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    Black Kids: The Young and the Reckless

    "I only do TV interviews nowadays," Ali Youngblood jokes backstage at Manchester University's Academy 3. A breathless monsoon of innuendo, wisecracks, and drawled chuckles, the 24-year-old keyboardist for one of the most talked-about bands of 2008 doesn't seem fazed by the attention. Sporting a perma-cocked eyebrow and playfully kicking her legs back and forth under her chair, she'd rather gamely chug her way through the not-unsubstantial volumes of alcohol on their rider and giggle coyly with her bandmates than discuss success. Meanwhile, Ali's older brother Reggie, 28, the band's songwriter, singer, and guitarist, is tuning a new guitar next to their rhythm section, drummer Kevin Snow, 28, and bassist Owen Holmes, 26.

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    The Long Blondes

    Something strange is going on in Hartlepool tonight. Through the freezing salty mist of this sedate British seaside town, a crowd of impeccably turned-out kids are fighting for space in the queue outside a run-down venue. They're here to see the curiously namedDead Eyed Bitches, a band that appeared, pictureless, on MySpace four months ago. In fact, this mysterious group are nothing more than an elaborate ruse by Sheffield's the Long Blondes, whose U.K. fame has reached such heights that they have to resort to subterfuge to play intimate gigs. It wasn't always this way. For quite a while, the Blondes were touted by the press as "Britain's best unsigned band," picking up awards, but no record deal. "It was pretty depressing," admits bassist Reenie Hollis, hiding behind a wig and glasses backstage.

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    These New Puritans

    "I used to get night terrors," says These New Puritans' singer/guitarist Jack Barnett, backstage before a show in South London. "I once saw a ghost -- a glowing blue cat in my room -- and these purple and yellow orb things. It was really scary." Welcome to the weird post-post-punk world of England's latest art-rock buzz band, a place where glowing globes mingle with references to 16th-century occultists and numerology. Synthesizer player Sophie Sleigh-Johnson, 19, chooses to write notes on a small pad rather than answer questions verbally, while bassist Thomas Hein, 21, simply walks away when approached. The two who do talk, frontman Jack, 20, and his twin brother, George (drums), reveal some curious inspirations. "Making music is like casting spells," George offers. "Musician and magician are similar words.

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    Custom guitars are generally known as the twin-necked, coffin-shaped preserve of famous fret-wankers, not preschool kids from English seaside towns. But not many children were raised like Switches' frontman, self-described "boy with social problems" Matt Bishop. He would point to a guitar on a T-Rex album cover and have it crafted for him by the end of the week, thanks to his dad, a music-obsessed handyman who made prop instruments for the weekly U.K. TV show Top of the Pops. "I was interested in multitracking as a four-year-old," Bishop says from behind a floppy fringe in a North London pub. "I used to get two old Fisher-Price tape recorders and bounce between them, amazed at how my voice sounded doubled up." He was a full-fledged troubadour by five, writing his first song by six.

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