The xx Buzz At Bonnaroo
The sparse, cool British trio the xx are on a road former buzz bands like MGMT know something about.
After their debut was received rapturously by the blogosphere and many critics, the xx - whose members are all 21 or younger - are overdosing on summer festivals. This summer, they play five in the U.S. and more than a dozen in Europe.
It goes to that old adage: Strike while the Twitter is hot.
Festivals can help a band gain exposure to music fans across genres, but a heavy festival circuit can also be a slog - especially for young groups with little previous performing experience. Temperatures are high, soundchecks nonexistent and environments frequently chaotic.
That was certainly the case at the xx's performance at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on Thursday night. The band played a midnight set that was swarmed by thousands eager for the xx's melodic, stripped down R&B, married with electronic, hip-hop inflected beats.
"We're just sort of going with the flow," Romy Madley Croft, who sings and plays guitar, said in an interview shortly before playing. "For the whole summer, it's pretty much every Friday, Saturday, Sunday is in a different festival for each weekend. I'm like, `OK, whatever. Let's do it.' And I throw myself into it."
The xx wouldn't seem like a band whose sound - remarkably fully formed from the start - is befitting to festivals, where loudness usually carries the day. They sing quiet, patient songs - with Romy trading lines with bassist Oliver Sim - about teenage melodrama and lust.
They would seem perfect for a "Twilight" movie soundtrack. Since releasing their self-titled debut last summer, though, they have found notable placement on "Grey's Anatomy" and in a prominent AT&T commercial for the Winter Olympic games.
Croft and Sim, who grew up in London, began playing together when they were 15 or 16. Then fans of the Killers, Queens of the Stone Age and Death From Above 1979, their first instinct was to play loud, distortion-heavy rock. It was only when Croft's amp blew out and she got a new one that she tried flicking on the reverb setting.
"I just turned it on and I liked it," says Croft. "Our sound is just happy accidents, really. It's never been premeditated."
A few years later, Jamie Smith joined on drum machine and playing samples. Keyboardist Bafia Qureshi left the band earlier this year, sending them even further into minimalism. Their fondness for slick R&B comes through in covers of Womack and Womack's "Teardrops" and Aliyah's "Hot Like Fire."
Sim, who turns 21 on Monday, says playing in the daylight - as they did at the Coachella and Sasquatch festivals - can feel "a bit naked and exposed." The band always dresses in black and performs with dramatic backlighting.
"We're very used to hiding behind smoke and lights," says Sim.
The band has been on the road almost nonstop since September. They're young enough that they've been escorted in and out of American venues they were playing, "so we wouldn't grab any drinks," says Croft with a smirk.
"It's definitely been one of the hardest things that I've ever done," Croft says. "You're always sort of a bit exposed. It's not the normal way of life. If people are feeling a bit tired one day, they can have a cup of tea, watch a film, go to bed. If I'm not feeling good that day, I still have to get up on stage and perform in front of over a thousand people, probably.
"I've been very tired a lot of this year," she adds.