The xx Is Here for When Ambien Doesn’t Work
Last night at Coachella, the British trio whispered very loudly. One couple gave each other hand jobs under a blanket and 50,000 people very mildly went wild.
“Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say a fortnight and is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.”—George Orwell on tea.
Welcome to America’s premier Instagram festival set in the dystopian alternate 1967. You can cop authentic Spanish paella in a pastel Urban Outfitters Coachella headband* on a broiling Polo field in front of florescent phallic statues. (*Litigation pending). Your money back if you don’t get 200 likes—provided the Venmo exchange goes down before the war starts with a) North Korea b) Syria or c) Chicago.
According to the media materials distributed by the Swedish multi-national fashion corporation H&M, you should love Coachella because of the “democratic spirit” and “bonding experience it creates.” You know that old MasterCard commercial: Ticket: $400; Rancho Mirage Golf Mansion Rental, $4000; Eighth of molly, $120; The experience = priceless.
It’s exactly like an episode of Black Mirror (I’ve never seen Black Mirror). In a time of great turmoil where many of our finest popular artists are supported by the altruistic patronage of Ford, Apple, or Drake, the xx write some of best songs on your Sex Playlist of Songs Used in Car Commercials. They’re like Fleetwood Mac if they met on Tinder. Or if Ian Curtis lived and went on to invent an app that capitalized on the gig economy.
Last night, the xx whispered very loudly and 50,000 people very mildly went wild. This was a full three hours before the Nylon Midnight Garden—DJ’d by Kanye’s premier fashion consultant and hosted by the Clarendon-tinted hologram of Nicole Richie—but no one was even thinking about future parties. No one needed to. There was just the gothic pallor of low-level sadness. There was just the xx.
If darkness was once a condition, a 4 AM cotton-mouthed panic, then the xx have brilliantly morphed it into a modern aesthetic, a black cape to drape over your shoulders after you spill wine on your blazer. During a time of tumult, few bands are so gifted at conveying the fears that we all face. Listen to the lyrics from “Dangerous” crooned by singers Oliver Sims and Romy Madley Croft: “You are dangerous, but I don’t care / I’m going to pretend that I’m not scared.”
It can be about anything. A speech you give to yourself before skydiving or the jitters you get before asking someone to a Sadie Hawkins dance. It could be a subtle tribute to Michael Jackson’s underrated New Jack Swing classic Dangerous or it could be about nuclear holocaust. The xx remind you this is no time for jokes. There is Hall and Oates to sample.
Since releasing their auspicious debut album xx in 2009, the xx have become one of the most popular bands of a generation that generally lacks popular bands but loves lowercase lettering. This was their third Coachella appearance and they wished the crowd a “magical festival… may you fall in love and fall out of love.” As Oliver Sims said that, a couple gave each other hand jobs under a blanket. It was the sort of rare romance you rarely see; they have the potential to exchange polite e-mails for 12 months, maybe 18.
The xx are the kind of young people that you would hope your fertilized embryo would grow up to become. As non-committal as a henna tattoo. They play music like they know all the right things to pick out from Pottery Barn without exceeding their budget; they can recite at least two Emily Dickinson poems, and artfully appropriate Interpol riffs without the unsavory implications. At times, they channel Chris Isaak where he’s trapped on an island with a supermodel in the “Wicked Game” video. At other times, they sound like a chopped and screwed Inxs. Or Tim Burton remaking The Breakfast Club.
They all wore matching floral embroidered shirts that made them look like the waiters at the most authentic lobster taqueria in Manchester. It was dance music where you only had to sway, a cool breeze with no jacket required, a pretty sunset with an inkwell filter, the musical personality of unfrosted pound cake. If the best contemporary bands work hard to get one day get licensed by a Chrysler commercial, they performed songs that are responsible and dependable enough for Volvo.
They played all their hits: the song about watching unnamed movies on VCR, the song about the unnamed islands, the song about the angels. They didn’t play the song about the sunset, but last night’s had already been chronicled by Coachella-goers who had the captioned it: “And so it begins.” They played “Basic space,” with its chorus: “basic, open air / Don’t look away, when there’s nothing there.”
When the world is tough and your apartment is dirty and you can’t afford a maid, the xx supply us with the perfect soundtrack to clean the rooms after you’ve Air BnB’d them out. They have charming sanitized voices and seem like the sort of people who still send thank you cards in the mail. You couldn’t help but be moved by the happiness of the girl in the Ramones shirt Snapchatting herself on the Jumbotron screen. You have to commend a band with such a healthy and steady pulse; they actually made The Arcade Fire look like The Talking Heads.
Sometimes, Ambien doesn’t work. Sometimes, you need the xx. Oliver Sims said it best when he addressed the crowd: “I don’t have the words to tell you how happy we are to be here.” Who needs the right words when you can wear a nice neon tank top and board shorts and crack open a cold one with your bros?
You might be sad when that lustful e-mail romance doesn’t work out, but there is always Coachella and there will always be the xx, making sure that we remember that sadness is one of our most inexhaustible resources and lucrative commodities. I can only say sweet things about them. They seem like very kind young people. I can’t wait to hear them in a spa in 20 years. I wonder how they take their tea?
All photos by Christina Craig.
Jeff Weiss is compiling his Sex Playlist of Songs Used in Car Commercials onTwitter. Please suggest songs to him there.