Top 10 Cities in North America Whose Music Scenes Are Exploding Right Now

Posted by Jason Schellhardt on Jan 22, 2015 10:00 AM

A version of this article originally appeared on NoisePorn.


For most intents and purposes, the music industry is constrained to New York City and Los Angeles. While both cities have rightfully established themselves as the leading musical locales, there are a number of up-and-coming cities with their own scenes that are worth keeping an eye on. Here's your guide to the top 10 best emerging cities for music.

1. Austin, TX

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Hailed as the live music capital of the world, Austin has become one of the most important cities in the music industry. The city is home to two of the USA's largest music festivals (SXSW and Austin City Limits), and seemingly every structure in Austin has a stage. Beyond its bona fides as a live music town, Austin is also home to an impressive crop of local artists like Shakey Graves, Ghostland Observatory, Wild Child, and many more.


2. Toronto, ON

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Before it was the city that Drake built, Toronto was home to legendary rockers Rush and Neil Young. Over the past 10 years or so, there's been an explosion of diverse talent coming from the T.O. There's an impressive contingent of heavy bands like Death From Above 1979 and METZ, as well as a wealth of electronic/experimental artists like the Weeknd, Crystal Castles, and deadmau5. Keep an eye out for more emerging talent from this Canadian gem.


3. Nashville, TN

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Nashville has long existed as the mecca of country music, but we're more interested in the city's indie rock scene, which is quickly becoming one of the best in the country. The city is home to Jack White’s Willy Wonka-esque Third Man Records, and other artists like the Black Keys and Kills have relocated there as well. More recently, garage bands like JEFF the Brotherhood, Diarrhea Planet, and Those Darlins have made a lot of noise and staked their own claim to the new Music City.


4. Madison, WI

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This may be one of the most unassuming entries on the list, but the state capital of Wisconsin has an unexpectedly rich music scene. A 2010 study by Songkick shows that Madison, WI, places second in the number of concerts per capita, bested only by Austin. The majority of legendary producer Butch Vig's music career has taken place in Madison, and Justin Vernon hails from just three hours away in Eau Claire. Vernon alone can account for an impressive list of projects including Bon Iver, Shouting Matches, and Volcano Choir.


5. Brooklyn, NY

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This one may be pretty obvious, but there are so many sub-scenes in Brooklyn that constantly keep the borough among the most interesting scenes in the country. Specifically, the current indie/garage rock scene has seen a major revival. That's more apparent than ever with the second annual Gigawatts Festival on the horizon. Bands like Team Spirit, Honduras, and Dances aren't reinventing the wheel, but they're certainly breathing new life into a once prosperous genre.


6. Montreal, QC

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Much like Toronto, this Canadian city has been producing some huge acts from a variety of different genres. Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade have paved the way for the city's indie rock community, but Montreal's EDM scene is one of the best in the world. Adventure Club, A-Trak, Lunice, Grimes, and Chromeo all got their start in Montreal, and there's a ton of young talent on deck waiting to carry on the city's legacy.


7. Chicago, IL

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Chi-town lands on this list mostly for its current hip-hop scene. The so-called "drill" movement has become the latest wave to really gain traction in the hip-hop underground. While Chief Keef has been a polarizing force at best, artists like Lil’ Durk, Katie Got Bandz, and Lil’ Reese have helped put their scene on the map. Outside of drill music, rappers like Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa continue to boost Chicago's profile as a premiere hip-hop destination.


8. Washington, DC

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Beyond the monuments and tourist traps, the nation's capital has become home to a thriving electronic/indie pop scene. Local DJs Nadastrom and Tittsworth are often cited as creating the wildly popular Moombahton scene at the U Street Music Hall. That venue has helped to create a tightly knit community of local and international DJs. In addition to its EDM scene, DC has produced some impressive indie pop bands like Misun, BRETT, and GEMS.


9. Athens, GA

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Several miles east of Atlanta is a long-running hotbed of indie rock that's often overlooked on a national level. Athens, GA, is responsible for indie icons like the B-52s, R.E.M., and Neutral Milk Hotel, and jam band giants like Widespread Panic, Drive By Truckers, and Perpetual Groove. Those two scenes have created an atmosphere that has spawned some awesomely strange experimental indie bands like Reptar and Futurebirds.


10. Portland, OR

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Ah, Portlandia. [Insert your hipster joke here.] With all of its pretensions, it makes sense that Portland is home to a brilliant indie rock scene. With old stalwarts like the Thermals and the Decemberists and exciting newcomers like Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Wampire, there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on the lovably strange city's music scene.


UPDATED 1/27/15 – The original version of this article mistakenly stated that Butch Vig and Justin Vernon were from Madison, WI. NoisePorn and Sonicbids apologize for the error, and we've corrected it. Thanks to our readers for catching that!


Jason Schellhardt is a freelance writer who has always had a passion for music and a strong affinity for his hometown. As the founder of, Jason has covered a variety of national and local artists from a Washington perspective.

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