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SXSW 2015: 30 Artists You Need to See

Legendary rockers, emerging rappers, underground sensations and more to catch in Austin.

Legendary rockers, emerging rappers, underground sensations and more to catch in Austin.

The 2015 edition of Austin’s annual music conference, South by South West, is set to kick off on March 17th. Once again they have a formidable lineup that includes everyone from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees the Zombies to emerging bedroom singer Alex G. We searched the lineup for the year’s biggest stories, boldest victory laps, most awaited reunions, most buzzed-about Internet sensations and some stuff we just like. 

Alex G

Status: Emerging

Why You Should Pay Attention: Alex Giannascoli is part of a generation of bedroom songwriters connecting the indie-rock dots between the Pixies, Elliott Smith and Pinback. Mr. G evolved from a Bandcamp superstar via last year’s diary of alternative tunings and melodic moroseness, DSU, to a touring machine snagging dates with Gardens & Villa, Cymbals Eat Guitars and Speedy Ortiz.


Burak Cingi/Redferns/Getty

Status: Blowing Up

Why You Should Pay Attention: Last year’s debut LP from Alvvays (pronounced “always”) received loving praise from critics, largely for frontwoman Molly Rankin’s grunge-band sensibility and ability to hit listeners squarely in the nostalgia bone. The Canadian quintet — who will be jumping from Texas into 15 dates with the Decemberists — offer a counterpoint to millennial apathy: Their sleeper hit “Archie, Marry Me” is filled to the brim with the self-conscious lovesickness they do so well. 

Courtney Barnett

Gus Stewart/Redferns/Getty

Status: Blowing Up

Why You Should Pay Attention: Melbourne-based indie rocker Courtney Barnett broke out last year, thanks to her Jonathan Richman-like approach to charming, punkish storytelling on her compilation, The Double EP. That record earned her a place in Rolling Stone US’ Artists You Need to Know and paved the way to appearances at Coachella, Lollapalooza and Primavera. Now she’s ramping up to her first proper LP, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, out later this month. With songs like the heavy garage-rocker “Pedestrian at Best,” the album hits hard without losing an ounce of Barnett’s cleverness.

Best Coast

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David Brendan Hall/Press Line Photos/Corbis

Status: Back

Why You Should Pay Attention: Best Coast’s hydroponic strain of garage rock — cut with pop-punk and cats — has formed a blissful haze over indie rock’s past half decade. Frontwoman Bethany Cosentino even got to add “Weezer collaborator” to her resume last year. With third album California Nights out May 5, she and guitarist Bobb Bruno could use their time in Austin to tease out some their new songs, reportedly inspired by Gwen Stefani and the Go-Go’s.


Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

Status: Victory Lap

Why You Should Pay Attention: With the hiatus of genre-smashing platinum rock band fun. in the rearview as recently as February 4, SXSW will serve as a coming-out party of sorts for guitarist Jack Antonoff and his pop project Bleachers, his current full-time gig. Their Come Alive! tour is currently underway, with no shortage of sold-out shows. In between playing multiple times at SXSW, he will also host the MTV Woodie Awards live from Austin on March 20.


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Michael Tran/Getty

Status: Back

Why You Should Pay Attention: In the Nineties, Brandy was America’s sweet-sounding R&B princess, confirmed by her turn as Cinderella in the Whitney Houston-produced remake of the classic story. She stole hearts and sold millions with her warm, dulcet voice on Number One singles like “Have You Ever?” and the Monica duet “The Boy Is Mine.” Her pop presence in the new millennium hasn’t been much (she hasn’t had a Top 20 hit since 2002, though the Chris Brown-assisted “Put It Down” was an R&B smash) — but 2015 promises a new album, her first in three years. SXSW could be the kick-off of a comeback her fans have been waiting to witness.

Catfish and the Bottlemen

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John Stone

Status: Blowing Up

Why You Should Pay Attention: DJ Zane Lowe has called pretty much every single they’ve put out “the hottest record in the world,” and now it’s time for the hotly tipped U.K. alt-rockers to prove that their festival-sized live act is bigger than the overseas hype and their mouthful of a moniker. Catfish and the Bottlemen recently showed their range with a live mash-up of Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” and the Black Keys’ “Howlin’ For You” on BBC Radio 1, and the scrappy foursome sound just as hungry on their full-length debut, The Balcony.

