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SXSW 2014: 25 Must-See Acts

The shows everyone will be talking about once the dust (and BBQ sauce) settles

South by Southwest — the annual music-industry hob-nobber convention that brings together more bands than you could ever dream of seeing in a single city — starts on March 11th. Whether you're headed to Austin or just rubbernecking on Twitter, here's the 25 shows people will be talking about when the dust settles.

By Gavin Edwards, Will Hermes, Christian Hoard and Nick Murray


Young Thug

Why You Can't Miss Him: A cracked-voiced hip-hop eccentric who's gotten love from some mighty big names — he recently hit the studio with Kanye West, and Drake was spotted pumping some paw in a club to Thug's "Danny Glover" — Thug's latest mixtape, Black Portland (with buddy Bloody Jay), finds him spinning his yelp into addictive hooks and clever lines like "She say she not with it, I see straight through her like linen." He also looks great in a leopard-print dress.

Courtesy YG


Why You Can't Miss Him: Four years after his tongue-in-cheek "Toot It and Boot It" went from beloved mixtape cut to unlikely national hit, "My Nigga," the lead single for debut LP My Krazy Life, went even bigger, reaching the Hot 100's Top 20 even before Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Meek Mill jumped on the remix. His SXSW gigs will be some of his last before the album's March 18th release, and seeing the rapper perform alongside other West Coast favorites like J. Stalin, Iamsu!, Pink Dollaz and Berner will help contextualize its open, low-end sound. If the system is right, the bass on the tracks that YG is rapping over will shake your whole body.

Courtesy of All Eyes Media

Lucinda Williams

Why You Can't Miss Her: The alt-country queen will no doubt be previewing her forthcoming album, rumored to be a double-CD's worth of primo Dusty in Memphis-style country-soul plus choice covers. Lou Reed's "Pale Blue Eyes" turned up in a recent set, and Springsteen's "Factory" is in the wings.

Shawn Brackbill

Kurt Vile

Why You Can't Miss Him: Indie rock's stoner-guitar-jam prince has been touring hard on last year's Wakin' on a Pretty Daze, and recent sets have been full of heady axe excursions that go from prettily dazed to majorly rippin'.


Sturgill Simpson

Why You Can't Miss Him: This Kentucky-bred, Nashville-based honky-tonk hero makes country music rooted in the lean, mean traditions of Merle and Waylon, but follows his own muse. The title of his forthcoming Metamodern Sounds in Country Music bows to Ray Charles, while the lyrics to lead track "Turtles All the Way Down" nods to psychedelic drug chronicler Rick Strassman. Ask for his unlikely cover of "The Promise" by U.K. synth-pop also-rans When in Rome.

Shawn Brackbill

Speedy Ortiz

Why You Can't Miss Them: Because this Massachusetts band, led by Sadie Dupuis, reinvent sludgy lo-fi guitar for the 21st century: their second album, Major Arcana, was poetic and hypnotic.

Christopher Parsons

Schoolboy Q

Why You Can't Miss Him: A former Crip who made good money selling Oxycontin (then got addicted to it), Q just released his hit major label debut, Oxymoron. It's full of detail-rich gangland stories, delivered with the urgency of someone who took some serious knocks — and might have given a few as well.

Renata Raksha

St. Vincent

Why You Can't Miss Her: Because fresh off her collaboration with David Byrne, Annie Clark is applying the lessons she learned from him, striving not just to expand your mind but to get you dancing. Or as the singer-songwriter describes her new sound: "party music for a funeral." Find out more about her bizarre fever dreams here.

Drew Reynolds

Perfect Pussy

Why You Can't Miss Them: This Syracuse, New York punk band sent the underground into hype spasms last year with a four-song cassette demo (later released as an EP on their Bandcamp page). They're rock's most intense new band, thanks largely to frontwoman Meredith Graves, who's been known to scream so violently during the band's 15-minute noise-assault gigs that she becomes physically ill. Out later this month, Perfect Pussy's excellent full-length debut presents a slightly more nuanced, but still totally blazing, version of their brain-scrambling sound. 

Lauren Logan

The Jones Family Singers

Why You Can't Miss Them: Because Bishop Fred Jones Jr. has been presiding over the congregation at Mount Zion Church of God In Christ in Markham, Texas, for three decades, and the old-school gospel-soul-funk outfit he leads with his sons, daughters, and grandson tears the roof off live. Their fiery forthcoming LP The Spirit Speaks is recommended to fans of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and Aretha Franklin's "Amazing Grace."

Laurent Levy


Why You Can't Miss Her: Best known for 2000s R&B bangers like "Milkshake" and "Bossy," Kelis spent the first three years of the new decade pushing her sound bigger and bigger, releasing four-on-the-floor pop-dance collaborations with producers like David Guetta and Calvin Harris. Switching up her sound once again, Kelis recently premiered the syncopated, seemingly Solange-influenced "Jerk Ribs," the first track off her upcoming Food, recorded with TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek. Her three South By gigs – at Stubb's, Clive Bar and Hype Hotel – expect both old favorites and a first look at new tracks that won't be heard again until the album's mid-April release.

