SXSW 2014 is upon us, which means that thousands of bands have swarmed to the annual music festival in Austin, Texas — and that tens of thousands of attendees have followed, eager to see their favorite stars emerge from a giant Doritos machine or play a “secret” show to hundreds of fans. While they’re at it, they might discover a new sound or two.
After all, you could see Coldplay, Lady Gaga, 50 Cent and Soundgarden at the South By Southwest Music Conference, which runs from March 11–16 this year, but the major acts are not the only attraction. SXSW has emerged as an essential destination for up-and-coming groups eager to get themselves in front of new fans and old music executives.
Even if you’re not heading to Austin for the music festival, it’s a great opportunity to find new musical acts to fill your playlist. To help you sift through the over 2,000 bands heading to Austin this week, here are 17 bands to watch at SXSW or elsewhere:
Listen: “Since Last Wednesday”
If you’ve never heard someone rock a zither before, be sure to check out Norwegian Grammy nominee Highasakite. The band was invited to tour with Bon Iver after Justin Vernon was blown away by their dreamy indie pop.
Listen: “Miss Teen Massachusetts”
This just-out-of-the-gate New York group delivers energetic garage rock that earns them apt comparisons to The Strokes. Their debut album, Manhattan, is filled with songs that crackle with electricity and infectious enthusiasm sure to make you a fan.
Hurray for the Riff Raff
Listen: “The Body Electric”
Frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra is from New Orleans-by-way-of-The Bronx, and that’s an apt description for her music, too. Her debut album, Small Town Heroes, gracefully blends idiosyncratic eras and genres for a sweetly gritty Americana sound.
This Brighton, UK-based three-piece are riding a wave of surf-psych rock across the pond in the hopes of putting America under their spell. The band cites Leonard Cohen and Black Sabbath as influences for the narco-hazy “Paint It Black”-esque riffs they’ve dubbed “surf doom,” but there’s no real comparison for their sound.
Alt-pop trio Sir Sly have flown under the radar in the States so far, but they are poised to make big waves at SXSW. The band is signed to the same UK label who preached the gospel of Haim, Atlas Genius and Chvrches early on — and Cherrytree Records in the U.S., which is home to Feist, Robyn and Disclosure among others— and Sir Sly’s dark pop tunes fit in well with that company. Their danceable, if occasionally melancholic, tracks are laden with enough pop hooks and sing-along choruses to be genuine crowdpleasers.
Listen: “Take Me There”
Chicago upstart Trinity Home, a.k.a. Tink, could be either the next Nicki Minaj or the next Ashanti, and she has the chops to rival both. On the four mix tapes the 18-year old has released so far, she drifts effortlessly between R & B groovers and knock-’em-down, beat-laden tracks — and delivers on all fronts.
The Kentucky-bred New Yorker just released her first full-length in four years and she makes up for lost time on Bluebird. The album is a smart mix of alt-folk, country and indie pop experimentation that goes down like a beer bong of sweet tea.
Listen: “I Don’t Need Love”
Portland, Ore., has a reputation for being a hothouse for musical taste-makers and trendsetters. Aan makes good on that reputation with their complex, challenging rock. The band has been around since 2007, but only recently put out their debut album, Amor Ad Nauseum. Apparently it can take awhile to capture their brand of perfection.
Listen: “Shelter Song”
Temples have been making a name for themselves in England’s psychedelic pop scene, based on their undeniably groovy sound, which is rooted in the 1960s with hefty helpings of Motown, glam and Krautrock sprinkled throughout. Temples have been receiving lots of well-deserved attention throughout the UK, including praise from the likes of Johnny Marr and Oasis’ Noel Gallagher.
Singer-songwriter Torres mines the same musical vein that Sharon Van Etten and Waxahatchee do, and strikes gold each time she hits the stage with her lucky Gibson guitar in hand. Torres comes to her shows armed with a gorgeous, vulnerable croon and a litany of intricate, tender songs sure to woo all comers.
The band may take their name from a Big Star song, but the songs that the Dublin five-piece craft sound like what would happen if the Bangles started a My Bloody Valentine cover band. The floating vocals and fuzzed out guitar make for memorable tunes and inescapable earworm melodies.
Listen: “Love Sublime” feat. Nile Rogers and Flora
Berlin-based producer Tensnake knows how to fill a dance floor and has traveled the world doing just that for years, building a reputation as one of the premiere house and disco producers out there. Now he is getting ready to release his debut album, Glow. It’s due out March 11th but is already earning accolades for its raw emotion, crossover dance-pop appeal and modern disco feel.
Listen: “King and Cross”
Ásgeir Trausti is barely known in the U.S. — but in Iceland he’s huge. One in 10 Icelanders own his album, In the Silence, which has already outpaced sales of albums by fellow Icelandic acts Björk and Sigur Rós. The 22-year old singer-songwriter works in sweetly hushed acoustic numbers with lyrics frequently penned by his 70-something father, accompanied by synths and pianos and electronic trappings, which, when paired with his soaring voice, build irrepressible harmonies sure to win over audiences outside of Iceland in no time.
Listen: “Adult Diversion”
Toronto’s Alvvays are a vvarmly bright new project by Molly Rankin, who is descended from Canadian folk royalty and uses her talents to make wistfully jangly, bittersweet Brit pop. The quintet’s lo-fi sound pairs perfectly with Rankin’s breathy vocals to create guitar-driven confections sure to earn a place on your playlist.
Listen: “Love More Worry Less”
Adio Marchant, a.k.a. Bipolar Sunshine, infuses warmth into his electronic-tinged pop songs. He cites David Bowie, Kanye West, reggae and The Carpenters among those who influenced his songs, which frequently pair heartfelt, yearning lyrics with lush arrangements. His distinctive style will undoubtedly garner this British singer/songwriter plenty of attention in Texas.
Listen: “Sunday’s Best / Monday’s Worst”
Detroit-based producer and rapper Curtis Cross, a.k.a. Black Milk, has worked with J. Dilla, Danny Brown and Jack White, but is making a name for himself with his album No Poison No Paradise. The semi-autobiographical album tells the story of a man and his dreams in a flurry of unrelenting rap that will take you to church and back again.
The Brooklyn five-piece delivers soulful funk sounds with pretty harmonies and an endearingly punky brashness. The band just released their second album, Electric Balloon, and to call it an eclectic mix is an understatement. The band blends full-on no wave rockers with R & B inspired slow burners with a little of everything in between, which just means that there’s something for everyone at their shows.