The annual South by Southwest music festival begins this week, and we're psyched. Glance once through the (absurdly long) list of artists scheduled to perform and a few names (The Stooges, Donovan, Thurston Moore for example) jump out. But if you're more in the mood for a taste of the next big thing, you're gonna have to a little dig deeper. For guidance, here's our breakdown of the Top 10 can't-miss acts this year. Can't make it to Austin this year? Take a listen to these artists: They may or may not be famous a year from now, but they are already awesome.
1. THE PIPETTES 3/17, 11 P.M., Beauty Bar Patio.
Don't believe the haters. This contemporary, wiggle-dress-wearing trio merges the rich, layered harmonies and pristine pop of the classic Motown Records-era Girl Group sound with modern themes. On "ABC," the girls slag off a typically ignorant guy, not for something as mundane as smacking her around or cheating, but for not knowing about XTC. Are they about to dethrone the Crystals, Shangri-Las, Ronettes and the Supremes? Please. But they could totally take the Whyte Boots.
2. THE PONYS 3/15, 1 A.M., Emo's Jr.
This Chicago-based group sounds like fun. They merge the cavernous, moodiness of British post-punkers, with the confident, distortion-worshiping, riff-loving sound of American indie rock. But the Ponys bring a sense of looseness to the traditions from which they borrow, as if we can have all the dark intrigue of the Jesus and Mary Chain AND the angry explosiveness of Sonic Youth, plus a sense of levity and joy. Yes, please.
3. THE GOSSIP 3/15 12 A.M. Emo's Main Room
Americans must redeem ourselves for having slept on this magnificent trio from Searcy, Arkansas, whose brawny, bluesy indie rock has been embraced as generation-defining by the U.K. music press (along with approximately 3,784 other bands, of course). Beth Ditto, the Gossip's outspoken, curvaceous, lesbian lead singer has the pipes to back up her lip. Learn everything you can about the Gossip now, then pretend you always liked them.
4. THE BIRD AND THE BEE 3/15, 1 A.M., Opal Divine's Freehouse
Might as well start forming your opinion on this group now, because everyone is already talking about how awesome/overrated they are. Greg Kurstin ("bee") and Inara George ("bird") make syncopated danceable pop that sounds like audible sunshine (really, it does). Fortunately the band's lyrics lend necessary grit to music that might otherwise land on the wrong side of precious.
5. THE BLACK LIPS 3/15, 12 A.M., Flamingo Cantina
This notoriously wild band of troublemaking, girl-group-channelling, dirty-mind-having, rockabilly punks are one of the best live groups around. It's true that you shouldn't wear anything nice to their show (you could leave covered in the bassist's piss, puke or...other things) but it would be a mistake to dismiss the Black Lips as a dirty party band. Their songs are perfect; simple gems of distorted, witty, vintage pop sung by a collection of joyous, raucous kids.
6. GIRL TALK 3/17, 1 A.M., Elysium
Listening to Girl Talk records (which consist of seemingly incongruous samples woven together in ingenious ways) already sounds like a giant drug-, alcohol- and sunshine-fueled party. Why not actually be at a party while hearing the music? Rumor has it that Girl Talk (a.k.a. Gregg Gillis, chemical engineer by day, master DJ by night) is absolutely incredible live. He jumps around in the almost-nude, and dry-humps his laptop (which is doubly scandalous since it's apparently an unattractive Dell, not a sexy Mac). So if you aren't into half-naked computer geeks interweaving, like, X-Ray Spex's "Oh Bondage, Up Yours" with the Pharcyde's "Passing Me By," get over yourself and check Girl Talk out anyway.
7. PETER, BJORN AND JOHN 3/16, 9 P.M., Austin Convention Center
Now that Drew Barrymore put them on her iTunes celebrity playlist this Swedish band has officially escaped hipsterdom and arrived in the (arguably more dangerous) land of Hollywood cool. This, combined with the fact that they are only playing one show at SXSW this year means that everyone will want to be there and those who succeed in getting in will spend the duration of the festival talking about how great it was. And they won't be bragging.
8. RODRIGO Y GABRIELA 3/15, 10 P.M., Stubb's
This pair of Mexican speed guitarists are listed as acoustic/folk rock/metal on their MySpace page. So that's obviously awesome. Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero met while playing in a thrash metal band before abandoning Mexico City's metal scene for the comparatively less thrash-inspiring Dublin, Ireland, where they began playing this insanely cool, terrifically fast rhythmic acoustic guitar stuff. The duo busked on the local streets, and got discovered by Damien Rice, who took them on tour in 2005. But don't hold that against them. (UPDATE: Due to yet another rock star visa issue, Rod y Gab have evidently cancelled their SXSW appearance.)
9. BONDE DO ROLE 3/16, 10:40 P.M., Beauty Bar
This trio of post-teen artsy street kids exemplify the loose wit at the heart of Rio de Janeiro's funk carioca (a.k.a. baile funk) movement, which churns out an internationally adored variety of bass-heavy, sample-infused, dance-pop. Bonde do Role - the first band signed to taste-making DJ Diplo's Mad Decent label, have a thing for weaving extremely recognizable samples (Alice in Chain's "Man in the Box" on "Melo Do Tabaco") with dirty jokes masquerading as lyrics. Get out your Portuguese dictionary, and frontload for this show. It shouldn't be seen sober.
10. THE PACK 3/16, 12:40 A.M., Beauty Bar Patio
This super-hot rap trio from Berkeley, California, are one of the breakout acts from the Bay Area's Hyphy scene. You likely know their hit "Vans" â€" if not because you've heard it on the radio â€" because you've read about the controversy behind the video for the song. MTV refused to air the clip without censoring the word "Vans" throughout, for fear of being perceived as advertising for the Vans company. Anyway, the group's ambient, understated take on traditional rap is really compelling. Check them out.