JAMIE XX

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FROM VMAN 34 FALL 2015
PHOTOGRAPHY JEFF HENRIKSON
FASHION CLARE BYRNE
TEXT PATRIK SANDBERG

RECORDED ON THE ROAD AND MAINLINED FROM PERSONAL MEMORIES, JAMIE XX’S IN COLOUR ROSE ABOVE THE NOISE OF 2015 TO BECOME THIS YEAR’S STANDOUT SONIC ACHIEVEMENT. IN BETWEEN TV GIGS AND A BOLD NEW ART COLLABORATION, THE COMPOSER AND PRODUCER PAUSES TO REFLECT ON THE PROCESS BEHIND HIS MOST PROFOUND PROJECT YET.

 “It’s scary to get it out into the real world,” says Jamie Smith, over tea at Williamsburg’s Wythe Hotel, on his first weekend promoting his recent LP, In Colour. The record had its first public listen the previous evening in a room full of journalists and record executives at the neon-lit New York City headquarters of the Judd Foundation. “But people have been really nice about it.”
 
It’s a characteristically modest understatement from Smith, who, under the moniker Jamie xx, has built an ecstatic critical following for his bursts of incandescent, progressive electronic dance music, which he releases in between periods of apparent hibernation. Bashful and usually clad all in black, the London native is more comfortable behind a laptop than in front of a camera lens and harbors no qualms about admitting his uncertainty when it comes to his recording process. “I wasn’t working toward an album,” he says. “I was just making music. Then, beginning last year, I decided that if I was going to finish all the music I had started, I needed some sort of endgame, which was the album, and that allowed me to finish things. I’m just so bad at finishing anything off.”
 
One-third of the xx, his popular, brooding indie rock band with his close former schoolmates Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft, Smith built a process of recording dance music out of the solitude and alienation he experienced on tour. “When I make music, it’s usually just on my headphones on the tour bus, like, just sort of getting a bit sad and lonely, because it actually makes me happy. But not all of it is made like that. Some of it is joyful.” He relays a story of his inspiration behind the song “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” which features guest vocals from the Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan and the Atlanta rapper Young Thug. It was conceived during the xx’s residency at the Park Avenue Armory in spring of last year. “I was in New York for two months, in Brooklyn, and had to get a car to Manhattan every day for the Armory shows, and I was listening to Hot 97 in the mornings going over the bridge, looking at the city,” he recalls. “It was just so perfect. I wanted to make something like that.”
 
“(Good Times)” is one of a handful of fan favorites from In Colour and was hailed by many critics as the song of the summer. “‘Girl’ was one track that was getting a bit emotional,” Smith says. But it’s “Loud Places,” featuring Croft, that the producer cites as the lightning bolt that solidifed the album—the song samples Idris Muhammad’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This,” a 1977 R&B fusion track. “[“Loud Places”] didn’t have the big sample in it and it wasn’t quite clicking with me,” Smith says. “I had this song that I loved, that I wanted to use for ages, somewhere, and when it worked together it was sort of a eureka moment. That was when I knew I was coming to the end of making the album.”
 
It was Smith’s talent for sampling—specifically his work with the late Gil Scott-Heron on their joint 2011 EP We’re New Here—that first earned him recognition from the likes of Drake, Rihanna, Florence and the Machine, and Adele, all of whom he’s worked with either as a producer or on remixes since. “It was a bit disheartening at times,” he says, “to have so many people involved in making a three-minute song in that pop world. I learned so much. I’m really happy that I did it and I got to work with amazing people, but at the end of it, it made me want to be on my own and make music like I used to. So I will delve into that again, but only at intervals.”
 
Now that In Colour has made Jamie a star in his own right, with many critics putting it on best-of lists before the year was even halfway through, he’s learning to master the late-night television circuit. He’s also putting the finishing touches on an experimental ballet called Tree of Codes. A collaboration with choreographer Wayne McGregor and artist Olafur Eliasson that’s based on a text by Jonathan Safran Foer, Tree of Codes premieres at the Armory later this month. An early preview hints at a piano-based score, much less voltaic than Smith’s soft-core rave hits of late. But then again, his work has redefined the term “quiet storm” at every turn. Smith explains as much himself: “In clubs, I like when music is so dynamic that there are moments when you can hear everything that’s going on around you. I like to come back into reality for a bit before it gets loud again. I like how emotive that dynamic can be. It just really works. It’s quite a simple trick.” 

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