AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 15: Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion perform at Don't Mess With Texas on March 15, 2012 in Austin, Texas
Daniel Boczarski

The CMJ Music Marathon in New York City has often been considered the less exciting alternative to Austin's bustling SXSW in March. But that mindset changed a year ago with must-see, star-making performances from bands like Sleigh Bells, Best Coast, and Surfer Blood. Last week marked the event's 30th anniversary and peaked with the appearance of Kanye West, who performed a surprise set at Pitchfork's #Offline mini-fest. (Though technically not part of CMJ, it still functioned under the auspices of said event.) But his 11th hour blow-out was merely one of innumerable performances, most of them from upstarts. We make our predictions for the nine acts most likely to succeed.

Big Freedia:

If Katey Red was the purveyor of New Orleans' sissy bounce (or gay hip-hop with frenetic beats), the loud and proud Big Freedia is fast becoming its inimitable faceplate. This bon vivant of booty riled up the crowd of mostly straight white men with such call-and-response gems as "Azz Everywhere." And yes, there was azz — everywhere. Testify!


This Los Angeles band is an odd sight to behold: a nondescript drummer, a grunge-y looking guitarist, a hipstery singer, a hippie-ish bassist, and another guitarist with a gypsy vibe. Together, they create swelling pop party-starters with explosive harmonies. Think a less glossy New Pornographers, and you've got the right idea.


Though they have a six-piece set-up (three of them dudes with long, brown hair), there's something very cozy and intimate about the Brooklyn band, which frequently churns out lo-fi Jackson 5 lullabies. Singer Madeline Follin is like a helium-voiced hummingbird, all sweetness and innocence. It's transcendent, even in a sweaty, cramped club.

Freddie Gibbs:

The Gary, Indiana, rapper has been drawing serious comparisons to Tupac Shakur. While we hesitate to make such a comparison, there's no denying that he bears one of rap's greatest emergent voices right now — a gruff bark that's at turns weighty and fluid, and lends gravitas to his unrelenting, streetwise rhymes.

Lia Ices and Alex Winston:

Two of CMJ's biggest female-solo draws couldn't be more different. Vermont-raised Ices is an ethereal-voiced creature concerned with all things earthy; Detroit-reared Winston is a steel-lunged lass.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.:

In addition to having possibly the most fun band name to say out loud, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. bear the distinction of possibly being the most buzzed about band at CMJ. Their gimmicky NASCAR stagewear notwithstanding, the Detroit foursome actually delivered on the hype with lovely, sleepy synth-pop in the vein of the Postal Service.

Ty Segall:

Sometimes you just wanna rock. The San Francisco garage trio specializes in crunchy tunes about girls and rebellion and stuff. And they never put on a bad show.


A goofy ginger from Massachusetts who spent most of his childhood shuttled in and out of foster care, frontman Dominic (he keeps his last name a secret), writes surprisingly optimistic lo-fi pop anthems. Take "Living in America" (which bears no relation to the James Brown track): It features the chorus, "It's so sexy / Living in America," which, though admittedly ridiculous, will lodge into your cranium for days to come.

Viva L'American Death Ray Music!

They're more of an obscurity — and have a predisposition for face paint — but VLADRM roll out mesmerizing post-punk. Their catalog veers everywhere from indie rock to a sludgier version of The Fall, and also(admirably) manages to work in some reggae.