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SXSW 2013: 20 Must-See Acts

Make room in your schedule, between the beer and barbecue, for these bands

SXSW 20 must see acts

With more than 1,300 acts scheduled to perform at South by Southwest in Austin this week, it's easy to get lost among the endless choices at the 27th-annual festival, which runs Tuesday through Saturday. There are some clear standouts, though, from well-known acts like Iggy and the Stooges, Vampire Weekend and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to buzzed-about up-and-comers including Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Alt-J and Waxahatchee. They're among 20 must-see acts at SXSW who are worth making room for, between the beer and the barbecue, in your schedule.

Click through to read more, and listen to songs from our bands to watch below.

By Eric R. Danton

Youth Lagoon

Courtesy Force Field PR

20

Youth Lagoon

After generating considerable blog buzz with his 2011 debut The Year of Hibernation, Youth Lagoon mastermind Trevor Powers is back with Wondrous Bughouse, his second collection of insular, hypnotic lo-fi pop songs. It's an enveloping mix of guitars and weird synthesizer sounds, paired with lyrics inspired, Powers has said, by "the human psyche and where the spiritual meets the physical world." SXSW kicks off a tour that takes Youth Lagoon across the country through June 5th, when Powers opens for the National at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Neil Krug

19

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Frontman Ruban Nielson started Unknown Mortal Orchestra as a basement recording project before the New Zealand native moved to Portland, Oregon, and recruited bassist Jacob Portrait and drummer Greg Rogove to bring the songs to life. After a buzzed-about LP in 2011, the trio returned last month with their second album, II, a collection of spacious, loose-knit songs laced with reverb-y vocals and swirling washes of guitar. "I put more thought into arrangements. The songs kind of take you on more of a journey," Nielson told Rolling Stone earlier this year. 

Alt-J

Jory Cordy

18

Alt-J

It's not exactly common to find rock bands inspired by mathematical concepts, but Alt-J – a keyboard command that results in the delta sign – like the idea that the symbol is used in equations to show change. The reason to see them, though, has everything to do with their sound. They call it folk-step, which blends indie-rock, psychedelic folk and electronica into a mesmerizing hybrid on last year's eclectic debut, An Awesome Wave, winner of England's Mercury Prize.

Jake Bugg

Courtesy Mercury Records

17

Jake Bugg

Just 19 years old, Jake Bugg rides into SXSW on a wave of acclaim in the U.K. and Europe, thanks to a self-titled debut that will see release in the U.S. on April 9th. Though he was born at the height of Nineties Brit-pop, Bugg is an older soul whose songs draw on vintage folk and rock influences that showcase his acoustic guitar playing and confident vocal delivery. Given the strong melodies packed into Jake Bugg, his confidence is well-founded. 

samantha crain

Todd Roeth

16

Samantha Crain

This Oklahoma native makes stark music that surrounds her sweetly smoky voice with acoustic guitars, fiddle and occasional piano. Crain is a traveler at heart who has populated the songs on her first two albums with characters she's met on the road. She takes a more introspective tack for the first time on her latest, Kid Face, on autobiographical songs she says constitute "a musical journal" of her experiences.

Lord Huron

Jessica Yurasek

15

Lord Huron

What started as a solo musical and visual project of singer Ben Schneider turned into a full-fledged band in time for last year's debut LP, Lonesome Dreams. Schneider, a Los Angeles transplant from Michigan, spent school vacations on the shores of Lake Huron, which inspired the band's name and, to a degree, their sound: Lord Huron play open, atmospheric folk-rock songs with soaring melodies that sound as if they grew out of the twilight campfires of perfect summer nights by the water.  

Foxygen

Angel Ceballos

14

Foxygen

There are plenty of stories about bands that handed demos to established musicians, but far fewer tales of it actually leading anywhere. It worked for Foxygen, though: soon after the New York City/Olympia, Washington, duo gave a CD-R to indie musician and producer Richard Swift (who's currently in the Shins), they were in Swift's studio recording their full-length debut, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. It's an absorbing collection of psychedelic rock full of hazy vocals on songs that shift and morph seemingly without effort.

Diarrhea Planet

Adrienne Deeble

13

Diarrhea Planet

These Nashville punks play music that's as evocative as their band name, though thankfully less scatological. The band formed in 2009 and came up on the local scene playing dive bars and basements (and the occasional basement dive bar). Diarrhea Planet released a 2009 EP, Aloha, and a 2011 full-length, Loose Jewels, that are, um, packed with synapse-frying rock & roll played at whiplash speed, and laced with plenty of sing-along hooks.

