On Wednesday, the mammoth music section of the South by Southwest festival begins in Austin, Texas. If you are heading to Austin, Oh My Rockness has a comprehensive show list, while Pitchfork has a vast list of recommendations. For the armchair enthusiast, however, Crackers United's list of helpful tips is a little more fun, including, "Don't bother your favorite 'Indie Rock Star' when you see them walking down the street. They're just there to chill and have a good time, too," and "If you're from out of town, you can probably get hooked up with the good stuff at the High Times party." This interactive map, meanwhile, gives a great sense of the sheer scale of SXSW. Other sites with interesting previews include Done Waiting, Drowned in Sound and Central Village.
The Strokes, Beth Orton, Ray Davies and the Arctic Monkeys are just some of the big names who will be packing various Austin venues, but the main focus of SXSW is the indie-label showcase, where the hordes of A&R types try to spot the Next Big Thing. The festival Web site lists some 1,300 hopefuls who will be performing, and well over half of them have free MP3s for download. Over the course of the week, we'll point you in the direction of some of the more intriguing acts you've never heard of:
The Spinto Band play a brand of pretty, discordant indie pop that hints at recent buzz band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. "Oh Mandy" is not a cover of the Barry Manilow hit, but rather a sunny, jangly anthem that deserves to become just as ubiquitous. After playing SXSW, the group will head off on tour with the Arctic Monkeys before proceeding to global mega-fame, or at least the cover of Spin.
Despite their punky moniker and Brooklyn address, Dirty on Purpose make lush, grown-up, Californian-sounding pop that suggests a possible indie/mainstream crossover and intergenerational appeal. "Girls & Sunshine" sounds just as you might imagine a song called "Girls & Sunshine" should sound.
My Summer as a Salvation Soldier is, in fact, a singer-songwriter from Reykjavík, Iceland. "My Home Isn't Me" is a starkly pretty acoustic guitar and piano number whose power comes from pauses: deep echoing spaces in between notes, loaded silences in between croaked, vague lyrics.
Envelopes are four Swedish boys and one French girl who recorded a series of demos over three years when geography and school holidays permitted, and who have settled in rural Yorkshire, England, to record their first proper album. With a sound that is just as fractured and intriguing as the band's back story, "Sister in Love" is an off-kilter burst of sunshine that suggests Envelopes have enough pop sensibility and weirdness to become cult favorites.
-- Matt Glazebrook