Twenty Must-See Bands at SXSW 2012

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As thousands head down to Austin, Texas, for another week of music, food and the occasional drink, we’re left with the million-dollar question: What artists should we see at SXSW? While many will attempt to squeeze into an Alabama Shakes show or catch The Jesus and Mary Chain reunion set, the festival is, most of all, about discovery. In addition to the 33 bands playing the Sennheiser & Paste day parties, here are 20 smaller acts that we think will turn plenty of heads heads next week.

11. Grimes
Montreal, Quebec
(Fri., 11:30 p.m., Clive Bar)
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Claire Boucher has created a swirling vortex of psychedelic art, performance, dance, video and experimental trip hop all under the moniker of Grimes. Her latest album, Visions, is Boucher’s fourth release in less than two years and her SXSW performance is sure to be an unforgettable experience.—Hilary Saunders

Download:Oblivion

12. Imaginary Cities
Winnipeg, Manitoba
(Thu., 12 a.m., Maggie Mae’s)

The two members of Imaginary Cities met at a club in Winnipeg, where Marti Sarbit was singing in a Motown cover band and Rusty Matyas was running sound. He wrote a song for her, they recorded it, and then liked the results so much that they made a whole album of murky, spirited blues. The songs, which the band debuted on the road in 2010, toggle between anthemic and psalmic, Sarbit’s spooky yowl binding them all together.—Corey Humphress

Download: “Cherry Blossom Tree

13. Lee Fields & The Expressions
Brooklyn, N.Y.
(Wed., 11 p.m., Red 7)
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One of our favorite SXSW acts from last year came in the form of elder soul statesman Charles Bradley. Just as his powerful croon and exuberant stage presence wowed us, fellow soul-stirring counterpart Lee Fields seems posed to live up to that hype at 2012’s SXSW. While he’s not as energetic as Bradley, he more than makes up for it with his mellower numbers, backed by his impressive supporters The Expressions.—Max Blau

Stream: Lee Fields & The Expressions – “You’re The Kind Of Girl”

14. The Men
Brooklyn, N.Y.
(Wed., 1 a.m., Elysium)
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There are few bands doing good old-fashioned, hard-hitting power rock as well as The Men at the moment. The Brooklyn-based noise rockers just released Open Your Heart on Sacred Bones to much critical acclaim. The album features shoegazy, maxed out guitars blended with an in-your-face punk attitude. If you’re in the mood for one of the most abrasively intense live shows at the festival, look no further than The Men.—Tyler Kane

Stream: “Ex-Dreams”

15. Michael Kiwanuka
London, United Kingdom
(Sat., 8 p.m., Stubb’s)
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This British soul singer/songwriter has been gaining huge press across the pond. His debut album Home Again won’t be released until July in the United States, but his two earlier EPs and television performances have already earned him comparisons to Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye.—Hilary Saunders

Stream: “Lasan” (with Dan Auerbach)

16. Native Sun
London, United Kingdom
(Fri., 10:15 p.m., Tenoak)
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London-based hip-hop duo Native Sun is made up of a bilingual rapper born in Mozambique and a South African (with Caribbean roots) singer. The two fuse traditional hip-hop with African rhythms to produce a worldly outlook. Mohammad Yahya and Sarina Leah write about social equality and preach change, all while maintaining a highly energetic attitude. Native Sun’s ability to blend so many genres has garnered them praise across the Atlantic, but they’re poised to hit it big here in the U.S. with their infectious and danceable songs.—Adam Vitcavage

Download: “The Anthem

17. Niki & The Dove
Stockholm, Sweden
(Fri., 1 a.m., Red 7)
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This Swedish dance-pop duo will be bringing the beats to SXSW. Having already released two EPs last year, their debut full length Instinct will finally be released May 14 abroad and later this spring in America.—Hilary Saunders

Download:The Fox

18. Now, Now
Minneapolis, Minn.
(Fri., 1:00 a.m., Palm Door)
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Set to release their second full length, the Minneapolis trio’s fragile lyrics and atmospheric sound have captivated Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla, who signed them to his new label. Their fresh outlook on life has them searching for connections anywhere they look, and with Threads they seek to answer their questions and allow their fans to come along for the search. Cacie Dalager’s vocals hit along the lines of Metric’s Emily Haines, as does the rest of the Now, Now package.—Adam Vitcavage

Download:Neighbors

19. Snake! Snake! Snakes!
Phoenix, Ariz.
(Fri., 10:05 p.m., Hole in the Wall)

This based power-folk quartet is one of the 10 Arizona bands we recommend you listen to right this moment. Their cohesive and powerful melodies are along the lines of Interpol and Joy Division, which charmed college radio stations across the country and earned their EP a spot on CMJ’s charts. Lead by Jonathan Messenger’s soothing vocals and swirling arrangements, the band is taking a break from recording their debut LP to stop by SXSW along with an army of bands from the desert. It’s their cohesive live sound, however, that appears to have them ready to tackle 2012 in full force.—Adam Vitcavage

Stream: “We Come Out At Night”

20. THEESatisfaction
Seattle, Wash.
(Fri., 1 p.m., Red 7)
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Seattle hip-hop producers Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons are set to release their debut album awE NaturalE this month, a culminating work that’s been five years in the making for this musical couple. After putting out five EPs while earning their stripes in Seattle’s local hip-hop scene, the duo appear ready to break out in the way fellow rappers-in-arms Shabazz Palaces did in 2011.—Max Blau

Download:QueenS

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