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Coachella: Seven Lesser-Known Acts You'd Be Silly to Miss 

Thursday, Apr 12 2012
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Coachella is here! Between the fuzzy boots, spicy drug cocktails and sweltering heat, one can actually forget that there's music going on. In fact, we believe this year's lineup is quite strong. While headliners Radiohead, the Black Keys, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre need no introduction, here are seven under-the-radar acts well worth catching. Just make sure you don't get too inebriated and catch something else!

Dragonette

Canadian electro-pop outfit Dragonette mix urbane sensuality, rocker grit and dance-floor credibility. Lead vocalist Martina Sorbara is the daughter of a former finance minister from Ontario, and she met her creative partner, Dan Kurtz, at a music festival. The two soon were opening for musical heroes New Order, and Kurtz is now her husband.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOE KOCH - Gary Clark Jr.
  • PHOTO BY JOE KOCH
  • Gary Clark Jr.

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Drummer Joel Stouffer rounds out the trio, probably best known for sleazy anthem "I Get Around," which sounds like Gwen Stefani lusting for bad men rather than Japanese purses, and "Easy," a slinky, '80s-style ode to a difficult but exciting guy. The group has kept itself busy between its own releases with collaborations with artists like Kaskade and fellow Coachella 2012 performer Martin Solveig. Hopefully, the long wait for the third full-length under the Dragonette moniker will end this year. In the meantime, there may not be a sexier set on Saturday. —Danielle Bacher

We Are Augustines

If Billy McCarthy sounds like a motivational speaker with his Brooklyn band We Are Augustines, it's because the frontman has been through the ringer himself. His schizophrenic mother committed suicide when he was a teenager, followed by his brother — also schizophrenic — doing the same thing. The band's debut album, Rise Ye Sunken Ships, was inspired by the second turn of events. But as suggested by the title, rather than dwelling on tragedy, the band focuses on renewal. Rise Ye Sunken Ships features tracks with names like "Book of James" and "Chapel Song."

Something like a self-help record for listeners who might be grieving — or have experienced mental illness themselves — the material has resonated with fans. "I just ... tell them, it's not your fault," McCarthy said to NPR, speaking of his interactions with live audiences. "From today on, you got to do something to get up out of this. It doesn't mean you have to put your past away, but you do have to take a step and go forward." —Elano Pizzicarola

Azealia Banks

In the video for "212," her breakout song last year, rapper Azealia Banks beams in a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt as her braids bounce and she line-dances in front of a brick wall. It's endearing, but the lyrics — which she spits with a smile, eyes glittering wickedly — aren't quite what you might expect. "I guess that cunt getting eaten," she chants before, guns blazing, she decimates her opponents.

The 20-year-old Harlem native — who placed first on NME's 2011 "Cool List" — is certainly audacious. She casually announced her bisexuality in a New York Times article, allowed herself to be photographed by the notoriously creepy Terry Richardson, and brattily taunted rap "it" girls Kreayshawn and Iggy Azalea. Perhaps it's not surprising that she's one of the five people Kanye West follows on Twitter.

But there's substance to Banks' attack as well. Her flow — all snap and sass — is fierce, and her singing voice can be both lusty and sweet. She's got surprising vocal chops, not to mention the smirking confidence of knowing she's become officially cool without really trying. —Rebecca Haithcoat

Gary Clark Jr.

Austin-bred guitar prodigy Gary Clark Jr., 28, is focused on reconnecting the blues with its roots. With many forms of American black music having been whitewashed over the years, Clark concentrates on something a bit purer. The electric bluesman not only cites Jimi Hendrix as an influence but, with his slender frame, long fingers and soaring bellow, reminds folks of the legend.

Clark has been embraced by the mainstream, having performed everywhere from the mtvU Woodies to the White House, where he played for the Obamas. (He also has shared stages with Eric Clapton and Alicia Keys.)

Since 2005 he's released a string of well-received independent albums, before signing with Warner Bros., with whom his latest EP, Bright Lights, has built up his profile. If you're looking for something that sounds like the Black Keys, you've come to the wrong place. —Elano Pizzicarola

Death Grips

Love Death Grips or loathe them, there's no middle ground. Last spring the Sacramento avant–hip-hop punk group's debut mixtape, Exmilitary — a relentlessly pounding work with grainy production — left listeners feeling unsettled and a little discombobulated, something akin to watching a disturbing movie alone in a dark theater.

An air of mystery surrounded them as well. All anyone knew was that drummer Zach Hill (who has worked with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Wavves) was their mastermind. Now, however, with the group recently signed to Epic, we can say with certainty that vocalist Stefan Burnett and keyboardist Andy Morin flesh out the crew.

Burnett's video appearances look like the initial, delirious stages of drug withdrawal, and the group's Low End Theory show last summer was unhinged. Which is to say, at Coachella, you should expect a dangerous mosh pit. —Rebecca Haithcoat

Wolf Gang

Wolf Gang is unaffiliated with Odd Future and, in fact, not a gang at all but rather the solo project of Scotland-raised, London-based Max McElligott. The handsome, witty 24-year-old makes some of the catchiest music you will hear out of the Fourth Wave of Britpop. On his 2011 debut, Suego Faults, McElligott takes pieces of late-'70s art-punk, classic rock and symphonic orchestration and splices them into mini-epics, which seem ready for American indie fans to fawn over.

Embossed in a glittering electronic sheen courtesy of producer Dave Fridmann — with a sound not unlike The Airborne Toxic Event mixing it up with MGMT — single "Lions in Cages" was featured in an episode of Gossip Girl last year. Meanwhile, Wolf Gang has toured with artists like fellow Coachella 2012 performers Florence + the Machine and Miike Snow, and will open for Coldplay this summer. —Danielle Bacher

Wu Lyf

Manchester's mysterious Wu Lyf crew's moniker stands for "World United Lucifer Youth Foundation." They won acclaim by ignoring the Internet, dodging the press and recording their acclaimed debut, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, in a church. They call their organ-heavy mishmash "Heavy Pop" — also the name of one of their songs — but otherwise the band members keep mum.

Frontman Ellery Roberts sings like Black Francis might after blowing out his throat on "Debaser," and he's about as comprehensible as early Unsane. Yet the band's anthemic, vertical music sounds like Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes and Broken Social Scene laid on top of one another in a huge, reverberating avalanche. The effect is like listening to a particularly loud sermon from outside the cathedral walls. Despite the tunes and words all blurring together, you might still sing along. —Dan Weiss

Coachella takes place April 13-15 and April 20-22 in Indio.

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