VMAN27

ARTICLE JASON LAMPHIER

PHOTOGRAPHY PIERRE DEBUSSCHERE

STYLIST CELESTINE COONEY

CREDITS ARTICLE CONTENTS

TIMES INFINITY

CONTEMPO CUTS

FUTURE XX LOVE SOUNDS

EXTRA CREDITS

Hair Bianca Tuovi using Bumble and bumble (CLM Hair and MakeUp)  Photo assistants Ismael Moumin and Yi Chen  Stylist assistant Adam Winder  Retouching Ismael Moumin (254FOREST)  Location Spring Studios London  Special thanks Barbar and Verien Wiltshire

MORE TO LOVE

THE VIDEO: JESSIE WARE - TOUGH LOVE THE VIDEO: CONNAN MOCKASIN – DO I MAKE YOU FEEL SHY? SOHN STEPS INTO THE SPOTLIGHT PENN BADGLEY & IMOGEN POOTS

FUTURE XX LOVE SOUNDS

PHOTOGRAPHY PIERRE DEBUSSCHERE
FASHION CELESTINE COONEY
TEXT JASON LAMPHIER

SURFING THROUGH DANCE MUSIC'S INFINITE GENRES, RISING U.K. PRODUCER JAMIE XX REDEFINES WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A DJ AS EFFORTLESSLY AS HE REWORKS YOUR FAVORITE POP SONGS

Three years ago Jamie Smith was just a fresh-faced music geek obsessed with the infinite genres and subgenres of U.K. dance music. Now he’s well on his way to becoming one of the most highly regarded DJ-producers around. As a member of the much-hyped London trio the xx, Smith has proven to be an ace purveyor of stripped-down bedroom pop; meanwhile his retoolings of songs by Adele and Florence + the Machine—as well as an ingenious reworking of soul legend Gil Scott-Heron’s final recording—have shown that it’s entirely possible to make an already killer cut that much better. Oh, and rumor has it Drake might be calling.  “I used to listen to a lot of my parents’ jazz and soul stuff,” says Smith—aka Jamie xx—on the phone from the xx’s studio in London (he’s finishing up the band’s highly anticipated second album, Coexist, out September 11 from Young Turks). “Then I discovered electronic music through the samples it was taking from soul. The whole electronic world keeps growing and progressing. It’s fascinating.”  As the group’s beat maker and producer, Smith rarely uses live percussion, instead employing a drum machine and programmed loops that are sometimes layered ten samples deep. He loves house and disco, but he’s mostly been influenced by R&B and dubstep, a genre once defined by minimal sub-bass and echo effects and one that Smith thinks has taken a bit of a nosedive: “Now you’ve got people like Skrillex doing something very different from what dubstep set out to be. I don’t really like using the term anymore, because it kind of means something else. It seems to have become very brash and in-your-face and made to make people go nuts in a club. Now it’s music that only dudes will listen to.” What Smith would deem true dubstep originated in South London, where he and his bandmates attended the Elliott School, alma mater of electronic acts including Hot Chip, Burial, and Four Tet. He studied drums for a year and a half, but soon abandoned formal training. “I took lessons in several different instruments,” he says, “but I always quit because I don’t really like being told what to do.” Though the xx began collaborating with Diplo and Kewes on their debut album, Smith ultimately produced it himself.   That record, xx, was released in 2009, just as Smith and singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft and singer-bassist Oliver Sim were turning 20 (hence the title). At first the 11 songs—about first love, sex, and all the messy, ambiguous stuff in between—sounded unusually spare and spacious. Perhaps that’s why there was initially something slightly cold and detached about it. The album only truly rewards after repeat listens with a badass pair of headphones.  “We only put what we can play live on a record,” says Smith. “That’s always been our mentality. There’s only three of us. We’re quite simple, so we like our music simple.” Talking with Smith confirms this: his explanations are always succinct, and it’s difficult for him to articulate why he does what he does. “I don’t think I ever really had a realization that I wanted to make music,” he says. “It was just what I did since I can remember.” He’s not unfriendly. He just gives the impression that he can’t wait to get back to his laptop to create and have some space of his own. While Smith strives to keep his arrangements for the xx tidy and nuanced—what he likes to call “classic”—his solo output as Jamie xx could be considered their schizophrenic cousin. His sputtering versions of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and Florence + the Machine’s cover of Candi Staton’s “You Got the Love” could hardly be called remixes, as both divas’ voices have been sliced, diced, and pitch-smacked into ghostly shadows of themselves. His gorgeous solo cut “Far Nearer” is anchored by a vocal sample from Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” but warps it beyond recognition. For Smith, lyrics and vocals are just another set of instruments, and he says he’s less interested in glorifying the original artists than in deconstructing their songs in order to fashion something completely new—though “it’s easier to make strong instrumentals with a powerful voice,” he says.  One of the voices that has resonated with him since his youth is that of Scott-Heron, the “godfather of rap,” whom Smith discovered through his parents. After hearing Smith’s work on xx, producer and XL Recordings owner Richard Russell tapped him to recontextualize I’m New Here, Scott-Heron’s 2010 album, his first in 16 years. Smith met Scott-Heron in person a handful of times, but they discussed the project through handwritten letters. When Smith’s magnificent remake, titled We’re New Here, dropped in February 2011, it was wildly different from its source material, pairing Scott-Heron’s talking blues with various samples from his career and snippets from other artists, such as Gloria Gaynor. Scott-Heron died three months later. “I was at a DJ festival in Barcelona at the time of his death,” Smith recalls. “I came off the stage and someone told me just after I’d played [Scott-Heron’s song] ‘NY is Killing Me.’ It was a very strange feeling, a mixture of adrenaline from coming off stage and morbidity…and sadness.” Smith, who recently relocated to North London from Brixton, was inspired by a lot of house and U.K. underground while recording the xx’s Coexist, but he’s quick to clarify that “it’s definitely not a dance album. It’s just that our minds are more open to a whole world of music that we would never listen to before. I don’t think it represents a new sound—it just represents our progression.” As with xx, Smith’s latest production packs the seductive punch to make Coexist the between-the-sheets soundtrack of the year. Percussion, though, plays a more dominant role: the track “Angels,” for example, features Croft’s trademark understated vocals and the threesome’s standard guitar-bass-minimal-beat structure, until a military-drum loop creeps into the mix. “Charm” boasts a heavy hip-hop pulse, and “Sunset,” with its throbbing techno backdrop, may be the closest the xx has come to a bona fide club anthem. When asked to sum up his vision for Coexist, Smith’s answer is as simple as you’d expect. “We were all really naïve with the first album, which is the state that we tried to get into again when making this new record. I think we were all hoping to achieve a similar sense of just being in a room as three friends making music for fun again, because we hadn’t done that in three years. We wanted to forget about the pressure. I think we actually managed to achieve that.”

EXTRA CREDITS

Hair Bianca Tuovi using Bumble and bumble (CLM Hair and MakeUp)  Photo assistants Ismael Moumin and Yi Chen  Stylist assistant Adam Winder  Retouching Ismael Moumin (254FOREST)  Location Spring Studios London  Special thanks Barbar and Verien Wiltshire

MORE TO LOVE

THE VIDEO: JESSIE WARE - TOUGH LOVE THE VIDEO: CONNAN MOCKASIN – DO I MAKE YOU FEEL SHY? SOHN STEPS INTO THE SPOTLIGHT PENN BADGLEY & IMOGEN POOTS
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