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The best of the fest: Our critics' picks for the SXSW Music Festival


Although we have bands listed on specific days, many bands are playing multiple times throughout the fest. Check and our side parties database for more schedule information. Check out songs by our favorite SXSW artists in our highlights mix in Spotify .


Peter Mongillo's picks

Natural Child (Nashville) Nashville-based Natural Child takes a page from the rowdier side of rock’n’roll history, with big, sloppy guitar riffs and songs about going off the rails. (Could share a bill with: the Black Lips)

Thee Oh Sees (San Francisco) One of the leaders of San Francisco’s rock scene, Thee Oh Sees, led by John Dwyer, make a surreal brand of music that draws from psych, surf and garage rock. They also put on a wild live show. (Could share a bill with: Roky Erikson, the Black Angels)

Alabama Shakes (Athens, Alabama) We’ll see if this Alabama-based Southern rock’n’soul outfit can live up to the red hot buzz when their debut album, “Boys and Girls,” comes out later this spring. (Could share a bill with: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Sharon Jones )

2:54 (England) Moody British rock with big bass lines, heavy, driving guitars and haunting, atmospheric vocals. (Could share a bill with: Yuck, the Jesus and Mary Chain)

Pujol (Nashville) The solo project of Daniel Pujol is well-crafted garage rock with perfectly weird lyrics. (Could share a bill with: Jack White, Wavves)

Deborah Sengupta Stith's picks

Jimmy Cliff - A true reggae legend, he continues to deliver politically potent, deeply soulful music 40 years after the classic Jamaican street tale ‘The Harder They Come’ landed him in the international spotlight. (Could share a bill with: Toots and the Maytals, Michael Franti, Paul Simon)

Tita Lima (Sao Paulo, Brazil) - A Brazilian songstress with an expert pedigree (her father played with 70s psych rockers Os Mutantes), Lima’s laid-back, sultry vocals and effusive stage presence lure the listener into fantastic soundscapes where tropicalia and dub meld easily with breezy jazz. (Could share a bill with: Quantic, Theivery Corporation, Ocote Soul Sounds)

Dessa (Minneapolis, MN) - The breathtaking sense of urgency on the spoken word verse of ‘551,’ the lead track on this Doomtree hip-hop collective affiliate’s 2011 release ‘Castor, the Twin’ is utterly riveting. The song unfolds as a modern-day morality tale, delivered with wide-eyed clarity and quiet but devastating metaphoric turns. Overall, her approach to post-millenial hip-hop is both unorthodox and refreshing. (Could share a bill with: Brother Ali, Invincible, Ani DiFranco)

League of Extraordinary Gz (Austin, TX) Coming off a great year that included a tour with Dead Prez and well-received appearances at both SXSW and the A3C hip-hop festival in Atlanta, the 8-piece local hip-hop supergroup met with tragedy last fall when rapper Esbe tha Bully suddenly died of natural causes. Marching on while honoring their friend’s memory they continue to produce some of the best hip-hop in town. (Could share a bill with: Big Boi, Trae tha Truth, Chalie Boy)

Crystal Fighters (London, UK) A five-piece influenced equally by UK house and Basque traditional music, the band plays an ecstatic mash up of chaotic dance music, melodic indie pop and hyped up electro-folk. (Could share a bill with: CSS, The XX, Jonquil)

Joe Gross' picks

Nazi Gold (Austin, TX) -- Quin Galvais breaks out the noise rock with Thor Harris of Swans and Shearwater fame on drums and the Fleshlights’ Jeremy Steen on bass. Look for an album in the spring. (Could share a bill with: Pixies, Unsane)

Alabama Shakes (Athens, AL)- One of the year’s most hyped rock bands, the buzz is both deafening and deserved. (Could share a bill with: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Black Joe Lewis, the Now Time Delegation)

Screaming Females (New Brunswick ,NJ) -- The key to this, one of the best punk rock trios currently active, is, of course, singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster, whose shredding, shrieking and soloing can raise the dead. A fifth album, “Ugly,” is due in April (Could share a bill with: Wild Flag, Ted Leo/Pharmacists)

