In 2009, the frenzied nocturnal productions of teenager Jamie Smith were enough to convince The xx, when working on their debut ‘xx’, to shun the attentions of other producers, and allow him full control over the sound of the record. In 2011, Jamie has founded his identity on this sound, and has perfected his technique of manipulating it out of any piece of music he turns his hand to.
It’s a sound which reeks of night-time, a sound which simmers in the middle of a hot day, but explodes in the openness and quiet fragility of night. Spongy beats and steel pans, metallic shimmers and voices cut down to the bare, gut-wrenching essentials; Jamie blazes an echoing trail through tracks like NY is Killing Me , from the remixed Gil Scot Heron album ‘We’re New Here’, picking at the emotional remnants of the original and scattering them like the restless, repetitive thoughts of an insomniac. Jamie’s is music made in the knowledge that others are out having fun, music made under the lamplight of those who can’t sleep.
One of my favourite Jamie xx remixes, Glasser’s Tremel , takes the wavering tremble of the original and distorts it through a lens of misplaced night-time energy. Cut into coos and wails, the essence of the track dances lightly over Jamie’s beats and swells, evoking the kind of emotion that comes in a head-rush, tightly kept inside with bitten lips. It’s what I want to listen to when I’m on an early morning bus ride home, when I’m alone in the early hours, when I’m struck with a surge of energy and lack of outlets for it. Similarly, the You’ve Got the Love – xx rework takes the optimism of the original track and bleaches it, watering down the overt sheen of the lyrics and making the song into something altogether more introspective, and more overwhelming.
If there’s one name on the Field Day line-up that, to me, burns through brightly, it’s Jamie xx, half nocturnal teenager, half tireless production visonary. Bringing nightfall to sun-drenched music and infecting his crowd with the tossing and turning of his creativity, I’m looking forward to feeling the immersion that I feel when I listen to tracks like Far Nearer in the living body of a crowd, to feeling the music jump and settle all around, to feel that insomniac aloneness together.
“Jamie hasn’t slept yet…” Romy Croft told us, in that 2009 interview I referenced at the beginning, which is so fascinating to read today in the wake of the band’s, and Jamie’s, successes. Since when, and until when, remained vague points; the phrase now seems more like a summary of his body of work over the past three years than a throwaway comment on the immediate present, evoking the relentless, infectious awake-ness that pulses through each song he puts his name to. Jamie finds the night “easier” – sleep can come later.