The ever-so secretive trio of Jamie Smith, Oliver Sim, and Romy Madley-Croft make up The xx. All current members met while attending the Elliott School in London, home of other notable experimental electro-pop musicians such as Burial, Four Tet, and Hot Chip. The xx was a quartet from establishment in 2005 until 2010. In 2010 they lost guitarist Baria Qureshi who was kicked out in poor taste via text message. She was a great member when touring but didn’t contribute too much towards the songwriting.
Although Jamie, Romy and Oliver have known one another since the age of 11, they did not start producing music until their early high school days. Olivier and Romy have known each other since they were 3 years old. They are best friends, they believe in their music and they stick to their roots. The group is not very fond of publicity. They will speak to the press when needed, but to them it does not make sense to publicize their personal lives. In their eyes they publish this information through their lyrics. They write these songs at the same level of intimacy that they would share with their close friends, not allowing the reality that millions are listening to hinder their lyrical creations. The fact that many strangers listen to their music is quite scary to the band.
Olivier and Romy have been writing music together since their young teens. The aspiring musicians would message each other possible lyrics and sounds late at night, hidden away under their covers, unknown to their parents. Nowadays, as they have no need for such secrecy, they still exchange ideas in such private manners. The duo’s main role in the song making process is that they create demos which include minimal guitar and bass lines (just single notes) as well as their own vocal melodies. Once the demos are finalized, Jamie stitches everything together and polishes it off with his delicate, golden beats.
In live videos, you may not see Jamie doing much and you wonder why he is such an integral part of the group, why his stage name is Jamie xx and why he gets so much recognition. Jamie is the spine of this talented trio. Oliver and Romy produce their demos. Jamie builds on it and connects the dots to create a smooth and soothing flow of atmospheric rhythms and percussions. When creating the cadences, Jamie recognizes the lyrics but does not let it take an effect in what he will produce. Rostam Batmanglij, the keyboardist behind the new wave New York group Vampire Weekend speaks to Jamie’s production skills fondly as he points out, “They [The xx] help you realize how much you can do with minimalism… One guitar line, one bass line, and a drum machine pattern – it focuses things so sharply.”
In August 2009, the band still in its quartet form, released their self-titled debut album xx, which was produced in a garage-turned recording studio in the back of XL recordings offices in London. The album was universally praised and the band followed this up by going on tour in 2010. The band toured the United States that summer and performed at five major music festivals; Sasquatch!, Coachella, Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo. In September of 2010, the band won the Barclaycard Mercury Prize, a prestigious music prize awarded annually to the best album released that year in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In addition to the members of the band, Rodaidh McDonald, a renowned producer and engineer who’s worked closely with other successful musicians, contributed greatly towards the engineering and mixing. The album was a runaway success and included four singles; “Crystalised”, “Basic Space”, “Islands”, and “VCR”. It was released on the British record label Young Turks, an imprint label of XL Recordings.
Three years following their first release, The xx released a sophomore album in September 2012 titled Coexist. This one included four singles; “Angels”, “Chained”, “Sunset”, and “Fiction”. To old fans, Coexist was a pleasant surprise as the structure was so similar to that of xx, the sound wasn’t altered at all but refined. Each song is comprised of a short personal story within. The trio didn’t include more in Coexist but made it more silent, made it more minimalistic. The album serves as a collection of values and way of life to The xx, simply a philosophy. The last track titled “Our Song” is about Jamie, Romy, and Oliver’s endless love for each other. That is perfectly described in the lyric during Oliver and Romy’s duet “when no one wants to/I will give you me/And we’ll be/Us.”
You may wonder if there is anything in the works for The xx, a new album perhaps? The answer is….yes! Recently, as of last week, Jamie revealed that both Jamie xx as a solo producer and The xx as a trio have new albums in the works. With more albums bring more touring. Jamie is excited about the news, Romy publicized to NME magazine that they “all have lived a lot of life recently, which the new songs will reflect.” Last March they had a long residency at Park Avenue Armory in New York City. Following that they toured the Eastern seaboard performing at venues of around 1,000 person capacities. As of now, nothing is planned for the future except a special Guggenheim Museum performance tomorrow (11/05/2014) in the Big Apple. If ever presented with the opportunity to catch this spectacular trio live, please do attend.
By Ben Schechter