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Festival Guide

2013 Austin City Limits Festival: 23 Must-See Artists

Overwhelmed by all your ACL choices? We humbly suggest this guide to help you navigate the best of the best

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Since 2002, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has established itself as one of America's premier festivals, bringing together more than 150 acts from all genres in Zilker Park for two weekends of music and barbecue. This year, Depeche Mode, Muse, Atoms for Peace, Muse, Kings of Leon and Phoenix headline the festival, but there are tons of smaller bands worthy of your time and attention.

For the first time ever, ACL Fest has extended into a second weekend, with the two lineups closely mirroring the other. (Tickets for the second weekend are still available at the ACL Festival website.) So whether you're hitting Zilker Park for Weekend 1 on October 4-6 or Weekend 2 on October 11-13, click through our handy guide to the 23 bands you need to check out.

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Red Baraat

A singular group at the festival, Brooklyn's Red Baraat blend North Indian bhangra rhythms with jazz, funk and hip-hop aka the best band to listen to in the afternoon when you're partying outdoors in Texas. The eight-piece group founded in 2008 have a horn and percussion section big and loud enough to keep everyone moving the entire set. 

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Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

If you're a fan of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros or Tune-Yards and haven't been paying attention to Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, it's time you remedy that mistake at ACL Fest. Thao Nguyen's folk-pop songcraft is alternately playful and bittersweet, while her voice pulls off that trick of sounding fragile and resilient at the same time. 

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This Brooklyn via Tacoma, WA, band broke out with their self-titled debut, a collection of woozy indie rock and Americana guitar gems nodding to Mazzy Star and Cat Power. Frontwoman Molly Hamilton and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas returned in 2013 with Almanac, recorded in an old barn in the Hudson River Valley, and it crackles like a rustic version of Fleetwood Mac, pairing sweeping atmospherics with '70s pop craft.

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Wild Nothing

Like dreamy, swoon-worthy guitar rock and lyrical romance? Duh! Of course you do. Enter Jack Tatum, frontman and mastermind for this Virginia outfit, who has brought the aforementioned in heavy doses on two LPs—2010's Gemini and 2012's Nocture—and his band's latest release, 2013's Golden Haze EP. The latter couldn't have a more apt title, considering its warm and gentle reverb, sun-glint guitar riffs and Morrissey-level emoting. 

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Smith Westerns

This Chicago outfit borrow glam-rock swagger and guitar style from '70s icons like T. Rex and David Bowie, which means they seriously rock. Their name-making release, 2010's Dye It Blonde, stormed the blogosphere with super-catchy riff-a-paloozas like "Weekend" and "All Die Young," but their latest release, 2013's Soft Will, adds an emotional depth after returning home haggard, emotionally drained and partied out from constant touring.

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After a five-year break, San Diego's indie rock vets Pinback return with Information Retrieved, their fifth album, continuing to preserve the band's signature sound: interlocked rhythms and drum machines, gliding and looping guitars and frontman Rob Crow's high-pitched whine. Live, the sound is flawless, too—after all, they've had 15 years to perfect it.

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If you think Grimes' videos are weird (see: "Genesis above"), you should see her live show. The Canadian indie/art-pop musician bounces from her sampler to her keyboard (and occasionally the mic), making it feel more art installation than concert.

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Parquet Courts

Brooklyn-via Texas punk quartet Parquet Courts make unapologetic, fist-through-wall rock, anchored by the awesomely named Savage brothers (frontman Andrew and drummer Max). Having played in numerous Texas psych rock bands, the group followed up their 2011 cassette-only album American Specialties with 2012's incendiary Light Up Gold.

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Foxygen are proof that lo-fi can be as much fun as any shiny studio pop production. This California duo create shambling bedroom rock n’ roll that brings to mind Of Montreal circa Cherry Peel, but with a lot more Mick Jagger in the voice and ELO in the melodies. Intricate craftsmen who still sound off the cuff while they’re playing, Foxygen are well worth checking out. 

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MS MR’s debut single "Hurricane" got all the way to No. 14 on the Alternative Songs chart in 2012, so chances are you’ve heard it. Check out the New York-based electrotonic duo's debut album, Secondhand Rapture, including the stand-out track "Think of You.” 

