Must-Hear SXSW, From Yoko Ono to Ringo Deathstarr and Beyond

For those who don’t know, the annual long-ass South By Southwest Festival stuffs a killer load of coders, filmmakers, musicians and more into the otherwise lame state of Texas. The bad news is that it’s in Texas, but the good news is that those who attend have a chance to catch some serious creativity at work. I singled out for Wired 10 stellar artists worth hearing for those attending SXSW, and dropped off some free mp3s to boot. Turn it up!

10 Must-Hear Bands Ready to Shake Up SXSW

The South by Southwest music festival, now in its 25th year, is stuffed with more bands than any human can possibly hope to see in five short days.

You could try wrapping your ears around the unofficial SXSW torrent — a 6.58-GB download jammed with more than 1,000 songs — or you cold cut to the chase with’s shortlist of influential and newcomer noisemakers worth checking out.

Spanning the sonic signatures of art, rock, soul, punk, gaze, hip-hop and pop, our SXSW music picks have either made a healthy impact already or are poised to at the conference, which runs Wednesday through Sunday in Austin, Texas.

We asked each of them to explain why SXSW-goers should check them out over the hundreds of other acts playing this week and got some free downloads to help them make their case. We also asked who else they’re interested in seeing at the festival.

And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead

Sonic signature: Straight outta Austin, Trail of Dead has returned to its home base armed with a mind-wiping new concept album, Tao of the Dead (above). It’s a refreshing return to the blistering noise of Madonna and Source Tags & Codes, yet still as cerebral as newer work like The Century of the Self.

“The noise is slowly refining,” band lyricist, singer, artist and guitarist Conrad Keeley (below, left) told “It’s like slow-aging wine. Not quite ready to be corked, but approaching its prime with steadfast determination.”

Now appearing: Trail of Dead kicks off an extensive spring tour with a 1 a.m. headliner at the Beauty Bar/Palm Door, a free Friday in-store performance at Waterloo Records, and back-to-back Saturday shows at the Brooklyn Vegan Day Party and The Blind Pig. The band’s way past being stressed about it.

“It’s relaxing now,” Keeley said. “Back in the day, it used to be so stressful, because typically you only played one showcase, and that was your make-or-break moment. Nowadays, it’s much more common for bands to play five to 10 shows. When it’s spread out like that, it’s not nearly so nerve-wracking.

“But I still look forward to the peripheries [of SXSW],” he added. “Outside the festival, the limestone bedrock of Austin and the hill country remains unchanged and still beckoning the intrepid traveler. I’d recommend anyone visiting to take a day trip into one of the many surrounding towns and visit a classic town square in any number of places, with the old antique stores and canneries and tanneries and authentic pit barbeques, oil-drum grills, swimming holes; that’s the stuff I miss the most about the Lone Star. Keeps you more occupied than a one-legged mule in an ass-kicking contest.”

See also: “I was really hoping to see Liz Phair,” Keeley said. “But usually the acts I want to see, I rarely get to see. It’s par for the course.”

The Megaphonic Thrift

Sonic signature: Norway’s powerhouse noisemaker The Megaphonic Thrift released its kick-ass debut effort, Decay Decoy, stateside on March 8. But its stunning shocks and sonics hearken back to a time — overlorded by legends like Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine — where sheer volume, energy and ambition dominated the proceedings.

“We hail from the school of electric guitars,” bassist Linn Frøkedal told “We were born in the ’80s, and the music that followed throughout the ’90s is of course a part of our expression, especially alternative guitar music from the United States. The noise element in our music is extremely important, but we still try to keep focus on the melody.”

Not a problem. Check out the free download of “Candy Sin” or the new video for “Talks Like a Weed King” below and you will find that the Bergen-bred Megaphonic Thrift — which features former members of bands Casiokids, The Low Frequency in Stereo and Stereo 21 — has fully, and loudly, done its musical homework.

Now appearing: The Megaphonic Thrift shreds three shows at SXSW, starting Wednesday at the Austin BFFs Day Party. It then pounds out two heavy sets Saturday, kicking off with the American Art Authority Day Party at 4 p.m. and wrapping with an 8 p.m. headliner blast at the Speakeasy. Protect your grill, said Frøkedal.

“Our live shows are face-melting,” said Frøkedal. “People who love loud guitars, melodies and a musical landscape leaving chaos in its aftermath should get a kick out of it. It’s a vicious assault on mainstream trash.”

See also: “There really isn’t much time for us to check out shows with our tight schedule,” said Frøkedal. “But we look forward to partying at our Norwegian friends’ shows: Harrys Gym, Casiokids, Datarock, Altaar and Årabrot. We’re also really excited about getting to see Ringo Deathstarr live for the first time.”

Little Dragon

Sonic signature: Formed in 2006 but already blowing minds, Sweden’s stellar Little Dragon specializes in electronic soul music that’s utterly transfixing, thanks in part to its hypnotic Swedish-Japanese singer, Yukimi Nagano. The band has already captured the hearts and minds of heavyweights like DJ Shadow, Gorillaz, TV on the Radio and Outkast, and it’s set for an even greater crossover once its evolved next effort, Ritual Union, arrives later this year.

“For the album, we just kept on experimenting, searching, dancing, laughing, crying and recording,” drummer Erik Bodin told “All in a Little Dragon 2011 kind of way.”

Now appearing: If you think electronic music can’t work up a crowd, then check out Little Dragon performing “A New and Never Never” live in the video below. Then stop by the band’s Friday show at Lustre Pearl or its Saturday headliner at Filter magazine’s Culture Collide showcase.

“Yukimi’s home-designed tambourine is worth checking out for sure!” said Bodin.

Until then, trip out on “Blinking Pigs” surreal video below. Good luck getting that haunting tune out of your head.

See also: “Hopefully, we have time to watch all the bands of course,” said Bodin. “But if we can’t, we must at least see Nite Jewel and say hello, and meet up with TV on the Radio.”

This article appeared at WIRED