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SXSW ’08: Fantastic Talent Captured Live!

Maximum Performance

While the streets of Austin overflow with badge-bearing, slightly woozy attendees shuffling from party to band showcase to party, the world still turns. And the Y! Music team has been working feverishly behind the scenes to spotlight some of this year's top talent via exclusive interviews and performances we'll soon be unveiling.

This year a dedicated workforce of Y!-related humans set up at the Gibson Show Room, a fabulous instrument-laden studio workspace crammed with all manner of Gibson guitars, located a few miles south of downtown Austin. The crew set up shop there Wednesday in preparation for two consecutive days of shooting, and by Thursday morning a steady stream of artists poured in.

The process: Artist A would come into Studio 1, set up for an intimate, low-key performance (studio logistics precluded the bookings of certain types of performances due to technical limitations, meaning that rap and the Blue Cheer were definite no-no's), perform two songs twice, then shuffle off over to Studio 2, where they'd then be interviewed by Y! Music's completely fabulous editorial team. And while this was happening, Artist B would have arrived and be preparing to set up back in Studio 1. The efficiency was so ruthless it would have frightened small children.

So without giving too much away-because much wonderful stuff will be coming your way soon-here's a rundown of some of the highlights of this year's 2008 performance/interview sessions that this writer was around for:

WYE OAK: Newly signed to the very hip Merge Records roster, this young Baltimore-based pair is comprised of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, and their new album--already released under the name Monarch in limited edition but coming out under the Wye Oak name via Merge--has to be one of the year's best new releases. The duo was the first shoot of the SXSW year, and they were affable and deeply impressed with the tie-dyed paint job on the studio's nifty piano. Friendly, cooperative and charming, these guys hung around the studio a little while and impressed everyone with their talent and overall niceness. Wait'll you hear them play!

LIGHTSPEED CHAMPION: A former member of the charmingly named Test Icicles, young Mr. Dev Hynes appears to have talent flowing from his every pore, as his new solo work makes abundantly clear. Born in Texas, a onetime resident of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and London, and a guy who recorded his album in Nebraska, Hynes is a multi-instrumentalist and fantastic songwriter, and he was an enormously charming presence in our studio. He was deeply impressed by the array of Gibson guitars handing on the studio walls and insisted his crew took a picture of him while he was holding the admittedly impressive WWF guitar proudly displayed in the interview room. Performing  on the psychedelic piano and guitar--and with only a violin accompanying him--Dev was wonderful, funny, and one of the year's highlights.

THE TING TINGS: On the Wednesday morning flight from Los Angeles, we thought that a certain very cute blonde hat-wearer looked familiar--and lo and behold, she was indeed Katie White of the UK's heavily buzzed Ting Tings, who arrived in our studio Friday morning and were a definite sensation. Partnered with the exotically named Jules DeMartino, the couple ran through two of their biggest UK hits, "That's Not My Name" and "Great DJ," and even in the acoustic format (both played guitars), the tracks leapt out and danced around the studio in excitement. They're very big in their homeland and about to be bigger, and it seems likely their catchy, quirky pop tracks will catch on in the States as well. Great people and we wish them well.

NICOLE ATKINS: About 18 months ago, some of the Y! Music crew was in New York and witnessed an ultra-exclusive performance of young Ms. Atkins in some weird room in the Columbia Records offices, and we'd have to say we were deeply impressed. We were even more impressed by the album she would eventually release--Neptune City--and we've been enjoying watching it slowly make its way into American consciousness. Her stellar performance of "The Way It Is" in our Austin studio was absolutely one of the week's best moments, and when you watch it, you'll see what we mean. Very talented, very personable, and--coincidentally--quite good looking, Nicole would appear to be on her way to very great things.

HEADLIGHTS: Every year Y! Music comes down to Austin and shoots a band that not everyone in our crew is familiar with. This year, Illinois' Headlights perhaps fit that bill, so it's heartwarming to note that all parties were so enthused about this group that many of us decided that we needed to see this group again, in full electric performance--and indeed, many of us cabbed over later that night to see them and were even more impressed. With the just-released Some Racing, Some Stopping out and garnering critical raves, we were proud to catch these guys when we did and suspect you'll like them as much as we do. A great batch of humans, too!

WHITE SHOES & THE COUPLES COMPANY: Pretty much the definition of mind-blowing, this Indonesian band was Y! Music's final SXSW shoot of the year and jaw-droppingly great. Getting to Austin from Jakarta was no easy process--and in fact one band member couldn't come due to visa issues--but their final arrival in our studio was long-awaited and quite unforgettable. Their music is enormously friendly, happy and familiar sounding, intricately played, and unforgettably performed. The entire Y! Music crew was completely under their spell, and in fact many of us plan on attending their live performance at the Minty Fresh Records showcase later tonight. (We're also high on Beangrowers, a Malta band we couldn't shoot this year, but hopefully will ASAP.)

Do bear in mind that this is only one-half of our studio story, as my partying partner Lyndsey Parker did a fabulous job with six artists herself, including AA Bondy, the Wombats, Your Vegas, Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong, Chester French, and Katy Perry.  All were incredible--and we've got some great content lined up for you, as you'll soon see.

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