GEN F: The xx

Photographer John Francis Peters
September 30, 2011

The xx burn with the lovely pain of youth. Their debut xx—so named to celebrate the band’s members all turning 20 this year—is sparse but unsimple, haunted but hopeful. Every crafted sound drops with the weight of a heavy heart. Do you remember when you could smoke in cinemas? The way the smoke would get caught in the bright light of the projector and fill it with a fleeting, swirling beauty? That’s what this record sounds like.

When you first encounter The xx, on stage or in person, it’s hard not to be struck by their bashful, sweet nature. “It’s fair to say we’re not natural performers,” says Oliver Sim, who provides the band’s bottom end and the huskier half of their aching boy-girl vocals. Romy Madley Croft, the hushed half, used to practice singing locked away alone in her teenage bedroom. “I still don’t really like it when I think my dad can hear me,” she says. The quartet—Sim, Madley Croft, producer and beatsmith Jamie Smith and guitarist Baria Quershi—are gathered at their cluttered record company office in West London, where they’ve spent a lot of time at the in-house studio, recording there with different producers, illustrious folk like Diplo, Riton and Kwes. “We learnt so much from all of them,” says Sim, “but the actual recordings came out sounding more like them than us. So Jamie produced the album because he knows the band and how we should sound.” Smith, like the others, works best at night, which may account for the record’s nocturnal sheen. “The way we write songs is really based on a vibe and we wanted to keep that intact,” says Smith. The xx understand that sometimes music is the space between notes, that pockets of open air are where the intimacy lives. In their case, it’s an intimacy that’s been built over a lifetime.

Sim and Madley Croft have known each other since they were three years old. “At that age your parents choose your friends for you,” says Sim. “But they chose well.” The pair has been best friends since, going to the same schools and eventually starting a band. Smith and Quereshi joined when The xx started to get bookings. Though they began by playing to a backing track burned onto a CD, Smith now plays his beats live on an MPC. “It’s made the whole thing more fluid,” say Madley Croft. “Now when we go out of time we can go out together.” The xx are also coming into their stage presence, and have just experienced the thrill of a triumphant festival gig. “We got our first ever clap-along,” says Madley Croft, genuinely thrilled. “I’m growing to love it. It’s a long way from sitting in my bedroom telling my dad to please, go away.”

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Posted: September 30, 2011
GEN F: The xx