Dej Loaf

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Bennett Raglin/BET/Getty

Status: Blowing Up

Why You Should Pay Attention: The 23 year-old Detroit rapper exploded after her single “Try Me” got an Instagram shout-out from next-big-thing kingmaker Drake last summer. The buzz that resulted helped Dej score a record deal with Columbia, who released her Sell Sole mixtape (she has a thing for shoes) last October. That month, she did a guest verse on Eminem’s track “Detroit vs. Everybody,” solidifying Dej’s ice-cold voice as one of hip-hop’s hottest sounds.

East India Youth

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Burak Cingi/Redferns/Getty

Status: Blowing Up

Why You Should Pay Attention: Electronic rock act East India Youth’s debut album, Total Strife Forever, was a worthy nominee for the U.K.’s 2014 Mercury Music Prize. Credit sole member William Doyle’s dramatic voice and creative twists on ambient synth architecture that echo Eighties pop without succumbing to sentimentality. Producer Graham Sutton (Jarvis Cocker, British Sea Power, Metallica) mixed EIY’s follow-up, Culture of Volume, due in April via XL.

Fetty Wap

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Nicky Digital/Corbis

Status: Blowing Up

Why You Should Pay Attention: The New Jersey rapper’s sing-songy “Trap Queen” is slowly turning from the sleeper hit of 2014 into the smash of 2015. Currently at 15 million YouTube plays and 18 million SoundCloud plays, the addicting and refreshingly fun single has been cosigned by Rihanna and Kanye West, who brought him out to perform the song at Roc City Classic Live. The song is sure to be everywhere by the summer, and Wap is on track to be one of the hottest things at Austin, previewing his forthcoming release Fetty Wap: The Mixtape.


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Andrew Benge/Redferns/Getty

Status: Emerging

Why You Should Pay Attention: Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker of Girlpool make raw vulnerability sound strong. Together, the duo harmonize all their songs over just an electric guitar and bass, making for some vaguely Hank Williams-tinged power pop. Both bratty and haunting, the duo sing lyrics like “Eat me out to American Beauty” with as much conviction as “Do you get restless when you realize you’re alive?”

The Juliana Hatfield Three

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Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Status: Back

Why You Should Pay Attention: Two decades ago, alt-rockers the Juliana Hatfield Three scored a Number One Modern Rock hit with the alt-rock anthem “My Sister,” but Hatfield went solo two years later. Now the original trio have regrouped and they don’t sound like they’ve missed a beat. Earlier this year, they released their second LP, Whatever, My Love, which could have just as easily come out after the band’s 1993 debut. 


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Status: Emerging

Why You Should Pay Attention: If Death Grips were specifically gripped by splattery serial-killer slaughter; if Atari Teenage Riot were as riled by necrophilia as political outrage — they might sound something like punk-rap gruesome twosome Ho99o9. Having already tracked blood through Late Night with Carson Dalyand New York’s Afropunk Festival, the assaultive duo is set to scar teenyboppers’ psyches forever when they bring their dick-waving, audience-invading live show to this summer’s Warped Tour.

Sam Hunt

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Rick Diamond/Getty Images for DirecTV

Status: Blowing Up

Why You Should Pay Attention: Country’s hottest Drake fan is going to spend his summer opening for Lady Antebellum, but he’s closing winter with a Wednesday set that will place first-rate Nashville storytelling over a seamless combination of twang, synth and even occasional scratching. The sound will turn heads —maybe even make them nod — and the empathetic lyrics would steal hearts even if they weren’t being delivered by a six-foot-four former college quarterback. Last year’s Country Albums chart-topping Montevallo was one of our 40 Best Country Albums of 2014.

JEFF the Brotherhood

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Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella

Status: Back

Why You Should Pay Attention: Warner Bros. recently dropped the garage-rock duo, who’ve had a steady presence on festivals ranging from Bonnaroo to SXSW over the past few years, so the prolific duo are releasing their upcoming LP, Wasted on the Dream, on their own bustling label, Infinity Cat. The two singles they’ve released so far, including “Coat Check Girl,” sound catchier than anything they’ve released on Warner. They will prove their muscle on some upcoming festival dates alongside Mumford and Sons and the Flaming Lips.