Heliotropes

Alex Damashek

12

Heliotropes

Hailing from Brooklyn, this quartet has only released a few singles so far. But what they have put out – and what's on the way – is some pretty compelling stuff. The band has impressive range, shifting easily from vintage girl-group harmonies to rugged stoner rock powered by chugging riff-heavy guitars and banshee vocals. 

lucius

Peter Larson

11

Lucius

There's no mistaking Lucius for anyone else onstage: Led by singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe, the five-piece Brooklyn group wear matching stylized outfits and perform in lock-step unison. There's more to Lucius than looks, though: Laessig and Wolfe harmonize so tightly it's tough to tell whose voice is whose. They play keyboards on catchy, distinctive indie-pop tunes while Danny Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri flesh out the sound with guitars and drums. After releasing a self-titled EP last year, they'll be back this fall with a full-length release.

The Besnard Lakes

Richmond Lam

10

The Besnard Lakes

This Montreal collective is led by principle songwriters Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, who create worlds in their songs, layering guitars, synthesizers and vocals into dreamy, soaring soundscapes that have grown ever more confident since their 2003 debut. The Besnard Lakes will release their fourth LP, Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, on April 2nd, and the band will spent most of April and May touring the U.S. and Britain.

Waxahatchee

Courtesy Enabler Agency

9

Waxahatchee

After twin sisters Allison and Katie Crutchfield ended their band P.S. Eliot in 2011, Katie started recording on her own as Waxahatchee. Her first album, last year's American Weekend, was well-received, but the buzz has grown much louder around the follow-up, Cerulean Salt. No wonder: Crutchfield alternates between kicking out gritty guitar rockers and charming, handmade folk-pop songs full of brainy, introspective lyrics that she sings in a wispy voice.

Earl Sweatshirt

Theo Jemison

8

Earl Sweatshirt

After Earl Sweatshirt gained as much attention for his absence from rap collective Odd Future as for his highly acclaimed 2010 debut Earl, the teenage MC reappeared last year after finishing high school in Somoa. In addition to rejoining Odd Future and contributing to Frank Ocean's Channel Orange in 2012, the rapper is working on the major-label follow-up to Earl, tentatively called Doris. He previewed the album last December with a video for the single "Chum."

Charli XCX

Dan Curwin

7

Charli XCX

Charlotte Aitchison is just 20, but the English singer has been making music for years already: she began recording as Charli XCX when she was 14. She's spent the intervening years honing a twisty, gleaming synth-pop sound on a string of singles and free mixtapes. She will release her major-label debut, True Romance, on April 16th, followed by an extensive tour supporting Ellie Goulding across Europe and then Marina and the Diamonds in the U.S.

Disclosure

Courtesy AM Only

6

Disclosure

After making a name for themselves with remixes for acts including Crystal Fighters, Emeli Sandé and Jessie Ware, the U.K. brother duo Disclosure began releasing their own music on pulsing, electronic singles and EPs. The brothers, Guy and Howard Lawrence, have been working up to their first LP, a still-untitled collection due later this year on Island Records.

Parquet Courts

Ben Rayner

5

Parquet Courts

Like a modern version of the Modern Lovers, Brooklyn rockers Parquet Courts sing idiosyncratic songs about offbeat topics, which often seem to involve getting, or being, stoned. For all their deadpan appeal, the band's music is deceptively complex on tunes that punctuate knotted riffs with bursts of noise – which isn't to say that their song "Stoned and Starving," from last year's Light Up Gold, won't end up being the simplest call-and-response anthem of SXSW.

Iggy and the Stooges

David Raccuglia

4

Iggy and the Stooges

Iggy Pop has been a force of nature for every minute of a career stretching back 45 years, which by itself makes him a must-see act. This year, though, he and the Stooges come to SXSW with just a few weeks left before releasing Ready to Die – their first album in 40 years with guitarist James Williamson, who last recorded with the Stooges on their landmark 1973 release Raw Power. The band offered a taste of the new music earlier this month with the single "Burn."

Vampire Weekend

Alternative Distribution Alliance

3

Vampire Weekend

After leaving SXSW in 2008 as one of the most talked-about bands at the festival, Vampire Weekend return this year a rather more seasoned group – and possibly just as talked-about. The New York rockers have an adventurous new album, Modern Vampires of the City, due May 7th, and while new songs have trickled out in wobbly audience-shot videos with murky audio, what better opportunity to hear the new music firsthand? 

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Courtesy Press Here

2

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

It's been four years since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs last put out an album, but the New York art-punk trio are readying their fourth LP, Mosquito, for release on April 16th. In other words, there's an excellent chance some of the new songs, most of which they wrote in New Orleans, will make it into the band's Austin set list, given that they've been playing them in concert already. But even if they don't trot out the new jams, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are justly celebrated for their riotous live performances.

Natalie Maines

Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS

1

Natalie Maines

Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines has been busier as a parent and an activist than as a musician since 2007, when the chart-topping country trio went largely dormant. But Maines is back this spring with a new album, Mother, that's due out in May. The album, a rock record, pairs a handful of originals with covers of tunes by Jeff Buckley, Ben Harper and Pink Floyd, whose song "Mother" doubles as the title track.

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