It started with 97. Now comes the final five in our seventh annual Are You Local? best new bands contest. The finalists will compete live on Saturday at the 7th Street Entry, with the winner getting a few hefty prizes. First is a slot in our SXSW Sendoff Concert headlined by Allan Kingdom, March 11 in the mainroom at First Avenue. The winner will also get to perform March 18 in Austin, Texas, at the First Avenue/Star Tribune showcase during SXSW. They'll also receive $1,500. But before all of that, let's meet the musicians.


Last week, Colin Scharf and Laura Schultz's Mankato home was a hub of activity; in the living room, a band held a recording session, and Chastity Brown was en route for a house show that night. It was a typical day for these busy musicians.

Along with Scharf and Schultz, Zach Arney and Michelle Roche make up the foursome behind Good Night Gold Dust. At first, their self-titled EP seems like even-tempered pop. But Schultz's voice inflames the instrumentation, pushing the music forward.

The group used to sound drastically different: They were a folk-rock outfit before deciding to change directions.

"We switched it up and starting doing percussion work with Michelle," Schultz says. "Then Zach joined in as our synth player, and that helped solidify the sound we were reaching toward. Then we got in the studio with Brett [Bullion], and it was like, 'Yes! This is it.' "

Arney added: "It wasn't until we got in the studio with Brett that he was able to focus all of our thoughts into one cohesive sound."

They ended up with a touching EP; it's upbeat, but as Scharf notes, "There's a weight to it."


Hanging out with Dives is like experiencing a Demetri Martin comedy routine. The jokes are smart, yet goofy — conversation bounces from "Parks and Recreation" to chatspeak to "Ceramic Zeppelin." Along with pizza and sarcasm, the five band members enjoy an easy sense of camaraderie.

Seth Haake, Neal Younghans, Kirk Waller, Taylor Donskey and Jeff Jahangir met through several different networks, including Eden Prairie High School and the University of Minnesota. They've been playing live shows for more than a year, and they just released a self-titled EP. Like its members, the EP is spirited and punchy, using bluesy grind and rapid riffs to shape careening rock songs.

"None of us listen to the same music," Waller says, and that contributes to the unpredictability of their songs.

While writing, they tend to create tracks together, Younghans said, "[Usually] someone has a riff and we all write it in the same room."

While Dives is trying not to oversaturate its market — "We're going to be at the Nomad on Wednesday and this thing on Saturday and your mom's house on Sunday," joked Jahangir — that's highly unlikely for now.


Twenty-year-old Ness Nite is finding her lane. She's a writer/rapper/producer who's still growing, but proud of her independence. For good reason: Ever since a friend dared her to rap at an open mic, she's done everything herself.

"I started making my own beats," she says, "[because] I wanted to be a crusader for something. We need more women who don't need help from dudes."

Nite's music is hard to define. The curling, wispy reverse-chords at the beginning of her song "Yes" give way to a pounding beat; soft vocals lead into a rap verse. But she likes to embrace that range. Thanks to her "music junkie" dad, she grew up listening to everyone from Mariah Carey to Mos Def, and she now admires Willow Smith, Kendrick Lamar, and Lorde. "All the people who are in their lanes, who are set apart — that's what I look up to," she says, citing Allan Kingdom as one of the few producers she'd like to work with.

This spring, Nite will start a new adventure: classes at the Institute of Production & Recording in Minneapolis. Until then, she's dreaming of Berlin travels and furiously writing new songs — and she has her priorities straight. No matter what the future holds, she's sure of her own agency: "I'm going to be the girl of my dreams, not yours!"


Danami-Maurice Champion has the gift of connection. Encouragement and leadership are his specialties, so it's fitting that he's the frontperson of an eight-person project: soul/hip-hop group Danami and the Blue.

As a rule, Danami and the Blue will not fit into any pre-made boxes. It is both a solo project and a band — recorded music comes out under "Danami," but live bills promote the group.

Danami says he has often ducked pressures to sound a certain way. "The thing that I've struggled with, musically," he says, "is just being confident in what God has called me to do." While Christian peers wanted him to sing gospel, others thought he should do hip-hop. He settled on a fusion of soul and hip-hop — "a good path," he said.

The band is known for its high-energy live shows. Danami has a concert creed: "I believe that there are three reasons that people go to a show: to be captured and engaged, to experience moments — to laugh and to cry — and to have their lives changed." Maybe not everyone thinks of shows in that way, he says. "But when we're performing, we want to make sure we hit you with those moments."


"If it doesn't make you dance, what's the point?" Garrett Neal asked that question to wrap up his thoughts on the glories of pop music. His conversation had darted from classical composers ("Bach is the ultimate pop musician") to synthesizer specs. In the end, he said, it all comes back to the music's energy: Pop has to move a crowd.

Holidae — the synthy project he shares with R&B vocalist Ashley Gold — can do that. Their first song, "Darkest Shade," turns from "Flashing Lights"-esque synths to tender vocals, and it's danceable. (Debut album drops April 22.)

Though they'd played in the same scene for years, the duo ended up meeting by coincidence. Performing at a Dream Crusher show, Neal stayed on keys after bar close, and Gold says his music "inspired me to get off of my bar stool and come up on stage and improvise with him."

"I've grown up always loving pop music," she continued. "Garrett brings this synth wizard musicology that I'm not really accustomed to."

So as Neal crafts the beats, Gold writes the lyrics: "There's songs on this coming record that deal with bipolar [disorder] and depression; self-care and self-love," she said. "Life is difficult, and we should really talk about these things."

And dance.

Cecilia Johnson is a Twin Cities-based writer.