Look, we know we can’t pretend like we’ll be able to see everything at SXSW. There are something like 2,000 bands scheduled to perform, and there’s literally no way to catch everything. You can pore over the list of performing bands a hundred times, and never quite get an accurate list of what you want to see. And not to mention all the bands you can discover at SXSW through random circumstances.
With that in mind, here’s our list of 10 bands that are can’t miss at SXSW. These are the bands we’re most excited to see, and ones that we’re willing to leave free barbecue sessions and cut in line for. So, apologies to the dozens of bands we’ll love down there: this piece is only for the ones we know going in.
Why you can’t miss him: Every year, before each SXSW (and CMJ, to an extent), you can reasonably predict which band will have the most “buzz” coming out of the festival. This year the number one candidate for "buzz" is James Blake. The post-dubstep, R&B wunderkind is making his first U.S. tour in March, with a single date in New York before hitting SXSW for four showcase appearances. Apart from Destroyer’s Kaputt, Blake’s self-titled debut is a unanimous pick to end up on end-of-the-year lists this year, as his mixture of tons of recent musical styles forms arguably this year’s buzziest album. Expect his showcases to be packed to the gills. Get there early, folks.
Why you can’t miss them: Because despite winning the Polaris Prize last year, you still haven’t heard one second of Karkwa’s music, and it would be interesting to hear what Canadians think was the best Canadian album from 2009/2010. SXSW could be an American breakout for the French-speaking Karkwa, especially since they haven’t toured the states much. Let’s all go see if they’re going to be Canada’s next big indie hope.
Why you can’t miss them: It’s no secret that SXSW is a safe haven for safe indie rock, so why not take a break from the acoustic and pale with OFF!, a hardcore punk supergroup of sorts that features Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris on vocals. The group just released an EP collection called First Four EPs, which sounded like 1982 in California. It’s both nostalgic and current at the same time, and it’ll probably brain some people.
Why you can’t miss them: Cults are the rarest species of buzz bands: After one single, just one, got a bunch of positive mentions on blogs in early 2010, they got signed to a major label and are readying their debut album. Cults have toured pretty sparingly since they blew up last year, so this is a chance to catch what the hype is all about. And to see if they have more than three songs.
Why you can’t miss them: The biggest problem for fans of supergroups is that you never know how long they’re going to last. You can never predict when Bon Iver wants to do his own thing, or if Dessa and P.O.S. will be available or if the 20 members of the Gayngs collective will grow tired of lush R&B. So SXSW might be one of the last times you’ll be able to catch Minneapolis/Wisconsin indie rock supergroup Gayngs performing together. That or they'll be around forever, and you can say you saw them perform songs like this live:
Why you can’t miss them: This is an easy one: They made one of our favorite albums of 2010 so far (the engrossing Native Speaker) and their live show was incredible at M for Montreal. They’re another band you can expect to have some “buzz” coming out of the fest, as they play a bevy of showcases, including one for their label Kanine Records (which we're co-sponsoring!) where they open for returning SXSW champs Surfer Blood. It’s make or break time for the youngsters in Braids, and we’re betting they deliver.
Why you can’t miss them: The garage rock shit-kickers in Dom have seen the profile of their titular lead singer, and their band, rise steadily since last year’s fest, as they got signed to Astralwerks for a reissue of their debut EP, Sun Bronzed Greek Gods. They’re known for their raucous live shows, which sometimes include Dom the man wearing an amp as a backpack. Dom the man also has a flair for self-mythology, so expect some nutty interviews to come out of the fest, where he’s sure to claim stuff about owning jaguars and being on the run from the IRS. It remains to be seen if the band has any tunes beyond Sun Bronzed, and SXSW is a chance to suss that out.
Why you can’t miss them: Apart from the eye shadow Conor Oberst wears from time to time, the lineup of SXSW (at least from bands we know) is light on glam rockers. They don’t come glammier, or campier, than Toronto’s Diamond Rings, John O’Regan’s one-man glam-pop group, that garnered rave reviews for its debut album, Special Affections (it was Prefix’s 27th best album of the year). O’Regan comes to SXSW after getting off a tour opening for Robyn, so expect a lot of glitz, and a lot of confidence.
Why you can’t miss them: Along with James Blake, Mount Kimbie are responsible for the increased interest in dubstep in the U.K., as their album (last year’s Crooks & Lovers) and live performances draw raves from the British rags. And like Blake they’re not really dubstep: Instead, they’re post-dubstep, content to deconstruct the modes of dubstep into something else. SXSW is their big American coming out party, as they, again like Blake, haven’t played the U.S. much. Though their sets at SXSW will preface a lengthy North American tour that launches from Austin.
Hunx & His Punx
Why you can’s miss them: Though they sort of seem like they were focus-grouped by Vice Magazine, Hunx & His Punx, a garage-pop outfit fronted by a flamboyantly gay man named Seth Bogart, are both subversive and impossibly catchy. Like some cross between Jay Reatard and Black Lips, Hunx & His Punx sing songs about ‘50s style love from a gay man’s perspective, with topics like waiting for telephone calls, kissing and going steady. Finally, the Radar set has its dirty pop prince.