Jamie xx: 'Things are discovered, hyped and lost now very quickly compared to the early 1990s'

In the run up to Forbidden Fruit, the xx member says it’s still all about the music

 

Jamie Smith may well be the quietest interviewee in the world. He carefully answers every question and politely deals with every query, and the replies are soft-spoken and to the point.

Smith obviously feels there is no need to amplify his words and thoughts with excess volume or verbiage.

But it’s a different matter with the music he makes. Whether it’s his work as a member of The xx or his productions with Gil Scott-Heron, Drake and Alicia Keys, Smith has a lovely knack of making evocative, magnetic sounds which resonate long and loud.

His solo debut album In Colour is full of such moments. From the muted, melancholic steel drums chiming on Obvs to the rave MC caught in a nostalgic echo chamber on Gosh, Smith’s gift for catching enigmatic, scene-setting moments is writ large throughout.

For him, the prime aim with the album was to document changes in his world over the past few years.

“I didn’t want In Colour to be a show-off album where I put on everything that was technically possible. I wanted it to be much more about the music that moved me,” Smith says.

“It didn’t matter to me if it was technically progressive or whatever – I just wanted it to reflect how I was feeling at the time I made it.

“All the music on the album was made over five years when a lot happened in my life and career. I went through all the same experiences that people growing up go through, like first relationships and whatever. The album is about music and the underground club culture, but there’s a lot more to it than that.”

Underground influence

That underground dance scene from the past has a big part to play in how In Colour swings in the shape of Smith’s fondness and fascination with 1990s club culture. It may have been before his time, but he still feels a connection with the excitement and euphoria of that era.

“It’s probably romanticised to a large degree because I was way too young to be a part of it,” he says.

“There’s a lot of music which I love which was made before I was born or which I was too young to appreciate at the time. I’m sure that’s the same for everyone.

“But that London club music which I reference on the album really interests me as a part of history. It’s been well documented and there’s now a lot of young people getting interested in it and getting their own ideas about it. I’m not so sure if it’s nostalgia as such, as they weren’t there at the time, but you can definitely see some of those influences coming across.”

Smith doesn’t believe similar sentiments will necessarily apply in the future to the scenes of today because of pop culture’s hyper-acceleration.

“Everything moves so quickly. Things are discovered, hyped and lost now very quickly compared to the underground scene of the early 1990s, which was quite slow-moving by comparison and built by word of mouth.”

Seismic Plastic

One of the clubs which had a seismic effect on Smith was London’s Plastic People, which closed its doors earlier this year. For the producer, it was a formative experience to go there, walk into the room and take it all in, from the music to the sound system.

“It was one of the few places I went at that time of my life where it wasn’t about the people I was with,” he says. “I knew some people there, but it wasn’t about that. It was about going into a dark room on my own and listening to this incredible music played really loud on a great sound system.

“Plastic People was special to me because it was somewhere I went when I was at a young age and was really open to new ideas. I’m sure there are lots of people who feel the same about Plastic People and other clubs. There are a lot of clubs in Europe and Japan which are amazing in terms of how they sound. It’s a deeply personal thing, that connection with a special space.”

Smith’s desire to rekindle such connections with his own formative years extend beyond clubland. The video for Loud Places features Smith and Romy Madley-Croft, his bandmate in The xx, skating through London.

“Before me and Romy began making music together, we used to skate around the city,” Smith says. “I know the city like the back of my hand because of it and I love it.”

Yet it’s not all about looking back. Smith notes that his own tastes are constantly morphing and changing with every passing year.

“There were certain things on the album that are there because, I guess, they are part of my palette now. That palette has definitely widened because of the people I’ve worked with, the music I’ve listened to and how much more I’ve learned about what I can do with music.”

His next project is composing the music for a new piece by ballet dancer Wayne McGregor.

“The xx did some shows at the Manchester International Festival and the Armory in New York and the same people who ran those shows asked me to do the music for Wayne as part of the next festival.

“I’m trying to make 90 minutes of music as opposed to a three-minute pop song. Compared to producing something with Drake or Alicia Keys, it’s much more abstract and freer.

“It’s a completely new thing for me and quite inspiring to feel so out of my depth.

“I also get to spend more time in my own studio here in London which is where I want to be all the time pretty much.”

The other job on Smith’s to-do list is the third album by The xx. What’s the story with that and when can we expect to see it? “I don’t know really,” he replies slowly and quietly. “We’re still making music and enjoying it and not asking ourselves that question.”
 

In Colour is out now on Young Turks. Jamie xx plays at the Forbidden Fruit festival in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham on Saturday, May 30th.

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