The xx is coming to Beijing: on February 3rd, Modern Sky will be presenting the group at the Beijing Exhibition Center, produced by the original crew. This is the group’s first show ever in China, and the only show in Mainland China on its I See You Asia tour.
The xx is an Indie Pop band from London, England. The group was founded in 2005 by Romy Madley Croft (guitar and vocal), Oliver Sim (bass and vocal), and Jamie Smith (drums, MPC, and production).
In a span of eight years, The xx released three top-notch albums. Most notably, the first song on the group’s first, self-titled album, Intro, was regarded by fans as “the most recognizable ‘intro’ in history” for its use of simple musical elements to create anticipation and excitement. In 2010, the song was used by the BBC during the British election and was then featured in the next two UEFA Champions League, not to mention that it was also sampled by Rihanna in her single Drunk on Love. The album was also named by various critics as the best album of that year, winning the Mercury Prize to become one of the most important albums in the past decade.
At the beginning of this year, The xx release a brand new album titled I See You, thus kicking off a new global tour.
How the band can put on a perfect show became the main focus for the team behind The xx. Prior to that, the band had already received a plethora of invitations, but said no to every single one of them due to “imperfections.”
“In May of 2017, they told us a date that they’re available to do a show in mainland China, and almost all of the major promoters in China sent them an invitation. Out of the 40-something offers, the majority of them were in Beijing and Shanghai,” Zhang Ran, the manager of Modern Sky’s international division told us, “In late July, their booking agent came to Beijing and Shanghai to meet with several companies that they deemed worthy of consideration, and to check out potential venues.”
Aside from large venues like stadiums, the agent also asked Zhang to show them smaller ones such as Yu Gong Yi Shan, School, Temple, and DADA. The xx’s team would then spent almost two months weighing all the options before asking questions such as how companies will promote the show, how they can avoid ticket scalpers, how they plan on implementing security etc. Another month passed by before the team finally told Zhang that they intend to work with Modern Sky for this concert.
Because the Olympic Center that they intended to use was occupied by CBA (China Basketball Association) games, they were forced to look for other venues. At that time, the only suitable venue in Beijing and Shanghai that hadn’t been booked was the Beijing Exhibition Center, but the place had 2,500 fewer seats compared to the Olympic Center, meaning that the promoter would need to either increase the number of seats for higher-tier tickets or increase the overall price by 1/3 to break even.
The band was concerned that this would prevent fans from attending the concert. The promoter made all of its budgeting transparent to The xx, and Zhang Ran’s team sent over 4 different ticketing strategies for the band’s team to consider. After a couple rounds of email exchange, the band decided on what became the final ticketing plan.
To Zhang’s surprise, after reviewing all the numbers with the promoter, The xx actually offered to lower its fees to the point where the band would be only breaking even so that the promoter can lower the ticket prices more.
“You rarely see a band willing to sacrifice their profits just to offer more reasonably-priced tickets to the fans,” said Zhang Ran. As one of the most popular groups in the world, the band has over 20 people working behind the scenes, and tens of crates of equipment to transport for every show, and as a result, the cost of each show is very high. Even at a sold-out 1000-seat show, the tickets can only really cover the staff’s transportation+visa fees+cost of transporting the equipment.
“From the beginning of our discussion to the finalization, we have exchanged over 2,000 emails. I think we have gone through one of the most serious planning experience revolved solely around creating a better fan experience, and I really learned a lot,” explained Zhang, “The xx’s show in China is our Sound of the Xity division’s first major show after the remodeling, and one of the most important lessons for us in 2018.”
So how did this band become the most profitable indie electro-pop group in the world?
Music Based on Friendship, Music Knocking Down Barriers
There’s a special connection within The xx. Often you can see Oliver and Jamie staring at each other as if they are communicating with their eyes, and sometimes the three would give each other a look and know exactly what they will do next.
In the indie world, there hasn’t been a band like The xx where the members feel close yet mysterious to each other at the same time. Oliver and Romy got to know each other way back in Elementary School and were close ever since. Later they met Jamie when they were playing in a band. One would think that they should know each other fairly well after all these years, but strangely enough, sometimes they still can’t quite figure each other out. Fortunately, music became the language between them.
Yeah, the story behind The xx is kind of cliché. Just look at these stories:
Julian Casablancas and Nikolai Fraiture from The Strokes went to the same school, and Casablancas met Albert Hammond Jr. when attending a boarding school in Switzerland; the five members of Radiohead when to the same high school; Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter went to the same middle school, and the two connected after both moved back to their hometown in 2007; Dan Auerbach of The Black Key’s lived in the same neighborhood as Patrick Carney, and the two would get to know each other even more in high school. Larry Mullen Jr. put up notices to form a band, and when three others saw it, U2 was formed.
At the same time, the three’s friendship is anything but cliché.
In December 2016 during an interview with The Fader, Oliver admitted that he had a completely new understanding of friendship after becoming an adult. He thought that “sustaining” would only be used in something like a marriage, but he had never thought that compromises had to be made between friends as well. However, because of their special childhood connection, The xx was formed, and the existence of the band catalyzes their friendship even further.