Rwake (Little Rock, Arkansas) — Completely horrifying sludge metal from the state that gave us Bill Clinton, “Dizzy” Dean and Wal-Mart. They sound like none of those things (Could share a bill with: Eyehategod, Metallica, chambering a shell in a shotgun)

Sharon Van Etten (Brooklyn, NY) -- A once fairly low-key, often acoutic songwriter goes full electric on “Tramp,” one of the year’s best records. The hype is real. (Could share a bill with: PJ Harvey, Joni Mitchell, a good cry)

Parry Gettelman's picks

Pillowfight (San Francisco, CA) -- Wildly creative hip hop producer Dan the Automator (of Dr. Octagon fame) teamed with fascinating vocalist-violinist-multi-instrumentalist Emily Wells. (Could Fit On A Bill With: Kid Koala, Handsome Boy Modeling School, the late, great Nina Simone)!pillowfight

Oddisee (Washington, D.C.) -- With a Sudanese father and African-American mother, Oddissee brings a wide range of influences to his neo-soul inflected hip-hop. (Could Fit On A Bill With: The Roots, Nas, Thievery Corporation)

Black & Gypsy/Raimuno y Diego Amador (Spain) -- In 50 words or fewer: Brothers Raimundo and Diego Amador take flamenco in new directions. (Could Fit On A Bill With: Rodrigo y Gabriela, Andres Segovia) No website.

Gary Clark, Jr. (Austin, TX) -- In 50 words or fewer: His full-length Warner debut isn’t even due out til September, but blues-rock guitar phenomenon Clark has been dazzling audiences from Rockefeller Center to the White House ever since his Bright Lights EP dropped at the end of 2010. (Could Fit On A Bill With: Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Ben Harper)

Lila Downs (Oaxaca, Mexico) -- In 50 words or fewer: Her commanding alto would intrigue listeners even if she sang prefab pop songs, but fortunately for us, this daughter of an American professor and Mixtec cabaret singer creates her own arresting fusion of Mexican and U.S roots music. (Could Fit On A Bill With: Los Lobos, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Ana Tijoux)

Chad Swiatecki's picks

Fun. (New York, NY) -- In 50 words or fewer: Unapologetic, reaching for the heavens pop rock that throws pianos, strings, overdubs and guest vocalists on top of traditional rock instrumentation. Fans of defunct indie-pop group The Format will recognize the vocals of Nate Ruess, who has honed his already sharp pop sensibility to a startling degree. (Could share a bill with: OK Go, Quiet Company, Moods For Moderns)

Cadence Weapon. (Edmonton, Alberta) -- In 50 words or fewer: Staccato, confrontational raps over could’ve-been-videogame beats, with lyrics full of symbolism, verbal tricks and literary insights. His forthcoming 'Hope In Dirt City' will be his first album in four years, so expect a backlog of enthusiasm and intensity once Cadence (born Teddy Pemberton) takes the stage. (Could share a bill with: El-P, Cannibal Ox, Beans)

Screaming Females. (New Brunswick, NJ) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Remember how Sleater-Kinney's final album felt like they were trying to out-Zeppelin Led Zeppelin? Well, if they'd gone more stoner rock they'd pretty much have been Screaming Females (that sentence works on about four different levels). (Could share a bill with: Wild Flag, Queens of the Stone Age, Fu Manchu)

The Coathangers. (Atlanta, GA) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Two or three chords, a couple bass patterns, something close to a backbeat, possibly a keyboard line, all of it soldered together with a southern update of riot grrrl ferocity. The group's bio says the four young women were a band before they could play their instruments, and it's easy to imagine. (Could share a bill with: Foreign Mothers, Follow That Bird, Bikini Kill)

Ume. (Austin, TX) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Guitars that blur by with the speed and force of a tornado, with singer/guitarist Lauren Larson occupying the eye of the storm and alternately cooing and bellowing her heavy-on-imagery lyrics. (Could share a bill with: Sonic Youth, Cursive, Dismemberment Plan)


