The xx article was written by Sam Forsdick, a GIGsoup contributor
It’s easy to forget how fresh the minimalist sound of The xx seemed back in 2010. Their sparse and atmospheric soundscapes brought something wholly original to the indie rock scene. Whilst other indie bands of the time focused on catchy choruses and big chords The xx made the most of every plucked note and sang about the personal and intimate. What also separated them from the rest was the fact that they so proudly wore their multitude of influences on their sleeve. The bass heavy grooves of R&B, the atmosphere of post-rock and of course the experimental electronic sounds that came through so prominently on production.
The conductor of this sound is Jamie Smith, the – until recently – oft forgotten third member who remained hidden behind a laptop and drum pad during live performances but behind the scenes was responsible for so much of what made The xx unique. By bringing his influences to the classic indie rock combination of guitar, bass and keyboard Jamie successfully made indie urban.
The influence this new sound had cannot be overstated. They helped pave the way for series of diverse acts such as Alt-J, FKA Twigs and James Blake who ,on the release of ‘xx’, stated, “They’ve kind of warmed the seat, in the way that when people listen to sparse electronic music, they are gonna be a lot less shocked by it now that The xx have released an amazing album.”
El- P once rapped “Even when I say nothing it’s a beautiful use of negative space” and The xx are indefinitely masters of this. The blank spaces on ‘xx’ seem as carefully constructed as the notes themselves making these negative spaces an integral part of their sound. The overall effect is a tight and understated sound perfect for occupying those dark spaces late at night.
It is therefore difficult to look back on 2010 and imagine any other album coming away with the Mercury Prize Award. There was The Kit Downes Trio that filled the obligatory jazz spot. Biffy Clyro catered for the heavier, alternative rock fans but their album ‘Only revolutions’ didn’t exactly break new ground. The same can be said of Mumford and Sons who basically brought out a second set of twee folk songs for their sophomore effort. Dizzee Rascal was perhaps their biggest rival for the title spot but despite dominating the summer with ‘Dance Wiv Me’, ‘Holiday’ and ‘Bonkers’ it was hard to see this more commercial effort beating ‘xx’, especially when considering he had already taken home the award for his debut ‘Boy In Da Corner’ back in 2003. The xx were therefore favourites of the indie scene, favourites of the bookmakers and quickly became favourites of the nation; how could the judges have chosen anyone else?
Five years later and it is now the time of Jamie xx who could join PJ Harvey as one of the few esteemed musicians to have won the coveted Mercury prize twice. He has been nominated for his excellent album ‘In Colour’ which really allows his electronic and dance music influences to shine. Whilst ‘xx’ is dark and brooding and introspective, ‘In Colour’ is extroverted and lively, yet they remain two sides to the same coin both showing a drastically different side to London’s urban sprawl.