Best Band - Wilson
The boys in Wilson may party and play like rock stars, but there's not an ounce of diva in the winners of RDW's 2012 Best Band crown. "At the end of a day, a band can have success from the critics and the industry beast, and all that acknowledgment rules," says frontman Chad Nicefield. "But having real people really believe in you is much more fulfilling." The hard-rocking Detroit crew has built its reputation on the strength of its kickass live shows and its 2010 EP Standing On the Reel. This gang of five is unabashed in its enthusiasm for raw, balls-out rock, and it shows. Despite living in a time of "digital baths and lackluster music," Nicefield says, "rock and roll can still prevail." With tour dates planned in the states and overseas, and a new album on the way, it's looking like Wilson itself will continue to prevail heading into 2012.
Best Band You Haven't Heard - Phantasmagoria
One of the most common criticisms of electronic music is that it's too cold, too inhuman-sounding. But Phantasmagoria blows that stereotype out of the water, with gorgeous, expansive soundscapes incorporating inventive samples and instrumentation. With this remarkable sound and the haunting vocals of Lianna Vanicelli and inventiveness of Chris Jarvis, Phantasmagoria is a killer duo that you may not have heard yet. But following a prolific four releases this year, we're predicting a banner 2012 for this duo. Catch up now before everyone else does. And with an upcoming full-length on the horizon (courtesy of Five Three Dial Tone Records), you'll get your chance!
Best Blues Artist/Group - Thornetta Davis
From her stage presence to her incredible voice, Thornetta Davis commands attention. Our own "funky-rockin' blues diva" has been tearing it up onstage in metro Detroit and beyond throughout her solo career of over 15 years. Davis' powerful voice and playful, sexy attitude have made her both a local favorite and a big name on the national blues scene. Just ask Bonnie Raitt, Smokey Robinson or any of the numerous other music legends she's opened for and performed alongside.
Best Club Dj - Dj captn20
Is there anything Nick Haddad can't do? Not only is the dude one handsome chap, he's got a great sense of style, he's a family man...and he knows how to get a room full of people dancing like lunatics. "Dropping that one dance floor banger always works," says Haddad, "but jumping on the DJ booth, throwing napkins and spraying champagne everywhere helps too." Indeed, it's his infectious energy that the crowd feeds off, and his discerning ear for what's a hit track and what will get the party to a fever pitch that keeps the party rocking every weekend. V Nightclub is lucky to have him, and so is Commune on Fridays and Mon Jin Lau on Wednesdays. A man so in demand is hard to deny this award to, wouldn't you say?
Best Cover Band - The Mega 80s
The Mega 80s certainly aren't lacking for commitment to their particular craft. From their throwback outfits to their gloriously cheesy old-school-MTV video show, the band doesn't just play '80s tunes; they recreate the decade of decadence onstage. From Bon Jovi to the Buggles, these guys literally have it covered. Encyclopedic knowledge of '80s tunes aside, the Mega 80s are also a group of truly talented musicians. Their serious chops, onstage energy and a great sense of humor have obviously won you all over.
Best Techno Label - Bang Tech 12
Although the folks at Bang Tech 12 have been doing good work year in and year out for some time now, 2011 was a particularly big year for them. The label celebrated its 15th anniversary last May with a huge daylong party at Bookie's. Originally started in Ypsilanti in an effort to organize quality shows, Bang Tech has grown into a notable label representing 40 EDM artists across five states. Of course, the label's greatest tie is still to Michigan: most of its acts, like Minx and Detroit Techno Militia, are Detroit-based.
Best DJ - DJ Godfather
DJ Godfather, aka Brian Jeffries, will always hold a special place in Detroit music history for being among the originators of ghettotech back in the late '90s. But legendary history aside, this turntable wizard is still keeping busy today with regular live performances, as well as his record label, Twilight 76. Intense and focused onstage, you won't believe your eyes as you watch this dude spin records. Jeffries moves so fast it seems like there has to be some magic involved in creating his gritty, insistent beats. Detroit, you might have to come to terms with the fact that he's not just yours anymore – he was yet again voted amongst the top DJs in the America's Best DJ contest!
Best-Dressed Band/Artist - Ben Sharkey
Jazz crooner Ben Sharkey's sound hearkens back to the swing classics of the '50s and '60s, and that blast-from-the-past aesthetic extends from his tunes to his togs. The habitually sharp dresser says he takes his cues from old-school stars like James Dean and "classic gentlemen" like Gary Cooper. "It's a throwback to a cleaner, jazzier kind of style, but with a modern twist here and there," Sharkey says of his style. You might be surprised to learn that Sharkey doesn't necessarily break the bank to get that sophisticated and dressy look. Although he frequents local boutiques like Royal Oak's Dolce Moda or Birmingham's Complex, he's also a dedicated thrifter who often hits up Lost and Found in Royal Oak. Despite his sharp appearance, Sharkey says he was "surprised" to win this award. "I do like to dress well, but I just do it mostly for myself," he says. "I'm very grateful to have it recognized."
