Jamie XX recently revealed that The xx specify in their contracts that they can only perform at night. Which makes sense really, given that the music the London band have crafted on their two LPs to date gave the impression that it would crumble to dust if exposed to sunlight. However, it could make their decision to throw their Night + Day mini-festival on the second-longest day of the year seem a bit strange. Although having said that, they couldn’t have organised more appropriate weather if they’d tried; with the skies as gloomy as their songs.
But whilst The XX have had full control over the line-up they’ve ‘curated’ — which reads like a hipster’s wet dream — other matters were seemingly beyond their grasp. Namely, the fact that London’s creaking transport system meant the location had to be shifted from Osterley Park to Hatfield House. It’s a perfectly pleasant spot, but hardly one of ‘the world’s most unique locations’ as the original blurb had it — unless you’ve never seen a field full of noodle vans before — especially when compared to the abandoned Berlin amusement park or Lisbon harbour where their other Night + Day gigs took place.
Having the music alternating between the main stage and a bandstand also doesn’t quite work out. Sure, it means there’s no clashes but it also means there’s no choice of what to see and it’s also tricky to maintain an atmosphere when everyone has to wander over to the other side of the arena every half hour. That’s fine earlier in the day when you can stretch back and let the emollient electronica of ‘MTI’ wash over you during Koreless’ excellent live set, but there’s a palpable sense of coitus interruptus later when the plug is pulled as Floating Points is rewinding Men From the Nile’s ‘Watch Them Come!’
It’s a challenge that some acts deal with better than others, though, and Jon Hopkins needs barely more than 10 minutes before he’s got fists punching the air to a brilliant but surprisingly ravey set which tramples most of the classical stylings of his albums beneath some punishing beats. On the other hand, despite the quality of tracks like ‘Home Recording’ and the ferocious whacking they give their instruments, Mount Kimbie struggle to really engage.
A vague listlessness also afflicts Polica, their art-house disco following Kindness on the main stage — whom you could snipe are merely a glorified wedding covers band — but whose take on Womack & Womack’s ‘Teardrops’ and Roy Davis Jnr,’s ‘Gabriel’ contain enough slap bass to both leave Level 42 with RSI and the crowd with plenty of spring in their step to then propel them through Benji B’s selection on the bandstand. Solange Knowles is up next, who in tracks like ‘Losing You’ and ‘Lovers in the Parking Lot’ has both the songs and charisma to overshadow everyone preceding her without needing her better-known sister’s effects budget.
It’s as silhouettes against blinding white light rather than as shadows that The xx appear when they emerge to the eerie whistles of ‘Try’ however, whilst musically they seem to have emerged from Everything But The Girl’s love affair with house music, displaying similarities that go much deeper than Romy Madley Croft’s passing resemblance to a diminutive Tracey Thorn.
The xx might have grown up with dance music in their bloodstream rather than turning to it for a transfusion as Everything But The Girl did — something apparent in the flurries of beats on ‘Swept Away’ or when the steel drums on ‘Reunion’ blend into Jamie’s solo track ‘Far Nearer’, whilst they also cover Kings of Tomorrow’s house classic ‘Finally’ — but they actually share more with their forebear’s introspective mid-‘80s output.
For The xx are still really music for solitary bedsits instead of massive stages, yet as they coo at each other, Romy and Oliver Sim manage to keep tunes like ‘Islands’ and ‘Heart Skipped A Beat’ as intimate, affecting and powerful as if they were whispering them to everyone here individually, rather than having them swallowed up by their surroundings. These might be songs of loneliness, but when thousands of people are hanging on Romy’s forlorn refrain on ‘Angels’ in rapt silence, it feels more communal and life-affirming than any beer-sodden festival singalong.
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