I’ve always had an affinity for two piece bands. This is partly because I’ve always loved the spartan nature of it, and partly because I also love seeing/hearing how bands are able to turn “less is more” into action. Another big reason is because one of my very first bands was a two piece bass and drums punk band (I played drums) and I just loved how raw and wild it felt at the time. Then later, the first band I played guitar in, Lady Bizness, was a two piece for a long time before we “sold out” and became a trio (ha!). We played the 2015 edition of the annual Two Piece Fest in Philadelphia, an awesome DIY festival that gives love to myriad two piece bands every year; I have the poster for the event hanging in my house to this day. The fest is still going strong, having recently held their “Sweet 16” for the 2023 edition.
All that being the case I figured, why not make a big ass list of duos I love?! And a little criteria here, this is for rock bands, mostly because that’s my favorite genre of music (“rock” being a very, VERY broad term here mind you), and it is also solely for bands that record AND perform as a two piece. This is not for a band of two members that records numerous layers in the studio via multitracking and then puts together a backing band on stage to perform it. No shade to those who choose to do that because plenty of great songwriting duos exist in that realm, but that is not what I’m trying to highlight with this list.
Left off this list are the biggies like The White Stripes etc because you all already know who they are, Jack White was just on SNL and he is doing just fine! I did hit on a few bigger artists, but mainly wanted to shine a light on some of the lesser known bands, current local NYC bands and some now defunct bands—several queercore bands in particular—that I wish had had more attention during their lifetime.
As with all of our lists, this is not ranked, as it is not our ethos to create a hierarchy. It features artists at a wide variety of levels of notoriety and all of them are treated as equals because again, we aren’t trying to create a hierarchy or a monolith, great music is great music, end of story. FTA is, and always will be, about sharing the music we genuinely love and care about first and foremost, we don’t need to assign a rank or a status to anything to do that. I’m also a grouchy middle aged punk and set in my ways, what can I say?!
SPIN also recently put out a list of two piece bands and there are some cool artists on that (with one or two crossovers here) so I recommend checking that out. There were a lot more bands I wanted to mention and I’m always on the lookout for more to discover, so I will definitely have more to talk about aside from these 28 picks (one for each day of February) for a future follow up list. It was important for me to start with these particular bands, but stay tuned because there will absolutely be more; if you didn’t see a band this time, don’t despair, they’re very probably already on my radar for the next one.
Alright, buckle up and get ready for a whole lot of great duos in the list to follow!
Big Business– It feels impossible to have a list of two piece bands without including these sludge metal greats, titans of the heeeeeeavy bass and drums style this format employs so well. They have at times over their nearly 20 year existence expanded to include guitars, but for the majority of their life they have remained the core duo of Jared Warren (Karp) on bass and Coady Willis (Murder City Devils) on drums so they remain firmly within the criteria for this list. Both Warren and Willis were also part of the Melvins for a time, and more recently, Warren has been playing bass with Unwound on their 1991-2091 reunion tour, replacing the late Vern Rumsey. (I’m also a sucker for bands with left handed drummers since there aren’t that many of us, but interestingly, there are no less than four on this list.)
Blacks’ Myths– The instrumental bass and drums duo combines elements of free jazz, heavy drone and a deeply experimental bent to create long and wide-ranging soundscapes, some reaching 20 minutes in length, showing the immense possibilities of this format and that a guitar is not the be all end all for a band. They have thus far released a stellar pair of albums, 2018’s Blacks’ Myths and 2019’s Blacks’ Myths II, as well as a 2020 collaboration with Moor Mother and Jamal Moore, Blue Chain. The band will soon support the legendary Dischord art rockers, Black Eyes, on their reunion tour and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them live again after having seen them open for Mdou Moctar in 2021.
Bob Vylan– The UK based punk/rap rock duo hits hard and puts on an incredible live show. I caught them when they opened for Amyl and the Sniffers last year at Terminal 5 and they practically blew the roof off the place, playing at the level of an arena rock band (see pics). They were also recently the recipients of the first ever Alternative Music award at the Mobo Awards in the newly created category to recognize Black performers in the realm of rock music, a category and an honor long overdue, since rock is a genre which never could have existed without the pioneering efforts of Black songwriters and artists.