Best Electronic Artist - Anthony Attalla
You could definitely say Detroit is pretty important to Anthony Attalla. "That city made me, literally, who I am today," Attalla says. "To have it voted on by everyone is like the ultimate gratification." The Cleveland-born DJ migrated to the D back in 2000 for a job with AT&T. Attalla, who had previously commuted to the city to go to raves, wound up launching a successful music career here. He's gone on to play shows around the world and launch his own label, Incorrect Music. And this disc jock puts in an incredible amount of work to make it all happen, flying 121,000 miles last year. "It's a lot of hard work but it's easy to work hard at something you're in love with," Attalla says. "I actually kinda sulk when I go to bed at night because it's like, 'Fuck, I have so much work to do. I don't wanna go to bed.'"
Best Female Hip-Hop Artist/Group - Invincible
You'd never guess from Invincible's Detroit street cred that she was actually born in Israel. Moving to Ann Arbor as a young girl and eventually establishing herself in the D, Invincible has gone on to become one of the city's biggest MCs. Her rhymes speak of social justice and uplift both here in Detroit and the world at large, and her skills and message have won her major props from both the music community and major organizations like the Kresge Foundation, which awarded her a fellowship in 2010.
Best Folk Artist/Group - Ragbirds
Although "folk" is the easiest way to describe the music of this Ann Arbor group, its sound branches out way beyond the basic Americana sound that usually defines the genre. The Ragbirds also embrace world music, incorporating African and American instruments, and draw you into the whole package with some great rock and pop hooks. Having just kicked out their fourth studio release, Travelin' Machine, the Ragbirds have a string of national tour dates and a promising 2012 ahead of them.
Best Hard Rock Band - Critical Bill
Critical Bill goes hard on both the guitars and the turntables. The Mount Clemens rap-rock crew marry some seriously heavy rock riffs to hip-hop beats and rapped lyrics. Of course, they're also not afraid to dive into some more melodic tunes or even a serving of Auto-Tune; check out cuts like "Favorite Drug" from their most recent release, 2010's The Underground Kingdom. But for the most part, these guys have a penchant for down-and-dirty verses backed by aggro guitars, which metro Detroit is obviously a big fan ot.
Best Indie Band - Lightning Love
This Ypsi indie-pop trio has been busy of late; they just released a delightful four-song EP, which can be obtained via Bandcamp for a very reasonable price. (We'd like to think they released it in honor of their big RDW win this year, but that's just us.) The band combines simple, emotional lyrics with lively hooks to create a sweet and endearing sound. With a keyboard-heavy aesthetic and scrappy vocals from Leah Diehl, this band keeps us coming back for more well-crafted, slightly offbeat poppy jams. And while you're still considering them indie, Detroit, the rest of the world is starting to take notice.
Best Jazz Band - Will Sessions
The genre term "jazz" doesn't quite sum up the full musical breadth that Will Sessions and his band cover; the big and brassy eight-piece outfit runs the gamut from funk to soul to hip-hop to, yes, jazz. And with four horns among the group, they've definitely got the firepower to handle those big-band genres. The band is, of course, best known for its regular performances at the ever-popular Motor City Funk Night events. Those funk DJs are great, but nothing quite matches the majesty of the Sessions band live onstage.
Best Live Performance - Lettercamp
We dig Lettercamp's sexy and slightly spacey guitar-based take on electro-pop even when we're just listening to the recorded music on its own. But the Detroit band's live act takes things to a whole new unexpected level. Their stage show incorporates trippy digital projections, colorful lights and–most notably–tall translucent screens onstage, which vocalist Liz Wittman often steps behind for some sensual, silhouetted dance moves. It's a striking visual spectacle that perfectly suits Lettercamp's slinky (yet entirely danceable) jams.
Best Local Band Name - Free Beer
Free Beer? Sure, we'll be there! ...and thus we've gotten hooked by the best band name in Detroit. This five-piece may draw you in with the promise of free beverages, but they'll keep you in your seat–and paying for your beer–with their enjoyable bar-rock jams. And Free Beer's sense of humor doesn't stop with just the band name; this crew of professional smartasses (a few Detroit radio vets among them) claims to have formed as a "baroque jazz" trio in 1947, with its current members acquiring "franchise rights" in 1993.