Peter Mongillo's picks

Fiona Apple (New York) Singer-songwriter Apple, who made her name with the jazzy, sultry hit “Criminal” in 1997, hasn’t released an album since 2005’s “Extraordinary Machine.” (Could share a bill with: Elliot Smith, Cat Power)

The Jesus and Mary Chain (East Kilbride, Scotland) Influential British rock band, formed in 1984 by brothers Jim and William Reid, hasn’t played in the U.S. since 2007, when they headlined the Coachella festival. (Could share a bill with: Primal Scream)

Bass Drum of Death (Oxford, Mississippi) Mississippi garage rock band Bass Drum of Death began as the solo project of lead singer/guitarist John Barret, who combines his snotty yelp with fuzzy, choppy party rock. (Could share a bill with: Japandroids, Ty Segall)

Cloud Nothings (Cleveland) With its beginnings as frontman Dylan Baldi’s solo project, Cloud Nothings has evolved into a full band capable of stretching out its pop punk in wierd and entertaining ways on stage. (Could share a bill with: the Men, Beach Fossils, Thee Oh Sees)

Grimes (Montreal) Montreal-based electronic pop musician Clair Boucher varies her sound dramatically from album to album; one thing that stays consistent is her strange, emotive voice and her playful, unique approach to her source material. (Could share a bill with: Tune-Yards, Austra)

Deborah Sengupta Stith's picks

Just a Band (Nairobi, Kenya) Self-described as “Africa’s Super-Nerdy Electronic Music/Art Collective,” this four-piece blends elements of electrofunk, neosoul, house and pop, drawing a surprising spectrum of emotional hues from an electronic pallet.(Could share a bill with: Massive Attack, Dam Funk, Daft Punk)

Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 (Lagos, Nigeria) The youngest son of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti who inherited both his father’s fiery countenance in the face of injustice and his amazing house band. The closest you’ll ever come to seeing a Fela show. (Could share a bill with: Antibalas, K’Naan, Damian Marley)

Nneka: (Warri, Nigeria.) Part of a new generation of African singers who rage against post-colonial injustice in their homelands, Nneka delivers a righteous soul smackdown. With indignation tempered by graceful humility and raw outrage softened by vulnerability, her songs ache with humanity, seethe with pure heart. (Could share a bill with: Erykah Badu, Dead Prez, Nas)

Jonquil (Oxford, England) Bedroom project grown into a busy touring band, Jonquil makes breezy, summery, highly accessible pop music. They claim the Smiths as an influence, but it’s a lot easier to pick up hints of the Housemartins and Vampire Weekend. (Could share a bill with: Vampire Weekend, Belle and Sebastian, Arcade Fire)

Kendrick Lamar (Compton, CA) A member of the West Coast hip-hop collective Black Hippy Lamar spits real talk over gauzy grooves that artfully mesh synthesizer swells, jazzy loops and spacey effects. Believe the hype, he’s easily one of the biggest break-out artists of the 2012 fest. (Could share a bill with: Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg, Wale)

Joe Gross' picks

Lower Dens (Baltimore, Md.) - Lower Dens is name of one-time Texas songwriter Jana Hunter’s band, a crew which was formerly known as, well, Jana Hunter. Her weirdo folk has now fully transformed into wide-screen, deep-focus folk rock (emphasis on rock) and it’s a good look on her. (Sharon Van Etten, Woods, Black Angels)

OBNOX (Cleveland, Ohio) -- Obnox is the nom du rock of Lamont “Bim” Thomas, who has drummed with everyone from the Bassholes to This Moment in Black Histroy to Puffy Areolas. Here, he is the focus, a one-man punk machine in the classic, grimy Ohio tradition. His album is called “I’m Bleeding Now,” which is perfect. (Dirtbombs, Oblivions, getting punched in the face)

