XX MARKS THE SPOT

Jamie Smith is bring­ing his In Colour sonic vi­sion to For­bid­den Fruit this week­end

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

Jamie Smith may well be the qui­etest in­ter­vie­wee in the world. He care­fully an­swers ev­ery ques­tion and po­litely deals with ev­ery query, and the replies are soft-spo­ken and to the point.

Smith ob­vi­ously feels there is no need to am­plify his words and thoughts with ex­cess vol­ume or ver­biage.

But it’s a dif­fer­ent mat­ter with the mu­sic he makes. Whether it’s his work as a mem­ber of The xx or his pro­duc­tions with Gil Scott-Heron, Drake and Ali­cia Keys, Smith has a lovely knack of mak­ing evoca­tive, mag­netic sounds which res­onate long and loud. His solo de­but al­bum In

Colour is full of such mo­ments. From the muted, melan­cholic steel drums chim­ing on Obvs to the rave MC caught in a nos­tal­gic echo cham­ber on Gosh, Smith’s gift for catch­ing enig­matic, scene-set­ting mo­ments is writ large through­out.

For him, the prime aim with the al­bum was to doc­u­ment changes in his world over the past few years.

“I didn’t want In Colour to be a show-off al­bum where I put on ev­ery­thing that was tech­ni­cally pos­si­ble. I wanted it to be much more about the mu­sic that moved me,” Smith says.

“It didn’t mat­ter to me if it was tech­ni­cally pro­gres­sive or what­ever – I just wanted it to re­flect how I was feel­ing at the time I made it.

“All the mu­sic on the al­bum was made over five years when a lot hap­pened in my life and ca­reer. I went through all the same ex­pe­ri­ences that peo­ple grow­ing up go through, like first re­la­tion­ships and what­ever. The al­bum is about mu­sic and the un­der­ground club cul­ture, but there’s a lot more to it than that.”

Un­der­ground in­flu­ence

That un­der­ground dance scene from the past has a big part to play in how In Colour swings in the shape of Smith’s fond­ness and fas­ci­na­tion with 1990s club cul­ture. It may have been be­fore his time, but he still feels a con­nec­tion with the ex­cite­ment and eu­pho­ria of that era.

“It’s prob­a­bly ro­man­ti­cised to a large de­gree be­cause I was

way too young to be a part of it,” he says.

“There’s a lot of mu­sic which I love which was made be­fore I was born or which I was too young to ap­pre­ci­ate at the time. I’m sure that’s the same for ev­ery­one.

“But that Lon­don club mu­sic which I ref­er­ence on the al­bum re­ally in­ter­ests me as a part of his­tory. It’s been well doc­u­mented and there’s now a lot of young peo­ple get­ting in­ter­ested in it and get­ting their own ideas about it. I’m not so sure if it’s nos­tal­gia as such, as they weren’t there at the time, but you can def­i­nitely see some of those in­flu­ences com­ing across.”

Smith doesn’t be­lieve sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments will nec­es­sar­ily ap­ply in the fu­ture to the scenes of to­day be­cause of pop cul­ture’s hy­per-ac­cel­er­a­tion.

“Ev­ery­thing moves so quickly. Things are dis­cov­ered, hyped and lost now very quickly com­pared to the un­der­ground scene of the early 1990s, which was quite slow-mov­ing by com­par­i­son and built by word of mouth.”

Seis­mic Plas­tic

One of the clubs which had a seis­mic ef­fect on Smith was Lon­don’s Plas­tic Peo­ple, which closed its doors ear­lier this year. For the pro­ducer, it was a for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence to go there, walk into the room and take it all in, from the mu­sic to the sound sys­tem.

“It was one of the few places I went at that time of my life where it wasn’t about the peo­ple I was with,” he says. “I knew some peo­ple there, but it wasn’t about that. It was about go­ing into a dark room on my own and lis­ten­ing to this in­cred­i­ble mu­sic played re­ally loud on a great sound sys­tem.

“Plas­tic Peo­ple was spe­cial to me be­cause it was some­where I went when I was at a young age and was re­ally open to new ideas. I’m sure there are lots of peo­ple who feel the same about Plas­tic Peo­ple and other clubs. There are a lot of clubs in Europe and Ja­pan which are amaz­ing in terms of how they sound. It’s a deeply per­sonal thing, that con­nec­tion with a spe­cial space.”

Smith’s de­sire to rekin­dle such con­nec­tions with his own for­ma­tive years ex­tend be­yond club­land. The video for Loud

Places fea­tures Smith and Romy Madley-Croft, his band­mate in The xx, skat­ing through Lon­don.

“Be­fore me and Romy be­gan mak­ing mu­sic to­gether, we used to skate around the city,” Smith says. “I know the city like the back of my hand be­cause of it and I love it.”

Yet it’s not all about look­ing back. Smith notes that his own tastes are con­stantly mor­ph­ing and chang­ing with ev­ery pass­ing year.

“There were cer­tain things on the al­bum that are there be­cause, I guess, they are part of my pal­ette now. That pal­ette has def­i­nitely widened be­cause of the peo­ple I’ve worked with, the mu­sic I’ve lis­tened to and how much more I’ve learned about what I can do with mu­sic.”

His next project is com­pos­ing the mu­sic for a new piece by ballet dancer Wayne McGre­gor.

“The xx did some shows at the Manch­ester In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val and the Ar­mory in New York and the same peo­ple who ran those shows asked me to do the mu­sic for Wayne as part of the next fes­ti­val.

“I’m try­ing to make 90 min­utes of mu­sic as op­posed to a three-minute pop song. Com­pared to pro­duc­ing some­thing with Drake or Ali­cia Keys, it’s much more ab­stract and freer.

“It’s a com­pletely new thing for me and quite inspiring to feel so out of my depth.

“I also get to spend more time in my own stu­dio here in Lon­don which is where I want to be all the time pretty much.”

The other job on Smith’s to-do list is the third al­bum by The xx. What’s the story with that and when can we ex­pect to see it? “I don’t know re­ally,” he replies slowly and qui­etly. “We’re still mak­ing mu­sic and en­joy­ing it and not ask­ing our­selves that ques­tion.”

In Colour is out now on XL. Jamie xx plays at the For­bid­den Fruit fes­ti­val to­mor­row in the Royal Hos­pi­tal Kil­main­ham

I went through all the same ex­pe­ri­ences that peo­ple grow­ing up go through . . . The al­bum is about mu­sic and the un­der­ground club cul­ture, but there’s a lot more to it than that

Sonic boom

Jamie Smith hopes to do a third al­bum with his band The xx (above right)

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