Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Sound of Shyness: The Xx, Winners of the Mercury Prize 2010, Have Invented an Urban Sound at Once Intimate and Familiar. Jude Rogers Meets the Reluctant Heroes

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Sound of Shyness: The Xx, Winners of the Mercury Prize 2010, Have Invented an Urban Sound at Once Intimate and Familiar. Jude Rogers Meets the Reluctant Heroes

Article excerpt

Putney Bridge, south London, December 2010. Thick snow clings to the banks of the Thames and icicles hang from wrought-iron railings. The xx used to call this their manor, but they have been away touring the world for the past 12 months--a year whose peak came in September, when their debut album, xx, beat Paul Weller, Dizzee Rascal and others to win the Barclaycard Mercury Prize. The band's melancholic songs, with lyrics about loneliness, lust and love, have struck a chord in Britain in particular, providing the perfect soundtrack to our troubled times. The BBC chose their song "Intro" for its election coverage--and their popularity was even latched on to by the Tories, who used their music without permission at the Conservative party conference in October.


Tonight, The xx are home to do something deeply un-rock 'n' roll: turn on the local Christmas lights. "They probably wanted Barbara Windsor, didn't they?" laughs Oliver Sim, the tall, handsome singer and bassist, who shaved off his old, Fifties-style quiff when the band finished touring in October.

Next to him is the singer and guitarist Romy Madley Croft, Sim's best friend since they were toddlers. She smiles shyly under her severe, triangular fringe and explains that they are here because they owe it to Putney. "Especially given all the time we spent lurking around Greggs," she laughs. The third member, Jamie Smith, who met the others in the playground when they were 11, is now one of the UK's most respected young producers and DJs. He is a quiet soul, who most often nods mutely in agreement at what his bandmates have to say.

What is striking about these three, whom I first met 18 months ago, is how humble they have remained throughout their rapid ascent. Even now, where others in their position would happily put themselves forward as spokespeople for this or that issue, The xx are characteristically reticent. This is the third time I have interviewed them, yet even now it feels like we're playing mind games. When the Dictaphone is off, they are warm and talkative; as soon as it is on, they become cautious.

Never is this more so than when we move on to the subject of politics. When The xx's music was used at the Tory conference, a representative of their record label, Young Turks, posted an angry message on the social networking website Twitter. "The xx ... didn't approve the use of their music at the party [conference] and certainly don't approve of said party," he wrote at the time.

Now, however, they quickly clam up when asked about it: Sim will only express his irritation at their name being used to confer kudos on anyone at all. When I ask if they voted, they stare at each other nervously and grimace. After a long silence, Sim tries to explain why they do this. "It's protection, I suppose," he says. "Not to flatter myself, but I know that you can influence people's opinion as a musician and I don't want to." Madley Croft nods. "Every one of us has our opinions but we are quite private people. We wouldn't want to be associated with anything."

Later, they tell me that they did vote and that they care deeply about the future of Britain--particularly its youth. But The xx desperately want to avoid being held up as moral icons or ambassadors for a generation. As Madley Croft reminds me, they made an album full of personal sentiments that they initially thought only "four people would hear".

Putney is where I first met The xx. This was pre-fame, when they used to rehearse in a tiny space under the railway arches, where sticky carpet covered the walls and empty Coke cans littered the floor. Baria Qureshi, then the fourth member of the band--whose departure last autumn Madley Croft still describes as feeling "like a divorce"--was there, too. They were all dressed head-to-toe in black, as they still do. They talked about the different artists and genres that they loved--Chris Isaak and Mariah Carey, hip-hop and dubstep--as trains rattled the walls. …

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