If ever a band, perceived by those within the music industry to be globally ubiquitous, needs reminding that new listeners are still discovering them, they need only spend two minutes scanning YouTube.
At the time of writing, a look at an extended version of The xx’s ‘Intro’ - you know, the song of a thousand syncs, or thereabouts - reveals comments like “I finally found it” (well done, you) and “This song made my cereal taste better” (delicious!). Beside the usual array of those noting what brought them to the page, a rather more aggressive, albeit humorously so, post: “Anyone who disliked this deserves a dick slap right in the face.” Better duck, all three hundred and eighty of you.
That the video in question - not an official upload, by the way - has three hundred and eighty dislikes from close to five-and-a-half million views, though, says much about the appeal of The xx. It says, basically, that they’re huge. Since forming in 2008, the London outfit’s rise to both critical acclaim and commercial success has been smooth, steady, and impeccably managed. Fans have been won over the course of several exposures, with few first-timers falling instantly in love with material that, by the band’s admission, takes time to fully appreciate.
Patience has been key throughout: The xx’s as-good-as-eponymous debut album of 2009 was written and recorded in relative isolation, its makers protected from the distractions of buzz and hype; and its follow-up, ‘Coexist’, has hardly been hurried. Thirty-seven months separate the releases of albums one and two. Another band on another label might have been worried about losing momentum between releases, about shedding followers, about being left behind by ever-shifting sonic trends. But the three members of The xx look anything but worried a few weeks ahead of their latest collection’s September release.
“It’s been an intense few months, talking about this album,” says vocalist and bassist Oliver Sim. “But now we can’t wait to get on a tour bus and play.” He’s relaxed, as is co-vocalist and guitarist Romy Madley Croft, sat to his right on a comfortable leather couch. Both have been on duty for several hours, posing before Clash’s snapper. Yet neither sees such promotional activity as a chore, displaying maturity beyond numerous other artists of comparable age but greater petulance. “When you have a ten-hour day of promo, you have to think that it’s a very good sign,” says Sim. “I’d be pretty worried if we only had ten minutes of promo to do each day.”
Their eagerness to get on with the touring aspect of supporting a new album may stem from its creative process. ‘Coexist’ was written to be played live, more so than its predecessor. Whereas ‘xx’ was designed so that it could indeed be replicated on stage, the band’s own limitations as musicians prevented it from being as detailed, as layered, as ‘Coexist’ is. The minimalism that was noted in so much coverage of their debut was as much a product of necessity as it was a considered compositional decision. ‘Coexist’ is different. The xx have learned new tricks. They might not be evident immediately, but listen a handful of times and the progression from debut to successor is palpable. It’s a deeper, more involving experience. And it’s a completely organic evolution.
Words: Mike Diver
Photography: Devin Blair
Fashion: John Colver
This is an excerpt from the November 2012 issue of Clash magazine. Find out more about the issue.