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Ten Must-See Acts at SXSW 2014

Ten Must-See Acts at SXSW 2014
Photo by Philip Kromer, via Flickr

There's anywhere from 1 to 10 billion bands at any given SXSW. This year I think there are more. This makes planning one's festival schedule a daunting monstrosity. But don't worry, The Dallas Observer is here to help. Because it's our opinion that festivals should be about seeing great bands, not trying to find them, we've done the sleepless nights and tedious filtering for you. Luckily, there were many diamonds in the rough, something for everyone. So here you are, 10 acts you absolutely need to see at this year's South by Southwest (in no particular order).

Angel Olsen

Like delicate strips of origami, Olsen's songs unfold with silky precision. There's a stream of heartfelt confession and eloquent storytelling that runs through her music and right up out of her feathery breath. The result is songwriting timeless enough to etch into stone. As stripped and naked as her songs appear, they emit an undeniable quality of depth, a dimension that sounds both cavernous and spacey, both mythological and sharply modern. Count on Angel Olsen to provide the most intensely intimate set at this year's SXSW.

DJ Rashad

Here's an act that every dance fan should be ecstatic about. After all, DJ Rashad is one of the godfathers of dance music's most cutting edge splinter, Footwork. As one of the strangest limbs dance ever shot forth into the world, Footwork is like house music passed through the looking glass, subjected to surgery, and then spliced back together like a Burroughs cut-up. What's one to expect at a DJ Rashad set? Feverish dancing, airborne tendrils of sweat and a psychologically dizzying collection of tracks that will swing your head in a centrifuge.

Kelela

As one of R&B's freshest talents, Kelela uses her voice like a poetic auteur, oozing confident sensuality and emotional brokenness better than any other vocalist at the moment (and that's just concerning the character, not the lyricism, of her delivery). The instrumentals that back Kelela's come-hither voice are of equal pedigree, ranging from lush, gauzy textures to melodically exquisite club-worthy burners. Riding the high of one of 2013's best records, Cut 4 Me, Kelela is more than on track to bring the goods to SXSW this year.

 

Saint Pepsi

You underground music geeks might already be familiar with Saint Pepsi's aesthetic arena, the slippery genre called vaporwave -- a postmodern shape of music that repurposes commercial muzac as a means of creative reappropriation and social critique. The effect of this music is both humorous and moving, like a bittersweet wave of nostalgia that leaves you reeling and amused in equal measure. Saint Pepsi is at the forefront of this micro movement, the latest art-damaged form of pop that sees the genre folding back on itself. If you're interested in catching a glimpse of pop's ever-splintering future, you'd best find yourself with Saint Pepsi at this year's SXSW.

Chance the Rapper

You guessed it: He's a rapper. But more than that, Chance is one of the most gracefully self-aware and witty MCs currently in the game. By sidestepping the horror-core antics of Odd Future, and eschewing the soft, yet stiff Black Hippy corner of rap in favor of backpack-era humor and productions reminiscent of Kool Keith and Justin Warfield, Chance the Rapper is in a vein all by himself. It's not exactly common to see a young artist find his voice this early, but Chance seems fully formed, like a character crystallized out of thin air. There's no telling what will happen at his SXSW concert, but one thing's for sure: It will be both unexpected and entertaining.

Badbadnotgood

For years hip-hop has been mining jazz for samples to exploit. Badbadnotgood turn this trend on its head by using hip-hop as a blueprint to reimagine modern avant-garde jazz. The Canadian trio has made a name for itself by covering and collaborating with a vast spectrum of MCs, from A Tribe Called Quest and Tyler, the Creator to Kanye West. This seemingly obvious but revolutionary approach to jazz composition, places BBNG in a rare artistic space, where young hip-hop fans can comfortably commingle with the perceived elitism of experimental improvisation. Badbadnotgood are a much-needed breath of fresh air, providing just the kind of genre shake-up that contemporary jazz sorely needs.

Zorch

Dubbed a glitch-pop-psych-punk-jazz duo, Zorch is a fluid splash of genres that explores the outermost borders of rock's maximalist tendencies. With the energy and optimism of The Flaming Lips' heyday and the leftfield pop sensibility of Animal Collective, Zorch brew music to melt minds to. Their shows have become notorious in Austin as blistering events where party atmospheres meet acid trip dens. Their SXSW show is sure to be one hell of a spectacle.

 

Warpaint

Some movements will never die. Post-punk is one of these; not because of any particularly redeeming traits therein, but because it was always less of a genre and more of a willful eagerness to expand the colors in rock's crayon box. Thankfully, creative maturation never goes out of style. Warpaint are a prime example of post-punk's burgeoning relevancy, drafting aqueous tunes that sound like The XX's bedroom charm shot full of jangly guitar play. Pensive and languid will be the flavors of the day when Warpaint take the stage at SXSW.

A$AP Rocky/A$AP Ferg

As two of rap's most heavy-hitting talents, A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg alone make SXSW's hip-hop stock skyrocket. With Rocky you get the pretty-boy swagger and syrupy, purple-slung productions; and with Ferg you get a much darker and more knotted persona, less eloquent, yet bolder and tantalizingly abrasive. With the full A$AP Mob in tow, the two headliners are set out to prove that rap's future lies not in the hands of heady, high-art "visionaries," but rather with urban kids, who use hardship as a springboard to poetic expression and tempered hubris.

Forest Swords

Forest Swords is Mathew Barnes, an electronic producer-composer whose recorded output has been overwhelmingly celebrated by critics and fans alike. Luckily for those attending this year's SXSW, his live performances have been equally praised. The beauty of Forest Swords' music lies in its capacity to inject rhythm-heavy influences (dub, hip-hop, dance, etc) into the more esoteric realms of ambient electronics. This innovative turn allows Barnes' music to bridge the canyon between accessibility and challenging abstraction.


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