South By Southwest: 2,000 Bands In Five Days

A sign in Austin on the first day of the music portion of SXSW in 2010.

A sign in Austin on the first day of the music portion of SXSW in 2010. Shantel Mitchell for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Shantel Mitchell for NPR

The annual South by Southwest music festival based in Austin, Texas, kicks off this coming Wednesday. It's SXSW's 25th year, and some things have changed since it began.

For starters, there are more bands — a LOT more. More than 2,000 acts will play on 90 stages. But for those bands, the goal is the same as ever: to play in front of as many hardcore music fans as possible and try to make an impression amidst five days of wall-to-wall sound.

The Internet has also changed the festival. SXSW used to be primarily a place to hear new bands. Now, you can hear them online before a single Telecaster is plugged in on an Austin stage. So for many artists, SXSW is now about making good on the promise of a couple of well-hyped MP3s circulated to just the right music blogs. Two bands who did that last year were Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells — which makes aggressive electronic pop — and Surfer Blood, a Florida band that plays fuzzy guitar rock.

But there are always surprises. Last year, power-pop legend Alex Chilton died on the Wednesday before his band's scheduled performance. So the slot turned into an impromptu tribute concert, where fans of Chilton — SXSW was full of them — could sing along with his songs one more time.

This year, acts poised to make waves include the oft-blogged rap collective Odd Future; a pair of rockers called Cults, who are still riding on the strength of one single released a year ago; and British electronic producer James Blake, who will try to reproduce with a live band his soft-spoken, heavily processed electronic music.

Blake will play at a concert broadcast and webcast live by NPR Music this Wednesday night. You can hear more concerts and follow all of NPR Music's South by Southwest coverage here.

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