Spoek Mathambo (Johannesburg, South Africa) -- You might remember Spoek Mathambo (real name: Nthato Mokgata) from his mind-blowing cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” a few years back. His take on electronic music is just as bonkers, fusing South African music with house, electro and hip-hop. His new one, “Father Creeper,” is out now. (Tricky, Wu-Tang Clan, Brian Eno)

The Shins (Albuquerque, New Mexico) -- This band is essentially band leader James Mercer and hired guns, but then, it has been that way for years: The oddly underrated 2007 album “Wincing the Night Away” was recorded almost entirely solo. After Mercer’s Broken Bells project, the new album is a co-release with Columbia and fans are curious (New Pornographers, Elliot Smith, the inevitable sequel to “Juno” about Juno’s child)

The War On Drugs (Philadelphia, Penn.) — Compatriots and one-time bandmates of Kurt Vile, last year’s excellent “Salve Ambient” is one part Dylan warble to two parts gauzy, guitar effects-a-thon that can move from rock to ambient drift at the speed of a chord change. (Kurt Vile, Real Estate, a hot bath)

Chad Swiatecki's picks

Brendan Benson. (Nashville, TN) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Classic power pop that worships at the altar of Alex Chilton (with The Beach Boys playing on the headphones). Benson has spread his wings with fellow Michigan native Jack White in The Raconteurs in recent years, but the solo material is where his sharp, nuanced songwriting really shines. (Could share a bill with: Jason Faulkner, The Posies, Sloan)

Grimes. (Montreal) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Claire Boucher's almost impossibly pitched vocals add a human warmth to production that might constitute a new genre; bubblegum glitch-pop. What's it sound like? Think of gurgling synths, caustic drumbeats, and Boucher cutting through it all like she's rocking a disco on an ice pond. (Could share a bill with: Annie, Ladytron, Erlend Oye)

Jukebox The Ghost. (Brooklyn, NY) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Pulsing sing-along piano pop. As is pretty much required of piano-based rock bands, co-vocalists Ben Thornewill andTommy Siegel traffic in emotionally revealing and occasionally wry storytelling, with choruses that stumble ever upward before the piano drops out, letting the audience do their part. (Could share a bill with: Foster The People, Ben Folds Five, Jack's Mannequin)

Oneohtrix Point Never. (Brooklyn, NY) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Atmospheric, menacing soundscapes best experienced with closed eyes and a decibel-pushing sound system. With headphones you want to soak in every piece of found sound and production. Live, though, it's all about the impact that Daniel Lopatin's disorienting compositions hit with. (Could share a bill with: Aphex Twin, Ford & Lopatin, Dykehouse)

Two Cow Garage. (Columbus, OH) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Roots-influenced bar rock that hits like a prizefighter and doesn't stop until there's broken beers bottles under every work boot heel. Down to a trio, expect a lean and raw batch of songs about short-changed everymen and the women who learn to love them too late. (Could share a bill with: Lucero, Gaslight Anthem, Wilco circa 'Being There')

Parry Gettelman's picks

Seun Kuti. (Nigeria) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: The late, legendary, incendiary Fela Kuti may have outdone even Bob Marley in siring talented progeny. His afrobeat legacy is in capable hands with son Seun Kuti, who leads Fela's band, Egypt 80, and follows in the footsteps of older brother Femi Kuti as well. (Could share a bill with: Femi Kuti, Antibalas, Jimmy Cliff)

Tommy Stinson. (Hudson, NY) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: The former Replacement's band Bash & Pop was a highlight of SXSW circa 1993, and so what if Stinson has been dallying with the likes of Guns N' Roses in the meantime? He's Tommy Stinson. (Could share a bill with: Ian McLagan, the Figgs)

Jimmy Cliff. (Jamaica) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: The one, the only, the legendary Jimmy Cliff. (Could share a bill with: Michael Franti, Damian Marley -- but he's the headliner. He's Jimmy Cliff.)

