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Jamie xx: life in colour
Photography Alec Mcleish; styling Gary Armstrong

Jamie xx: life in colour

As he gets ready to release his very own homage to UK club culture, Jamie xx talks girls, gentrification and going solo

Taken from the Spring/Summer issue of Dazed:

Jamie Smith might just be the shyest boy ever to soundtrack a generation. With The xx, the Putney-born artist recast British pop in starkly romantic new shapes. Now he’s going it alone with In Colour, an homage to a 90s free party he never went to, and a love letter to a UK sound now archived by kids on YouTube and ex-ravers who still have all their jungle cassettes. Once a wide-eyed teen at Plastic People connecting with the crowd through a bass drop, he now holds his own among the heads he considered heroes.

How did UK rave culture inspire this record?

Jamie xx: I wasn’t old enough to go to raves, so I have a romantic idea of that period and the scenes that were happening before the internet. I just love the music. In the UK especially, dance music goes in cycles. It’s often kids reappropriating sounds they loved when they were younger, but were too young to be a part of. They’re making something new out of it. 

How do you feel about the state of British nightlife at the moment?

Jamie xx: There’s a lot of talk of London being torn down and horrible investors coming in, putting massive glass buildings everywhere and destroying the essence of the city. With places like Plastic People closing, I feel like something interesting has to happen now. People who have been part of London before all this talk will want to keep it in some way, so maybe new scenes will start popping up further out, because for a while it’s felt a little bit stagnant. That’s just how it works – artists move in, then investors move in, so artists are forced out and it has to start all over again, brand-new. That’s how the city goes.

Was Plastic People a formative place for you in your development as an artist?

Jamie xx: Definitely. At Plastic People you could just feel the music so much when they had the old soundsystem. That was one of the first times I really understood dance music, ’cos I used to listen to it on headphones but what actually makes people move is the physical thing. So that was pretty special. 

When you were making (2014 single) ‘All Under One Roof Raving’, what did you picture?

Jamie xx: When I was making that track I saw people full of memories, all dancing. I don’t usually think of people dancing when I’m making music, but this was different. All music is escapism for me, but I like the way that, on a good night, that sense of escapism can be shared. 

As someone who’s constantly collecting records, what’s doing it for you right now?

Jamie xx: There’s a record that just came out on Diagonal Records by NHK featuring XiX (‘845’). It’s a sick tune. I rarely have an artist on constantly, it’s just tunes. My favourite track from UK soundsystem culture has got to be ‘Back in the Days (Sexy Ladys mix)’ by Urban Jungle.

Is there a song on In Colour that you hold particularly dear, or that sparks a personal memory?

Jamie xx: I guess they all do, but ‘Girl’ is the most personal on there – it’s quite obvious what that one’s about. I find it quite useful to be alone when I’m making music, but also in general, in life. If I’m trying to do something I like, it usually gets clouded by other things. Towards the end of making this album, it was a conscious decision to be alone.

“All music is escapism for me, but I like the way that, on a good night, that sense of escapism can be shared” – Jamie xx

You collaborate with Popcaan and Young Thug on the record – were you worried about integrating Jamaican and American sounds on an album so heavily indebted to the UK?

Jamie xx: I’ve been to so many places that I love. I love America – Atlanta and New York especially. I love Jamaica and the music from the Caribbean. And I love London. It felt natural that these places were represented on the record. The way the song with Young Thug and Popcaan (‘I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times’) came about was really natural as well. I was driving from my house in Brooklyn every day, listening to Hot 97 and it was just so inspiring. It felt like I had to make something like that.

The xx’s shows at the Armory in New York were presented like an exhibition. What did it mean to you to do something so all-encompassing?

Jamie xx: It’s one of the best things I’ve ever been part of – a wonderful memory to have. It inspired me to take more on and be more daring. 

Which artists really inspired you when you were making In Colour?

Jamie xx: The people that really inspired me are the people I have now managed to become contemporaries with, like Four Tet and Floating Points. I learn so much about music just from hanging around with them. I met Four Tet at his night at Plastic People through his cousin, who was in my year at school. I used to go and listen to him playing anything from jazz to techno. Having worked with him, I’ve found out he’s so honest, in a way that’s shocking sometimes. It’s stuff I need to hear – I’ve been in a band long enough for that not to affect me. We have the same honesty in The xx. It’s an important thing.

You recently composed a score for Tree of Codes, a ballet inspired by Jonathan Safran Foer’s book of the same name. What was that experience like?

Jamie xx: It’s been freeing working on it at the same time as the band’s new record, it means I’m able to be experimental and self-indulgent on the ballet while honing the perfect pop song with The xx.

You’re back in the studio with The xx to work on your third album – how is the process different this time around?

Jamie xx: We feel a lot freer and I think we’re all generally happier than we were when we were doing the second album (Coexist). We realise now that when we were making it we were in quite a dark place and we were very insular. At the time, I think we thought that’s just how it is to make a second album. It was quite frustrating and tense, and you can hear that in the record. Now it feels a lot more free and open – we’re making things a little bit more eclectic. 

You mentioned a dark cloud that hung over those recording sessions – was there ever a time you felt like you couldn’t do it any more?

Jamie xx: Not exactly, I just felt like we needed a break towards the end of making the second record. I needed the band’s help towards the end of making In Colour. Romy came into the studio to help me, I was getting lost. It wasn’t as bad as it felt on Coexist, maybe we had to get to that point. It’s just an important part of it – those peaks and troughs.

In Colour is out on June 1

Jamie wears cotton shirt by Les Benjamins; grooming Kota Suizu at Caren using Kiehl’s; styling assistant Georgia Medley

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