Cinema Cinema– This Brooklyn based experimental art rock duo of cousins Ev Gold (guitar/vocals) and Paul Claro (drums) hits a lot of styles—jazz, hard rock, metal, post hardcore—and don’t have an easily pinned down sound. They also recently celebrated their 15th anniversary as a band. And while they did bring in collaborator Matt Darriau for vocals and woodwinds for their pair of albums CCXMD and CCXMDII, the heart of the band has always been the duo of Gold and Claro. They put on one hell of a fiery set live and will be touring behind a new album later this year. Cause for even more celebration!
Courtney Love– I know what you’re thinking but no, it’s not that Courtney Love, but rather this Courtney Love, the delightful lo-fi twee band made up of Lois Maffeo and Pat Maley of Yoyo A Go Go. (And yes, they were named after that Courtney Love.) They released three cutesy 7inches over their time together, all of which are favorites in my record collection to this day. Decades after its 1990 release, Snail Mail recorded a really cool cover of “The 2nd Most Beautiful Girl In the World,” giving it new life and bringing attention to this oft-overlooked duo, exposing them to a whole new generation of fans.
Death From Above 1979– I discovered this band in the ether of the nascent music blogosphere not long after the release their 2002 EP, Heads Up, though it would be many years—after their 2006 breakup and subsequent 2011 reformation—until I would get to see them live. I’ve long been a fan of the bass and drums setup for bands and DFA1979 is one of the best to try their hand at it, crafting catchy dance punk anthems built around Jesse F. Keeler’s huge distorted bass riffs and Sebastian Grainger’s dual vocal and drum attack. They’re still at it and wrapped up a North American tour at the end of 2022 in support of their most recent album, Is 4 Lovers (see my pics from the Brooklyn stop of the tour). I’m a fan of everything in their catalog, but Heads Up remains a special favorite to this day, the songs contained within both feral and foundational.
Death Goals– One of the newest discoveries on this list for me, the UK queercore duo plays a visceral and inspiring blend of screamo, math rock, punk and metal for a beautifully abrasive sound that explores queerness and what it means to exist in a society that (a good portion of) still wants us dead. They have a brand new album, A Garden of Dead Flowers, coming in May of this year and the first single “Faux Macho” is as catchy as it is raging aka my favorite kind of song.
Divide and Dissolve– Heavy instrumental doom drone metal, I saw this band play at Webster Hall last year with Low (on what would be the late Mimi Parker’s last NYC show, see pics) and they filled every single inch of space with their massive and all consuming sound. Despite being an instrumental band, their message is deeply political and challenges their listeners to examine and explore the continued toxic legacies of colonialism, white supremacy, nationalism and capitalism. Their name is also literal because alongside their message, is the imperative to work towards ways to divide and dissolve these poisonous plagues to our society.
El Ten Eleven– More than any other band on this list, El Ten Eleven really shows the levels that can be achieved with two people and traditional rock band instrumentation. Helmed by composer Kristian Dunn on bass and double neck, with his longtime musical partner Tim Fogarty on drums, and aided by a mountain of loopers and other pedals, the duo does it all without computers or click tracks. They make it all happen live on the spot and have used their exceptional musicianship to create sweeping and inspiring instrumental post rock. They’ve only seemed to have gotten more prolific with time, having released a triple album, Tautology, in 2020 which was followed up with New Year’s Eve in 2022 and the just recently released Valley of Fire (read my review). While their records are certainly a great starting point, this is a band you definitely need to check out live to catch the full effect of how impressively they craft their songs.
Empty Vessels– This uber DIY hardcore/noise/doom band from Connecticut had heavy fucking songs, supremely cool stylized art based on occult and horror movie images (I still have a patch of theirs on an old hoodie) and toured prolifically in the early through mid 2010’s, seemingly endlessly on the road crisscrossing the US. They released two stellar albums, 2014’s Seizures Within Reason and 2015’s Throw Your Shadow, and seemed poised for bigger things.
