SXSW 2012: The 11 Pop Acts You Must See

Mike Wass | March 6, 2012 11:05 am

With Austin’s annual South By Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival just around the corner, we thought we would help you streamline your hectic concert-going schedule by selecting our 11 must-see acts. The event transforms Texas into a week-long mecca for indie bands and alt-rockers, but there is no shortage of expert pop practitioners in the bumper lineup. From enigmatic ’90s singer-songwriter Fiona Apple to the groove-smothered, synthy hip-hop leanings of Penguin Prison, there is something for everyone this year. Make sure you drop by our second annual Pray For Pop party on March 14, where a number of these not-to-be-missed acts will be working their musical magic on stage. (And if you can’t make it to Austin, you can still win a postcard from a pop star).

1. Wallpaper. (US)

When: March 14 Where: PureVolume House (Idolator’s Pray For Pop Party) Why: The genre-defying beatmaster is making huge waves on the underground music scene with his pop culture-skewering party jams and clever re-imaginings of popular songs. Wallpaper. first came to our attention with his blog-beloved remix of Das Racist’s “Pizza Hut And Taco Bell” and showed that he can do satirical pop better than just about anyone on the bone-rattling club-banger “#STUPiDFACEDD”. That song will get the SXSW crowd jumping, but we really hope the Bay Area MC throws in his NSFW interpretation of Adele’s “Rumour Has It”, which is surely in the running for cover of the year.

2. Marit Larsen (Norway)

When: March 14, 10:00pm-10:40pm Where: Beale Street Tavern Why: The Norwegian songstress is perhaps best remembered by American pop fans as one half of the mildly successful Scandinavian duo M2M. Their perky contribution to the Pokémon soundtrack “Don’t Say You Love Me” reached #21 on the Hot 100 in 2000, and they followed that up with a much lower-charting single called “Mirror Mirror”. Since those heady bubblegum-pop days, Marit has reinvented herself as an introspective singer-songwriter and sold a lot of records in Norway. We can’t wait to hear her irresistibly cute 2009 single “If A Song Could Get Me You”, which proved to be her international breakthrough — topping the charts around Europe and establishing her as one of the continent’s must-hear pop acts.

3. Kimbra (New Zealand)

When: March 14, 12:00am-12:40am Where: Haven Why: One of our Popping Up artists makes her SXSW debut in 2012. Kimbra is currently sitting pretty in the iTunes top 10 as the female voice of reason on Gotye’s bitter breakup anthem “Somebody That I Used To Know”. It will be interesting to see if she tackles that number without her Australian duet partner, but even if she skips it, which is very unlikely, the 21-year-old has plenty of other tricks in her bag. Such as her jazzy international debut “Settle Down” and its disco-tinged follow-up “Cameo Lover”. Kimbra has the talent to match the hype, so make a point to fit her into your SXSW schedule.

4. The Jane Doze (US)

When: March 14 Where: PureVolume House (Idolator’s Pray For Pop Party) Why: Revelers at our very own Idolator SXSW Party will be warmed up for an evening of top-shelf pop by this pair of New York City-based female DJs. The ladies first appeared on our radar with their brilliant mash-up “Forever 27”, which spliced together an eclectic range of songs from artists who died at the age of 27, including Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. To get better acquainted with the duo before SXSW, make sure you download their free mixtape. It was played 31,000 times in just 24 hours!

5. Lights (Canada)

When: March 17 Where: Elysium Why: Lights is to Canada what Robyn is to Sweden. The critically adored 24-year-old has won a small legion of fans, both at home and internationally, with her unique brand of icy electro-pop. And while she has yet to dent the charts here, both of her albums reached the top 10 in Canada. Her latest single, “Toes”, with its crisp synths and infectious chorus, has generated major blog love around the world. It’s only a matter of time before Valerie Anne Poxleitner — her real name — makes a commercial breakthrough, so you might as well get on board now and say you saw her perform at SXSW on the way up!

