I’m an original recipe guy. That is I’m partial to the back end of Austin’s annual South by Southwest, where the music takes priority over the technology, and every crawl space in town is littered with international buzz bands performing 30-minute sets starting Wednesday.
It’s a scavenger hunt, and the prix fixe menu is set with trendy fresh faces like Vagabon, Frankie Rose, Girlpool, Hoops, Noname, Cherry Glazerr, Priests, Jay Som, and Tancred tapped for stardom. There are secret parties with rumored giants like Frank Ocean, and hometown heroes like Spoon and A Giant Dog strumming everywhere.
Here are 12 bands we love, and that you should cue up on your streaming music provider of choice—and see in person, without your damn phone, when they come to town.
New York poet and performance artist Michael Quattlebaum, known as the burgeoning Queen of hip-hop Mykki Blanco, is likely your best bet for the most ~lit~ SXSW show. Mykki Blanco first appeared as Quattlebaum’s rap alter ego but became an identity when Blanco came out as transgender. Blanco’s full-length album, Mykki, released last September, is the exact sort of charismatic, experimental debut you’d come to expect from a burgeoning hip-hop star: “Standing here naked/on Snapchat, I’m wasted” Blanco sings on “Loner,” or “I was robbing n****s for Dolce panties” on “Wish You Would,” Blanco’s collaboration with fellow New York queen Princess Nokia. –— Lauren L’Amie
“You’ve been learning as you go. Somehow you’re only getting worse,” Ron Gallo sneers on “Can’t Stand You,” the wry, Lennon-esque number off his February debut album, HEAVY META. The curly haired Philadelphian and former Toy Soldiers frontman booked it to Nashville, rediscovered his affinity for sloppy garage rock à la the Stooges, and cut 11 tracks that view life with snark and sincerity, culminating in the frank resignation of “All the Punks are Domesticated.” — Bryan Rolli
Rainbow Kitten Surprise
Contrary to what you might think, Rainbow Kitten Surprise doesn’t sound as obnoxious as its name suggests. Based out of the mountains in Boone, North Carolina, the indie/alternative five-piece combines bone-chilling harmonies, brooding lyrics, and dynamic instrumentation. The group celebrated the end of 2016 with 14 sold-out U.S. shows in a row, setting a precedent for 2017. Catch them while you can at SXSW: Most of their 2017 dates have sold out, too. — Tess Cagle
The 25-year-old Philly rapper born Rakim Allen arrives at SX with a silver bullet: Billboard single “Selfish,” which made noise in late 2016 ahead of January’s GTTM: Goin Thru the Motions. It’s a leading ‘hood love anthem built for modern times, with its sing-rap, post-Drake crooning. In the old days, Mary J. Blige would do the hook. Now rappers aren’t afraid to get all in their feelings: Look, babe, I know you’re talking to a lot of guys and working late nights but I want to lock this down. It’s a real one. — Ramon Ramirez
PWR BTTM is the American queer punk duo on the come-up, from their from their deeply confessional, deeply millennial lyrics to their outrageous stage presence and full-fledged glitter beards. Lyrics like “I want a boy to keep the bed warm while I shower,” are another level of #relatable. Or the duo’s latest single, “Answer My Text,” the angsty read receipts anthem you never knew you needed, with lyrics like “maybe your heart’s on silent mode tonight.” Composed of Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins, both alternating instruments and vocals, PWR BTTM is sure to deliver a performance full of emotions and calculated math rock shredding. — LL
Do you enjoy black denim, agave plants, and Mexican mineral water? Are you relatively new to Austin and still looking up Eater and Thrillist posts about tacos while you get settled in? First, welcome. Second, have I got the local singer to liven up your new living quarters. Burch is a fellow transplant, who moved to the Texas capital from North Carolina in 2013. She sings aching, post-breakup songs tinged with country twang and ‘50s girl group panache. Her Captured Tracks debut Please Be Mine landed in February, and in 10 years once you’ve got some local roots, will make you nostalgic for that year you decided to start again. — RR
The Lemon Twigs
Brian and Michael D’Addario, the teenage brothers behind breakout retro-pop duo the Lemon Twigs, grew up in Hicksville, New York. No, seriously. Is it any wonder they had nothing to do besides pore over old Beatles records and recreate the rambunctious, sophisticated pop-rock of their parents’ generation on debut LP, Do Hollywood? “I Wanna Prove to You” swings with the exuberant doo-wop harmonies that Brian Wilson shoved down his brothers’ throats, while the manic carnival synths of “Haroomata” evoke the genius Beach Boy at his tripped-out peak. — BR
Hailing from McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, Dezorah mixes homegrown Latin beats with jazz rhythms, heavy distortion, and dizzying math rock. Drummer Trey Puga, guitarist Eric Martinez, and bassist Devan Martinez merge all these sounds together, while lead singer Danica Salazar’s voice acts as the glue, creating a mesmerizing sonic collage. Salazar’s presence onstage—in which she strides back and forth, wails operatically, and makes hypnotic eye contact with strangers—keeps her audience captivated from start to finish. — TC
Austin R&B phenom Mélat is a tiny powerhouse with a soulful voice to be trifled with. An Ethiopian UT alum, Mélat has appeared frequently alongside other local faves like Magna Carda, and opened for big names like Thundercat. Her debut album, MéVen, was released at the end of 2016. — LL
Austin punk supergroup Drakulas apparently sing of the advent of new analog technology that eliminates the customs of a bygone era on last year’s full-length debut, Raw Wave. Thankfully, highbrow concept can’t thwart the 26-minute thrill ride of power pop, new wave, and proto-hardcore that studiously recalls the Damned, Buzzcocks, and Sex Pistols. The quartet—featuring Riverboat Gamblers Mike Wiebe and Rob Marchant plus Rise Against guitarist Zach Blair—packs sugary, adrenal hooks into “I’m Getting Out” and “Neon Town” that crash and burn before you can wipe the sweat from your brow. — BR
Speedy Ortiz’s “front demon” Sadie Dupuis shows off more of her own personal flare in solo project Sad13, named after her social media handle @sad13. More upbeat than the dissonant sounds of Speedy Ortiz, Sad13 plays with synth pop and R&B in debut LP, Slugger. Like in Speedy, however, Dupuis uses her MFA in poetry to write lyrics that make your head spin as you unpack them. With tracks like “Get A Yes” and “Coming Into Powers,” Dupuis preaches feminism, consent and empowerment. — TS
Detroit’s Stef Chura writes studious, hook-riddled rock for when you’re sitting on the sidewalk, eating pizza after dark. The spirited punk released Messes this year, a nasty shard of a debut. “Slow Motion” is for when you need two minutes between phone calls. “You” is for the four-minute walk to lunch. I guess maybe indie rock is a better term? Since her record is filled with brightly picked guitar lines? You get what I’m saying. — RR