If there are only two certainties in life, there are even fewer down in Texas. And nowhere is that theory more valid than at South by Southwest, the annual music conference/ industry holiday/ media circus that descends on Austin each March. For 21 years now, SXSW has been the premiere proving ground for bands looking for their big break. Though that star-making potential has been diminished thanks to the rise of MySpace and music blogs, that hasn't stopped hundreds of bands from trekking to the state capital for a week of shows, schmoozing and shots at superstardom.
Still, the odds that any bands will make it to the big time are slim, so when it comes time to pen the annual "SXSW Picks To Click" article, it's a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. But that hasn't stopped us from highlighting artists that we think you'll be hearing big things from in the coming months (just think of them as the biggest needles in the SXSW stack). From Pete Wentz-approved crooners and Pharrell's favorite Ivy League doo-wop act to barely legal metalheads and DIY punkers with borderline offensive names, here are 10 acts we think are primed to beat the odds.
Where They're From: Las Vegas, like a couple of other fairly successful rock acts whose names escape us at the moment.
Why You'll Be Hearing More From Them: Pete Wentz recently inked them to his Decaydance Records (home of, you know, Panic at the Disco, Gym Class Heroes and a host of others) and put them on the road with new labelmates Cobra Starship. So far, every date has been sold out. With Wentz's backing, an upstream deal with Atlantic and a sound that's equal parts MySpace and Maroon 5, we're expecting big things.
Where You Can Catch Them (Outside of Austin): After SXSW, they'll be hitting the road again, on another package tour with We the Kings, Valencia and Charlotte Sometimes. Then, in early May, they'll make an appearance at the Bamboozle festival at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, alongside scene heavyweights Paramore, Panic and Thrice.
Where They're From: Atlanta, by way of a lonely bedroom full of unrequited love near a children's hospital.
Why You'll Be Hearing More From Them: Because we need more Bradford Cox, one of the most fascinating figures in contemporary music. This time, he's traded in his semipossessed, dress-wearing Deerhunter persona for a more relaxed — but no less compelling — role, as the flannel-clad frontman of Atlas Sound. And on their debut disc, Let the Blind Lead Those Who See But Cannot Feel, Atlas prove that they can be just as amazing as Deerhunter — check songs like "Recent Bedroom" and "River Car" for proof.
Where You Can Catch Them (Outside of Austin): Atlas have but a handful of shows scheduled post-SXSW, but if you're jonesing for more Cox, you can follow his adventures though his eternally updated, endlessly entertaining/terrifying blog.
Where They're From: The metal Mecca of Miami.
Why You'll Be Hearing More From Them: They're teenagers who play old-school metal that could give Metallica a run for their money. While their peers have been at the mall shopping for Clearasil, Black Tide have been playing the main stage at Ozzfest, touring with Avenged Sevenfold and prepping their party-metal major-label debut. Led by 15-year-old singer/guitarist Gabe Garcia — who took the mic when he was just 9 years old — the group's veteran-sounding mix of classic Slayer thrash, Guns N' Roses melody and Iron Maiden snarl has already snagged them props from Ozzy himself and, seemingly, a one way ticket to groupie-ville.
Where You Can Catch Them (Outside of Austin): When they're not bumming smokes in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven, they'll hold an album-release party at the Key Club in West Hollywood, California, and then launch a Left Coast headlining tour. Then, presumably, it's back to more bumming of smokes in convenience-store parking lots
Where They're From: Cincinnati, making them the second-best thing to ever come out of the Queen City, next to the Ickey Shuffle.
Why You'll Be Hearing More From Them: They've got awesome facial hair. They're frontman is legally insane and fancies himself the "Evel Knievel of Rock and Roll," and their album, Introducing Foxy, features songs written from the perspective of a bullfighter and Robin Hood. Their chaotic, shambolic live sets have earned them a loyal following with the MySpace set, and the video for their single "Dangerous Man" is possibly the most annoying/mesmerizing thing you'll ever see. Equal parts spazzy show tunes and spiky art-rock, and featuring more vocal acrobatics than a Serj Tankian/ Christina Aguilera duet, there are truly no other acts out there like Foxy.
Where You Can Catch Them (Outside of Austin): Following a Friday evening gig at SXSW, they'll hit the road for the foreseeable future, first with Portugal the Man and then the Fall of Troy.
Where They're From:Los Angeles or, more specifically, the all-ages, noise-art space the Smell, a venue that No Age have helped put on the national map.
