There’s no festival quite like South By Southwest. For four days a year, anyone with even the slightest feigned work-ties to Planet Pop descends upon the Live Music Capital Of The World.

Every March, Austin, Texas is transformed into a carnage-ridden view of all that’s to come. Enjoy our pick of the best…

Jaimie Hodgson

For more on SXSW, including video interviews with the buzziest bands, head to the Radar blog.

10 The Smith Westerns

The Smith Westerns are a true SXSW fairytale. The four 17-year-old garage-glammers drove the nine-hour journey from their native Chicago alone: no manager, no agent, no label. They shall return home with numerous hefty options for all of the latter. Why?

9 The Middle East

A little way from Austin’s bustling main drag, crawling as it is with already-pissed punks, police on horseback and the seemingly infinite scores of teenage emo-boppers that line its curbs day and night, next big nu-roots thang The Middle East’s show tonight could be anywhere in the world.

The quiet, shady surroundings of the venue, the hushed appreciation of the onlookers and the songs’ intimate intensity and twinkling, scenic lushness foster an atmosphere that feels almost more communion than rock show.

8 Cerebral Ballzy

Driving 872 miles across the States to play in the freezing cold outside a tattoo parlour to their manager, three idle inkers, and an NME representative is nothing for East NYC’s realest hardcore saviours.

7 Sleigh Bells

Graduating from Buzz Phase One “Bloggy Pre-Hype”, to Buzz Phase Two “Full Blown Blossoming Promise” are New York frolicboom girl/boy duo Sleigh Bells. Earlier demos were charmingly rough, making total sense within today’s low-fi centric indiescape.


6 Washed Out

Following on from his zeitgeist-defining ‘Life Of Leisure’ EP, Georgia’s Ernest Greene, aka Washed Out, comes to SXSW carrying an expectation that would faze many. Not this glow-fi monarch, though.

With likeminded New Yorkers Small Back as his backing band, his hazy, sun-warped dream-dance has never seemed more at home, the loping bass, sticky Balearic synths and slo-mo carnival percussion of holiday jams like ‘Feel It All Around’ glowing in the sun.

It may be in Austin’s tiniest bar but the sing-a-long, arms-aloft reception could be mistaken for Knebworth.

5 Diamond Rings

It probably makes sense that the effects of global warming should be felt most strongly in good old gas-chugging Texas itself. The weather has switched from stifling heat to bitter cold in under 24 hours, making the proposition of hanging around in a car park with a beer less appealing.

Try telling John O, aka Diamond Rings, that this is anything but stardust and moonbeams though.

4 Magic Kids

Anyone who’s felt themselves frozen out by arena-chasing indie should look no further than wide-eyed orchestral-doo-wop troupe Magic Kids for their salvation.

3 JJ

Crunk-folk duo JJ’s first live ‘appearance’ away from Scandinavia certainly polarises reactions at tonight’s ramjammed showcase. NME is intrigued but not convinced.

Elin’s voice is spellbinding, no doubt; in debt equally to Janis Joplin’s ravishing howl, her high-school choir teacher and, most uniquely, Lil Wayne’s Auto-Tuned druggy spew. But the arrival of producer Joakim and his lack of any contribution bar smoking a fag like he invented the concept does little but bemuse.


2 Salem

The mid-bill slots at a SXSW label hoedown are where you get to witness acts testing the water as they tentatively move their bedroom experiments into the live arena. Understandably this isn’t always to instant fireworks and fanfares. The synth-doom malevolence of Radar’s favourite unsavoury Michigan trio Salem was always going to be hard to translate.

1 Warpaint

Brace yourself. The girl that got you into Nirvana, the sixth form college ‘one that got away’, and the studious cousin you never told anyone you fancied have formed an unholy alliance of eternal charm to torment you forever.

They consolidated their bonds via ritualistic slumber parties, gorging on a diet of early Cocteau Twins dream-pop, the muddy bass twang of grunge and the sassy, honeyed mantras of R&B in order to write songs about toying with your heart for sport.