Though its film and interactive portions have been cranking out news — and hype — for the better part of a week, the annual South by Southwest conference officially launches its music programming Tuesday, bringing more than 2,000 acts to Austin, Texas, for six days of performances, parties, panel discussions and whatever else happens when musicians and the people that monetize their work gather in one place.
What exactly are these artists seeking at SXSW, which began in 1987 as a kind of low-key regional expo? The short answer, of course, is buzz — the precious bit of noise needed to stand out in an increasingly crowded field. Yet the specifics vary from striver to striver. Here's a look into the minds of some of them as they head to Austin with things to do and people to impress.
After two acclaimed indie albums, the L.A.-based guitar-pop group is readying its first major-label record, "California Nights," for release in early May. So although SXSW is familiar territory for Best Coast, which made a splash at the festival as a so-called baby band in 2010, the group is playing higher-profile gigs this year (including a Universal Music Group showcase and a party sponsored by Rolling Stone) that seem intended to boost the act's standing from the underground to the alt-rock A-list.
Here's another local with product to push: Also due in May, "Bush" will be Snoop Dogg's debut for Columbia Records, which paired the veteran rapper with producer Pharrell Williams for a set likely to emphasize Snoop's drunk-uncle charm. Instead of heading to SXSW as a performer, though, the 43-year-old Long Beach native is scheduled to deliver the festival's keynote address, a task handled in recent years by Lady Gaga, who used the occasion to defend her polarizing "Artpop" album, and Dave Grohl, who went warm-and-fuzzy rhapsodizing about the value of inspiration. What will this year's talk entail? Only the Doggfather knows.
The adventurous country star just scored his second No. 1 country hit with "Take Your Time." But with a live show that has him covering Destiny's Child and Mariah Carey — not to mention an album that keeps hanging around the upper reaches of the iTunes chart — Hunt appears to have his sights set beyond Nashville domination. SXSW provides an opportunity to put his shape-shifting music in front of noncountry audiences.
This Swedish singer hasn't had any trouble reaching audiences: Her song "Habits (Stay High)," about going to "sex clubs" and "watching freaky people getting it on," peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's Hot 100, reflecting sales of more than 3 million copies. What Tove Lo hasn't quite done is attach her music to a recognizable presence, à la other wild-child Hot 100 habitués like Kesha and Rihanna. That may change in Austin, where you can bet she'll work hard to live up to the flamboyant streak in her lyrics.
SXSW still has room for newcomers without any hits. See Summer Moon, a New York-based band so fresh it hasn't released a single tune. Then again, "newcomers" might not be the right word for a foursome that features Nikolai Fraiture of the Strokes and Tennessee Thomas of the Like. Here they'll try to put some songs behind that semi-supergroup status.
This young singer-songwriter also boasts an impressive pedigree: Last year, she toured as a member of Jenny Lewis' road band, a job held previously by such indie-rock success stories as Danielle Haim of Haim and Barbara Gruska of the Belle Brigade. Now Prass is playing SXSW behind her own self-titled debut, which has already won rave reviews for its crafty blend of classic country-pop melodies and lush Old Hollywood arrangements. Can she bring its delicate sound to life in a place well known for devouring attention spans?
With so many demands on attendees' ears, SXSW rewards savvy recyclers: artists who don't need long to get an idea across precisely because the idea is so familiar. A sharp-dressed soul man in the vein of Sam Cooke or Otis Redding, Bridges expertly revives '60s-style R&B in the handful of tunes he's released from his coming major-label debut. Adele fans tired of waiting for her new album will be ripe for his picking.
What would a major music event be without Kanye West? The human lightning rod, who last year took part in a Samsung-sponsored throw-down with Jay Z, hadn't confirmed by late Tuesday that he'd be playing a full-on concert at SXSW. But he's scheduled to appear Friday on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," which is taping all week at Austin's Long Center. Do you really think the guy would schlep all the way to Texas just for that?
We’re at South by Southwest until March 22. Join us at latimes.com/sxsw for ongoing coverage of the festival.