Marina and the Diamonds

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Daniel Boczarski/Redferns via Getty Images

Status: Back

Why You Should Pay Attention: Pop’s reigning queen of Eighties subversion is back and feeling a little less dark than her circa-2012 Electra Heart era. With the upcoming Froot, Marina Diamand is a little less “Primadonna” than the last time she was in the spotlight, celebrating her happiness and embracing her ability to create massive, arena-ready anthems. The album is due the Friday before she hits Austin and she will be stopping at Coachella, Lollapalooza, New York’s Governor’s Ball, England’s V Festival and more later this year.

Laura Marling

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Rob Ball/WireImage

Status: Back

Why You Should Pay Attention: The last three studio albums Laura Marling has released have all have been critically beloved and Top 10 smashes in the U.K. — not bad for a 25-year-old. Her name is a welcome addition to any lineup because her wispy, lilting folk is in a songwriting category of its own. Her fifth LP, Short Movie, comes out March 23 — just one day after the final day of SXSW.


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Bennett Raglin/BET/Getty

Status: Blowing Up

Why You Should Pay Attention: Rambunctious Atlanta trio Migos are one of the most influential crews in contemporary hip-hop — they turned the triplet flows of Memphis rap into a sound that everyone wants to borrow, they’ve helped make Quality Control one of the hottest underground collectives in the country, they’ve turned dope adlibs into a calling card that makes them a must for guest spots (Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne and Usher have all used ’em). Not bad for a group that hasn’t even released an official studio album. That day is supposedly coming this year.


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Kenneth Bachor

Status: Emerging

Why You Should Pay Attention: Mitski made one of the most brilliant under-the-radar records of 2014 with Bury Me at Makeout Creek, which mixed retro-feeling melodies, metallic guitar and fashionably lo-fi production into a wrenching, exhilarating whirlwind. Now the Japanese-born, everywhere-raised musician is starting to get the recognition she deserves: She just signed to Don Giovanni and is doing a handful of dates with Screaming Females.

Machel Montano

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Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Status: Back

Why You Should Pay Attention: Legendary Trinidadian soca singer Machel Montano has effortlessly splashed together Caribbean carnival spirit and pop sensibilities for decades. Along the way, his forceful mic play has netted collaborations with Wyclef Jean, Busta Rhymes and Pitbull, but the happiest man alive has, of late, lent his voice to Major Lazer’s global domination.

The PC Music Showcase

Masha Mel

Status: Emerging

Why You Should Pay Attention: Will “PC Music” be this year’s “chillwave”? This show is going to be the epicenter for insular Internet chatter, if for no other reason than illuminating some of the questions surrounding a UK electronica collective marked by their sugary beats and the hidden identities of most of its members. An illustrative representative of this group could be (non-label signee) Sophie, a faceless musician that may or may not be a man with his voice warped to sound like a cutesy cartoon girl, who co-produced the earwormy single “Hey QT,” which claims to be hawking a heretofore un-purchase-able energy elixir. It’s all very high-concept, and even if it ends up being mostly concept, seeing the group live in its entirety — with Hannah Diamond, GFOTY, A. G. Cook, easyFun and others — for the first time should give attendees bragging rights for at least a few months.

Natalie Prass

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Status: Blowing Up

Why You Should Pay Attention: Prass is a singer-songwriter with a beguiling voice and refined taste in Sixties and Seventies soul. She fled Nashville for Richmond, Virginia, where she did a tour of duty in Jenny Lewis’ band and made a lush debut that’s easily one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2015. Lately she’s been opening shows for (and occasionally duetting with) major fan Ryan Adams. 

Rae Sremmurd

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John Sciulli/Getty Images for REVOLVE

Status: Victory Lap

Why You Should Pay Attention: At last year’s festival, Rae Sremmurd were a pair of newbies, Tupelo brothers who stuck close to Mike Will and left a trail of spilled drinks in their wake. “I told them at SXSW,” the Future/Lil Wayne/Miley Cyrus producer remembers, “I was like, ‘I’m telling you, y’all are about to take off like a torpedo.'” They’ve since released two platinum, off-the-wall, Top 40 singles (“No Flex Zone” and “No Type”) and the most exuberant hip-hop album of 2015.