Why You'll Be Hearing More From Them: Because we already are — and for good reason. They garnered much buzz with their 2007 effort, Weirdo Rippers, and now Randy and Dean — the dynamic duo behind No Age — are back with Nouns, an album that shows they haven't missed a step. No one does raucous fuzzed out tinnitus-inducing pop better. Other Smell faves like Mika Miko and Health are playing SXSW, but No Age rule the roost.
Where You Can Catch Them (Outside of Austin): They've got a pair of New York shows on the horizon in May, and then a whole bunch of festival appearances lined up in Europe. So ... might we suggest their blog?
Where He's From: Memphis — music city, baby.
Why You'll Be Hearing More From Him: He's releasing a single every other month on Matador Records from now until the end of the year, a schedule that isn't all that grueling for the 27-year-old new-wave/thrash punker, who has released more music since 1998 than some bands release in their entire careers. From his first home-brewed cassette at age 15 to the 18 full-length albums he's released under his stage name (he was born Jay Lindsey), and with bands including the Lost Sounds, Nervous Patterns, Final Solutions, Digital Leather and Angry Angles, the one common thread is that there is none. From '60s pop to Devo-like new wave, garage rock and classic skinny-tie punk, onstage and in the studio, Reatard is all over the place.
Where You Can Catch Him (Outside of Austin): He'll be on the road with Akron, Ohio, retroists the Black Keys until the middle of April, and then he'll launch a headlining tour after that. Oh, and if that's not enough, there's his infrequently updated (but frequently disgusting) photo blog too!
The Plastic Constellations
Where They're From: Minneapolis, a fact they mention at least three times per album.
Why You'll Be Hearing More From Them: Actually, you might not. After more than a decade together (they've been rocking since the ripe old age of 15), the hard-charging, even harder-partying quartet decided they'll be calling it quits after the release of April's We Appreciate You. So they're treating this year's SXSW as a sort of last hurrah, which, given the beery propensity of their infamous live sets, should mean awesome times for pretty much everyone.
Where You Can Catch Them Outside of Austin: Uh, they'll be playing a farewell show next month in Minneapolis, but other than that, the schedule's wide open (as is generally the case when you go on "indefinite hiatus"). Or you could just go buy We Appreciate You, because it's pretty great and full of songs about brotherhood and mysticism and stuff like that.
Where He's From:London, with a heaping helping of Omaha, thanks to Bright Eyes' Mike Mogis, who served as producer on the Champ's debut, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge.
Why You'll Be Hearing More From Him: Because Devonte Hynes is one of the more colorful figures in Austin this year (think Spank Rock meets George Clinton), though he needs to lose the fur hats (c'mon man ... fur?). And because on Lavender Bridge, he's done a 180 from his old Brit-punk outfit the Test Icicles, creating a relaxed, country-rock sound that may not change the world but is still a whole lot of fun.
Where You Can Catch Him (Outside of Austin): Hynes is crisscrossing the States as you read this, but after Austin, it's all Europe, all the time. Like so many on this list, he has a blog (with video!) through his Web site, so that will have to do for now.
Where They're From: Straight outta Harvard, yo! (Via Cambridge, Massachusetts, ya heard?)
Why You'll Be Hearing More From Them: Because they're the latest protégés of a producer/rapper you may have heard of named Pharrell. Sure, the lily white duo of D.A. Wallach and Maxwell Drummey might seem like an odd addition to the Star Trak family, but they signed with Skateboard P — whose other protégés include street-grinding hip-hop duo the Clipse and Robin Thicke — because he promised not to mess with their Beatles- and Bowie-inspired British Invasion-meets-Beck/Weezer sound.
Where You Can Catch Them (Outside of Austin): Through the end of March, they'll be on the road with Pharrell and his cohorts in N.E.R.D., where they can no doubt expect to be muttered off the stage by throngs of rather confused-looking dudes in Billionaire Boys Club hoodies.
Where He's From: New Zealand. Just like those dudes in Flight of the Conchords!
Why You'll Be Hearing More From Him: He's about to launch a U.S. tour opening for an old family friend you may have heard of ... Eddie Vedder. The son of Crowded House/ Split Enz legend Neil Finn, Liam is a one-man band whose recently released second album, I'll Be Lightning, sounds like a glitchy orchestra recorded in someone's spare bedroom. With a bracing falsetto that floats over spare drumbeats, acoustic guitars, swelling strings and Beatle-esque melodies, Finn has been performing the entire Lightning album live with just a backup singer and autoharp accompanist, cooking up real-time guitar, bass and Theremin loops onstage.
Where You Can Catch Him (Outside of Austin): He'll be out on the road seemingly forever, logging time with Pela, the Most Serene Republic and then — in April — the aforementioned tour with Vedder.