They posted on their Facebook in September 2017 to celebrate their five year anniversary as a band and mentioned that they were working on new material…and then that was it. Nothing further was posted, nothing was released, no more shows happened (that I am aware of) and no follow up post ever came. A few people later commented on that post asking if they were still playing which went unanswered. So it’s a mystery what happened to this band because they seem to have fallen off the face of the earth entirely, but I sure hope they someday post an update or make more music. In the meantime, the two albums they did leave behind are quite the legacy.
Fagatron– This is a band that is long defunct and that I never saw live; I’ve always been bummed about that. They hailed from Lincoln, Nebraska in the late 90s and early 00s, which incidentally was the end of the heyday of some “distro dude” with a table full of records at a show (though with the vinyl resurgence, maybe it’ll make a comeback). I came into possession of their self-titled 7inch at a show where another queer band had copies of albums and such by other queer bands much like the “distro dude” (but nicer). With a name like that, and a cool silk screened cover, I couldn’t resist. The bass and drums duo delivered on that release too, six gritty, heavily distorted punk rock tracks that sounded like they were recorded in a garbage can or at least a dark, dank basement in the middle of nowhere. I was in such a style band at the time, and a baby queer myself, so this one really resonated with me in a lot of ways.
The original was released in 1998 (yes, I still have my copy) and was re-issued in 2012 by Punk Start My Heart. This is also about the time it made it to Bandcamp with a download of all 36 of the band’s songs from across their 7inch EP, a split 7 inch with another queer two piece, Ninja Death Squad (more on them below), and their self tilted album. Today, just 9 songs are still up for download (not sure why on that) but their album is streaming on Spotify and a lot of songs are also on YouTube so most (though not all) of their catalog is readily available albeit in a bit of a scattered way. There’s also the treasure trove of Discogs where new stuff seems to pop up all the time. I may have never seen this band live, but they sure do hold a special place in my heart in terms of formative bands.
Gibbons– I have a ton of love for this endearing pop punk/emo duo and I’ve been going to their shows (and played on the same bill for a few of them along the way) since pretty much the beginning. They always make me smile, because after all, there’s not many bands that can so seamlessly incorporate the Air Bud franchise into a song. (Sadly that song remains unreleased as of now but has been one of their live staples for years.)
godheadsilo– I saw this band’s name for yeeeeaaaars, but it wasn’t until the Covid lockdowns hit in 2020 that I finally really explored them. That is a bit of a shame because of course I immediately fell in love with them (given that they are an heavy bass and drums outfit) and they rose to the top of the heap of my favorite duos. Better late than never I guess! One of the very first pieces I wrote for FTA (that was one of our “soft opening” posts before more widely announcing ourselves to the world) was about this band where I go into much more detail about things. You can read that here. Here’s hoping 2023 might finally bring me the chance to see them live.
The Haggard– A short lived queer hardcore duo from Portland, there’s not much out there on this band these days, but in their brief few years of existence I was able to catch them live a few times (35mm negatives are in a box in a closet in my house) and they managed to release a few 7 inches and two albums, A Bike City Called Greasy in 1999 and No Future in 2001. Their music is not all that readily available currently because it isn’t on streamers, but I did find a full stream of No Future on YouTube that I recommend checking out for the grit and the growl. (I magically still have my old 7inches and the CDs which, if you feel like shelling out a few bucks on Discogs, you can pick up too.)
Hella– The first time I saw this band was late fall 2001 in Olympia, WA and it was right before they released their explosive debut album, Hold Your Horse Is. I was immediately completely gobsmacked and it began a long love affair with instrumental bands and also with weird, experimental, complex music that defied easy categorization. The band would go on to release numerous albums and EPs over the next ten years and drummer Zach Hill in particular would have a prolific output with myriad other projects.
It all started with the three song Leather Diamond demo CD in 2001; it is one of my great regrets that my original copy of this was not more closely guarded and got lost over the years. Fortunately for me though, ye olde internet is a cornucopia, and today the audio is readily available on YouTube. Cleaner recordings of all of these songs would go on to appear on Hold Your Horse Is but the versions here feel downright primal.