Tim Foljahn. (Michigan via NYC) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Singer-songwriter-guitarist Foljahn has one of the most interesting resumes at SXSW. He worked with Townes Van Zandt on his final recordings, played guitar on the first two Cat Power releases and on Thurston Moore's solo Psychic Hearts, and performed with Manor's own Jad Fair in both Half Japanese and Mosquito. (Could share a bill with: Any of the above.)

Duran. (Colombia) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: If you're already starting to fade by Thursday, silver-tongued Juan Pablo Duran's hyper fusion of electrocumbia, dance hall, R&B, rock and trip hop, which he calls 'chirripop,' is bound to revive you. (Could share a bill with: Daddy Yankee, Elvis Crespo)


Peter Mongillo's picks

Jack White (Nashville) Former White Stripe’s solo projects have been at their worst ok (Raconteurs) and at their best a live force (the Dead Weather). (Could share a bill with: the Black Keys)

Lower Dens (Baltimore) Slowed-down pop rock with reverb-drenched guitars, distant vocals and thumping percussion is a winning combination. Mellow without being boring. (Could share a bill with: Real Estate, Wavves)

White Rabbits (New York) It’s not too difficult to hear the influence of Spoon on this Missouri-via-New York pop rock band’s last record, which was produced by Britt Daniel; another producer with connections to Spoon, McMarthy, was at the helm for their latest. (Could share a bill with: Spoon, Here We Go Magic)

Shearwater (Austin) Led by singer-songwriter Jonathan Meiburg, Shearwater’s latest, “Animal Joy,” might be their best yet, a frank, moving account of the highs and lows of a life in transition set set to the band’s unique sound, which can be both sparse and all-encompassing. (Could share a bill with: Okkervil River, Sharon Van Etten)

Deborah Sengupta Stith's picks

Alabama Shakes (Athens, AL) - Garage soul rockers who are taking a brief break from selling out shows across to country to come and shake the pants off of SXSW. Yes, they live up to the hype. Try to squeeze into one of their shows. (Could share a bill with: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Gary Clark Jr, Bonnie Raitt)

Michael Kiwanuka (London, England) He’s been compared to soul greats like Otis Redding, toured with Adele and topped the BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll. Not bad for a guitar-slinger in his mid-20s. His rootsy soulful sound isn’t particularly original, but his heart is true. (Could share a bill with: Ben Harper, India Irie, James Taylor)

Spoek Mathambo (Johannesburg, South Africa). DJ/Producer/Singer/Rapper Nthato Mokgata is a leader in the South African house music movement, dropping listeners into an vortex where snippets of tribal beats and harmonies slam against electro fuzz and insistent blips in a dark but highly danceable mix. (Could share a bill with: Roots Manuva, DJ Shadow, Theophilus London)

Quantic & Alice Russell. (Brighton, England) Russell’s solo jazz stuff veers perilously close to torch song territory, but her collaborations with Quantic and his Colombia-based Combo Barbaro, produce a compelling mix of soulful Latin jazz with funky hip-hop underpinnings. (Could share a bill with: Chico Mann, Ocote Soul Sounds)

Bez (Lagos, Nigeria) A dapper dude with no shortage of charisma, Bez is neo-soul singer with a new jazz aesthetic. His smooth croon flows easily over everything from graceful orchestral arrangements to weirdly evocative disco. (Could share a bill with: Raphael Saadiq, Anthony Hamilton, Jill Scott, Angie Stone)

Joe Gross' picks

Dope Body (Baltimore, Md.) – Glorious noise rockers who have been abusing pedals and amps since 2009. Their new album is due on Drag City in the spring. (The Men, Jesus Lizard, Monotonix)

Grimes (Motreal, Canada) -- Claire Boucher’s skittering, oddball electronic music is perfect for staring straight into the night sky while waiting for the bus after a night of serious mischief. (Aphex Twin, Autechre, ball bearings falling down wood stairs)

Free Energy (Philadelphia, Penn.) – Looks like indie rock, tastes like jam band (or possibly the other way round), these guys are as at home with 70s rock and the theme from the A-Team. (Steve Miller Band, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen)

Purling Hiss (Philadelphia, Penn.)— Fuzzy, guitar-pop riffs and tape loops feed into psychedelic blowouts. (Roky Erickson, Sebadoh, V-3).

