Among the thousands of bands who converge on Austin every year for South by Southwest, there are the complete unknowns—the newbie keyboarders playing sidewalk sets to no one—and the complete knowns, like Justin Timberlake. In between those two extremes, though, are a tier of groups who might have released an album or two, or might have caught some online acclaim, and now are looking to prove themselves as live acts with staying power.
The list of artists below largely fall into that category: In a lot of cases, we showed up hoping to be impressed by their performances, and we were. Take a listen, either by clicking the links below or tuning into this Spotify playlist. And, before you ask: Yes, "Kitty" and "Kitten" are entirely different.
The sound: The satisfyingly twitchy rhythms and perfectly in-tune harmonies of three '80s-rock-loving, percussion-playing women who've been rehearsing together since teenagedom—plus a fulltime drummer for good measure.
Key SXSW Moment: In a nod at—or a smack at—anyone who wants to make the most obvious comparison between Haim and a certain female-fronted classic rock act, the group on Sunday night at Stubb's performed a blistering cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well," a guitar-solo showcase recorded before Stevie Nicks came along.
Listen to: "Forever"
The sound: Dark but danceable synth pop with quavering, sumptuous melodies from singer Katie Stelmanis.
Key SXSW moment: For Saturday's Brooklyn Vegan day party at the Main, the band played a new song, "Forgive Me," live for the first time ever. It, like nearly all their material, featured a chorus that took only one listen to get lodged in the brain.
Listen to: "Home"
The sound: Big-in-Britain Clash devotees with a finely tuned quiet/loud sensibility and more than enough energy to get a crowd bellowing along with their pub-ready choruses.
Key SXSW moment: Bassist/vocalist Alexander Jesson embodied the platonic ideal of punk frontman during a fierce Saturday-afternoon set at The Main: tossing hair, flipping the bird seemingly out of habit, and, towards the end, getting the audience to wiggle their fingers towards the sky as he made hard rock seem like gospel.
Listen to: "Best of Friends"
New York City
The sound: A deliriously clever party rapper who happens to be the female alter ego of NYC artist Micheal David Quattlebaum Jr.
Key SXSW moment: Late Thursday night at Easy Tiger's back patio, she literally let the beat drop, performing one song a capella that was somehow just as dance-friendly as the rest of the set.
Listen to: "Wavvy"
The sound: So-Cal skate punk that doesn't so much improve on the The Adolescents as it does make slackerdom sound newly awesome in the face of circa-2013 pretenses. As their theme song "Cheap Beer" goes, "I / DRINK / CHEAP / BEER / SO / WHAT / FUCK / YOU!"
Key SXSW moment: In between songs that got the audience at the 1100 Warhouse pogoing, singer Zac Carper shouted out the host of the Thursday-night showcase: "Pitchfork: what old people think young people think old people want."
Listen to: "No Waves"
Autre Ne Veut|
The sound: High-minded, experimental R&B tethered to earth by Arthur Ashin's emotionally vulnerable wails.
Key SXSW moment: Ashin staggered, hunched, and clenched his eyes shut for most of his set at The Main on Saturday afternoon. When the band finished to amped-up applause, he finally looked out the crowd for a mere moment and maybe, maybe, cracked a smile.
Listen to: "Counting"
Los Angeles The sound: Synth-driven pop with an air of glammy theatricality: "I tried to kill you in my dreams last night" goes the opening lines of their single "Sugar."
Key SXSW moment: With a scorching, almost desperate cover of Prince's "Purple Rain" opening her set at Filter's Friday-night showcase at Clive Bar, 18-year-old lead punk Chloe Chaidez—twisting turning, squirming, and jumping—demanded that the packed audience, who was waiting for Macklemore, love her. They did.
Listen to: "Cut It Out"
The sound: Sparse folk rock led by songwriter Mackenzie Scott, who snarls and spits her melodies so convincingly that she may just make the next great American break-up album.
Key SXSW moment: Scott & co. started shakily at Pitchfork's Tuesday-night showcase at Mohawk, but then the lights dimmed and the band pulled out its beautiful, seething anthem "Honey." From that moment on, the set was a masterclass in angst as art.
Listen to: "Honey"
The sound: A synth-pop duo making huge, commercially viable party anthems touched with punk irreverence.
Key SXSW moment: After an opening-night set that was botched by sound issues, on Wednesday Icona Pop redeemed themselves at Viceland by making a warehouse show feel like an arena, culminating in the unison jumping-and-shouting spectacle of "I Love It."Listen to: "I Love It"
The sound: Joy Division-ish post-punk from four women who have mastered the art of tension and release.
Key SXSW moment: Singer Jehnny Beth's wild panting of "hus-bands / hus-BANDS / HUS-BANDS / HUS-BANDS! over her band's thrum on Thursday night at the 1100 Warehouse.
Listen to: "Husbands"
Fear of Men|
The sound: An especially pretty inheritor of the UK's great twee tradition, with songs that are all romantic pining, cunning hooks, and chiming guitars.
Key SXSW moment: In a moment of charming Britishness, frontwoman Jess Weiss told the crowd at Gorilla vs. Bear/Yourstru.ly's Wednesday-afternoon Hype Hotel party that this was only the band's second time in the US—and that they'd been thrilled to spot "terrapins" in Austin's river. Terrapins!
Listen to: "Your Side"
The sound: A 22-year-year-old weirdo making loose-goosey folk that blends humor, hooks, heart, and some surprising influences: think Bob Dylan, Billy Idol, and Jimmy Buffett.
Key SXSW moment: DeMarco closed out his Wednesday afternoon outdoors at the Paste/HGTV party with a fantastically goofy rendition of "Still Together," playing deadpan lounge singer for the verses and unhinged punk yodeler for the choruses.
Listen to: "Freaking Out the Neighborhood"
The sound: Ambient soundscapes that patiently assemble into full-fledged house jams, threaded together by Raph Standell-Preston's electronically manipulated wisp of a voice.
Key SXSW moment: At Mohawk's small indoor performing space on Tuesday night, Standell-Preston warned that the duo's set would start slow but eventually get the crowd moving. Sure enough, what first sounded like a lullaby eventually became a clicking-clacking, bass-thumping rave.
Listen to: "Sierra Lift"
Kansas City, Missouri The sound: Melodic post-punk descended from The Clash, with hints of The Strokes in their half-angsty, half-goofy lyrics. That's despite this real band of brothers being too young to remember either act: guitarist Dee Radke is 19, bassist Isaiah is 17, and drummer Solomon is just 15 years old.
Key SXSW moment: Playing an intense, sun-drenched set at MidCoast Takeover, an unofficial showcase for KC-based bands, where they attracted the attention of The New York Times.
Listen to: "Cat & Mouse"
The sound: Power pop with a very, very heavy emphasis on "power": screamed hooks, gnarled guitar sounds, and most crucially, a ground-shaking low end.
Key SXSW moment: Some guy at the Brooklyn Vegan party at The Main on Thursday repeatedly climbed onto stage and dove into the crowd—and at one point slammed cranium-first into a wooden pole. The band rightfully dedicated their anthem "Headache" to him.
Listen to: "Headache"
The sound: Queasy, quotable, and hilarious confessions from a teenager (formerly Kitty Pryde) who raps about crushing on older emcees, sipping Bud Light Lime, and occasionally wetting the bed.
Key SXSW moment: After visibly struggling through sound problems during a 1:30 a.m. set at the Palm Door for Consequence of Sound's showcase, she sprinted off stage after her last song. The audience, though, wasn't as traumatized by the performance, chanting "KIT-EE KIT-EE" for an encore that never came.
Listen to: "Ay Shawty"