mon 15/07/2024

The xx, Village Underground, Shoreditch | reviews, news & interviews

The xx, Village Underground, Shoreditch

The xx, Village Underground, Shoreditch

Young indie-electro band prove more powerful than they appear

Browsing through various past reviews of The xx, two adjectives which occur time and again are “fragile” and “tentative”. These are wrong – but understandable.

Certainly the young south-west London band (the members have all turned 20 in recent months), habitually clad entirely in black and quietly spoken if they speak at all, give the superficial impression of diffidence – and the construction of their music is skeletal to say the least, never more so than last night playing as a three-piece with keyboard/guitar player Baria Qureshi absent (whether temporarily or permanently was not made clear, only that they were “devastated” to be without her).

But “fragile”? “Tentative”? No. It was immediately clear from the moment the trio took to the stage in the large, church-like warehouse venue and without ceremony began the “Intro” from their album xx that there is a quiet assurance to what they do that completely gives the lie to the idea of them as somehow endearingly inept, emotionally troubled faux-naif adolescents. With neither drummer nor recorded backing track, their rhythms were instead tapped out on the trigger pads of a sampler by the band's electronics expert Jamie Smith, giving a slight looseness compared to so many guitar/electronic crossover acts that are dominated by the pulse of a sequencer – but the audaciously minimal guitar and bass of Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim respectively locked into Smith's stuttering patterns so perfectly that though the parts may seem delicate, the whole took on a strength through perfect balance and interior consistency.

The proof of the band's subtle powers was all around us: the audience was a smart Shoreditch mix of indie kids, club types and music industry personnel, precisely the sort of crowd you would expect to talk incessantly over a band that started this quiet – but they were conspicuously silent. Not stunned into silence, or hypnotised by stage presence (the band barely moved) but respectfully attentive to the music. As the band played through the songs from xx, this attentiveness remained, building into smatterings of dancing as the songs built in intensity – which they did with the steady certainty of musicians raised on dance music as much as on indie.

For The xx are the first post-dubstep rock band: schooled on club music that doesn't strive for ecstatic release but which understands the pleasure of tension, torque and vertigo, and – crucially – of space. Every so often Smith would allow huge subsonic electronic bass notes to rise up around the sparse structures of his primitive funk beats, and though Madley-Croft and Sim's single-note or up-and-down-the-scale riffs had the tone of post-punk acts like early Cure, or an occasional country twang, the way these and their idiosyncratically-tuned voices harmonised and built in volume with relentless patience was straight from the best, most rarefied techno or dubstep.

The band played their album's songs, and their outstandingly weird cover version of Womack & Womack's 1980s pop soul classic “Teardrops” (which apparently the they originally knew only through much later dance bootlegs on pirate radio), and were gone as unceremoniously as they came. A few words had been said by Madley Croft and Sim between songs about missing Qureshi, about how proud they were to be headlining their first tour, about being grateful to the crowd – and each time the crowd responded warmly. But after the final burst of applause, it was clear there was to be no encore, and the crowd didn't clamour for one.

It felt like it was enough for The xx to come on, play – there was no stagecraft, no lightshow, and no performance as such beyond a complete assurance to their presence on stage – and go. Their no-fuss approach and the stately power their music earned its reward in the rapt attention it got while it was being played; and it's this lack of neediness to their performance that marks them out as a very, very long way from being fragile shrinking violets, or a mere flavour-of-the-month curiosity. Whatever the situation with Qureshi, The xx feel like a band embarking on a real career, and not embarking tentatively either.

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