The Residents

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Frank Hoensch/Redferns via Getty Images

Status: Back

Why You Should Pay Attention: SXSW 2015 will feature the world premiere of Theory of Obscurity: A Film About The Residents, a career-spanning documentary which features famous fans (The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Primus leader Les Claypool, illusionist Penn Jillette, Dean Ween and more) explaining how the anonymous crew made their unique mark on pop culture — from Ke$ha to the MoMA — over four decades. In addition, there will be a performance of Shadowland, where the “World’s Best Residents Cover Band” will play the final installment of three 40th anniversary tours. The perennial oddballs are still one of the weirdest things going. 

Tanya Tagaq

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David Corio/Redferns/Getty

Status: Blowing Up

Why You Should Pay Attention: Tanya Tagaq has been wowing audiences for years with her intimate, emotionally charged take on Inuit throat singing. But her latest album — Animism, released this year in the U.S. — and recent performances have found her blending her technique into a bold avant-rock trio. The result has been a critical sensation: the 2014 Polaris Music Prize, three Juno nominations, props from Grimes and a spot on this year’s Bonnaroo. 

Title Fight

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Gaelle Beri/Redferns via Getty Images

Status: Blowing Up

Why You Should Pay Attention: With their third album, Hyperview, 12-year-old melodic hardcore outfit Title Fight finally consummated their slow-burning flirtation with shoegaze. If the band’s older, more aggro songs were steeped in the blood and sweat of full-contact battle, their latest tunes are punch-drunk post-victory fever dreams, awash in gauzy, lens-flaring guitars and drifting, detached vocals. Everyone from NPR and Vogue to Pitchfork and NME has showered the evolutionary leap with praise, and now Title Fight get to celebrate a big win with dynamic live shows that could define the phrase “study in contrasts.”


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Andy Sheppard/Redferns via Getty Images

Status: Emerging

Why You Should Pay Attention: Backed by PJ Harvey associates Rob Ellis and Ian Oliver, 23-year-old Brooklynite Mackenzie Scott might remind you of a young Polly Jean on her debut, alternating soft-spoken declamations with ferocious howls over grunge-storm guitars. A force to be reckoned with.  

Tove Lo

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Chelsea Lauren/WireImage

Status: Victory Lap

Why You Should Pay Attention: The Swedish singer’s debut Queen of the Clouds was last year’s most psychologically uncloaked pop LP, a relationship-post-game wrap-up hinging on her slow-burn Number Three hit “Habits (Stay High),” a dissolute ode to sex clubs and other dubious self-medication strategies. Its latest single, “Talking Body,” makes the memorable offer “If you love me ri-i-ight, we fuck for li-i-ife.” Shaking off the shadow of spotlight-stealers like Taylor Swift and Charli XCX, this could be Lo’s year. 

Vic Mensa

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Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Status: Blowing Up

Why You Should Pay Attention: Twenty-one-year-old Chicagoan Vic Mensa has been on the verge for years, but with a recent co-sign from Kanye West, the “Down On My Luck” singer and rapper may finally take it to the next level. With roots in the Chicago-based hip-hop collective SaveMoney alongside Chance the Rapper, Mensa’s enthusiastic flow and diverse set of musical influences (across hip-hop, dance and rock), helped drive his INNANETAPE mixtape to more than 100,000 downloads. Now, he’s set to provide guest vocals and writing assistance to multiple tracks on 2015’s most anticipated album: Kanye West’s So Help Me God.

The Zombies

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Rick Kern/WireImage

Status: Back

Why You Should Pay Attention: Of course, a band called the Zombies had to come back to life. One of the leading groups of the British Invasion, the chart-topping pop-rockers broke up in 1968 on the brink of their biggest success, the smash single “Time of the Season.” Their 1967 album, Odessey and Oracle is Rolling Stone‘s 100th greatest album of all time. Having influenced the likes of Nick Cave, R.E.M. and Foo Fighters, they’re riding the wave of a heralded comeback album (2011’s Breathe Out, Breathe In), and chomping into a new generation of brains with their time-tested earworms.