For a while, it seemed as though this city would have to thrive on the fame of Tesla and Cake for the rest of eternity, but something has happened.
Local musicians are leaving industry reps with no choice but to turn their heads toward Sactown.
In addition to label attention, the past several years have spawned a creative period for Sacramento that has given birth (perhaps unintentionally) to a regional sound dark, brooding and melancholic music that embraces a certain realism, a poetic, urban doom, characterized by fuzzy guitars and barbaric yawps, offset by quirkiness, intelligence and perseverance.
Artists who have found success say it takes a thick skin and a hearty sense of humor to get your gritty music to a wider audience in this no-longer-forgotten city.
Want to hear examples of this music? Check out the Sacramento Electronic Music Festival next weekend at Harlow's, where Death Grips and Raleigh Moncrief will perform.
At the forefront of the doom movement is the punk-rap outfit Death Grips, a band of dark poets who use layers of noise and skull-cracking bass drops to craft stanzas of mad, primal angst.
Their first release (a free mix tape titled "Exmilitary") sent a shock wave over the Internet, prompting bloggers around the world to burn through keyboards in a manic effort to express what they were hearing one simply referring to Death Grips as "downright nasty."
To a certain extent, he was right.
Vocalist and rapper Stefan Burnett, a.k.a. MC Ride, is neither vocalist nor rapper; he's more of a guttural yeller, like the voice inside your head when you drop something heavy on your toe.
Along with Zach Hill, a notoriously heavy drum hitter, and Flatlander (Andy Morin), whose production provides a futuristic, slightly Satanic dub-step-meets-death-metal soundscape, the band keeps the bar on brutality so high that at times it's hard for listeners.
Their polarizing, inward animosity makes Death Grips' major-label debut on Epic Records (known for Avril Lavigne and the Fray) utterly confusing, yet the pairing is somehow ingenious.
The deal went down quickly, Morin explained: "L.A. Reid invited us to the Sony offices in Hollywood. We really had no expectations. For example, when we got there, Stefan went to the bathroom and carved a giant 'DEATH GRIPS' into one of the walls."
The awkward meeting turned into an unexpected partnership.
"We realized very quickly that they were the real deal and ready to make it happen," Morin said.
The thought of Death Grips with piles of Epic Records money is mildly frightening, which is probably part of the plan.
Whatever the path, the band is enjoying the attention from a run-in at the Coachella Music Festival with Minor Threat and Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye, and from dropping two albums on Epic ("The Money Store" and "No Love") this year.
"We signed with them that night," Morin said. "It took a lot of faith and foresight on their part."
Moncrief possesses a philosophical mind that allows him to create deranged hip-hop beats that meander thoughtfully from one intriguing space to the next.
In fact, Moncrief treats hip-hop not as a genre but as a loose parameter, which grants freedom for his soulful noise. For example, "Lament For Morning" on his latest album, "Watered Lawn," is such a unique and breathtaking track that it could be an anthem for the state of sublimity.
So his match with Anticon (a Los Angeles-based record label known for its attention to avant-garde hip-hop) is hardly surprising, although a bit of an accident.
"I had a song that went out on blogs, and it was circulating that way. They got in touch," Moncrief said. "I had a few people contact me. I went with Anticon because it could move the fastest and most immediate. I just wanted to get it out and move on."
Moncrief reflects on his haphazard music career with certain reluctance, a tone mirrored by his music thick synthesizers and shaky vocals that create a sense of madness, frustration and impatience.
"It's more a heaviness," he said. "I wouldn't consider it melancholy. It's just not that light."
This darkness has something to do with Sacramento's isolation, he said: "It's pretty overwhelming at times. A bit dismal, I guess."
With an isolated air and a tendency to question traditional philosophy, Chelsea Wolfe is the Emily Dickinson of doom-folk. Her sound (what Moncrief might refer to when he speaks of "not light") is drawn out, echoed and, at times, scary, like a death metal band crying in slow motion.
Wolf, a shiny black gem in the musical underground, tries hard to downplay her success, but it's undeniable. From her connection with the Sargent House management-record company to her contract with the Pendu Sound label, Wolfe has been able to travel the world and make a living from her craft.
"Success is relative," she noted. "I'm on tour in Europe right now, and some shows, you show up and they're so good to you, you get treated right and the audience is electric, and other nights the venue acts like you're a burden for being there and the audience has dead energy."
Wolfe's broodiness is illustrated by her haunting 2011 release "Apokalypsis," with low-fi, eerie tracks like "The Wasteland" that speak to a certain aloneness and dark beauty perhaps an allusion to her old hometown.
"Sacramento can be a black hole," Wolfe said. "But it has lovely moments."
Chuuwee (born Chez Hunter) is stoked on a lot of things, but his recent feature in Forbes magazine might top the list.
"I place myself as hustler of the year for that," he joked. On tour in Boston, the artist recently signed to Amalgam Digital (home of rappers such as Curren$y and Joe Budden) is still processing success.
"It's crazy, man," he said. "A lot of stuff hasn't registered."
Chuuwee gives credit to the Sacramento collective Neighborhood Watch for showing him the importance of a healthy support system.
"I did a lot of research," he said. "I'm a student of the game."
But the student is quickly becoming a master, garnering attention for a sound he dubs "neo-boom-bapheartfelt and soulful music over raw rap."
Chuuwee's track "Cold World" on his 2011 mix tape, "Watching the Throne," is a perfect example of his rawness:
I feel the need to purge my soul
Since things got for real, my warm heart went cold
21 and feeling like I'm 45 years old
When I awake I hope eternally my eyes stay closed
In a phone call from Brooklyn, N.Y., vocalist Terra Lopez of the trio Sister Crayon sounded tired but delighted.
"It was all unexpected," she said of her band getting signed in 2009 to Los Angeles-based Manimal Vinyl. "We recorded four songs and I sent those off and the next day (owner Paul Beahan) called and signed us."
The band, known for ghostly and poetic ruminations, is still hustling despite rave reviews for last year's "Bellow."
"People think these labels do so much for you," Lopez said. "But the reality is it's up to the band to keep on producing material and touring to keep that momentum."
As the momentum builds, Lopez, unlike many of her contemporaries, sees Sacramento as a perfect region for creation.
"It gave us the time and space to hone our craft and understand what we want to do," she said. "Living in a bigger city, there are so many distractions and so many artists doing what you're trying to do. It can get discouraging. The cool thing about Sacramento is there are a ton of talented people here, but it's not oversaturated."
SACRAMENTO ELECTRONIC MUSIC FESTIVAL 2012
What: Death Grips and Raleigh Moncrief return home for a music festival that, with just three years under its belt, is one of the region's most exciting. Of these two acts, festival organizer Clay Nutting said: "Death Grips is menacing, brilliant and exciting. I think a lot of people gravitate to how raw they are. It's refreshing. Raleigh Moncrief is dropping gems. I often shake my head listening to that dude, just stunned at the genius composition."
The 21-and-up event also will include Lorn, Shlohmo, Mux Mool, Salva, and Dusty Brown.
What: In its third year, the Sacramento Electronic Music Festival has gained a reputation as one of the best independent electronic music festivals.
When: Doors open at 7 p.m. Thursday-May 5.
Where: Harlow's and the Momo Lounge, 2708 J St., Sacramento
Cost: $13, daily; $30, three-day pass
Contact: (916) 441-4693, http://harlows.com, http://sacelectronicmusicfest.com
Editor's note: This story was changed April 27 to correct the weekend of the Sacramento Electronic Festival, which takes place May 3-5.