Startle the Heavens is the project of Ben Leopard from Birmingham, Alabama. Started as a side project in 2007, it is music that is inspired by nature and independent film. Ben’s first album was released in 2008 and since then he has completed six albums with more on the way. His music has been featured in a wide range of projects over the years, with his biggest achievement being included in the television show CSI: Miami. It wasn’t until this year (2017) that the music was played live thanks to the help of some close friends who were committed to making it possible.
“One of the most well thought-out new rap groups in some time. EarthGang has a knack for playful delivery and biting lyricism.”
EARTHGANG isn’t here to “save Hip Hop.” They aren’t here to change how you think of their hometown of Atlanta, Georgia or the music that comes from it either. Even though the duo comprised of Doctur Dot and Johnny Venus are more than capable of pulling off such feats, they are here to instill something simpler. Something bigger. Something that you, the listener, the fan, the artist, the critic may not even realize that you need yet: Freedom to be yourself.
That freedom is what attracted the duo to each other when they were students at Southwest Atlanta’s storied Benjamin E. Mays High School. Roaming the same hallways that produced all four members of Goodie Mob decades before them, Earthgang first met each other during an emergency evacuation. After seeing that they had similar tastes in music ranging from Madonna to Madlib, their relationship blossomed from casual conversations about rap to forming a group of their own. But before they even recorded their first project together, they already found themselves hitting the road as they each enrolled at prestigious HBCU Hampton University in Virginia. Though both of them attended the college on academic scholarships with Dot majoring in Psychology and Venus studying to be an architect, they found themselves using the campus as their recording studio.
The work paid off as Earthgang’s first two projects, 2010’s The Better Party and 2011’s Mad Men landed them shows on both ends of the country at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival and Stanford University’s Blackfest. Their follow-up mixtape Good News, backed by energetic live shows, boosted their profile in Atlanta’s congested indie rap scene, but it was their ambitious 2012 debut album Shallow Graves For Toys that captured nationwide attention and peaked at #11 on the Billboard Emerging Artists chart. The wide-ranging project displayed their ability to create with acoustic folk singers like Marian Mereba as well as chest-thumping declarations with producers 808 Mafia (Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame) with Noisey calling it “one of the most well thought-out releases of the year.”
“Our projects are more conceptual than just making songs,” insists Doctur Dot, whose handle is based off his childhood nickname “Doc,” which he earned for always seeming to have answers for everything. “We are making ourselves vulnerable to the world through our music. Most people don’t allow themselves to do that.”
“We set out to make the best music that feels the best to us,” adds Johnny Venus, whose name derives from his astrological sign Libra, but challenges the common perception of the symbol by making it asexual. “It’s a natural synergy for us. We don’t just try to make explosions happen.”
With a lyrical spectrum that has graduated from “hoping your mama lose her temper” on Mad Men to “seeing the whole world with my eyes closed” on Torba, Earthgang is rapidly growing into a musical force that will liberate listeners from all walks of life. Hopefully, your mind will be free enough to hear the call.
“Mariah Parker can roll out gags with the best of ‘ em… but also knows how to cut through bullshit and tell it to ya straight. Her first EP alone dips into touchy subjects like depression, the stigma of abortion, addiction, and racial stereotypes, with barely a breath in between.”
— Lee Adcock, Immersive Atlanta Magazine
Lingua Franca is the hip hop project of Athens-based linguist Mariah Parker, whose scientific fixation with hip hop language is obvious in the intricate rhymes she interweaves with boom bap beats. Her lyrics, garnished with haunting neosoul hooks, tell unflinching tales of chemically-induced heartbreak, reproductive justice, racial politics and feminist swagger, and longtime hip hop heads will hear echoes of nineties New York underground in both her playful vocal delivery and piano-centric, classic R&B-inspired compositions. Her self-titled debut, released February 2017, was heralded as one of the most anticipated local releases of the year by Immersive Atlanta Magazine, and as well, Lingua Franca was named one of their 25 Artists to Watch for in 2017. In Athens, Lingua Franca was voted Hip Hop Artist of the Year in the 2017 Flagpole Athens Music Awards in addition to her nominations for Album of the Year and Artist of the Year. In December, the Lingua Franca EP will be rereleased on vinyl by Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records.
