The music portion of South By Southwest—or “SXSW,” as the Austin fest is affectionately known in the biz—kicks off and kicks up its heels on March 12. And while it’s been a long time since the beer-soaked, BBQ-laden Texas convention has been a platform for totally unknown, unsigned artists (last year’s big headliner was Bruce Springsteen, and Justin Timberlake is rumored to be making an appearance this year), SXSW is still a great place for buzzy baby bands to elevate their indie profiles. If you’re headed to SXSW to mess with Texas this year, here are our top 10 picks for up-and-coming acts to check out amid the March madness.
These artsy, experimental British indie-rockers took home the Mercury Music Prize (a big deal in the U.K.) last year for their debut album, An Awesome Wave. If glitchy folktronica is your thing, you may find Alt-J quite awesome indeed.
CATCH THEM: Wednesday March 13, 12:30am at Stubb’s; Thursday March 14, 11:10pm at the Belmont
This Australian quartet’s “Trojans” was one of the sleeper alt-rock radio hits of 2012, after blog buzz for the independently issued single led to a major-label bidding war and eventually a deal with Warner Bros. That vaguely Kings Of Leon-esque summer jam should provide the perfect soundtrack for Austin afternoon BBQs, but expect the group to win over crowds with other equally catchy tracks from their just-released debut LP, When It Was Now.
CATCH THEM: Tuesday March 12, 10:30pm at the Main; Wednesday March 13, 11:00pm at Haven; Thursday March 14, 9:20pm at the Belmont
The breezy, Beach Boys-damaged indie-pop of this alternately ukulele-strumming/synth-tinkling Mississippi charmer is about as adorkable as SXSW offerings get. Put on your best Zooey Deschanel sundress, or grow an ironic mustache before next week, and hit up one of his gigs for what is sure to be a fun time.
CATCH HIM: Friday March 15, 8:25pm at Hotel Vegas and 11:00pm at the North Door
Fitz & The Tantrums
FATT aren’t a totally new band—their debut album, 2010’s Pickin’ Up The Pieces, generated a huge amount of buzz and goodwill thanks to supremely crowd-pleasing appearances at festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo. If there was ever the ideal festival band, it’s this sprawling Motown-inspired collective, and they’re bound to take over SXSW as they promote their long-overdue upcoming sophomore album, More Than Just A Dream. With two official gigs planned, not to mention unofficial appearances at plenty of daytime soirees, the always dashing and bespoke-suited Fitz will no doubt make a major impression in Austin this year.
CATCH THEM: Thursday March 14, 9:55pm at Austin Music Hall; Friday March 15, 12am at Lustre Pearl
The infamous San Fernando Valley last made a musical impression when Moon Unit Zappa freestyled about the Cali suburb in her dad’s 1980s novelty hit. But the Haim sisters—Este, Danielle, and Alana—are putting the Valley back on the musical map. The sister act actually landed their record deal after wowing punters at last year’s SXSW with their unique mix of sweet Laurel Canyon folk-rock and sexy ‘90s R&B, and this year they return to Austin as indie-rock heroines and one of the festival’s must-see acts. Be ready to stand in line.
CATCH THEM: Tuesday March 12, 10pm at Vevo TV Control Room; Friday March 15, 11pm at Empire Automotive
There wasn’t a dance floor in America that didn’t succumb to the cheeky charm of this Swedish electro-duo’s 2012 hit “I Love It,” a chanty, girl-powered anthem for “’90s bitches” everywhere. Now Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt are set to turn all of Austin into their personal Scandinavian dance party. We love it!
CATCH THEM: Tuesday March 12, 9:40pm at the Belmont and 12am at Mohawk Indoor; Wednesday March 13, 11:30pm at Viceland
These London psych-rock revivalists have already drawn raves on their side of the pond, with tastemaker mag NME declaring the group’s rousingly ramshackle “Best Of Friends” the top single of 2012. Fans of garagey Britrock like the Libertines, the Vaccines, and 1980s post-punk legends the Jesus & Mary Chain absolutely should not miss this blossoming bunch.
CATCH THEM: Friday March 15, 1:00am at Club De Ville
These gentle L.A. funksters boast such a unique sound, they’ve already earned their own genre subcategory: “daytime disco.” And perhaps there has never been such a perfect description for a band’s music. Their moniker is pretty fitting, too: Poolside’s lazy, hazy grooves conjure up sunshine-saturated images of cabana disco naps and endless hipster summers. While Poolside have one late-night official showcase planned, SXSW attendees are advised to crack open the sunscreen, crack open a Shiner Bock, and seek out the band at one of their unofficial AFTERNOON gigs to get the full Poolside experience.
CATCH THEM: Wednesday March 13, 1:30am at Red 7 Patio
Remember those grrrrrl-powered good ole days when fierce femmes, from Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux to PJ Harvey and Sleater-Kinney, ruled the rock roost? London four-piece Savages will joltingly jog your memory, for sure. The raw and raucous girl group has generated a massive amount of hype in Britain before even releasing a full album, earning a nomination for the BBC’s “Sound Of 2013” award and many column inches in NME; if Savages’ live gigs match the intensity of their sound, expect that buzz to spread to the States after their SXSW shows.
CATCH THEM: Thursday March 14, 10pm at 1100 Warehouse; Friday March 15, 11pm at Club De Ville
This funky bunch is fronted by Ty Taylor, who first came to fame as a contestant on “Rock Star: INXS,” but now Ty is a full-fledged soul star, practically a modern-day James Brown. In fact, imagine James Brown singing lead for Led Zeppelin, and you’ll get an idea of Vintage Trouble’s muscular, in-the-pocket sound. The band recently landed plum gigs opening for the Who and Dave Matthews Band on tour, but after generating some much-deserved SXSW buzz, they may soon graduate to headliner status.
CATCH THEM: Thursday March 14, 8pm at Six Lounge; Friday March 15, 11pm at the Doritos Bold Stage