Queen City Sounds’ Picks for UMS 2019

Tessa Violet performs at the UMS on Sunday, July 28, 5:45 p.m.

The UMS is back for its 2019 edition running from July 26 through July 28 in the Baker Neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. The festival is unarguably the easiest way to take in the largest representative slice of the local underground music scene with the emphasis on indie rock and some choice representation from the city’s worlds of metal, hip-hop, electronic music and punk. Some years you might even run across more than a couple of the city’s rich experimental/avant-garde, darkwave and noise scenes but not so much this year aside from the Glasss Records showcase Sunday afternoon from 12-5 p.m. which is a well-curated sampling of Denver music’s weird side.

What follows is a guide to my picks for ten of the most interesting acts not from Denver performing at the festival. There will be no local band guide because I already write up enough about local bands throughout most of the year and you can see many of them the rest of the year and I encourage you to visit the UMS website and sample any and all of the bands that look interesting and see them because there are hundred. If you’re from out of town and coming to the UMS, refer back to any of the Best Shows lists I’ve done up to now. Other sites have provided their guides so you can consult those if you’re looking for specific recommendations. For tickets please visit the UMS website and thanks for reading.

Who: Black Mountain
When: Friday, July 26, 8:30-10 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: This Canadian, heavy psychedelic rock band combines 70s psychedelic prog, stoner rock and all the excess and transporting soundscaping that implies. The group released its new album Destroyer in 2019, the first with ex-Sleepy Sun member Rachel Fannan and Adam Bulgasem from Soft Kill. Synth player Jeremy Schmidt has a side project called Sinoia Caves which did the darkly beautiful and unsettling soundtrack to the experimental science fiction horror film Beyond the Black Rainbow.

Chicano Batman_Josue Rivas_2017
Chicano Batman circa 2017, photo by Josue Rivas

Who: Chicano Batman
When: Saturday, July 27, 5-6 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Chicano Batman embodies a true synthesis of 60s Chicano rock, Tropicália and psychedelia. Like those 60s bands, this Los Angeles-based quartet performs in matching outfits to provide that level of rock theater and it’s songs a fantastic blend of rock and roll and melancholic atmospheres.

Who: Drama
When: Saturday, July 27, 6:20-7 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: A blend of R&B and synthwave, Drama’s songs and videos reflect the multicultural side of American culture and breaking stereotypes of what people look like that make lush, melodic electronic pop music and how that’s presented to the world.

Who: Empress Of
When: Sunday. July 28, 7-7:45 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Lorely Rodriguez took this project name from a tarot card reading and her synth pop/experimental R&B is bilingual with vocals that traverse registers with finesse. Imagine something like a combination of Cocteau Twins (who Rodriguez cites as an influence) and Toni Braxton and you’re in the right territory.

Gardens & Villa circa 2011, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Gardens & Villa
When: Friday, July 26, 5:20-6 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: This band from Santa Barbara, California is probably lumped in with the whole synth pop thing but it’s a way stranger and more experimental band in the vocals and in its songwriting having more in common with Big Black Delta, Fad Gadget and TR/ST than the chillwave that was in vogue when the band started in 2008. Its songs tend to be darker and more willing to indulge sharper edged dynamics than groups going for maximum soft tunefulness.

Who: Leikeli47
When: Friday, July 26, 8:30-10 p.m.
Where: Odyssey Stage
Why: Leikeli47 performs with some kind of head covering and otherwise conceals her true identity like a hip-hop super hero. Her unusual style of music is heavy on swagger and accented beats. At times her songs sound like she listened to a lot of Suicide, Death Grips, M.I.A. as well as dub. But it also means she doesn’t really sound much like anyone else and capable of surprising you.

Who: Tessa Violet
When: Sunday, July 28, 5:45-6:30 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Tessa Violet’s breezy, sonically rich synth pop is so accessible it’s almost easy to forget what a sharp wit is behind the songwriting. After all she has a song called “I Like (the idea of) You.” But it’s not all reverence and her songwriting style itself is fairly broad and endearingly frank in the realm of pop music and her videos colorful and imaginative.

Tuxedo, photo by Andi Elloway

Who: Tuxedo
When: Sunday, July 28, 8:15-9:45 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Mayer Hawthorne made a respectable career for himself in the 2000s for his retro soul style and big stage persona. Teaming up with Jake One he’s part of Tuxedo, a funk and electro R&B band that was ahead of the current trend of all of that, which Hawthorne was already presaging when a lot of people dismissed him as something of an eccentric despite his undeniable cool.

Who: Y La Bamba – photo on website
When: Sunday, July 28, 6:20-7 p.m.
Where: Knockout Stage
Why: Luz Elena Mendoza found a unique place as a songwriter in Portland, Oregon who is making a kind of folk-rooted pop. Her music and outlook comes out of the Mexican folk tradition inspired in part from a young age by mariachis. Her songs use her heritage to explore personal as well as collective struggles with an elegance and creativity that reconciles the dark side of life with hope and joy informed by grace and patience for the process.

Who: Yves Tumor
When: Saturday, July 27, 7:20-8 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Yves Tumor cites Throbbing Gristle as an influence for its hypnotic qualities. And Yves Tumor’s music is not short on ambient noise, confrontational sounds and political consciousness within the context of fairly accessible electronic pop music. For my ears and tastes, the most interesting and boundaries pushing act not from Denver playing the festival and a must see if you’re there on Saturday.