20 SXSW Bands You Might Not Know (But Should)

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If you want to catch the buzziest acts at SXSW, go see Yuck, Cults, James Blake, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Wye Oak and Middle Brother. But if you want to find some great music a little further off the beaten path, check out some of these 20 bands. Even if you’re not headed to Austin, listen through the magic of the Internet.

1. Suuns
(Wed., 8 pm, Red 7)
Formerly named Zeroes, Suuns blends darkly atmospheric electronica (e.g. Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross’ recent work) with trippy loops, propelling beats and ghostly vocals. Suuns’ songs gain more momentum with each new layer like climbing a mountain. Every instrument is another grip listeners can cling to, hoisting them upward into a frenzied wall of sound. It’s easy to get lost in it, and you might not want to find your way back.—Nathan Spicer

mp3: Suuns – Up Past the Nursery

2. OFF!
(Wed., 9:50 pm, Emo’s Main)
Around this time last year, middle-aged hardcore rockers OFF! played their first live shows as band together at SXSW 2010. The band, originally forming out of the ashes of frontman Keith Morris’s longtime group Circle Jerks, brought together four musicians who played substantial roles in hardcore and punk over the past thirty years through their involvement in bands such as Black Flag, Redd Kross, Burning Brides and Rocket From The Crypt. Despite being significantly older than the vast majority of punk acts, OFF! have turned heads with the First Four EPs—an 18-minute, 16-song effort that fiercely fires off track after track of punk done right. Their debut release is not only a return to form for these four musicians, but also resonates as a head-turning collection breathing energy into an oft-stagnant genre.—Max Blau

mp3: OFF! – I Don’t Belong

3. Grandchildren
(Wed., 10 pm, Malverde)
A longstanding project of Philadephia songwriter Aleks Martray, Grandchildren transformed from a bedroom solo act to a dynamic sextet in a matter of months back in 2009. After releasing their debut LP Everlasting last September, the electronic rockers brought their compelling live craft to the studio, creating with a collection of ten ‘electro-acoustic orchestral pop’ songs. Despite their impressive studio effort, Grandchildren ultimately excels most when performing live, producing a sound that resonates more like an ensemble double or triple their size.—Max Blau

mp3 link: Grandchildren – Saturn Returns

4. Fake Problems
(Wed., 1 am, Dirty Dog Bar)
Fake Problems is such a suiting name for this band, due to the fact that most of their songs recall a California teen feeling invisible and turning to drugs to escape. No matter how dark the lyrics get, the poppy guitar licks and beachy percussion let us all know that our problems aren’t as bad as they seem.—Sean Doyle

Stream: Fake Problems – Magazines

5. Hey Rosetta!
(Thurs., 7:15 pm, St. David’s Historic Sanctuary)
When Canadian sextet Hey Rosetta! goes on tour, they first have to make the day long drive from their home in St. John’s, Newfoundland, to get to the overnight ferry to the mainland. But that hasn’t kept the band from traveling to Australia, China, Europe and the US to spread its orchestral sounds. Sophomore album Seeds was recorded by Tony Doogan (Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai, Wintersleep).—Josh Jackson

mp3: Hey Rosetta! – Yer Spring

6. River City Extension
(Thurs., 9:45 pm, Lamberts)
Joe Michelini is fond of experiments. Whether he’s adapting a recipe for Alfredo sauce or crafting a song, the River City Extension frontman is always looking to create something just a little bit different. And so it’s no surprise that his band boasts an eight-member roster that sounds like dozens more; on its debut LP, The Unmistakable Man, the band crams banjo, cello, hand-claps, guitar, trumpet, a slew of percussion and both male and female vocals into thirteen tracks. On paper, it might seems like chaos; in reality, River City Extension molds the instrumental bric-a-brac into a completely cohesive whole.—Anna Swindle

7. The Romany Rye
(Thurs., 10 pm, Klub Krucial)
Combining his poetry with a solid folk-rock sound, Luke MacMaster of The Romany Rye has drawn comparisons to other greats of the genre like Ryan Adams and The Cardinals, Conor Oberst and Neil Young. After recording the first Rye album Highway 1, Looking Back Carefully with Delta Spirit’s Kelly Winwrich, MacMaster needed a full-fledged band to fill out the harmony-drenched lyrics and twangy country sound. After a recommendation from fellow country-rock outfit Dawes, he recruited a group of Arkansans to complete the band’s lineup and join him on his journey. Appropriately named after a George Barrow novel about the adventures of a young man thrown in with a band of gypsys, The Romany Rye embodies a sound that recalls an America viewed through a road trip car window.—Wyndham Wyeth

Stream: The Romany Rye – I Hate Myself (For Loving You)

8. Royal Thunder
(Thurs., 10:15 pm, Emo’s Jr)
While Royal Thunder has staked their claim in Atlanta’s metal circuit over the past few years, the trio has incorporated a soulful blues influence that has them posed to breakout soon. As a result, these Atlantans sound less like their local metal brethren and more like hard rockers Black Mountain and Wolfmother. Their key to success arises from Mlny Parsonz’s soulful wail as well as the lurking presence of Jesse Stuber’s dynamic drums. On the heels of their eponymous debut EP, Royal Thunder appears ready to take 2011 by storm with their compelling brand of dark, looming stoner rock.—Max Blau

mp3 link: Royal Thunder – Mouth of Fire

9. Friendly Fires
(Thurs., 11 pm, The Windish Agency House @ ND)
UK indie-dance-punk three piece Friendly Fires has been a staple of the European dance floor since their 2008 self titled debut. With influences rooted in everything from European trance and house to whatever genre you want to call Prince, Friendly Fires produces traditional indie rock songs that make you put on your dancey pants. As a band, they produce and play music like any other, but the boys also DJ clubs and parties with the best of them, having even performed a set on Pete Tong’s famed BBC Radio One Essential Mix. They will be appearing at this year’s SXSW for both a band performance and a DJ set, both of which are sure to not disappoint.—Bo Moore

mp3: Friendly Fires – Jump In The Pool

10. Phantogram
(Thurs., 11 pm, Lustre Pearl)
Sarah D. Barthel and Josh M. Carter are the duo behind the psyche-pop outfit Phantogram. The band has opened up for peers like The xx, Yeasayer and Zero 7, and their dark-but-danceable beats have been featured on MTV’s Skins. Despite hailing from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Phantogram creates music that lives in big city shadows, teeming with electronic loops and hip-hop beats melded with Barthel’s hauntingly-beautiful vocals. Interestingly enough, the band actually drives 45 minutes into upstate farmland every day to write and record in a barn where the inspiration of the natural environment fuses with their metropolitan sensibilities similar to the same way the band combines organic and electronic sounds in their dream-state dance music.—Wyndham Wyeth

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