Heavens to Betsy– Before she contributed her signature howl to Sleater-Kinney, going on to become an indie rock icon, a very young Corin Tucker fronted her first band, Heavens To Betsy. They hit right at the heart of feminine rage and were part of the original wave of riot grrrl bands alongside contemporaries like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. They left behind a legacy of several comp tracks, 7inches and their lone full length from 1994, Calculated. The comp tracks are a little harder to track down these days, but both Calculated and the 1993 7inch These Monsters Are Real are readily available on streamers.
Japanther– The feral art punk band was prolific over their 13 year career and famous for their telephone receiver mics. They are a band I always kept an eye on from afar, sadly never seeing them live because much of their career coincided with me trying to do the “adult” thing and also having a “career.” (And a boring one at that. I fortunately abandoned this foolish notion around 35 and have been living my best life ever since.) While I do regret that, they left behind a lengthy discography and there’s plenty of live videos of them out there. And with all the re-unions going on these days, you can never say never anymore.
John (Times Two)– So named because both of the members of the band are called, you guessed it, John. Billing themselves as “Four arms, four legs, two heads, wood, metal and plastic. A band of two Johns from Crystal Palace, London, UK” this duo features one John on drums and vocals and the other on guitar, for a gruff voiced, punk grunge attack. My first intro to them was via their 2019 album, Out Here on the Fringes, and I quickly dove in on the rest of their catalog which includes two more albums and an EP. They recently released a double single “Theme New Bond Junior”/”Hopper on the Dial” and they’re very high up on my list of bands to see live. Hopefully a new album is on the way for 2023.
Keefchamber– I discovered this awesome NJ sludgy stoner, doom duo in the place many great discoveries of my life have been made, at a house show in the middle of the afternoon. Their recorded output is still limited but I’ve enjoyed everything they’ve done. Their past releases leaned heavily into a dirgy and slow drone bass style but their latest release, Ingurgitate Reality, has seen them shift to a faster tempoed sludge punk with guitar instead of bass, still relying on their strong metal chops.
Lightning Bolt– I’ve said before in the pages of FTA that you can’t have a conversation about experimental/noise music without mentioning Lightning Bolt and that feels true of any conversation about two piece bands as well. “The Brians” aka Brian Chippendale on vocals/drums and Brian Gibson on bass, have been at it since 1994, forming when they were students at RISD in the creative hotbed of Providence, RI. Three decades on and their music and their shows are as incendiary and wild as ever, and the truly berserk energy of their sound has some kind of magic healing power over me as was proved by a live set I caught at the end of 2022. I walked in the room in a bad mood (because of other life BS) and left feeling refreshed and renewed, the icky feelings quite literally rattled out of me. See pics/vids from that night here.
Lung– This cello and drums duo from Cincinnati is an absolute powerhouse of heavy riffs and lush, operatic vocals courtesy of singer/cellist Kate Wakefield, backed by her longtime collaborator, Daisy Caplan on drums with plenty of massive beats that perfectly complement the compositions. I was floored from the moment I first heard them—at a show in 2016—and have been continuously awed by them as their catalog has grown to now include four exceptional albums and a split EP. They are also one of the hardest working bands currently making music, touring prolifically and maintaining a strong DIY ethos. Read our review of their most recent album, Let It Be Gone, which was also one of our favorites of 2022. (Their previous album, Come Clean Right Now, made our 2021 list.)
The Need– I absolutely loved this freaky queer metal/punk duo of Rachel Carns (of Kicking Giant) on vocals/stand up drumkit and Radio Sloan on guitar/vocals (who would go on to play with Peaches among others) and was recently absolutely delighted to discover in my research for this piece that their cover of the Judas Priest epic “The Green Manalishi” was available on Bandcamp after I long ago lost my copy of the comp it originally appeared on in 2001, The Structure Of Scientific Misconceptions / The System Of Scientific Misconstructions, which contained a number of experimental and art rock tracks. (I may or may not have taken a minute to stop what I was doing to re-acquire a copy of it on Discogs while writing this entry.) They released a couple of 7inches and EPs over the years, most of which I still have, and today their two albums, 1997’s The Need and 2000’s The Need Is Dead, are easily accessed on streamers or Bandcamp.
