsolete; Dennis Polk; Kyler Sharp
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Winner: Paige Balinski (RIP)
Paige Balinski’s friends nominated her for this award before it ever existed, by way of their poignant recollections following her untimely passing after the 23-year-old “superfan” was killed by a hit-and-run driver while bicycling in June. The many members of Houston’s close-knit punk community who knew Paige also knew her presence and vivacity couldn’t be replaced, but with this win, many voters felt it could be honored. As her childhood friend Rain Nelson told us, “She was unstoppable, fearless, full of love and positive energy — truly the best kind of person to have by your side.”
Nominees: Clint Broussard; David Garrick; Jeremy Hart; Daniel Jackson; Wyles Lechoir
Written by Brandon Caldwell, Cory Garcia, Chris Gray, Clint Hale, Matthew Keever, Kristy Loye, Jesse Sendejas Jr., Eric Smith and Marco Torres.