The 25 Bands We’re Most Excited To See At SXSW 2012
BLACK HIPPY: All four members of this frantically creative L.A. rap collective are worth your attention: Ascendant and frighteningly talented syllable-splitter Kendrick Lamar, playfully thoughtful gangster Schoolboy Q, incisive tough guy Jay Rock, libertine weirdo Ab-Soul. Performing together and separately all over the place this week, they could run SXSW the way Odd Future did last year.
BLEACHED: Sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin (ex-Mika Miko) don't exactly reinvent the wheel with their new project Bleached, but when the result is sun-bleached garage pop teeming with the big, efficient hooks of a past era, who could possibly care?
CEREMONY: After years on the hardcore circuit, these California punks have just given us Zoo, their awesomely heavy slap of a Matador debut. Between their ferocious songs and their fervent following, their SXSW live should should translate into total mosh mayhem, especially since they refuse to play any shows that aren't all-ages.
CHARLI XCX: She's got plenty of the dark, gauzy mystery that's so in vogue these days, but this British synthpop import also has sunny, sticky hooks for days. She strikes an interesting balance as an insular internet-beloved cult artist whose songs have serious pop appeal. Plus, you should actually be able to dance at her shows.
DANNY BROWN: A ubiquitous presence during last year's SXSW, this rabid Detroit rapper spent more time checking out random bands as he did playing his own avalanche of shows. And that omnivorous musical appetite, alongside a braying-hyena microphone intensity and a fearless lyrical honesty, is what makes Brown one of the most exciting rappers out.
DEAFHEAVEN: This San Francisco quintet has hardcore roots and black metal aspirations, and their 2011 debut Roads To Judah turns both into wrathful but ambitiously gorgeous blur of 10-minute rage-swoons. Imagine what would happen if Explosions In The Sky actually wanted to explode the sky.
DIVE: If they haven't already outgrown the "Beach Fossils side-project" tag, this SXSW will be Dive's coming out party. Lately it's seemed like Dive is the house band on every worthwhile bill at every great DIY venue in Brooklyn, probably because their sound feels so right, right now: Dive marries ineffably reverbed vocals and indie rock guitars to krautrock rhythms. The songs are catchy and the live show is getting stronger by the day.
DJANGO DJANGO: Brit postpunkers Django Django made a splash with their self-titled debut, a fresh, funky take on the sound. With that release in mind, SXSW is a huge look for them as they vie to amplify that success across the pond.
FORT LEAN: This Brooklyn band plays straight-up indie rock, but they do it with a melodic swagger that comes right from the '70s Thin Lizzy Camaro-pop playbook. Their free self-titled 2011 EP was ridiculously fun, and they impressed the few people who saw them during last year's CMJ.
FRIENDS: Bushwick's FRIENDS are real life friends who formed after being thrown together into an apartment fleeing bedbugs in others. Which is a VERY Bushwick band origination story. Their music connects generational and genre dots ("ESG-style polyrhythmic post-disco on a tropical-pop trip" is what we called it in our BTW post last April). They went from fleeing bedbugs to hanging at Elton John's holiday party within the same calendar year, which suggests you should see them for free while you still can.
GRIMES: Grimes is holding it down as the indie rock scenes "it" girl of the moment, a platform she's earned thanks to a fully-realized debut, Visions, an all-over-the-place Twitter feed, and a totally batshit story about a failed boat voyage down the MIssissippi river. She's got a relatively light load in Austin -- only three shows so far, as scheduled -- but we have a feeling she'll make the most of those spotlights.
HOSPITALITY: We gave them Band To Watch honors three whole years ago, but this peppy Brooklyn indie-pop trio is just now hitting its stride with a sunny and immensely likable debut album that just arrived from Merge. Bonus points for casting our Videogum colleague Gabe Delahaye in the "Friends Of Friends" video.
KORALLREVEN: Swedish duo Korallreven creates lush, florid electro pop with a compelling pulse, which should be enough to get the crowd moving. They'll DJ our Range Life showcase, so be sure to RSVP.
LIGHT ASYLUM: Brooklyn's Light Asylum has been one of NYC's most reliably awesome live acts, mixing dark, pulsating electronic texture with Shannon Funchess's majestic vocals. With a self-titled debut in the works, SXSW is a platform on which Light Asylum can build to greater, more widely-acknowledged success.
LOWER DENS: At past SXSW shows, this Baltimore dream-rock crew gave the impression that they'd been playing together since all four members were babies. And with the dizzily rhythmic krautrock trance-outs of their excellent new album Nootropics, they're poised to make the leap and become something more than the great indie band they already were.
THE MEN: Brooklyn rockers the Men established themselves as a force with 2011's Leave Home, an aggressive, gloriously ugly rock record. Their new LP Open Your Heart is a little more muted, but more accessible and subtle in its focus. For a landscape devoid of throwback rock acts of this nature, the Men stand out.
MAIN ATTRAKIONZ: This Bay Area duo has become a cottage industry over the past couple of years, cranking out an insane number of fractured, hazy, experimental street-rap mixtapes. SXSW represents an excellent chance to see whether their head-blown lo-fi weirdness translates to the stage.
MIREL WAGNER On her brief but harrowing self-titled debut album, this Finland-via-Ethiopia singer-songwriter wrings oceans of creeped-out atmosphere from just her acoustic guitar and her plaintively icy voice. And in a live setting, her songs could sound positively frightening.
MR. MUTHAFUCKIN' EXQUIRE: On his breakout Lost In Translation mixtape, this imposing Brooklyn rapper brought back raw sex rhymes and chaotic Company Flow beats, both of which helped to resuscitate the dormant New York subway-grime rap underground. And with anthems like "Huzzah!" in his pocket, his live show should be a lot of fun.
PEAKING LIGHTS: Madison's Peaking Lights remained in the ranks of the underrated for too long after the release of their debut 936, but in 2011, people started getting wise to the husband and wife duo’s strange, subtle, style-sampling rock. Now, with a baby in the mix -- how’s the day care in Austin? -- their sound is what day party daydreams are made of.
PURITY RING Purity Ring arrive in Austin as the reigning champions of this past CMJ, which means these shows will be asses-to-elbows affairs. And one of those sets of asses or elbows should be yours. Their laptop-pop makes good use of sample and glitch, and their live show is unexpectedly theatrical and well-considered, with strong visual elements and a really strange looking mallet-based electronic percussion instrument. If that didn't convince you, hear "Ungirthed" and "Belispeak," then go stand in line.
TRUST: Synth-based Toronto duo TRUST work murky, industrial-informed electronics into a bleak post-punk sensibility. The songs are catchy and the live show arresting: Maya Postepski (also of Austra) holds down the drums/programmed elements, while Robert Alfons sings and twitches like Ian Curtis doing the running man. Take your friend, make them feel weird.
SKRILLEX: For reasons that probably have something to do with his haircut and his metalcore roots, we critics have been treating this dubstep populist as a punchline since he arrived. But there's always room for aggressive, zero-subtlety dance music, and Skrillex's thunderous bass-drops have a majesty all their own. With a ton of shows on the SXSW schedule, the critical reappraisal of this grassroots sensation should start here.
xxxy: Manchester producer Rupert Taylor is xxxy, a bass music synthesist playing with the sounds of techno and 2-step, garage and house, to make smart, wobbly music that stands out from a pack of post-dubstep clone/clowns. xxxy is for you if Joy O's "Sicko Cell" is for you.