6. Cher Lloyd (UK)

When: March 14 Where: PureVolume House (Idolator’s Pray For Pop Party) Why: Since rocketing to fame on the seventh season of The X Factor (she came in fourth place), Cher Lloyd has conquered the UK charts with her massive #1 hit “Swagger Jagger”, hooked up with the always cool Mike Posner on the duet “With Ur Love”, and cemented her status as one of pop’s brightest new talents with her latest single “Want U Back”. The 18-year-old now has her sights set on America.

7. Emma Louise (Australia)

When: March 14, 9:45pm-10:25pm Where: The Stage on Sixth Why: Emma Louise is part of the new wave of Australian pop currently being embraced around the world. The Brisbane-based singer-songwriter has been likened to artists such as Sia, Lanie Lane and Kimbra due to the power of her voice and intricacy of her lyrics. But unlike those other girls — with perhaps the exception of the all-conquering Sia — the pixie-faced songstress isn’t afraid of a big pop chorus or avalanche of synths. Check out her dark and brooding breakthrough single “Jungle” for proof. No doubt the seething electro-ballad will be one of the many highlights of her debut SXSW appearance.

8. Fiona Apple (US)

When: March 15, 8:00pm-9:00pm Where: Central Presbyterian Church Why: To hear songs from her seven-years-in-the-making fourth album! It’s a bit of an understatement to call Fiona Apple an enigma. The velvet-voiced singer won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal for “Criminal” in 1997 at the age of 19 and sold three million copies of her debut album before being caught up in a web of record company politics and perfectionism that has made the now 34-year-old only slightly more prolific than Kate Bush. On the bright side, L.A. Reid has confirmed that a new album will be released this year, and she’s gearing up for a spring 2012 tour. Fiona’s SXSW showcase is sure to be event because, quite simply, it may be another seven years before you have another chance to see the moody iconoclast live!

9. Cosmo Jarvis (UK)

When: TBA Where: TBA Why: Writing a sea shanty about gay lovers isn’t the usual path most heterosexual men take to pop stardom, but it worked for Cosmo Jarvis. The 22-year-old Brit became an overnight sensation when his 2011 single “Gay Pirates” went viral. He followed it up by playing a Justin Bieber-obsessed priest in his “Sure As Hell Not Jesus” video and earned additional admiration from pop fans by covering Kylie Minogue’s “Spinning Around”. This will be Cosmo’s third SXSW appearance, and, if his eclectic musical style and outrageous videos are any indication, expect the unexpected.

10. Penguin Prison (US)

When: March 14 Where: PureVolume House (Idolator’s Pray For Pop Party) Why: We featured the New York-based remixer/rising hip-hop sensation as one of our Popping Up artists in January and have invited the multi-talented 28-year-old to perform at our SXSW Party. Chris Glover, as he was originally known, scored a major breakthrough last year when his groove-heavy song “Don’t F*** With My Money” became the unofficial anthem for the Occupy Wall Street movement. In addition to that crowd-pleaser, we’re also hoping to hear the Holy Ghost!-assisted “Golden Train” as well as getting sneak peek at the rest of his album. How about it, Chris?

11. Class Actress (US)

When: March 15, 11:00pm – 11:40pm Where: 512 Rooftop, 408 E 6th St Why: The self-described “goth/prep” dance outfit perfectly bridges the gap between the indie and pop music worlds. Class Actress is really Elizabeth Harper, a Brooklynite by way of California, who transformed from Smith-y singer-songwriter into an icy synth siren after hooking up with producers Mark Richardson and Scott Rosenthal for the 2010 EP Journal of Ardency. The vintage electro-dance vibe that resulted recalls so many of the ’80s acts that mattered, from early Madonna to gloomy Depeche Mode. Rapprocher, the band’s first full-length album quickly followed last October and has so far spawned two romance-filled videos: “Weekend” and “Bienvenue”. The indie blogs are already keen on Harper’s live show, which we hear can be as risqué as her lyrics are confessional, which is to say, this girl wears her heart on her vintage sleeve — until she takes it off.

Follow Idolator on Facebook and Twitter as we bring you on-the-ground coverage live from SXSW 2012 in Austin, Texas next week.