With their evocative, atmospheric sound and enigmatic stage presence, southwest London three-piece the xx are one the most intriguing acts playing the Austin music festival South By Southwest this year. Their legend in fact precedes them, with the mythology surrounding their upbringing and formation at Britain's famed Elliott School (whose alumni including Four Tet, Hot Chip, and Burial) making for a fascinating back story.
This fable of course had me imagining some supercool school, a sort of an alternative Anglophilic version of Fame. You know, an indie-rock institution churning out one U.K. buzz band after another, a campus where black-clad, pasty-skinned hipster Londoners swoonily and doomily dance in the halls in big goth-group singalong numbers. But when I spoke to the xx's Jamie backstage at La Zona Rosa after one of the xx's well-received SXSW gigs, I learned that the trio's beginnings were far more humble.
To be honest, I didn't learn that much more about the xx during Jamie's very humble chat, other than the fact they have some quite unexpected hip-hop and R&B influences. (That might explain why Wu-Tang's GZA opened for one of the xx's South By Southwest gigs this year.) True to the xx's minimalistic sound and reserved stage presence, Jamie was a man of mystery, speaking in a near-whisper not unlike the band members' hushed singing voices. But in a way, that vibe was actually preferable, as the xx's quiet mystique ought to always remain unbroken. (Well, it would have remained unbroken, if not for all the typical SXSW backstage chaos and constantly ringing cell phones during our interview. There's no such thing as total quiet as SXSW, you know.)
After all, the xx's music is amazing enough to speak for itself.