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    Next Big Things 2011: Esben and the Witch

    Home sweet home: Brighton, EnglandExpect: Dramatic neo-goth that makes Florence look like M.I.A.Must hear: Violet Cries (Matador), out now There are certain things that Esben and the Witch don't want you to know about their lives. "A lot of artists we admire don't give much away, especially in the current climate when everything is so public and exposed," explains singer Rachel Davies, in a London pub, to murmurs of agreement from multi-instrumentalist bandmates Daniel Copeman and Thomas Fisher. "The moment you try to dismantle that wall, it's inevitably disappointing," says Fisher. Everything important, they say, is contained in their debut album, Violet Cries, but they will at least concede that they're in their mid-20s, they live in Brighton on the south coast of England, and they formed in 2008.

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    Next Big Things 2011: James Blake

    Home sweet home: LondonExpect: Soulful DJ-producer-singer-pianist phenom bringing electronic music beyond the laptopMust hear: James Blake (Atlas/A&M), out now "Keep waiting to be hit by a bus," says James Blake, sounding like someone not sure what to make of his recent good fortune. The 22-year-old singer, DJ, and producer from North London released his first single, "Air & Lack Thereof," in 2009. His three subsequent shape-shifting EPs in 2010 made him the most game-changing breakout star in dubstep (bass-heavy, reggae-informed techno) since Burial. And now his eponymous debut album fully combines his emotive, minimalist production with his classical piano training and yearning voice.

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    Blues Explosion: The Black Keys

    Now officially Akron, Ohio's favorite sons (thanks, Lebron!), the Black Keys have become the year's surprise overnight success story. All it took was one decade, six albums, and the salvaging of a brotherly partnership. [Magazine Excerpt] On a warm late-June evening in the backstage area of London's Hyde Park, the Black Keys are winding down from their biggest ever show, having just played to 65,000 Kings of Leon fans. Singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach, who looks marginally less like a Civil War veteran since he trimmed his beard, sips bourbon from a plastic cup. Lanky drummer Patrick Carney smokes Lucky Strikes and talks to his girlfriend, Emily. A guy walks past, sporting a fulsome rock-star mane. "Famous people have weird hair 'cause that's their thing," says Carney in a tone of languid amusement.

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    The League of Very Ordinary Gentlemen

    If you want to see the workings of a band's collective brain in physical form, visit their studio. In the case of English electro-pop eccentrics Hot Chip, this mission takes you down a quiet North London side street to the bedroom of Joe Goddard. Even with just five band members and one journalist, the apartment feels cramped. The only place to sit is Goddard's unmade bed. Next to it stands a desk supporting a laptop, turntable, and blocky modular synthesizer, its red lights flickering like a console from some '60s sci-fi show. In the corner, there's a Yamaha keyboard framing some camping equipment.

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