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2022 was a breakout year for the Phoenix indie music scene

2022 was an exceptionally good year for independent music in the Valley. Veronica Everheart released her debut EP to a packed Rebel Lounge.

Diva Bleach went on their first tour through California and Las Vegas.

Mellow Toad — a portable production studio run by local artists — began producing music, and the first-ever Zona Music Festival was a rain-soaked success with 51 bands on four stages over one weekend.

By day, 23-year-old concert photographer Austin Villegas is a hotel front desk manager. At night, the Tempe-based Cronkite grad keeps his eye on the local music scene through the viewfinder on his camera.

“I’ve shot all the local venues at this point in the Phoenix and Tempe area,” Villegas said. “I’ve gone to the Rebel Lounge more times than I can count, Yucca Tap Room, Trunk Space, The Nile Underground, Nile Theater ... I really just have an investment with these local bands. Not because they’re smaller and my heart’s out for them, but because I’ve been able to make great friends through them.”

Villegas said one new band stood out to him this year: Proper Pet. The Tempe-based soft indie rock duo started releasing music in January.

“They started making music this year and somehow they’ve been able to put out 20 songs in the span of like, 11 months… they started out just playing at like Yucca Tap Room, and now they’re playing at these bigger festivals,” he said.

“A couple other names that come to mind are Wallace Hound, Diva Bleach, Veronica Everheart, Significant Others. Bands that have really been able to market themselves well and also kind of put out songs on a regular basis.”

Possibly the biggest local music story of the year was the debut of the Zona Music Festival.

“Zona Fest was really good. I did get to see a couple of local bands at their Eddie Stage … One of my favorites was hhharpies, and that’s kind of a mismatch of a bunch of local artists who wanted to make a band together,” Villegas said.

hharpies, the Phoenix-based self-described “power pop” quintuplet, started releasing music this August. It was started by Playboy Manbaby guitarist T.J. Friga and has members from Mrch and Lilac Cadillac.

“Their first ever show was at Zona Fest … But you’ve also got these local bands that got to play on the main stage, like Diva Bleach. They opened it up on Sunday,”  Villegas said.

Villegas has also had the opportunity to shoot larger touring bands.

“I always talk to them about the local scene as well,” he said. “And they really tell me that Arizona is tied with California for the best local scene that they’ve seen, which is surprising to hear… it’s like, the pandemic really gave these bands time to zone in and really find their sound and really perfect their music. So once everybody was able to come back and shows were able to kind of kick back in, they really just like — it’s blowing up.”

And Arizona has been the breeding ground for good music for quite some time.

“Like The Regrettes,” Villegas said. “One of their first shows ever together was at Trunk Space, I want to say in 2017-2018, and now they’re touring around … it’s really crazy to see.”

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Amber Victoria Singer is a producer for KJZZ's The Show. Singer is a graduate of the Water Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.