Best Local Music Video Producer - Jason Schultz
Jason Schultz brings a high-quality polish to his music videos for Detroit acts big and small, as well as working with artists from outside the D. The producer, director and editor has worked on several projects for Mount Clemens rap-rock outfit Critical Bill, including the wild and flashy videos for "Beam Me Up" and "My Suicide (Girl)." He also created the gritty black-and-white video for Detroit funk artist Nadir's "Slave." A true professional, Schultz's videos give local performers a package befitting high-power national stars.
Best Local Record Label - Psychopathic Records
Insane Clown Posse keeps its business close to home, citing its Psychopathic Records label right here in metro Detroit (Farmington Hills, to be exact). "The Hatchet" is, of course, home to ICP itself, as well as a host of similarly face-painted hip-hop acts like Twiztid, Boondox and Blaze Ya Dead Homie. Not content to stick to just releasing records, the label also brings its fans together annually for a now-infamous event: Gathering of the Juggalos. Juggalos Unite!
Best Local Songwriter - Passalacqua
Hip-hop duo Passalacqua sure has been blowing up in recent months. The group's latest album Zebehazy Summer has garnered praise from sources as high-and-mighty as NME, much of it for the wordplay and remarkable flow of Passalacqua masterminds Blaksmith and Mister (in addition to the masterful production of Erno the Inferno). Despite their nimble turns of phrase, the duo's lyrics are often quiet character studies matching their mellow old-school sound. The pair also take a "go with the flow" approach onstage, and seeing them do this stuff on the fly is sometimes even more impressive.
Best Male Hip-Hop Artist/Group - MU
Mu is one busy dude. For starters, of course, the rapper writes and records his own music, his tunes defined by aggressive lyrics and beats. And he definitely projects a pretty imposing self-image through his tunes – check "Be Like Me," which adapts "The Imperial March" (Darth Vader's theme from Star Wars) for a key sample. With all the swagger, you might not guess that Mu is also a highly community-conscious artist, working as a producer, writer and engineer, and running his own label, B&E.
Best Place To Record Your First Album - Rust Belt Studios
If you're looking to put out a high-quality debut album, you're going to want to go for a studio with some serious cred. And you can tell Royal Oak's Rust Belt Studios has got cred in spades just by looking at the studio's list of name-drops. Rust Belt counts Kid Rock, Electric Six and Sponge among a list of famous local clients. The studio offers an expansive variety of recording gear, as well as guitars, amps and keyboards. And Rust Belt's high-quality staff will make sure that your first release is recorded, mixed and mastered to perfection.
Best Rave - Nightsneak
The NightSneak team consistently puts on the craziest underground parties in the city. Commandeering more off-the-beaten-path venues like Bert's Warehouse Theater, Nightsneak brings in incredible talent lineups, featuring top-of-the-line DJs and EDM artists from across the country and overseas. Whether you hit Nightsneak's infamous DEMF afterparty or one of the other events the crew puts together throughout the year, you can be assured a wild, neon-swathed crowd and stellar music. Prepare to dance until the soles of your shoes wear thin.
Best Rock Band - Dirty Americans
Dirty Americans are a good, solid, no-bullshit rock band. The four-piece, some of them culled from the far reaches of metro Detroit, have won fans far and wide since they first formed in their current incarnation over a decade ago. Since then, they've spread their enthusiastic and accessible brand of hard-edged riff rock through several albums and EPs, as well as by taking their pumped-up live show on the road. The band continues to keep itself busy and keep the meaning of "Detroit Rock City" alive.
Best Solo Artist - Danny Brown
Danny Brown has definitely had a banner year. His latest release, XXX, topped numerous "best of 2011" lists. He announced an upcoming tour with nerdcore savant Childish Gambino. And, in his crowning achievement (according to us, anyway), he took RDW's 2011 "Artist of the Year" award. The floppy-topped rapper has distinguished himself as a great solo artist with his ridiculously funny lyrics and unique high-pitched delivery. We're looking forward to seeing where our cover model's quickly ascending career goes next.
Best World Music Group - Sean Blackman
Sean Blackman displays an almost daunting knowledge of various forms of world music, incorporating inspirations from his travels in west and south Africa, Brazil, Thailand, Greece and other locales. The guitarist, composer and producer took a new step towards fleshing out these many different forms with his latest release, In Transit, for which he collaborated with musicians from Brazil, Senegal and Argentina. Blackman showcases his rich, often hypnotic instrumental compositions both on his recordings and with weekly gigs at Cantina Diablos and 3rd Street Bar.
Best Tribute Artist - Danny D and The Vagabonds
Danny D, Hamtramck hometown hero, has opened for so many incredibly legendary artists, it will make your head spin: Mitch Ryder, David Lee Roth, Bad Company, Air Supply, Uncle Kracker, The Romantics and many more. The man is a legend, and his Tribute to Rod Stewart Show is second to none! Playing shows all over the metro area, he's gained a following...and a huge amount of success for his devotion and impressive musicianship.