Cutt Dogg is a Birmingham, AL born artist who came out of the group Choppinboyz. With the passing of his brother & Choppinboyz member Mike Ho, Cutt began his solo career and focused on honing his music and building with his label Soufsyde Records. Since then he has released two mixtapes and an album while putting out numerous music videos and maintaining a busy performance schedule.
“DWNR, his grunge-influenced Rhymesayers debut, is deeply melancholy, and splits the difference on ‘depressed’ and ‘party mode'”
Since signing to indie heavyweight Rhymesayers Entertainment in late 2013, deM atlaS hasn’t wasted any time in spreading his brand of Hip-Hop music across the world. Steadily on the road since his signing, he was able to find the time to release his unofficial debut, DWNR, in late 2014. DWNR was a special release with each cover uniquely hand-drawn by deM atlaS himself. Released to critical acclaim, the first pressing of over 1000 copies sold out within 48 hours.
deM followed the release of DWNR with major festival plays around the country, and supporting label mates Atmosphere on various tours in the US, Canada and Europe. After taking a break in France to record with French super group Ursus Minor, deM returned home and released his second EP titled mF deM on July 15th, 2016. The project features new lyrics over 13 previously released MF DOOM beats and is available for FREE via Digital download at Fifth Element and Vinyl and CD in LIMITED quantities.
Starting in September 2016 deM atlaS joined Atmosphere and Brother Ali on the formers Freshwater Fly Fishermen Tour that spanned the U.S. and Canada until February 2017. Upon returning home deM immediately began putting the final touches on a full-length debut album and gearing up for a busy summer and fall.
In 1971, in a dusty little five room farmhouse shack outside Montevallo, Alabama, five young and determined musicians mixed Buffalo Springfield/CSNY harmonies with SanFran jam band instrumental acrobatics, firmly establishing fresh territory in the palette on Southern live music. Built on a core of ringing guitars, honky-tonk piano and slinky pedal steel guitar, the band took the name Dogwood, from the tiny unincorporated town just down the road. Small shows at the nearby college and dances at local high schools soon led to several years of touring, playing clubs, colleges, and the occasional opening slot for national acts, primarily in the Southeast. The group’s five year run spawned a grateful, solid fan base, and a catalog of original tunes that join the best of today’s Americana standards with their genesis in that rich musical epoch.
More than forty years later, those tunes live again in their originators, all working players who went on to further decades’ renown as contributors in Alabama’s subsequent live music heritage. Recent hours in Birmingham’s WorkPlay studios have allowed these now-polished craftsmen to achieve an album of 15 unique tracks, to fuel fevered memories of hay field hippies from across the Nixon-era South– an energetic live set by the founding members of Dogwood at Secret Stages is a new generation’s best bet to experience an authentic (and surprisingly relevant) slice of historic regional counterculture.
Georgia may lay claim to Molly Parden, but her music carries us somewhere farther away – and closer to ourselves. Her 2011 release, “Time Is Medicine”, reveals beautifully crafted melodies and angelic refrains, enough to ensure the admiration of her Nashville peers and collaborators. Performing alongside her fellow crooners and fans, like Matthew Perryman Jones, Sam Outlaw, Erin Rae, Caleb Groh and Peter Bradley Adams, her songwriting illuminates the intimacy and honesty of an artist who is beginning to define her stars and follow them even further than the reins of the Cumberland Plateau.
While The Prescriptions may come by their Southern style of narrative storytelling honestly, they refuse to rest on the laurels of their musical heritage. Songs like “She Is Waiting” prove that they’re just as comfortable launching into a heavy, alt-country breakdown as they are a world-weary lyrical stream of consciousness. The Prescriptions channel a broad range of influences, from the aching, unaffected honesty of ‘70s folk titans like Neil Young, to the guitar-driven melodies of The Strokes’ early recordings and the experimental energy of Wilco.
“Marcel P. Black originally came to Baton Rouge by way of Oklahoma, but has established himself as one of the city’s hip-hop leaders over the past decade. In addition to cultivating the local scene, Black has become an in-demand act on the regional circuit. Black’s rise has been an unlikely one, creating conscious rap in a Baton Rouge scene largely bereft of such content.”