Ninja Death Squad– Another short lived queer hardcore band, NDS released a few 7inches and two full lengths over their life, 2001’s Appreciate Our Art (which is not available on streamers) and 2004’s Bridge 12 (which is). I know very little about this band overall (and it seems a lot of other people don’t either since the 2004 album isn’t even listed on Discogs) and never saw them live. I learned of them because they had a split 7inch with Fagatron; years later I picked up a copy of Appreciate Our Art on Discogs and was happy to finally dig into more of their music (and the VERY 2001 “first time laying this out on a computer in MS Paint” style CD booklet).
It’s also very easy for me to draw a line from foundational bands like Fagatron, NDS, The Haggard or The Need—all crucial yet little known queecore duos of an earlier era— to a band like Death Goals who are exploding with queer energy in 2023. Even if they never heard any of those bands (I don’t know since I haven’t asked them), the parallels are certainly there for me and I’m happy to see this legacy of my youth continuing.
Peter & Craig– The long-running duo makes catchy and raw punk rock songs and have a discography that dates back to 2005 with a number of fun, lo-fi releases to dig into. More than that though, they are also the brains (and brawn) behind Two Piece Fest, keeping the festival going for many years in both Philadelphia and Chicago, celebrating hundreds of dynamic DIY duos over that time.
Quasi– You can’t have a list of two piece bands without Quasi, end of story. The sardonic duo of Sam Coombs and Janet Weiss released their first album, R&B Transmogrification, in 1997 and recently released their 12th—and first in ten years—Breaking the Balls of History, proving they still got it even after 25 years. Read our review.
Royal Blood– Probably the most well known band on this particular list, the UK duo personifies rock star swagger and “big riff energy,” but they’ve always been a band I’ve loved purely because they make loud, heavy music with just bass and drums, a thing—you might have picked up on by now—that I love. I was first turned onto them in spring of 2014 when someone sent me an MP3 of “Out of the Black” along with a few more songs that would go on to be included on their (at that time) not yet released debut album, 2014’s Royal Blood, and I was lucky enough to see them at one of their very first NYC shows (if not the first) at the tiny Mercury Lounge in 2014. (A show that, if the rumors I heard that night were true, Jimmy Page was in the audience for.)
I was surprised when I found out that they were getting really big because I didn’t pay attention to any of the growing hype around them, and wasn’t really paying much mind to music press in that era either. I just rocked them on my iPod classic and kept it at that. Things came full circle last year when I was able to catch their headlining show at Terminal 5 (and get paid for it to boot, a double win). They do get some occasional live assists on keys so that did blur the criteria a little bit, but for the most part they still operate purely as a duo so I allowed it.
Trophy Wife– The post hardcore duo from Philly hasn’t released anything since 2015 and I have not seen them play since 2016 (at the same show I discovered Lung), but they remain one of my all time favorite bands. With only two people, they achieved a poise and a power with their music that some bands of even five or six people can only hope to match. I once risked getting caught in a snow storm to see them at the late great venue, Silent Barn, as a blizzard was bearing down on the city in 2014 and was lucky enough to share the bill with them at Two Piece Fest in 2015, a true highlight in my many years of playing shows.
Venus Twins– The only band on this list that may actually leave you seeing double because they are the truest duo of all, identical twins. Brothers Jake and Matt Derting—on drums and bass/vocals respectively—know how to crank the noise and own any stage they step foot on. I’ve seen this band live many times and that really is the absolute best way to experience the unbridled noise punk fury they unleash, in the live setting, an untethered raw chaos in your face. The are like the twin babies of Lightning Bolt and Hella combined, with DFA 1979 as their cool uncle, for a sonic explosion that can barely be contained. See pics from some of their recent shows here and here.