From playing to 800 people at the Laneway festivals in 2010, the xx have come a long way. Yet even at a sold-out gig at Festival Hall, the London trio somehow still maintain the sense of intimacy and solitude that echoes throughout their music.
Reminiscent of the Cure and New Order, the new wave-inspired songs of heartbreak and solitude are countered by electro-pop beats and hints of RnB that make a potentially depressing set come alive with indie pop and electro sounds.
Dressed in their signature uniform black, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim say little – which is still more than Jamie Smith, more widely known as Jamie xx. Yet despite the lack of interaction, Jamie xx’s hypnotising skill on keyboards builds energy and tension. Romy’s powerful vocals are countered by Oliver’s deep, elegant style, but Jamie's the magician behind the decks and keyboards, darting from one to the other with the calmness and concentration of a teenager in his own room.
But i’s not a fly-on-the-wall situation for us – it’s being invited into an intimate space by a humble and grateful band, and that respect is reflected by the attentive audience. Mixing songs from their debut album xx with last year’s Coexist, the introverted trio showcase their strengths when experimenting with sounds and beats. ‘Intro’ is a standout, as is the toying with extended pauses and tension during ‘Crystallised’. While ‘VCR’ and ‘Islands’ are crowd favourites, these go-to singles stagnate the build-up of energy created when Jamie is given free range to do what he will. This is a man who could single-handedly bring back the marimba, and when the spotlight shines on him he takes over.
The light show is as impressive and as much as part of the set as the music. With sold out gigs across Australia, a spot on the Great Gatsby soundtrack and a welcome audition to this year’s Glastonbury line-up, the xx’s sultry sounds will be sticking around for some time to come.