— XXL Magazine
Baton Rouge veteran emcee Marcel P. Black has already received high praise from some of the most well respected names in Hip-Hop. Most recently Marcel was featured on XXL.com’s list “12 Baton Rouge Rappers You Should Know,” also highlighted on HipHopDX.com’s “Up Next By DX” feature. Marcel regularly tours the Southeast, Gulf Coast, and Southwest, appearing at Atlanta’s A3C Festival, as well as other festivals in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, & Tennessee.
Next to Marcel’s great music and work ethic, his claim to fame is his live show. A3C.com once describes Marcel’s performance style as “Baptist Deacon meets Gangster Rapper meets Malcom X.” Marcel has shared stages with KRS-One, Common, Jay Electronica, Mobb Deep, Run The Jewelz, Kevin Gates, & Slum Village, as well as underground heavyweights like Supastition, Sean Price (R.I.P.), Substantial, Killah Priest, Mickey Factz, and MegaRan.
Marcel recently released a universal critically acclaimed album titled “Cry Freedom,” that featured the likes of Supastition, Substantial, Tef Poe, and Mr. Franklin a.k.a Kamikaze from Crooked Lettaz. Marcel’s style is what he describes “non-traditional conscious Hip-Hop,” a style born out of his gospel roots, street gang influences, and Black Empowerment teachings.
Marcel has always used his platform as an emcee to bring light to social justice issues, from organizing benefits for National World Aids Day, and raising money for the children of Alton Sterling, to speaking on panels and lecturing on the intersection between social justice and Hip-Hop in collegiate and high school classrooms. Marcel has worked in the field as a youth development worker for 15 years, most recently as a mental health counselor. The husband/father/artist/activist/youth worker’s goal is to use Hip-Hop culture as a conduit to freedom .
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“A common complaint among those who follow new rock and pop is that there’s too much good music to take in. An intimate festival like Secret Stages confirms that’s so by emphasizing discovery rather than highlighting a dizzying cavalcade of established artists and newcomers rocketing toward the top. In a convivial atmosphere among eager, open-minded fans, Secret Stages illustrated that what’s bubbling beneath contemporary music’s densely populated surface is worthy of attention, too.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Secret Stages finds a way to blend every slice of Birmingham life. And doesn’t hesitate to remind you that uplifting something new still manages to honor the past.”
“If you want to find the unheard sounds of young, Southern musicians, the best place to do it these days is Birmingham’s annual Secret Stages Festival.”
—The Bitter Southerner
“In this age of instant gratification, the concept of a music festival where the main goal is for patrons to discover new bands – rather than see bands they already know and love – is risky to say the least. Yet here we are, in the fifth year of Secret Stages, and it’s going as strong as ever.”
“Secret Stages is already a far, far better music festival than anyone dreamed it might be.”
—Black & White
“…one of the biggest bangs for your buck you’re likely to find anywhere.”
"This festival is one of my favorite regional events. Most of these bands have yet to break out of their respective local scenes…It’s a great chance to wander around and discover a bunch of new music."
“Secret Stages succeeded in having more depth in regional and national indie acts than the recent Soundland (aka Next Big Nashville) and had the out-of-the-box feel that SXSW had 15-20 years ago.”
“Secret Stages is a testament to the vitality of the music landscape.”
“…one of the most exciting new music festivals in the Southeast”
“Despite the lack of marquee headliners, that are used to draw large audiences and boost attendance, Secret Stages continues to be a breath of fresh air in its commitment to local artists and their promotion. This ethic has proven to be effective as more and more people each year choose to attend Secret Stages.”
—The Blue Indian (Macon)
“It would have been anybody’s guess that Birmingham would host the best Indie Festival in the Southeast.”
—The Nashville Bridge
“With so many new or little-known acts coming to town, Secret Stages is shaping up to be Birmingham’s best event of the summer for discovering new music.”
“…At so many shows and festivals, the artists play their set and then get out. Not so with Secret Stages. I shook hands and spoke with nearly every act I saw. There’s a personal element to Secret Stages that I really haven’t seen anywhere else.”