South by Southwest is more than a music festival. For one week, Austin becomes the sprawling center of the music universe.

South by Southwest is more than a music festival. For one week, Austin becomes the sprawling center of the music universe.

Twenty-five years in, SXSW attracts thousands of acts - and that's without mentioning the countless unaffiliated concerts and parties that piggyback off the official events. Panels, speakers, a trade show and a poster exhibit engulf Austin Convention Center too. SXSW even spun off film and interactive media festivals.

Major names were there, including The Strokes, Wu-Tang Clan, Foo Fighters and Kanye West, who performed a star-studded 3 a.m. set at an abandoned power plant. But SXSW is about seeing acts on the rise. Here are 15 that wowed me.

1. Odd Future : The undisputed MVPs of SXSW, these skate-rat devil children wreaked havoc wherever they roamed. Few performers are as captivating and confounding as Tyler, The Creator.

2 . tUnE-yArDs : A unique vision is only good if it yields music as stirring as Merrill Garbus' sampled rhythmic stew and mad melodic outbursts.

3 . Esben and the Witch : The British trio used samples, guitars and tribal drumming to conjure dark and dreary rock that was all the spookier coming from musicians who appeared to be possessed.

4 . No Joy : Gorgeous, grungy boy-girl noise pop. When your first song sounds like Pavement's "Frontwards" as covered by My Bloody Valentine, "yes joy" is more like it.

5 . Yelawolf : A tatted-up Alabama trailer park emcee unfurls rapid verses about meth labs, violent threats and disdain for those who dare suggest he doesn't embody hip-hop.

6 . The Joy Formidable : This Welsh trio offers walls of sound and big hooks a la Silversun Pickups. The album doesn't do their buoyant live show justice.

7 . Wild Flag : Thrilling punk rock from the rare supergroup that doesn't disappoint.

8 . Gold Panda : Music propulsive enough to dance to and lush enough to ponder.

9 . Das Racist : The Brooklyn rap trio is just as smart, goofy and entertaining in person as on MP3.

10 . Curren$y : A weed-mellowed spaz who's always the most fun rapper in the building.

11 . Yuck : Scruffy '90s indie rock is a nostalgia movement I can get behind.

12 . The Stepkids : Their psychedelic R&B is almost as pretty as their tripped-out light show.

13 . Big K.R.I.T. : A grinning Mississippi stomper with David Banner's aggression, Big Boi's swagger and Kanye's sensitive side.

14. Lower Dens: The hazy, understated Baltimore indie rock combo knows how to keep things lively even as they lock into a groove and tinker with the textures.

15 . Smith Westerns : These angsty power-pop kiddos lived up to the hype with hooks to spare.