Swept Away An interview with Jamie xx about music for changing times

Text: Oliver Mol

I wanted to talk to Jamie xx about 2007, 2008 and 2009: the years that introduced social media to the world. Jamie was in London and I was in Brisbane and we didn’t know one another, but we were several years out of high school and I wanted to know if he came of age when the world was coming of age too.

I wanted to return to the parties and the music. I wanted to ask about London and tell him about Brisbane – and talk about Myspace and return to the gigs at Rics or The Hangar or The Empire when we danced to Boys Noize or Metronomy or A-Track or Crystal Castles or Uffie or Feadz. I wanted to know if he danced to those people too. I wanted to return to that timestamp, when phones were rarely stared at and social media was barely used. And I wanted to live there in those nights that went undocumented, or less documented, before our lives virtually fractured.

But Jamie xx (Jamie Smith) wasn’t a massive talker. And while I tried to open the conversation to topics beyond music, it mostly came back to music. Having said that, there was an underlying darkness that I liked. I don’t know if it comes through here on the transcript, but on the recording it felt like there was a longing for time past.

Sometimes it seems silly, remembering. But I guess I just want to know what happened. What happened to that time and to those people? Those sweaty nights, my beautiful friends from long, long ago.


We’re the same age. So I want to talk about 2007: The housing bubble burst. The Global Financial Crisis loomed around the corner. And people partied with apocalyptic abandon. But it was more than that too. The iPhone had only just been released. Instagram wasn’t real and social media wasn’t completely fucked. People felt nihilistic, yet hopeful. As if they no longer believed in a “future”. But they believed in something more immediate: music and fashion. I mean, The Cobra Snake existed. M.I.A. dropped Kala and Justice dropped Cross. I saw Crystal Castles for five bucks in Brisbane at The Empire. The world was going to hell. And we looked fantastic. How was 2007 for you? What were the parties like? Who were you listening too? What do you remember?

2007 was a very exciting year. I guess we were playing very small pubs in London and nobody wanted to listen to us but we were still getting gigs. That’s when our manager came across us. He sorted us out with a little room in South London to spend every day in and work out songs. And that was it. We didn’t have jobs or anything like that. We just played. We’d just live on however much we got paid for shows, which was like 20 quid each. But it was really exciting. We were all having fun. I think Romy [Madley Croft; guitars] and Oliver [Sim; bass] were partying more than I was at the time. I was staying in my studio a lot. But we would go out sometimes all together. And have fun on the nights we were playing.

The three members of The xx sit together on a swing.

From left to right: Jamie, Romy, and Oliver. Image credit: Alasdair McLellan.

Given The xx formed in 2005 and released their debut album in 2009, how did 2007 impact the band’s debut, given that it seems almost the antithesis to the Crystal Castles and Ed Banger record sounds of the time?

Well, we were really into that stuff as well. We would play some festivals with those guys and go see them. It was a very exciting time in London because it felt like there were lots of bands. There was a theme, which feels less so now. It feels like there isn’t one thing that ties everything together, whereas back then it felt like there was.


I was talking to my mate Robbie recently. We agreed social media – the bombardment of unfulfilling, meaningless, white noise crap – was mostly “input”, which seemed negative, and creating things was mostly “output”, which seemed positive. Having said that, everyone seems to be an artist or a writer or a musician or a creative these days. MacBooks made everyone a musician. iPhones made everyone a photographer. Would you agree a large reason people post on social media and make art is because they want to feel loved, connected, be heard and ultimately, probably, get laid? If so, should we all put down the paintbrushes and throw our phones in the lake? Should we get naked in the sun and start the revolution? Is that the true art, true connection we’re all striving so desperately to artificially create?

I’m sure it is. A lot of it is about getting laid. But also, like, at the age we were when we started everything was so confusing. I had no idea why we were doing this but it seemed to be the only thing we could do.


Do you mean making music?

Yeah. And it did help socially as well. But I wasn’t so into the posting on social media. I was more into… I guess it brought me into a world which I wouldn’t have gotten into otherwise. It helped me meet people. It put me out of my comfort zone. I don’t know. I guess it’s nice that there is the option for most people now to express themselves and have other people see it, even if it’s not good.

But I did prefer it back then. Because I guess it was less the norm for everyone to use social media. It was different. I mean, Myspace was the reason we got discovered.


An old trainer I had at work told us to be wary of people affected by drugs and alcohol. He said, “You can’t trust someone on drugs or alcohol because there’s no logic.” Then he said, “But you have to be wary of people in love too.” He told us love drunk people acted crazy as hell. He told us when a person is in love their dopamine and serotonin levels shoot through the roof. He told us it was the same thing that happens when people do cocaine. But the world is largely illogical. So how important is love to you? Would you continue making music if the apocalypse was confirmed two weeks from now? What happens next?

If the apocalypse came I would definitely continue making music, or at least try and finish one thing I’ve been working on. But it’s hard. I’ve got to the point where I can sort of tell if something is going to be great. Which means I can stop working on it early enough so I don’t have to waste time. There seems to be two ways I make music. Either something happens in two days and it’s done. Or it takes years. This new project I’m working on… I’m building a studio in my house right now and I’m figuring out the best way of using it. I want to use more live instruments.


And what about love?

Love drives everything, for me. Even if it’s just having some nostalgic, rose-tinted idea of it. It helps me get to a certain place when making music. And my idea of it is usually better than the reality. But it’s still the exact same feeling that I had ten years ago. When I’m making something I really like. But that might be the only thing that’s stayed the same in my life. I feel like everything else, over time, everything repeating… things have gotten less exciting, less inspiring, except for the actual making of music.


Do you miss everything feeling fresh and new?

I’d definitely like to go back to 2007 and do it again with the knowledge of everything now, maybe approach it with a bit more confidence. But I guess that was part of the charm of the time. Why it was so exciting. In general, while I do get quite nostalgic, given the chance I wouldn’t go back to any other part of my life. I think… I’m happier than I ever have been.


The xx tour Australia in January 2018:

13 January – Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne (All Ages)

17 January – Riverstage, Brisbane Botanic Gardens (All Ages)

20 January – The Domain, Sydney (All Ages)

Details and tickets here: www.frontiertouring.com/thexx


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