South by Southwest remains a bastion of a music festival experience for emerging artists. So many festivals these days are cramped gatherings in individual settings. They center around the handful of big names that just released a new album, or they just bill the epochal titans that just reunited even though they said they never would (*cough* LCD Soundsystem *cough*).
But SXSW is different. The festival, even though it has certainly seen corporate infiltration, has stayed true to the artist. Beginning this weekend, myriad art installations, trade shows, gaming expos, barrels of Texas beer, and local food trucks will be scattered across picturesque swathes of Austin. There’s also going to be more music than your ears could ingest in a lifetime.
From March 15-20, hundreds of bands flood the city to play one-offs and showcases in nearly all of its available spaces—both established venues and otherwise. And the best part is that SXSW still reps the little guy; it’s the festival that gives young bands a chance to show an audience what sets them apart. But the number of musical acts coming to town borders on profligacy. With so many incredible musicians to choose from, where does one begin? Not to fear: we gotchu.
We parsed through the noise to find 21 of the most promising emerging artists in all the land. May this be your unofficial music guide to all the magic that is SXSW (in no particular order).
1. Petite Noir
Petite Noir is Yannick Ilunga, a 25-year-old musician that splits time between London and Cape Town—a balance that’s reflected in his sound. Ilunga melds brooding electronics, pop sensibilities, and his soulful voice into something that is truly unique.
Porches (a.k.a. Aaron Maine) turns sad moments into songs, a cathartic process that results in some seriously gorgeous synthpop. Maine lives in New York with Frankie Cosmos (see below) and he just released his debut full-length via Domino. Mark my words, the dude’s going places.
DMA’s are a young Australian band that leave little trails of alternative ’90s britpop wherever they tread. Their lush, bright guitar textures are sunny by nature. Make sure they wash over you in that warm Texan sunshine.
4. Empress Of
Empress Of turned a lot of heads last year with her debut LP, Me. The New York singer-songwriter loops and re-loops vocals, weaving her voice into and above meticulously constructed beats. She’s catchy as hell.
5. PWR BTTM
PWR BTTM are a queer punk band from Brooklyn with some serious chops. Despite the layer of fuzz and DIY veneer, their music is really accessible… even to those non-punkers out there.
Taylor McFerrin, like his Brainfeeder label captain, Flying Lotus, was born with music in his blood. The son of Bobby creates electronic-inflected jazz pieces whose textures are enriched by the likes of Robert Glasper and Thundercat. There’s so much going on and everything fits together so well.
7. Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks—no not that Twin Peaks—are a burgeoning Chicago band whose sound lands somewhere between ’60s psychedelic power pop and contemporary garage punk. It’s tireless garage rock that chills on its off days, a combination that makes their live shows uplifting, mosh-filled affairs.
Lionlimb are hard not to like. Stewart Bronaugh and Joshua Jaeger, members of Angel Olsen’s backing band, borrow from the folk singer’s inimitable songwriting talents to create supremely enjoyable psych-pop tracks.
9. Sheer Mag
Sheer Mag are a diva-led, self-described punk band that tilts toward the rock ‘n’ roll of yesteryear. The Philly band’s sound may be rooted in ’60s guitar riffs, but there’s plenty of raw aggression and “sheer magnitude” to warrant their punk label.
10. Deantoni Parks
Deantoni Parks is one of the most exciting acts from Leaving Records—one of LA’s resident experimental labels. Parks marries his assiduous drumming techniques with technology, an ever-evolving combination in which the Atlanta artist is carving out a serious niche. Just look at those skills.
is a good example of a musician that most of us would have never heard if not for the globalism inherent to the Internet. Seymali combines the traditional instruments of her native Islamic Republic of Mauritania with the hallmarks of psychedelic rock. It’s a mindbending exploration into new sounds that should most definitely be experienced.
12. Leon Vynehall
Leon Vynehall is flat out brilliant. If I were to recommend one electronic musician to the music lover that has not yet been initiated, it would be Leon. The UK artist layers countless sounds into rich, cinematic techno textures that will even have acoustic apologists grooving on the dance floor.
13. Downtown Boys
Downtown Boys are a self-described “bilingual political sax punk party” out of Providence, RI. The New Yorker recently profiled the band, describing their essence as something “distinctly post-punk,” and they really are redolent of the genre’s nascent days, but they may be just as much a harbinger of its postmodern manifestation: something to the effect of bilingual political sax punk party.
Car Seat Headrest is the project of Seattle-based Will Toledo. The project began in the soundproof auspices of a car—hence the name—where Toledo holed up to record his frenetic vocals. Since then, over the past five years, the DIY musician has been prolific, dropping more than 10 releases. Now he and his accompanying trio are beginning to gain some real traction—don’t miss ’em.
15. Rome Fortune
Rome Fortune is half rapper, half auto-tuned crooner. The Atlanta emcee has garnered the production talents of people like Four Tet and Bassnectar, and for good reason—the guy’s got one of the freshest flows on the scene right now.
16. Julien Baker
Julien Baker is one of those musicians that can still make it work with just her voice and a guitar. The Memphis artist’s music is indelibly vulnerable, a testament to the power of honest songwriting—concentrate on her lyrics and the rest of the world will disappear.
17. Day Wave
Day Wave is multi-instrumentalist Jackson Philips. In 2014, Philips moved from LA to Oakland, and in doing so he traded the electro-pop of his one-time band, Carousel, for his own project. Day Wave draws from both The Beach Boys and Joy Division, which results in edgier electro-pop that remains LA beach-friendly.
18. Frankie Cosmos
Frankie Cosmos is a four-piece outfit and also the alter ego of Greta Kline—longtime collaborator and now partner of Aaron Maine (a.k.a. Porches). Kline’s delicate vocal rounds out a lovely, hook-driven sound that hearkens back to the golden days of the indie aesthetic.
19. Open Mike Eagle
Open Mike Eagle is a rare breed. The LA artist is mixed up in both comedy and hip-hop, and he’s collaborated with some heavy-hitters in both fields. Hannibal Buress and Paul F. Tompkins have both benefited from his contributions, as has producer Paul White (Danny Brown, Mos Def), the other half of OME’s upcoming full-length, Hella Personal Film Festival.
20. Adia Victoria
Adia Victoria wants “to shine a light on the unseen, and speak the unspeakable.” The Nashville musician channels the recalcitrant ethos of Alanis Morissette, and her voice shares a similar affect to the ’90s vocalist. She’s another example of authentic songwriting that shouldn’t be missed.
21. Chicano Batman
doesn’t really have anything to do with the Batman usually discussed on Nerdist, but that’s okay, because they’re good enough to stand on their own. The LA four-piece mixes elements of soul, psychedelia and tropicalia to create a superlatively chill vibe—perfect for standing and swaying in the sun.
This list could easily be 200 bands long, so if you have a favorite budding band at SXSW and they’re not on here, it’s not because we don’t love them. If you do have a band or two that you can’t wait to see, we want to hear about them! Drop their names in the comments below.