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Hamilton: 10 emerging acts to watch

Editorial Staff

View all 10 acts in the gallery above by clicking on the opposing arrows.

Written by Del Cowie and Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Hamilton has been getting more attention for its music recently with the success of bands like Arkells, the Dirty Nil and Monster Truck to name a few, but the city affectionately known as the Hammer has many more talented and promising acts on the cusp of wider recognition.

The city has, in recent years, been enjoying a boon as a desirable destination for creative types to express themselves. Spots like Michael Kiere's Threshold Studios are where many artists on this list have actually recorded material. Events like the annual Supercrawl festival and labels like HAVN Records also have a tangible effect on the music scene in the city.

In putting together this list we'd be remiss if we didn't shout-out Max Kerman of Arkells, music writer Stuart Berman, Emily Smart from Six Shooter Records and the well-renowned Dr. Disc music store for their suggestions and referrals.

While the emerging acts to watch are too numerous to include all on this list, below is a spotlight on 10 that you shouldn't miss.

The Medicine Hat

“I used to be kind,” sings Nabi Sue Bersche, frontwoman for Hamilton pop-rock band the Medicine Hat, on “St. Cecilia.” The song is a tightly crafted pop gem about growing up, moving on and becoming more jaded and cruel as you grow older, a longing for more innocent times told over a wall of shimmering synths and pounding drums. The group, which also consists of Michael Boyd, Elliott Gwynne and Tyler Bersche, is one of the most exciting young bands to come out of Hamilton since Arkells. Coincidentally, Arkells frontman Max Kerman told us they’re his favourite new band from the Hammer. Find out why for yourself.

Jesse Kinos-Goodin (@JesseKG)

Benjamin Munoz

Formerly of synth band New Hands, Munoz has been going it alone as an electronic artist since dropping his solo debut EP, Dear Ennui, last year. Drawing liberally from house, U.K. garage and R&B, Munoz fuses his eclectic influences into a hypnotically seamless blend. Atmospherically smudged male and female vocals float atop the slippery and elusive groove foundations and jazzy sensibilities of tracks like “In Coming Months” from Munoz’s latest EP, Fear And Its Variants, released last month by U.K. label Push and Run. The promise exhibited on this project earmarks Munoz as a future innovator from the Hamilton scene.

Del F. Cowie (@vibesandstuff)

Young Rival (pictured above)

Staying true to Hamilton's reputation as a particular hotbed of creativity, Young Rival’s recent videos have taken it to the next level. Case in point is the clip for the band's single “Elevator,” which took more than two years to make with the relatively archaic technology of dot matrix printers (and reportedly more than 1,000 sheets of paper). The video was put together by Young Rival’s bassist John Smith who, along with singer Aron D'Alesio and drummer Noah Fralick, has been honing the band’s brand of melodic psychedelic rock. — DFC


Rapper/producer Emay released his first project, Mind Altering Dynamics, back in 2011, but he considers his recent album, Ilah, to be his official debut. Emay utilizes a wall of swirling, trippy sounds to set the perfect sonic backbeat for his thoughtful, incisive lyricism, which explores everything from the micro, whether it’s his faith or his role in the world, to the macro, touching on issues of colonialism and oppression. Fans of Shad’s more experimental side, but also of '90s/'00s underground hip-hop in general, will find a kindred spirit in Emay’s soul-searching sonic explorations. Best for those pensive moments when all you really need is a good set of headphones. Keep your ears open for the Leonard Cohen sample in “Bakkah: the History of Humankind.” — JKG


Blunt Chunks

The opening notes from “Can’t Help Lovin’ You” sound like they’re coming straight from David Lynch’s imagination, a haunting, sombre ballad about a toxic relationship. “He hurts me, but in return I pay him compliments./ As if he’ll see me for really who I am,” sings Caitlin Woelfle-O'Brien, a.k.a. Blunt Chunks. The mood is utterly lost but also somehow hopeful, given an extra punch of poignancy by the fact that the only instrument you hear is a distant, desolate-sounding electric piano. This seems to be on ongoing theme for Woelfle-O'Brien, who also recorded one of the most ethereal takes on “500 Miles” we’ve ever heard. Blunt Chunks is also a dancer/film producer, a member of the avant-garde Bad Actors Collective, led by F---ked Up’s Ben Cook, and has worked with artists such as Lido Pimienta and BizZarh. — JKG


Canadian Winter

A few years back, Hamilton band Canadian Winter impressed with the release of Just Wait 'Till February, a concept album based on the experiences of its frontman, Kobi Annobil, an MC who hails from the U.K., arriving and adjusting to his life in Hamilton over tight instrumentation provided by Scotty P, Kojo B. Chintoh and DJ Johnny Fever. While intensely personal lyrically, the record contained a myriad of situations that would be familiar to any newcomers or immigrants to Canada. While the band hasn’t released a full-length project recently, it has been working with close associates included on this list, including Kojo "Easy" Damptey. — DFC

Kojo ‘Easy’ Damptey

Kojo "Easy" Damptey is a connector in the Hamilton music scene intent on redefining and expanding the types of music (read: rock) that Hamilton is known for producing. Recently founding the Coalition for Black and Racialized Artists (COBRA), Ghanaian-born Damptey is a pianist, singer and rapper who also goes by the name K.E.D. In his music he addresses social injustice and marginalization, undergirding these weighty issues with melodic instrumentation. His latest single, “What Do You Want?,” is dedicated to anti-colonial African leaders and is a sterling example of this arresting fusion. — DFC 


Kathleen Munroe may be a new name to music fans, but she’s been making an acting name in Los Angeles for many years now. The Hamilton native has been recently appearing on the television show Resurrection, and appeared on CSI: New York and Without a Trace. Now, with the release of her Oblivion album last month, the singer/guitarist has unveiled the musical talent she’s been cultivating since childhood. Taking a cue from her on-screen work, the instrumentation on Munroe’s songs draw from classic film scores as well as Americana and folk, forming a natural bedfellow for the vulnerable melancholy of her voice. — DFC


Mother Tareka

Mother Tareka (also known as Tarek Funk) has built a musical reputation in Hamilton by collaborating in various groups and musical projects. The Syrian-born hip-hop artist is also a multi-instrumentalist who plays the flute, saxophone, piano and drums in addition to being an MC, making him a versatile player in the Hamilton music scene. Whether he is rapping and playing sax with Afrobeat and funk band Rebel Funktion on last year’s Elephants album, or teaming with Free Lee Reed for the radical rap of Flowtilla, Mother Tarek’s music is always infused with the motivation for progressive social change. — DFC


The Bandicoots

The Bandicoots may hail from Hamilton, but the trippy throwback rockers sound more like an amalgam of some of the best eras of Britpop, as if the Zombies ran into late-era Arctic Monkeys in the middle of the desert and decided to make music together. The band, which is made up of Justin Ross (guitar and vocals), Nicolai Kozel (guitar), Andrew Parkinson (drums and vocals) and Lorant Polya (bass), have released three EPS in almost as many years, with their latest, Zolly, coming out this June. From the slow, seductive opening riff on “Rocky Horror” to the jangly, dancefloor vibes on closing track “Sundance,” the Bandicoots prove they are definitely a band to watch closely. — JKG


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