Festival season 2016 is here. And while each major weekend affords a few easy decisions — sorry, were you planning on skipping LCD Soundsystem’s reunion for, um, anything? – there are many, many more hard choices. To help ease the map-drawing, fannypack-carrying, flower crown-wearing fest-goers’ planning, EW has rounded up our favorite non-headliners you can’t miss this summer.
WHY: At almost-headlining level, the Kills’ set times this summer are bound to overlap with another act you’ve desperately been trying to catch, but if your live music -seeing past lacks Alison Mosshart’s visceral display — strutting, stomping, and throat-ripping howling — your decision should be a no-brainer.
WHERE: Coachella, Shaky Knees
WHY: There’s hardly a better place for an ambient electronic show than a summer afternoon. Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance, the dance music duo who record under the moniker Bob Moses, released their debut album Days Gone By last fall and it straddled a gooey, inviting space between alt-pop and deep house, delighting fans of both.
WHERE: Coachella, Moogfest, Governors Ball
WHY: Matty Healy and co. came out with their exhilarating (though creepily named) second album I Like it When you Sleep… earlier this year, and with a whole new set of tunes that marry gospel, funk, and pop, the U.K. rockers are ready to bring glam rock to the main stages.
WHERE: Coachella, Shaky Knees, Sweetlife, Firefly
A Thousand Horses
WHY: With a high-octane style that echoes the likes of the Black Crowes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Rolling Stones, this South Carolina quartet’s show might burn your beard off. Beneath all that fire, they’ve got meticulous instrumentation that makes them a band to get behind — and definitely rock out to.
WHERE: Tortuga, Southern Ground, Stagecoach, CMA, Country Jam, Country Thunder, Watershed
WHY: Get ready to groove. On the heels of his stunning, 16-track debut album Ology, which landed earlier this month, the 23-year-old R&B upstart (born Christopher Gallant) heads into his first festival season — and he’s bringing his soaring falsetto with him. With fans like Seal and Sufjan Stevens stumping for the singer, you can bet you won’t be dancing alone.
WHERE: Coachella, Firefly
Christine & the Queens
WHY: After releasing last year’s highly danceable self-titled album, which featured breakout single “Tilted,” a cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless,” and the Perfume Genius-assisted “Jonathon,” French pop act Christine and the Queens (a.k.a. French 27-year-old Héloïse Letissier) set herself up for an excellent debut in the U.S. On stage, Letissier presents the regality of Lorde and the warmth of the Haim sisters, a combo that goes well with her moody, synth-heavy tunes.
WHERE: Coachella, Boston Calling, Governors Ball
WHY: The Southern post-punk group brought a compelling blend of distorted squall and gospel sensibility to their brooding, self-titled 2015 debut. Even under the midday sun, expect their set to be one of the darkest you see all weekend.
WHERE: Coachella, Panorama
WHY: These Nashville-based rockers have been bubbling under the surface for nearly a decade but last fall’s stellar Daybreaker looks to have finally been the set to take them from buzzy indie outfit to main stage contender. Their music boasts guitars as silky smooth like their of-name checked influence Vampire Weekend but swaggers with Southern charm all its own. You’ll want to study up on a few lyrics first — these live sets are known for their heart-swelling sing-alongs.
WHERE: Coachella, Firefly, Forecastle, Hangout, Outside Lands
WHY: Even among rap’s current slate of talented youngsters, the 22-year-old MC from Long Beach, California stands out. Staples brings his smash debut Summertime ’06 to life on stage, especially on raucous cuts like “Norf Norf” and “Señorita.”
WHERE: Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza
WHY: The English duo’s futuristic soul pop strikes a skillful balance between chilled out synth and chest-thumping drops. Their debut album, 2013’s Body Music, is an adept collection of candied electro ballads, while collabs with club maestros like DJ Snake and Jack Ü lend them a grab bag of dub-heavy pick-me-ups. Their sophomore LP is slated to hit before summer, just in time for a batch of new festival tunes.
WHY: This Oklahoma native debuted in 2008 with his heartbreaking set In The Throes, but he outdid himself in 2015 with High On Tulsa Heat. With traditional, self-loathing country tunes — tales of his failures, resentment of his shortcomings, profound loneliness — the 30-year-old won’t have the most cheerful set you hit all weekend, but Moreland’s voice is in a class all its own, and demands to be heard.
WHY: The “Somebody Loves You” singer proved she was more than just the soundtrack for one couple’s elaborate marriage proposal on her 2014 debut album, Take Me When You Go. After bringing her charismatic live show on the road with some K-list divas (that’s Kylie, Katy and Kiesza), Who says she’s been putting the finishing touches on a sophomore LP slated for later this year. Hopefully she’ll preview new material on her upcoming dates—somebody’s been missing her while she’s away. (Spoiler: It’s us. We’ve been missing her.)
WHERE: Sloss Music & Arts Festival, Governors Ball, Hellow Festival, Chipotle Cultivate Festival (Phoenix), Mamby on the Beach
WHY: Claire Boucher’s in a league of her own after releasing the self-produced, self-engineered Art Angels, a larger-than-life electro-pop collection that introduced Grimes fans to her many alter-egos, Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, and hard-stomping space dance tune “Kill v. Maim.” Hitting her frenetic, electrifying set should be a no-brainer.
WHERE: Coachella, Sweetlife, Moogfest, Hangout, Lightning In A Bottle, Sasquatch!, Bestival Toronto, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, FYF
St. Paul & the Broken Bones
WHY: Grab your DeLorean and head for Muscle Shoals mid-’70s heyday — or, if that’s out of the question, go watch St. Paul & the Broken Bones. This six-piece soul outfit from Birmingham had some of the buzziest sets at last year’s Coachella and Bonnaroo before touring with Mavis Staples and the Rolling Stones. It doesn’t take much more than frontman Paul Janeway opening his mouth and unleashing his enormous, soulful tenor to see why.
WHERE: Tortuga, Shaky Knees, Summerfest, Newport Folk Festival
WHY: Chicago indie newcomers Whitney feature former members of Smith Westerns (guitarist Max Kakacek) and Unknown Mortal Orchestra (drummer Julien Ehrlich), but create a sound entirely their own with rollicking horns, twangy guitars, and bummed-out lyrics that’ll be featured on their debut album, out this spring.
WHERE: Bonnaroo, Outside Lands
WHY: It won’t take long to realize that this 25-year-old Brit, who used to make music under the name I Blame Coco, has some serious musical pedigree. Songs like “After Dark” and “Let My Love Lie on Your Arms,” from this past January’s Information, are dead giveaways that you’re listening to one of Sting’s children. But that’s just a mere footnote on a brooding, ambitious album full of spiky guitar riffs, sci-fi influences, and nods to new wave and Kraftwerk.
WHERE: Governors Ball
WHY: Anonymous up until 2014, this electronic producer’s style is as diverse as he is elusive. His genre-grazing 2015 EP, Genesis Series, tapped everyone from Skrillex to Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony, doling out a metamorphic sound that bends from sun-kissed reggae to slinky R&B depending on who’s on the track.
WHERE: Coachella, Lollapalooza