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The decade in music: Looking back on 10 years of growth, loss, and unpredictable change

Getty Images

Getty Images

How long ago was 2010? Think of it this way: First Avenue, just six years out of bankruptcy, made headlines for opening a small restaurant next to the Entry and painting its walls.

The Depot seemed like a pretty big deal at the time. But by the end of the decade, with the club on the cusp of its silver anniversary, this addition was dwarfed by First Ave’s many acquisitions and expansions. First Ave now owns the Turf Club, the Fine Line, and the Fitzgerald, operates the restored Palace Theatre, and may soon operate a proposed amphitheater in north Minneapolis.

One way to think of the past decade of music in the Twin Cities, then, is as a period of growth and consolidation. Even as First Ave grew into a business empire, the Current thrived and expanded, and Rhymesayers’ Soundset became a world-class festival featuring the biggest names in rap. Even City Pages is still here. Though the world at large may feel tumultuous, our artistic institutions feel rooted, solid, and, if you want to tempt fate, permanent.

Our musical history feels similarly settled. Dylan got a big downtown mural. The Replacements reunited and were commemorated with a definitive biography. Hüsker Dü received the box set it deserved. And Prince became an industry, generating a wealth of historical and biographical research, as well as plenty of tourist dollars, though he was often recalled with a morbid solemnity unbefitting an artist who repeatedly told us that the only way to deal with death and the apocalypse was to fuck. To reduce his legacy to one anthem, “Purple Rain,” is a grave insult to the memory of his perpetual boner.

Prince’s death undercut the seeming predictability of music in the Twin Cities. And if you’re in a darker mood, you could also reduce the past decade to a litany of deaths, many arriving far sooner than anyone imagined: Eyedea, Grant Hart, Ed Ackerson, and so many more. Cherished venues would be lost as well, particularly the Triple Rock. At times we seemed to exist within a state of perpetual mourning.

Whoever “we” are. In a technologically linked global economy, what does it even mean to be local? Lizzo, the most prominent musician of the decade with Minnesota connections, wasn’t born here and became a superstar only after she relocated to Los Angeles. Yet outlets like this cover her regularly for a simple reason: People in Minnesota still want to read about her. Plenty of musicians who identify in some way as Minnesotans live on the coasts for much of the year. “Local” is a tag you choose, rather than a description of where you live.

collage by Emily Utne

collage by Emily Utne

The story of local music over the past decade reflects what’s happening in our cities generally. As Minneapolis in particular grows more expensive, the gaps between the comfortable and the struggling widen. When fans and musicians talk about the Triple Rock, it’s not just scene nostalgia—it’s that a certain type of proving ground for fledgling artists is being lost.

And yet, the biggest sign of health is that local music seems to reflect national trends without mimicking them. A time traveller from the heyday of indie rock, 25 years ago or so, would recognize a lot of the music being pounded out in clubs like Mortimer’s, though they’d probably also notice that fewer cis-het white guys are doing the pounding. But these bands don’t feel retro—younger musicians have found a musical language that they can translate in their own idiosyncratic ways.

Even more exciting are those musicians, predominantly of color, who can’t be pigeonholed in traditional African-American genres, can’t really even be called a scene. Though elements of past music surfaces in what they do, they owe less to the funk of the Minneapolis Sound or the underground hip-hop of Rhymesayers and Doomtree than to an unclassifiable vibe. Astralblak are the forebears of this rhythmic, electronic, atmospheric melange, and artists as different as Lady Midnight and Dua Saleh, who released the best music locally this year, have carried it forward.

If you start with where things are today and work backward, much of what’s happening in local music in 2019 feels inevitable in retrospect. But if many years ago—let’s say in 1999, to pick a particularly resonant date—you’d asked folks who was more likely to survive to 2020, Prince or First Avenue, how many would have guessed correctly? There was a time when the club’s financial health seemed in doubt more often than not, just as there was a time when Prince’s relationship with his city was far more contentious, and when musicians who left for the coasts started new lives rather than touting their Midwestern roots for the folks back home.

Over the next ten years, there will be changes that seem inevitable to people but that we could never predict today. And so, as we grow more aware of our past than ever, the trick is to notice the people who are already making tomorrow’s history.

Read our year-by-year recap of the decade here.