20 best artists playing at SXSW for free (mostly)

Jordan Strauss/Invision for Jack in the Box/AP Images
Jordan Strauss/Invision for Jack in the Box/AP Images

These are in no particular order.

1. Charlie XCX

Charlie XCX performs at the 2013 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival on Friday June 14, 2013 in Manchester Tennessee.(Photo by John Davisson/Invision/AP)
John Davisson/Invision/AP

She’s a pop star who’s rough around the edges. Her SXSW artist page describes her as a “sort of sartorial melange of Tank Girl and Winona Ryder circa Heathers” which is actually pretty accurate. Good music for any mood – dance or chill, and she has plenty of shows during SXSW so why not check her out.

Where: Applauze Showcase, Waterloo Records Day Party, Under the Radar Party
When: Various dates
RSVP? Yes

2. Phantogram

AP Photo/Republic Records
AP Photo/Republic Records

A New York duo with a catchy, hazy dream pop sound. It’s both dark, rhythmic and compelling with lyrics that resonate with all sorts of crowds.

Where: Spotify House, The Windish Agency Day Party
When: Various dates
RSVP? Yes

3. Shovels & Rope

John Davisson/Invision/AP
John Davisson/Invision/AP

An American folk duo one part rowdy and two parts rootsy. Probably one of the more interesting sounds you’ll hear at any SXSW-related event.

Where: Only at the Heartbreaker Banquet, Willie Nelson’s one-day music festival at his private Luck, Texas ranch.
When: March 13
RSVP? Tickets given away on a rolling basis

4. Elektrik People

Courtesy of Elektrik People/Elektrikpeople.com
Courtesy of Elektrik People/Elektrikpeople.com

Just some happy, feel good beats and lyrics. This trio from L.A. is sure to please with their electro-pop sound. MTV describes them as an “under the radar band” that sounds like Phoenix, Ellie Goulding and a pack of rhinestones’ lovechild. Who could say no to that?

Where: Dickies Roadhouse, Speakeasy Kabaret
When: Various dates
RSVP? Yes

5. Mas Ysa

Tony Cox/Wikimedia Commons
Tony Cox/Wikimedia Commons

A favorite of Lena Dunham’s, this guy’s music has been featured on HBO’s hit show “Girls,” and if you’ve heard one of his songs you know why. He combines love songs, pop, and techno into a danceable melancholy jive. Trust us, it works.

Where: The Mohawk, Pitchfork SXSW Showcase
When: March 14
RSVP? Yes

6. The Chicharones

Charles Edward Cliff/Wikimedia Commons
Charles Edward Cliff/Wikimedia Commons

These guys originated at SXSW where two of the band members met, and the rest is history. They describe their sound as an “ode to the trials and tribulations of their 20s and the party that just won’t die.” Good beats with raspy vocals, definitely worth checking out.

Where: The Main II
When: March 12
RSVP? Yes

7. Ghost Loft

Ghost Loft/Instagram
Ghost Loft/@ghostloft

Stop everything you’re doing and listen to this guy’s music right now. It’s the epitome of chill – but the first time you listen to it you will think time has stood still. There’s no way this guy isn’t putting on a good set.

Where: Palm Door
When: March 13
RSVP? Yes

8. Earl Sweatshirt

John Davisson/Invision/AP
John Davisson/Invision/AP

Some of the best music at SXSW this year is coming from the unofficial shows. Earl’s stuff may be a little NSFW (ok a lot NSFW) but, the man’s a lyrical genius. He hails from the hip hop collective Odd Future – you know Tyler the Creator, Frank Ocean, those guys. He has a similar sound so if you like them, definitely check Earl out.

Where: Redbull Sound Select
When: March 12
RSVP? Yes

9. Band of Skulls

Scott Penner/Wikimedia Commons
Scott Penner/Wikimedia Commons

Band of Skulls has found a lot of commercial success lately, but if you don’t know them yet you should definitely take this opportunity to dos so. They’re an English alternative rock band with a lot of soul. Both of their performances are bound to be jam-packed, so make sure to arrive early.

Where: The Mohawk, Bar 96
When: Various dates
RSVP?: Yes

10. Cherub

Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos/Invision/AP
Robb D. Cohen/RobbsPhotos/Invision/AP

There’s only one word to describe this duo from Nashville: funky. Their SXSW artist page says they make “grooves so alluring even your parents can dance to them,” so if your parents are in town for the festival, head to Rainey Street for a show you can both dance to without judging each other.

