Asia fans to feel The xx factor
With their sparse guitar lines, hushed vocals and enigmatic stage presence, The xx are a band who have come to personify cool understatement. As for their fans? Sometimes less so.
“Couples have come up to us after the show and told us how they got together with our music,” said Romy Madley Croft, singer and guitarist with the British band whose 2009 self-titled debut was hailed as a minimalist masterpiece and won the Mercury Prize a year later.
“Some people tell you that they’ve cried their whole way through the show, and you don’t really know what to say.”
A few are also prone to over-sharing, in terms of how the band’s music has inspired them in the bedroom.
“It’s a little bit awkward when that happens,” she said on the phone from Reno, Nevada ahead of the band’s upcoming Asia tour that takes them to South Korea’s Valley Rock Festival on Friday and Japan’s Fuji Rock festival on Sunday, before shows in Manila, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan next week. European and US dates follow in August.
Such friendly fan enthusiasm illustrates how The xx’s ghostly music inspires, even if the trio – Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, who started the band as a duo when they were 15-year-old school mates in London, and Jamie Smith – don’t exactly crave the spotlight.
Their black-clad, statuesque stage presence led one reviewer to describe them as looking like “mannequin dolls in the world’s saddest window display” – an image that has not stopped younger fans from screaming at singer and bass guitarist Sim at their concerts, Madley Croft said.
“Once you’re in the middle of a tour you get used to the idea of getting up on stage in front of people, and it becomes a little bit normal,” she said.
“But it’s never that normal. I never would have thought I’d do this or stand up in front of people and bare my soul.”
As well as performing, the band has this year put together its own mini festivals under the banner “Night + Day” in London, Berlin and Lisbon, using offbeat locations such as an abandoned theme park to help set the tone.
Their appeal is wide. Songs from their debut found their way into various TV shows and adverts, while last year’s follow-up “Coexist” saw the band become an even more commercially successful proposition.
“We did it for a couple of years when there were only about five people in the audience, when you certainly did not feel like a success,” said Madley Croft. “Even now I have to pinch myself.”
First impressions of their precisely curated music – a delicate balance between sound and the absence of it – can be deceptive. Guitar notes slide glacially through songs that flirt with electronic dance music, occasionally allowing themselves to break into a beat.
But what separates The xx from cold electronica is the personal, intimate and occasionally erotic nature of the songs.
“After each show I feel like I’ve gone through a whole emotional experience and come out the other side. It feels quite therapeutic,” said Madley Croft.
The same can be said for their ever-enthusiastic audience.
“Someone saw our Coachella set (earlier this year) and said he felt like he might as well have been up there on the stage naked, because he felt so emotionally exposed,” she added.
“It doesn’t feel quite like that for us. But it is a good thing.”