In recent years, South By Southwest has ballooned into an extravaganza of movies, technology, commerce. But its foundation is still the music. SXSW was built on the record label showcases, sun-soaked concerts, and late-night parties that made it one of North America's biggest festivals. One of the its defining characteristics has been as a place where young acts transform themselves from borderline-unknowns or music-blog obsessions to full-blown stars. Here are our picks for the 11 acts destined to breakout this week.
Photo via Allan King
St. Paul, Minn. rapper Allan Kingdom has already had a fiery year, which ignited amidst Kanye West’s monstrous flamethrowers at the ’15 BRIT Awards. Kingdom is one of two vocalists on West’s So Help Me God single, “All Day,” cooing the weird, cloudy refrain that softens the track’s spastic production. Apart from receiving the coveted Yeezy stamp of approval, Kingdom has already built an impressive repertoire of solo work. His summer ’14 EP, Future Memoirs, is a standout release, from the subdued Spooky Black collab, “Wavey,” to the northern anthem, “Evergreens.”
Photo via Avan Lava
Offering arguably the best underground pop show in music today, Brooklyn-based outfit Avan Lava always serves electric sets that squeeze every bit of potential out of intimate bars or clubs. Curated costumes, confetti guns, campy choreography and a larger-than-life sound have become Avan Lava’s signature, all led by dynamic frontman TC Milan. Bubbling tracks, “Leave It All Behind,” and, “Wanna Live,” each give a bold taste of the forthcoming EP, Make It Real, due out March 31st—listen for refreshingly optimistic lyrics and polished production.
Photo via Juce facebook
London-based trio JUCE has a sweet, sun-faded sound that recalls the funky finesse of Prince and the incontestable girl power of The Supremes. Their debut EP Taste the Juce is a glistening, light-hearted marriage of these worlds, with key tracks like, “Call You Out,” and, “6th Floor,” both asserting a uniquely retro, feel-good vibe. In the “Burning Up” music video, band members Georgia, Chalin, and Cherish blithely stroll through the London streets among parades of eclectic locals enjoying a scorching summer day.
Photo via Shamir facebook
Shamir’s debut EP Northtownshowcases the singer’s monstrous potential, from the bouncy spoken track, “On the Regular,” to the disco-gospel effort, “Sometimes a Man.” The 20-year-old’s exuberant, alienesque vocals have made him an online fixation, paving a distinctive lane of music that bends both genders and genres. His full-length album, Ratchet, is due out May 18 and will feature 10 tracks all inspired by his personal experiences growing up in Vegas.
Photo via Mike Taylor facebook
“Just lose yourself all night with me,” wails singer-songwriter Mike Taylor on his debut single, “Body High.” Best known for his smoky vocal feature on DJ Vice’s 2013 track, “World Is Our Playground,” Taylor will finally unveil his solo EP this spring—a project he says is informed by multiple genres and decades. In the newly released “Body High” music video, Taylor dances wildly in a paint-splattered space, dancing with paint buckets and brushes, and featuring cameos from friends Marsha Ambrosius, Justin Tranter, and Benny Cassette.
Photo via Thrillers facebook
LA-based funktronica outfit Thrillers is composed of brothers Jeremy and Gregory Pearson—a Michael Jackson meets Kate Bush duo with a forthcoming debut EP called Cotton Candy Kisses. The project’s lead single, “Can’t Get Enough,” plays with lo-fi vocals, punchy guitars, and a powerful anthemic chorus that sounds like it’d accompany the closing credits of an ’80s film. The Calder Greenwood-directed music video strengthens this nostalgia with campy clips of the brothers doing Robert Palmer-esque choreography amidst billowing clouds of fog.
Photo via Shura facebook
Rising London songstress Shura has the same intriguing eminence as that weird girl in high school who never spoke in class and scaled the halls during passing periods—everyone wanted to know her secrets, but she remained an unsolved mystery. On the subtly swirling track, “2Shy,” Shura opens up with simple and poetic lyrics, cooing in a near whisper over fresh, breezy production. This is a bold followup to Shura’s earlier release, “Indecision,” which showcases a more energetic side to her musical persona—one that’s rooted in a low-key-basement-party meets power-pop tenor.
Photo via Kero Kero Bonito facebook
“Show me a pic or it didn’t even happen,” raps London-based J-Pop trio Kero Kero Bonito on “Picture This”—easily the most Internet-y track of the year. They fit beneath the PC Music umbrella, offering a purposefully polished sound that’s made to seem blatantly artificial. Late last year, they released “Build It Up,” which sounds like the theme song to a children’s TV show in Japan—saccharine sweet and manically dotted with chaotic video game sounds. They’ve never played a show in the States, so missing their SXSW set would be regrettable.
Photo via HolyChild facebook
LA-based duo HolyChild proudly refers to their sound as “Brat Pop”—a fair label, considering the unapologetic and addictive quality of their music. The lead single, “Running Behind,” off their impending album The Shape of Brat Pop To Come, channels the rambunctious energy of tUnE-yArDs, fused with a more radio-friendly finish a la Icona Pop. It’s a winning musical recipe that was recently featured as the soundtrack to Apple’s watch campaign, “The Watch Reimagined.”
Photo via Girlpool facebook
The sonic relationship between Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad of Girlpool is that of a summer roadtrip down the West Coast—two best friends casually escaping reality and embarking on a sun-soaked journey with no clear destination. A plodding track called, “Ideal World,” serves as the lead single off their forthcoming debut album Before The World Was Big, and juxtaposes skeletal, stripped-down instrumentation with more dense lyricism. Having first met each other at a grungy DIY venue, it’s only fitting that their sound reflects this unassuming rawness.