Where: Bar 96
When: March 12
RSVP?: Yes

11. Chromeo

Jordan Strauss/Invision for Jack in the Box/AP Images
Jordan Strauss/Invision for Jack in the Box/AP Images

Their music is the embodiment of the #yaasss hashtag. I dare you to listen to this without wanting to dance. They started their careers as party-rock anthem creators, but they’ve evolved into a much funkier, smoother sound. They describe their music as a yacht anchored somewhere between the French Riviera and Detroit – take from that what you will.

Where: Hype Hotel
When: March 12
RSVP?: Yes

12. Ivy Levan

Maximillian Xavier/IvyLevan.com
Maximillian Xavier/IvyLevan.com

She has a fabulously brash sound – a gritty-yet-glossy voice. She dubs it “swamp hop” or “punk-rock Motown” we call it a must-see.

Where: Trinity Hotel @ Old School
When: March 14
RSVP?: Yes

13. Kishi Bashi

Rainbows in the Dark/Wikimedia Commons
Rainbows in the Dark/Wikimedia Commons

After all of these high-energy performers, or just with all the SXSW chaos in general, you might want something to relax to and Kishi Bashi will be the answer to all of your prayers. He’s a violin virtuoso but don’t let that fool you, he’s got a lot of spunk. He’s better known for his work with the band Of Montreal, but he’s just as awesome on his own.

Where: Reverb @ The Dirty Dog, Half Step
When: Various dates
RSVP?: Yes

14. The Kooks

AP Photo/EMI Music Mexico
AP Photo/EMI Music Mexico

If you’re not already a fan of The Kooks you’ve been living under a rock, in which case you absolutely need to get to their show at Stubb’s during SXSW. But really.

Where: Stubb’s
When: March 14
RSVP?: Yes

15. Wye Oak

Rhinowing/Wikimedia Commons
Rhinowing/Wikimedia Commons

Listen to the song below and tell me it doesn’t change your life. I dare you. They describe their last album as the “culmination of their intent to express the emotional and intuitive self by acting out animalistic exclamations through cathartic release.” Honestly, they sound like someone I would like to grab a beer with – we could learn a thing or two from them.

Where: Parish
When: March 13
RSVP?: Yes

16. Little Dragon

AP Photo/Dave Martin
AP Photo/Dave Martin

In a word – hypnotizing. They’re a Swedish trip-hop band that’s been going strong since 1996. They’re a category of their own and they’ve been known to put on great shows. Their dreamy tunes are another good way to wind down.

Where: Banger’s
When: March 13
RSVP?: Yes

17. London Grammar

Mark Allan/Invision/AP
Mark Allan/Invision/AP

This band is hauntingly beautiful and crazy talented – plus, they’re playing plenty of shows at SXSW so there’s no excuse to miss them. They’re last album was simple and emotional – one of the band members said their goal was to keep “space in the music.” Listen to the track below, and you’ll know what they mean.

Where: Hype Hotel, Stubb’s, ACL Life at the Moody Theatre
When: Various dates
RSVP?: Yes

18. The Mowgli’s

themowglis.net
themowglis.net

Just eight friends from L.A. living life – their music is really happy-go-lucky but not in a sappy bubble-gum way, in a way that makes you want to yell positive affirmations at yourself in the mirror every morning. They’re my go-to pick-me-up music, just the right amount of soul to get your day started. They say they’re “making music with love, and making love with music.” Cool.

Where: Holy Mountain
When: March 12
RSVP?: Yes

19. MS MR

Nan Palmero/Wikimedia Commons
Nan Palmero/Wikimedia Commons

Although I’m sure most people have heard their song below, you’ve never really heard it unless you’ve heard it live. Their sound is eerie and glamorous. Their Tumblr unapologetically says they write anti-Valentine’s day ballads, which, quite frankly, we could all use a little bit more of in our lives.

Where: Empire Garage
When: March 11
RSVP?: Yes

20. Vance Joy

vanejoy.com
vanejoy.com

The first time I heard one of his songs I felt an achy, unexplainable urge to run (although towards what I’m still not sure). His folky lyrics and sounds kind of mean something different every time you listen to them. Definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.

Where: St. David’s Historic Sanctuary
When: March 14
RSVP?: Yes

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