Networking, meetings and panels aside, my associate Kristina Tunzi and I look to the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas for the music. At the 2010 fest earlier this month, we were not disappointed. With 13,022 registrants, up from 11, 687 in 2009, and 1981 bands performing from over 55 countries, the streets were alive. Here are ten artists that turned our heads:
1) Neon Trees
Neon Trees, an alternative rock meets new-wave band from Provo, Utah, infused the Entertainment Weekly and Steve Madden Music Lounge with melodic party pop. The band gained nationwide exposure opening for the Killers on their 2008 North American tour and have since signed with David Massey's Mercury Records. Massey has some of the best ears in the business so it is no surprise debut album "Habits" is full of addictive tracks.
2) Theophilus London
Brooklyn-based rapper and MC Theophilus London caught our attention outside Club de Ville, where he had the entire crowd dancing along to smooth, vibey hip-hop blended with R&B and Electronica. Theophilus aka Thelonius Kapps is the real deal - fresh, innovative and not afraid to draw from the past, citing Michael Jackson, The Smiths, Elvis Costello and KraftWerk as influences. Watch out for Theophilus London when he takes the stage at HARD festival July 17 in Los Angeles.
3) Bear in Heaven
Bear in Heaven simply rocked. This psychedelic Brooklyn band formed by Jon Philpo delivered one of the best live performances at the festival. Performing mainly tracks from sophomore album "Beast Rest Forth Mouth" (which amassed considerable buzz in 2009), Bear in Heaven blended raw, progressive sounds with stunning, synth melodies. The band is currently on an extensive tour with fellow Indie darlings Cymbals Eat Guitars.
4) Doll and the Kicks
Some of the best music happenings spring up in the most random of spots. Wandering into the Hilton lobby, festival-goers were treated to a set by UK band Doll and The Kicks. Front-woman Doll channeled a little Debbie Harry, Kate Bush and Gwen Stefani. Though still unsigned, Doll and The Kicks supported Morrissey on his European tour as well as some US dates last year and were identified by Myspace as one of the Top 10 New Bands for 2009.
5) The Asteroids Galaxy Tour
Walking past Emo's Annex, crowds were immediately drawn to the sound of Copenhagen-based pop act The Asteroids Galaxy Tour. The group has already caught the ear of Amy Winehouse and Katy as each invited the Asteroids to open for them on tour in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Though relatively new (the band formed in 2008), several songs have appeared in television shows ("Gossip Girl," "Chuck") as well as ad campaigns, most notably debut single "The Sun Ain't Shining No More" in an Apple iPod Touch commercial. The band's debut album "Fruit" was released in late 2009.
6) Neon Indian
Alan Palomo is not afraid to take chances. The musical composer behind synth-pop outfit Neon Indian took the stage at the Fader Fort with cool detachment but delivered music that was sonically interesting and imaginative. Palomo (also known for his work with Ghosthustler and as the artist VEGA) has attracted a lot of attention since last year's "Psychic Chasms" and he's reportedly already planning a second Neon Indian album.
7) Broken Bells
Broken Bells played their official SXSW showcase at Stubbs and as one of the festival's "most buzzed about" bands, the duo comprised of the Shins' James Mercer and Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) drew a massive crowd that wrapped around the block. Broken Bells offered a mix of pop, neo-soul and experimental sounds with a touch of weirdness. Mercer showed off impressive vocal range, while Burton rotated between a variety of instruments throughout the high-energy set.
8) Laura Jansen
SXSW is also a champion of singer/songwriters and Laura Jansen captured the genre perfectly. The Dutch artist displayed an enviable set of pipes during her set at the Parish, performing tracks from her two EPs "Trauma" and "Single Girls." Jansen has been a regular on the Hotel Café tour in Los Angeles and her debut album "Bells" is available in the Netherlands on Universal Records.
9) The XX
At first glance, the XX appear straight from a Cure video, often sporting head-to-toe black and new wave haircuts with a melancholy mood to match. That said the South London foursome is surprisingly unique taking a traditional set-up of drums, bass, guitars, vocals and keys and creating a simple sound that blends soft-pop and R&B. Critical response to their self-titled debut was positive and judging by the crowd that packed the Mohawk venue, they won't be going away anytime soon.
10) Miike Snow
Miike Snow is actually not a solo artist but rather a trio consisting of Andrew Wyatt and the producing team, Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg. In fact, Karlsson and Winnberg are the GRAMMY-winning producers behind Britney Spear's "Toxic," so it's no surprise they know how to create infectious records. Witnessing Miike Snow at the SPIN party was fairly mesmerizing - songs like "Sylvia" are so emotive and posses such sonic beauty, the music haunted us long after Austin.