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Valerie June

This 31-year-old Memphis, Tennessee native has concocted a sound all her own by combining elements of every genre rooted in her hometown—folk, blues, gospel, soul, country, Appalachian and bluegrass. Her most popular track, "Somebody to Love," is a banjo-plucked ditty, featuring a church choir, organ, strings and a from-the-mountaintop plea to find a lover and ease her heart's woes. It's a sound as unique as her medusa-like dreadlock hairstyle.

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Neko Case

Americana songbird Neko Case released her new LP (deep breath), The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You on September 3 to universal critical acclaim. Expect her set to focus on the alt-country album, but you might be lucky enough to catch her material with indie darlings the New Pornographers. 

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Phosphorescent's Muchacho is not only one of the year's best albums—it's a near masterpiece of the alt-country genre. Matthew Houck's wounded voice delivers oblique lyrics over spacious arrangements that meld country, pub rock and even orchestral pop. Like Bob Dylan, Phosphorescent is hard to pin down but easy to enjoy.

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Shuggie Otis

A tragically under-appreciated R&B singer-songwriter, Shuggie Otis has been mostly silent since releasing several cult LPs in the '70s (Prince is a huge fan, OutKast turned his "Strawberry Letter #23" into "Miss Jackson). Luckily, Otis is back on stage, but probably not for long. You best see this unsung genius while you can. 

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Purity Ring

Purity Ring’s debut album Shrines is full of woozy, quirky electro-pop confections, with a live show highlighted by producer Corin Roddick playing a touch-sensitive, tree-shaped lantern instrument. But the Canadian duo's must-see status goes further than music, as they explained to us at Coachella. Expect "serious lighting" including “light-up cocoon and fish fixtures” that respond to singer Megan James' vocals (we’re intrigued by “fish fixtures” as much as you).

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Grouplove's 2011 track "Tongue Tied" put them on the map after the song appeared in an iPod commercial. But the L.A.-based quintet parlayed that success into two hit albums—their latest Spreading Rumours single, "Ways to Go," has more than two million YouTube views.

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Deap Vally

We fell in love with guitarist Lindsey Troy and drummer Julie Edwards—also known as L.A.-based rockers Deap Vally—the first time we heard "Bad for My Body." The duo's been likened to both the White Stripes and Led Zeppelin, making them probably the only rockers who met in a needlepoint class to ever garner those comparisons.

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Electric Guest

Los Angeles funk/soul duo Electric Guest got a nice early boost by getting Danger Mouse to co-produce their 2012 debut album Mondo. But celeb beatmakers aside, the group stand on their own two, having honed their live act with a rigorous touring schedule and blend of traditional soul with modern pop.

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Last time we saw Los Angeles garage punk group Fidlar was at South by Southwest, when the group turned a normally staid industry party into a beer-throwing free for all. We expect nothing less this time around. 

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Shouting Matches

Now that Bon Iver is on a bit of a hiatus, frontman Justin Vernon needs something to occupy his time in between basketball games with Kanye. Vernon’s been trying on a few sonic hats recently, with Shouting Matches being the most uptempo and funkiest. Expect lots of stuff from the group’s debut Grownass Man, which sounds nothing like Bon Iver. Will his diehard fans ride with him?

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Eric Church

Looking for a little country at ACL? Look no further than Eric Church. The North Carolina native is still riding high off the success of 2011 LP Chief that spawned five country hits, including No. 1 songs "Drink in My Hand" and "Springsteen." With lyrical topics ranging from cocaine and weed to beer and whiskey, let off steam by singing along to said activities (but not partaking). ACL are two long weekends; we’re just looking out for you. 

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In a lineup dominated with rock, San Francisco-via-Chicago DJ/producer Kaskade stands as one of the few EDM DJs ready to cause bodies to jump up and down rather than heads to softly nod. The producer just released his eighth album Atmosphere earlier this month, but expect a set more focused on establishing mood than promoting new material.

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Pop-rock singer-songwriter Lissie has had such a big response from her live covers, (see the million YouTube views from Kid Cudi’s "Pursuit of Happiness" or Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance") that she released an EP of them in 2011, Covered Up With Flowers. Expect a blend of fantastic covers with tracks from the singer’s upcoming sophomore full-length Back to Forever, including the catchy, '80s-infused jam "Further Away (Romance Police).

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