Minimalistic British trio The xx go for broke
Band laying it all on the line creatively and financially
May 24, 8 p.m. | Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Tickets: $39.50 - $47.50 plus charges at 604-569-4416 or NorthernTickets.com
British neo-noir trio The xx may appear to be reclusive, guarded types, but don’t judge them by their calculated, minimalistic sound or deceptively dark appearance: This is a band that is laying it all on the line for itself and its fans.
Bassist/vocalist Oliver Sim, guitarist/vocalist Romy Madley-Croft and producer/percussionist Jamie Smith are still touring promoting latest album Coexist, globe-trotting on a multi-legged trek that took them to Vancouver last fall at the Vogue Theatre and sees them return May 24 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
The band is lugging around about twice as much lighting gear as it is amps and musical equipment, which includes its trademark array of downtempo guitar, bass and synthesizers, aiming to give fans an experience as striking as possible.
Among the elements we saw last fall were high-definition ambient visuals fed by giant projectors from the back of the room, X-shaped Plexiglas stands, strobes, and a giant LED-speckled X that came down from the ceiling at the end of their set.
The xx are, quite literally, going for broke.
“We’ve always said, ever since we were able to play a proper venue rather than a pub, that we wanted to have something people could go away with afterwards and talk about,” Smith said in a recent phone interview from Prague. “We’re happy not to make that much money off touring if that means people will remember the show for a long time.”
The man known as Jamie xx is a charming, soft-spoken guy.
When it was mentioned that what The xx are doing is risky considering the current music business landscape where everyone is struggling to make a living, Smith gave an audible shrug.
“I guess so,” he said. “When we thought of doing this we did it because we loved it. We didn’t want to do anything else, and we always came at it from a creative approach rather than wanting to be a ‘big band’ or to make money.”
Beyond Coexist, the band has started to work on pieces of songs for a future album, though Smith admitted the process was haphazard on the road.
The band’s newest piece of music is a song entitled Together that appears on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s latest musical epic The Great Gatsby, a soundtrack that also features Beyonce, Lana Del Rey, will.i.am, Florence + The Machine, Jack White, Jay-Z, Emeli Sande, Gotye and more.
A clear snapshot of today’s musical landscape, the soundtrack immediately recalls that of Luhrmann’s late ’90s hit Romeo + Juliet, which featured Radiohead, The Cardigans, Garbage, Everclear and other alternative acts of that era.
Does Smith feel The xx is part of a musical moment in time by being included on the Gatsby soundtrack?
“I hope not,” he said with a chuckle. “I like most of the artists that are on the soundtrack and we’re so happy to be on it. But I hope we don’t become one of those bands that people remember as ‘of this era.’ I want to keep going.
“We love the Cardigans but we don’t want to be them.”
When it is revealed to Smith that the soundtrack was being pressed on vinyl via Jack White’s Third Man Records label, Smith audibly lit up.
“That’s great! I didn’t actually know that,” Smith said. “We went to Jack White’s studios when we were on tour in the U.S. last time and it was amazing to see. It made us want to have everything of ours in one place and have people come to us. It’s a really nice idea. But I guess you have to get to a certain level like Jack has.”
Beyond The xx’s work, Smith admitted he remains constantly busy working on his own stuff.
A sought-after remix artist, one of his most famous collaborations was with late great poet Gil Scott-Heron for 2011’s We’re New Here, a remix of Scott-Heron’s final studio album I’m New Here from 2010.
These days, Smith admitted craving to work on bigger pop albums with major label artists.
“I’m interested in going down that route as well as still making more underground releases,” Smith said. “When I went to work with Alicia Keys (for Girl On Fire track When It’s All Over), it was a very interesting and exciting experience and I want to do more of that.
“She seemed like somebody who lives in another world to us. To be able to go in the same studio with her and make music and hear her sing at me was something I’d never imagined I could do.”
• 22 May 2013
Romy XX shares her dark festival experiences
The xx’s reluctant frontwoman on dark nights, darker attire and the pressures of hosting your own festival
The Guardian, Thursday 9 May 2013 05.31 EDT
Romy Madley Croft of The XX. Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage
What was your first festival experience?
Oliver’s mum took us to Reading when we were 14, which, when I think about it now, is pretty hilarious. She was a massive fan of the White Stripes. She saw that Oliver and I were falling in love with live music and took us along. She was way more hardcore than us: she stayed down at the front through punk bands like Dropkick Murphys to watch the White Stripes. I remember being amazed by it all, but at the same time thinking: Get me away from this place.
