Interview: Andrea Swensson, curator of The Local Show’s Artists to Watch

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The Local Show’s Artists to Watch, coming up on Saturday, August 20th, is a showcase of 10 of the best up-and-coming talents of 2016. Curated by Local Show host Andrea Swensson, this years’ event features Ana Tuiran, Lexii Alijai, Good Night Gold Dust, Tabah, Holidae, Lady Midnight, Porno Wolves, Tony Peachka, Nazeem and Spencer Joles, and Fraea. Spanning two stages at The Cedar (one on the plaza and one in the hall), the event will have food trucks, visual artists showcasing work, and nonstop music for nearly six hours.

Behind the scenes of the showcase is curator Andrea Swensson, who has been covering Minnesota music actively since 2005 as a music writer and now as the host of The Local Show. She’s been steadily profiling all the artists involved in the showcase over at The Local Current Blog (like Lady Midnight, Tony Peachka, and Good Night Gold Dust). We talked to her about her role in putting together Artists to Watch, the Minnesota music scene, and “newness.”

Q: Can you describe the process of curating this year’s show? What goes into putting a showcase like this together?

A: Even with 10 slots, the biggest challenge was to curate a lineup that is truly representative of the deep reservoirs of talent we have in our state. We have one of the most robust independent hip-hop scenes in the nation, a strong community of synth-pop and electro-pop artists, and a decades-long legacy of producing wicked underground punk rock bands, to name just a few examples. I wanted to be very intentional about pulling together an eclectic mix of music, and giving people the chance to discover artists they might not come across on their own.

Q: Aside from the music, what else will there be to do and see at the show?

A: It’s going to have the vibe of a mini festival, which is so fitting for this time of year. Thanks to Corey Bracken (of Ivy Lifestyle), who helped get the idea for this show off the ground last year, there will be a handful of visual artists showing work throughout the space in addition to live music. Plus, it’s everyone’s chance to check out the Cedar’s newly renovated plaza, and the first time ever that the Cedar is presenting music across two stages during one event. How cool is that?

Q: There’s a few other showcases featuring local talent in town, “Are You Local?” being one of them. What do you think makes “Artists To Watch” special?

A: We have a long history of best-new-band polls here in the Twin Cities — when I worked at City Pages, I had the chance to tally up their Picked to Click poll several times, and each year I always like sifting through the submissions for the Star Tribune’s Are You Local? contest to see what I’m missing. For this show, however, there was no voting and there is no contest. I’m not trying to rank these bands or quantify their art in any way. It’s simply a celebration; a party hosted by a huge music nerd who has been immersed in the scene for over a decade now, who sifts through literally hundreds of CD submissions and press releases and download links on the daily, and who tries her darnedest to distill it all into a weekly show that does this place justice.

Also, these bands weren’t chosen simply because they are “new.” We tend to get obsessed with newness in our music community, but the real theme tying all these acts together is quality. Many of these artists have been working on their projects for a while now, and I chose them for this event because I feel like they are ready to show off what they’ve created and take their work to the next level.

Q: As the host of The Local Show, you spend a lot of time consuming and promoting local music. What do you want outsiders to know about the Minnesota music scene?

A: Oh lordy. This is such a big question. Can I resort to an Aristotle quote here? If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time digging into this scene (which is actually a collection of scenes; some of which overlap and many which never intersect), it’s that the more I know about it, the more I realize I don’t know. Which might sound weird and daunting, but it’s really what keeps me pushing forward: there is still so much high-quality, unheard music out there waiting to be discovered. Sometimes my job feels like mining for gold. And finding someone with hidden talents or untapped potential is incredibly exciting to me.

Really, thought, I would encourage people who are just dipping their toes into the local music scene to step outside their comfort zones. Stay curious. Stay adventurous. This community will reward you for it again and again.

Q: What’s inspiring you lately?

A: Honestly, talking to all the artists playing this showcase has been super inspiring to me. I’ve been bringing people into the studio to record segments for the Local Show leading up to this event, and I’m meeting many of these performers for the first time and feeding off their energy. You know how when two people are just starting to date, everything feels all buzzy and giddy and new? It’s similar for bands who are just getting some momentum going, or solo artists like Lady Midnight who are stepping out on their own for the first time, or scene veterans like Ashley Gold of Holidae or Jessie and Drew from Fraea who have captured something fresh with a new collaboration. Their enthusiasm about their work is contagious, and I think you’ll be able to feel it at the show, too.