The Jones Family Singers (Bay City, Texas) –This three-generation gospel powerhouse has blown tiny minds everywhere from ACL fest to the Smithsonian Institute. (The Lee Brothers, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Shirley Ceasar)

Chad Swiatecki's picks

The War On Drugs. (Philadelphia, PA) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: What the Jesus and Mary Chain did to the Beach Boys (that is, drench pure pop in atmospherics and reverb) The War On Drugs do to classic American rock (ie, Bruce Springsteen). It's a weird approach, but the distance created in these tales of underdogs and broken dreams is oddly winning. (Could share a bill with: Real Estate, Wavves, Gomez)

Toddla T. (Sheffield, UK) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: A brand of UK grime that puts the genre's thick production and guest MCs in service of celebration and fun first. He's in a whole different scene than dubstep star Skrillex, but Toddla T's three official showcases suggest he's a name to watch this year. (Could share a bill with: Roots Manuva, Justice, Deadmau5)

Ivan & Alyosha. (Seattle, WA) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Russian author Dostoyevsky doesn't seem like the most obvious starting point for harmonious California-calling pop (the band takes its name from 'Brothers Karamazov') but here we are. Rarely featuring less than two vocalists, these songs seek impossible heights, and often get there. (Could share a bill with: Blitzen Trapper, Band of Horses, Crosby Stills Nash & Young)

Latyrx. (Oakland, CA) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: For about 10 years starting in the mid-'90s Quannum Records was cranking out prime-grade hip hop and this pairing of Lyrics Born and Lateef The Truthspeaker was one of its best. Slippery, funky and joyous, these vets should have hands waving and heads bobbing every second they're on stage. (Could share a bill with: Blackalicious, Edan, Mr. Lif)

Imperial Teen. (Los Angeles, CA) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Is parent power-pop a 'thing'? If so, this firmly adult assemblage of alterna-rock vets is the prime mover of the genre. What's that mean? Music that overflows with the feeling that the act of creating it was cause for celebration, with lyrics and characters that feel lived in but still lively. (Could share a bill with: The Breeders, Spoon, Superchunk)

Parry Gettelman's picks

The DBs. (Durham, NC) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Almost a quarter-century has gone by since the dBs called it quits, but it sounds like no time at all on "Revolution of the Mind," the jangly, propulsive single that marks the triumphant return of the original line-up of Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey, Will Rigby and Gene Holder. (Could share a bill with: R.E.M., Big Star, Yo La Tengo)

Chrysta Bell. (Austin, TX) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: David Lynch's latest muse, Chrysta Bell collaborated with the director on the haunting album This Train. She previously fronted the underrated Austin band 8-1/2 Souvenirs. (Could share a bill with: Julee Cruise, Portishead)

Chicha Libre. (Brooklyn, NY) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: The band members have roots in France, Venezuela and Mexico, as well as the U.S.. They started out reviving chicha, an electric Peruvian take on cumbia, and began incorporating influences from surf-rock to psychedelia. (Could share a bill with: Sidestepper, Os Mutantes, Dengue Fever)

Girl in a Coma. (San Antonio, TX) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: They were a revelation at SXSW in 2008, and this young trio keeps evolving by leaps and bounds, as evidenced by latest release Exits & All the Rest. (Could share a bill with: Joan Jett, Morrissey, Concrete Blonde)

Magnetic Fields. (New York) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Contrarian songsmith Stephin Merritt's band is making its first-ever SXSW appearance in honor of the Magnetic Fields' 10th full-length release, Love at the Bottom of the Sea. (Could share a bill with: Belle & Sebastian, Roxy Music, of Montreal)


Peter Mongillo's picks

Mikal Cronin (San Francisco) Cronin, who collaborates with the more well-known San Francisco garage rock musician Ty Segall, uses surf and psych influences in service of personal, direct songs that avoid sounding like just another surf or psych band.