You’ve gone from the mid-afternoon siesta slot to headliners in a short time. How does it compare?
It’s been quite sudden but although it’s more pressure being high on the bill, our band is better suited to night. We’re awful in daylight – there’s a lot of bumping around and I feel so exposed. We put on a much better show in the dark. I feel more comfortable surrounded by lights and the smoke.
You’re quite shy. Do you find the intensity of festivals hard?
You can try and hide, but actually I find it more relaxing to watch the other bands on the stage I’m about to play on. It makes me feel calmer than sitting backstage thinking: Oh my god, what am I about to do?
Who is your ultimate festival act?
One band who are always incredible to watch at festivals are the Kills. It’s not like they’ve got loads of stage production, it’s just them on stage, going for it. Seeing the two of them side by side, boy and girl, with no obvious lead singer – it inspired the xx hugely. Alison Mosshart came to watch us recently and I could see her from the stage with her new tequila sunrise hair. That was quite a big moment for me.
You’ve just come back from Coachella. What are the differences between UK and US festivals?
I feel like it’s normal to see English people going crazy, but in the US it’s a different kind of wild. There was a lot of screaming at a show we played in America recently and that wouldn’t happen in England. I came off stage thinking: What band were they watching? It shocked me, it was a proper One Direction scream!
How do you manage to reconcile rain ponchos and wellies with your all-black band uniform?
You’ve got to wear wellies. It would be a mudfest without them. Oliver and I went to Glastonbury in 2011 just for fun – the weather wasn’t good, so we bought wellies and got involved like everyone else. If it was raining, I think I’d wear a poncho. I would be happier if it was a black one, though.
You’re curating your own Night + Day festival this summer. As it’s your party, can you sit back and relax for once?
Oh, not at all. It’s our party down to every little detail. We’re considering everything from the atmosphere to the kind of food we want to the DJs we get to play. I’ll be well prepared for my wedding after this •
The xx play Night + Day, Glastonbury, Pukkelpop and Positivus
• 9 May 2013
The xx, Night + Day, Torre de Belém, Portugal, review
Noir pop band The xx redefined the music festival with an impressive performance in Portugal, writes Alice Vincent.
9:21AM BST 07 May 2013
The typically musical festival vibe of mud and warm beer festival vibe doesn’t really fit London art rock trio The xx, so they curated their own series of live “experiences” this summer, called Day + Night.
The xx, Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim on guitars and vocals, Jamie Smith (better known as Jamie xx) on synths and percussion, all 25, played the first one in Belém, a suburb of Lisbon with a tower that overlooks the Tagus River like a 16th-century chess piece.
Sim described the gig as “like [their] wedding” – it had been over a year in the making and an impressive vision for a band who came to critical attention just four years ago with their Mercury Prize-winning debut album, xx. An eclectic collection of DJ sets, including an awkwardly executed effort from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, emanated from a nearby bandstand.
As is written into their contract, The xx came onstage once darkness had fallen to the eerie, bold synth intro of Try, a track from their second album, Coexist, released last year. Despite being clad in black, the band were blanched out by elaborate, incandescent lighting, which was fiitting with The xx’s live tradition of transforming their bedroom music back catalogue into something rowdy and unrecognisable on stage.
Although Madley-Croft’s husky yelps and Sim’s softly snarly vocals were smart, this show was Smith’s work for the unexpected extras that kept the crowd on their toes. In three years Smith has become a recognised producer and DJ, bringing Gil Scott-Heron a new audience with a remix album in the year he died and producing R’n’B star Drake’s title track, Take Care.
On Sunday, he broke into his cult solo hit Far Nearer, after an underwhelming rendition of Reunion, and shaped the performance with dramatic kettle drum solos, helping to create seamless synthy connections between performances of Missing, Fiction, Night Time and Shelter as cloud-patterned lasers passed overhead.
But The xx’s musical prowess won out through the smoke and mirrors, as was proved by the brave decision to encore with the instrumental Intro, and Angels, into which Madley-Croft poured genuine vocal adoration.
After a setlist of songs about heartbreak, it was a fitting ending. To paraphrase their love-struck song VCR, the band were half in the daytime, half at night, finally by the sea and in the company of hundreds. More festivals should be like this.
• 8 May 2013