Roger Kisby/Getty Images


Why You Can't Miss Her: The L.A.-based singer-songwriter's excellent 2013 mixtape, Cut 4 Me, was one of the year's best (albeit slept-on) sets, proving her one of the toughest, sexiest, and most experimental-minded of R&B's new guard. And judging from "Melba's Call," her recent collaboration with beat-juggling London producer Bok Bok, 2014 may be her year.

Sarrah Danziger

Hurray for the Riff Raff

Why You Can't Miss Them: Born in the Bronx and receiving a musical education at all-ages shows in Lower Manhattan, Alynda Lee Segarra formed Hurray for the Riff Raff after skipping town and winding up in New Orleans. With songs that cross the country, starting in the Blue Ridge Mountains and moving west to San Francisco and south to her adopted home, Hurray's recent Small Town Heroes is Americana in the truest, most open-hearted sense of the term. This is a band – and a songwriter – that is only improving, and seeing them in an intimate venue is going to get harder and harder.

Tee Murphy

Bunji Garlin

Why You Can't Miss Him: Famous in Trinidad for tracks like "Down in the Ghetto" and "Blaze the Fire," Bunji Garlin finally entered American radio playlists with 2013's "Differentology," the song of the year not just for Trinidad but the whole Caribbean. Performing a week and a half after Carnival, Garlin will be entering South by Southwest in his peak form, and "Differentology" is the perfect track to help you reach yours. With its massive builds, Spanish guitar, and celebratory lyrics, it could very well become your festival anthem.

Courtesy Future


Why You Can't Miss Him: The robo-croon star has one of the most impressive recent résumés in hip-hop, from hooks he's sung for Miley Cyrus and Rihanna to a solid run as a songwriter (including a co-write on "Body Party," a hit for his fiancée, Ciara). But he saves his most spaced-out material for his own records, and Honest — which he told Rolling Stone will "shock the world" when it arrives later this year — will hopefully propel him to new levels of delicious weirdness.

Leif Shackelford


Why You Can't Miss Her: Her bracing second Matador LP shows a singer/songwriter of a scope miles beyond even what her astonishing 2011 bedroom-noise-rap single "California" ("Fuck California/You made me boring. . .I'm just 22 and I don't mind dying") suggested, like some fierce hybrid of Kim Gordon and Cat Power. Her intense, matter-of-factly goth live show has likely grown more awesome as well.   

Sandy Kim


Why You Can't Miss Them: Because while this British five-piece is most famous for online screeds attacking other bands ("you are the type of people who take drugs yet have never met a drug dealer"), their debut album is due in 2014 after years of spaced-out guitar singles. If they don't prove themselves, they'll have to start a fight.

James Orlando

Dum Dum Girls

Why You Can't Miss Them: The Los Angeles group revolves around frontwoman Dee Dee's beautifully disparate influenes: girl-group pop, new wave and garage rock. On their latest, Too True, the group sounded clearer and fuller than ever, a combination that will likely make their already excellent live show even better. If they brought the house down at when they played on David Letterman, imagine what they'll do here.

Courtesy Backspin Promotions

DJ Rashad

Why You Can't Miss Him: The mastermind of Chicago footwork exploded the scene's profile and flavor palette with last year's deep, fractured, soul-jazzy Double Cup, released by the tastemaking avant-bass U.K. label Hyperdub. But of course, he makes his real magic in da club.

Pooneh Ghana

Cloud Nothings

Why You Can't Miss Them: The first single from their next album (due in April), "I'm Not Part of Me," suggests that after five years as a band, this Cleveland trio have found the perfect balance between a spiky guitar attack and melodies as sticky as warm peanut butter.

Dan Curwin

Charli XCX

Why You Can't Miss Her: Because this 21-year-old Brit was the brains behind Icona Pop's megahit "I Love It" — and she wants to use that success to get weird, not to churn out assembly-line pop hits. Live, she's a hair-flipping, mic-eating super-performer.

Matthew Eisman/Getty Images

Chance the Rapper

Why You Can't Miss Him: Because he's got talent coming out of his ears. Released just two weeks after he turned 20, Acid Rap mixes up cartoon flows, Day-glo drug songs, showoff wordplay and rants about the media's indifference to Chicago's murder epidemic ("Where the Fuck is Matt Lauer at? Somebody get Katie Couric up in here"). He'll roll into SXSW with a slew of post-Acid Rap gigs under his belt, including a stint opening for Eminem.

Lee Cherry


Why You Can't Miss Him: Because this Harlem rapper, who won "Rookie of the Year" at last year's BET Hip Hop Awards, always grabs your ears, even when he's just chanting "Shabba Ranks."

Linda Brown Lee

Damon Albarn

Why You Can't Miss Him: The forthcoming Everyday Robots is, remarkably enough, Albarn's first proper solo set. It's a handsome, meditative set, with cameos from Bryan Eno and Bat for Lashes' Natasha Khan; expect previews alongside picks from his remarkably deep back catalog of group projects, Blur and Gorillaz included. 

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