Mean Jeans (Portland, Oregon) Fast, snotty pop-punk with a nod toward the Ramones; perfect party music. (Could share a bill with: Bad Sports)

Bad Sports (Austin/Denton) Fronted by insanely prolific musician Orville Neeley (OBN IIIs, A Giant Dog, the Best, etc.), it’s hard to find too many bands that can compete with Bad Sports’ pop-tinged punk rock. Could share a bill with: Mind Spiders, the Black Lips)

Beach Fossils (New York) Mellow, sunset-in-summer soundtrack drenched in airy guitars and distant vocals (Could share a bill with: Real Estate, Wavves)

Fat Tony (Houston) Nigerian-American rapper Fat Tony, who released his debut album, “RABDARGAB,” in 2010, merges tight, sometimes-funny vocals with twisted synth beats. (Could share a bill with: Das Racist)

Deborah Sengupta Stith's picks

The Heavy Noid (a fictional hamlet near Bath) England. The Heavy drops big band rock and soul that’s alternately brash and brooding. Though Kelvin Swaby’s vocals contain an obvious hat tip to Curis Mayfield, the band’s sound is so relevant in the new millennium that everyone from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show to HBO’s ‘True Blood’ has tapped them for soundtrack music. (Could share a bill with:Black Joe Lewis, Any Daptone Records artist, Tom Waits)

Duck Fight Goose (Shanghai, China.) A wildly creative musical collective, their experimental noise is mathematically complex and sonically dense. Playful rhythms wade through layers of fuzz while weirdly catchy melodies float on top. (Could share a bill with:Tortoise, Octopus Project Arcade Fire)

Nortec Collective: Hiperboreal (Tijuana, Mexico) With mad scientist beat masters and relentless, furious instrumentalists, this electro-Norteño ensemble unleashes a barrage of sound that is simultaneous explosive and irresistible. (Could share a bill with: Mexican Institute of Sound, Bomba Estereo, Grupo Fantasma)

The White Eyes (Taipei City, Taiwan) Taiwanese candy-core that stylistically whiplashes between grungey thrash and highly melodic indie noise. Female lead Gao Xiao-gao is equally captivating spinning sultry swells through synthesizer swirls as she is riding rugged guitar riffs with a wicked shriek. (Could share a bill with: Sleigh Bells, Of Montreal, Ume)

The Roots (Philadelphia, PA) (Not on the official schedule yet, playing Mog Music day party at the Mohawk) They essentially invented the concept of big-band hip-hop and have evolved it for over two decades. Their 2011 release ‘Undun’ was downright masterful and their recent stint as house band on Jimmy Fallon’s show has proven their versatility. (Could share a bill with:Common, Erykah Badu, Sufjan Stevens, Fishbone, um...pretty much anyone?)

Joe Gross' picks

The Waco Brothers (Chicago, Ill.) – Come on, it wouldn’t be SXSW without an appearance from a band starring noted Mekon and indestructible rocker Jon Langford (Could share a bill with: Hayes Carll, Three Johhs, Mekons)

Coma in Algiers (Austin, TX) – These folks are in the proud tradition of absolutely terrific, brutal Austin noise rock. Their new album, “Christ Adonis Algiers,” is also their best. (Could share a bill with: Rusted Shut, Thinking Fellers Union, Electric Eels)

Vockah Redu (New Orleans, Louisiana) -- Javocca Davis, a.k.a. Vockah Redu, is one of our all time great Bounce artists. Booties will shake. (Could share a bill with: Big Freedia, Calliope Priest, Choppa)

Mr. (Expletive) eXquire (New York, NY) – This hip-hop artist’s mixtape “Lost in Translation,” which featured beats by El-P of Company Flow fame, was one of the 2011’s best. Another fellow with absolutely insane hype around him. (Could share a bill with:Das Racist, Wu Tang Clan, Company Flow)