In January last year, The xx broke its hiatus with a brand new album, I See You. Gone are the tones of intimacy in past albums, and replacing them are the struggles and subtleties between the band members. In Say Something Loving, Romy and Oliver sing “Before it slips away/Say something loving.” They want us to cherish every moment as you never know when it may be your last, and “say something loving” before it’s too late, no matter it is to your lover or friend.
The xx hasn’t changed since their debut; the members still get shy with each other every so often.
Oliver once said that he has been friends with Romy since kindergarten. One day, the two was entertaining the idea of singing, but neither of the two introverts wanted to sing alone, so they decided to sing together. So, in I See You, what the audience really hears is the dialogue between Oliver and Romy. The addition of Jamie completes the group, and the other two can finally put an end to their arguing, hopefully.
As the 2016 election came to an end, the entire world was devastated by the result. This was a difficult year for many, and especially for The xx. In this band of three, two of them are queer. Romy said that when her worst nightmare became reality, she refused to acknowledge it, thinking it was just one big, cruel joke.
In “A Violent Noise,” the band talks about avoiding their personal identities, what to do during the darkest times of their lives, and finally, a path to finding a new self. Prior to this album, Jamie xx, the most introvert member of the band discovered a new self through his 2015 personal album In Colour. Pitchfork praised In Colour to be “the dazzling culmination of his last six years.” Consequence of Sound also said “a phenomenally poised and universally approachable solo debut.”
Not only did In Colour reshape listeners’ impressions of Jamie xx, it has also become an important turning point for the change of direction of The xx. The band’s second Album Coexist was a massive commercial success but didn’t do as well among critics and fans. Just like many other artists with hugely successful debuts, The xx felt massive pressure when creating Coexist. Oliver Sim said that he particularly felt that pressure because they were constantly worried about what the listeners would think.
In contrast, their first album xx was a huge success in both regards. Not only did they win the highest award for indie music in the UK—the Mercury Prize, the album also accelerated the band’s path towards commercialization, allowing them to grace the stages of some of the largest festivals throughout the world.
In xx, they explore love and desire, intimacy and heartbreak. In Shelter, Romy sings “Maybe I had said, something that was wrong/Can I make it better, with the lights turned on?” Doesn’t that perfectly describe us in adolescence? In fact, aren’t we, in some ways, the same as Romy, Oliver, and Jamie?
Alexis Petridis from the Guardian says I See You made him feel like he both knows and doesn’t know The xx at the same time. Indeed, the album’s seemingly straightforward changes brought more variety to the table, and while it looks like it’s the band’s thoughts of being an adult, it’s really more about fearing the loss of intimate relationships.
In 2009, after Baria Qureshi left The xx, Romy said that Baria’s departure made everyone realize that their relationships might not be as tight as they remembered; it feels like that everyone has grown apart gradually.
In Replica, The xx raises an interesting question: are we slowly becoming our parents? “They all say I will become a replica/Your mistakes were only chemical.”
In On Hold, Oliver repeats “I thought I had you on hold,” commemorating a relationship that is no more.
In 2009, shortly after the release of xx, Romy went through a couple of life-changing experiences. At the age of 11, she lost her mother, and right after xx, her father died due to alcoholism. Later, a cousin of hers passed away because of a brain tumor. In 2014, during an interview with The New Yorker, Romy said that she has a different mindset when it comes to grief and denied that The xx’s sad undertones had anything to do with these events. “The melancholy in our music has never been related to any of the deaths. If anything, it’s just that I quite like sad songs.”
From the album I See You, not only do we see a change in the band’s musical direction, we also witness Romy finally coming to terms with her past and facing it with courage. In Brave for You, she sings “And when I’m scared/I imagine you’re there/Telling me to be brave.” But ultimately, we have to learn to let go, and therefore they sing “There are things I wish I didn’t know/I try my best to let them go.”
On I See You, the three finally seemed to come close to one another. Not only are they learning to explore different musical styles, they have also learned to open up to each other.
If xx is the album that immersed the listeners in sweet love and heartbreak, then I See You would be the record that pulls the listeners back to reality.
“If this only ends in tears/Then I won’t say goodbye.”
In March 2014, The xx decided to disband for a while. Romy went to LA to experiment with pop music; Jamie xx went on tour while trying to finish In Colour; Oliver just stayed at his London home for the most part. Usually, when the members of a band decide to travel independently, it may very well mean the end for them. However, the success of In Colour and I See You proved that The xx might just be the exception in the industry. In Colour largely shaped the direction shift in I See You, and Jamie xx decided to return to the band after the success of his personal album.
Jamie xx said that even after the break that the band took, they still knew each other more than anyone else.
Today, The xx is already a shining star in the indie music world. Out of the three published albums, two of them enjoy a rating of more than 85/100, not to mention that their debut album has sold over 1 million copies, an impressive feat in today’s industry.
As for performances, The xx has been dominating headlines at music festivals since 2016: Lollapalooza, Coachella, Spain’s Primavera Sound, the UK’s Glastonbury, Japan’s Fuji Rock etc. In the past two years, the band has sold out every single show it has put on.
Translated by Kane Ge
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