Best Coast (Los Angeles, Calif.) – State of the art indie rock from the duo of Bethany Cosentino and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno. Count the pairs of glasses, sensible shoes and sweater sets in the crowd for this one. Or have they passed that stage into true Next Big Thingdom? (Could share a bill with:Jesus and Mary Chain, Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls)

Chad Swiatecki's picks

The Belle Brigade. (Los Angeles, CA) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Does the idea of an indie-folk, more guitar-based ABBA create too much cognitive dissonance? Well, deal with it. Ethan and Barbara Gruska (siblings, not spouses) crank out lively, occasionally snarling blasts that feel unbound by the conventions of any particular era. (Could share a bill with: Damnations ATX, The Shins, Peter Bjorn and John)

OFF! (Los Angeles, CA) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Sneeze-and-you-miss-it hardcore punk that shows the bi-coastal roots of members who did time in Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Redd Kross, Hot Snakes, Rocket From The Crypt and Burning Brides. It occasionally feels like a living, breathing history lesson, until someone pushes you into the mostly over-40 pit. (Could share a bill with: Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Dag Nasty)

Paul Collins Beat. (New York City, NY) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: High-strung, occasionally jangly power pop that would fit right in at Austin dives like Beerland or Hotel Vegas, except former Nerves singer/guitarist Collins is older than most Austin clubgoers by roughly three decades. Age hasn't mellowed him, however, and Beat shows are famously kinetic. (Could share a bill with: Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, The Flesh Lights)

Dark Dark Dark. (Minneapolis, MN) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Restrained, dramatic (and yes, dark) roots folk that's either perfect or completely inappropriate for listeners going through one of life's many rough spots. Even upbeat songs carry uncertainty and self doubt, making for immaculately composed music for people falling apart at the seams. (Could share a bill with: Lambchop, Old Crowe Medicine Show, The Avett Brothers)

Electric Eel Shock. (Tokyo) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: If rock is this hard-riffing import trio's second language, then English would barely qualify as its third. Still, devil horns are universal, which is what drives songs like "Metal Man" where the chorus/thesis of "I'm made of metal!/You can't turn me!" is all you need to know. (Could share a bill with: Judas Priest, Queens of the Stone Age, Black Sabbath)

Parry Gettelman's picks

Nora Jones. (Dallas via NYC) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Ten years after her smash debut, Norah Jones has teamed with Danger Mouse, who produced her forthcoming album Little Broken Hearts and co-wrote all 12 songs. (Could share a bill with: Anybody from Willie Nelson to Cee-Lo)

The Iguanas. (New Orleans, LA) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: HBO's Treme is helping to expand the fan base of one of the Crescent City's most consistently interesting bands, which covers the gamut from rockabilly, indie-rock and swamp-pop to cumbias and boogaloo. (Could share a bill with: Los Lobos, Steve Jordan, Trombone Shorty, Dave Alvin)

The Hobart Brothers & Lil' Sis. (Austin, TX/New Orleans, LA) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Few supergroups have ever boasted voices and personalities as distinctive as this one led by Jon Dee Graham, Susan Cowsill and Freedy Johnston. (Could share a bill with: Continental Drifters, True Believers, Chuck Prophet)

Chuck Prophet (San Francisco, CA) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: A SXSW perennial who's perennially galvanizing, especially if you ever wondered what the Rolling Stones would sound like if they'd gotten rid of Mick and evolved instead of ossifying. (Could share a bill with: Alejandro Escovedo, Ian McLagan, Keith Richards)

Quantic & Alice Russell. (Brighton, England) -- In 50 Words or Fewer: Producer, musician, DJ and composer Quantic, a/k/a Will Holland, and singer/songwriter Alice Russell were reworking soul music for contemporary audiences years before compatriots Amy Winehouse and Adele. The forthcoming Look Around the Corner is their first album-length collaboration. (Could share a bill with: Thievery Corporation, Echocentrics, Bomba Estereo)