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Jamie XX talks Gil Scott-Heron, Drake & ballet

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Jamie xx talks producing, collaborating with Drake and ballet composing

Your debut album In Colour opens with a sample from an unaired Nineties Radio 1 show. How did you unearth it?

I’m just constantly ripping stuff. I have a whole backlog. For that sample, I loved that the phrase “Oh my gosh”, an old English phrase, had been reappropriated by jungle DJs. I have a sort of mental library for things I might use one day.

As a DJ, you create playlists and splice artists’ tracks together. Would you want people to do that with your record?

My way of listening to an album is from start to finish. I’ve tried to make an album that’s more than just a bunch of tracks, that makes sense if you listen to it in one go.

Of all the cities you’ve played, which has the best party people?

It’s changed over time. I didn’t used to like DJing in the US – I felt they were behind a bit, and music is all about progression. But over time there have been more young people getting really excited about dance music. I like New York, Austin and Atlanta. In Europe, Frankfurt is one of the best spots.

In Colour

The cover of Jamie's debut album 'In Colour'

You must get a lot of clubbers drunkenly coming up to you – do you enjoy the attention?

It depends what it’s about. If they just want to talk to me, then not really, but if they want to chat about music or a certain record then I’m happy to do that. I used to go and see Four Tet and ask him about his records. Now we’re making music together.

He’s a fellow Elliott School alumnus alongside the rest of The xx, Burial, Hot Chip and The Maccabees. How did a Putney comp make so many musicians?

Four Tet and Hot Chip were of a similar age – they had a headmaster who was brilliant. There was a great art programme there – I went to the school because of that headmaster. But he left and it went downhill. We started making music because we didn’t want to be there.

What records were you and the rest of The xx listening to?

Romy was into punk; Oli was into Nineties R&B. I grew up on soul records. But our tastes have all broadened and overlapped a lot.

Was it your love for soul records that led you to remixing Gil Scott-Heron’s final album?

I guess so. I listened to Gil’s records and it worked out he was making I’m New Here with Richard Russell from XL Recordings. When we were making our first record, Richard came into the studio and said he was inspired by what we were doing – that’s why he asked me to rework Gil’s work. Gil was open to everything. I think if I was that much of a legend and some kid came and wanted to cut up everything I’d been working on, I’d be a lot less open. I’m thankful to him for that. He’d talk about his dad and his love for golf. Just listening to his voice was interesting.

Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron performing in 2010

Did I’m New Here take on an extra poignancy as it ended up being a remix of Scott-Heron’s final LP?

I guess so. He died a few months after it came out [in February 2011]. It was a bit of a shock; I felt guilty that it was the last thing he released. But I’m so happy that
I was able to be a part of it.

I’ll Take Care Of You ended up being sampled by Drake – what’s he like to work with?

He’s very sweet. Nice guy, nice music. And he’s very open to ideas from people.

Glaswegian producer Hudson Mohawke has become Kanye West’s go-to man – would you ever like to work with Yeezy?

I don’t know. I met him once and he was really nice. He came to one of our shows in New York and had a chat backstage. We were doing shows at the Armory and there was crazy hype – we had Beyoncé, Madonna, Jay Z, Kanye and Kim Kardashian there. It was amazing.

Kanye West

Kanye: "really nice". Which is nice

What’s it like when you’re touring with The xx? Do you prefer performing behind bandmates?

It’s just different – I used to hide behind the band and now I’m at the front. I have the point of view that whatever I’m doing, I’m going to have the best time no matter what, even if I’m on my own.

You’re the only one from The xx to go solo. Do you see yourself as a breakout solo artist?

I was always making music on my own. I didn’t imagine I would ever be able to release an album, but I was always going to be making my music. Romy did a song a while ago as a collaboration, and she’s writing for others. She’s on her way to doing her thing. As for solo projects, I need some way to get music out of my system.

What else are you working on?

I’m trying to finish some music for a ballet called Tree Of Codes. The xx did some shows at the Manchester International Festival – through that and the Armory shows in New York they asked me to do this for the next festival. I’ve got to make 90 minutes’ worth of music – it’s very abstract – based on extracts from the book Tree Of Codes, which is also very abstract.

What’s that transition like – from producing music to composing a score for ballerinas?

It’s hard. I take extracts from the book and watch the dancers rehearse to get inspired. It’s mostly sitting at the piano, working out themes and building on them.

How often do you get to go clubbing and just enjoy somebody else’s music?

Pretty much every night. It’s great having a relationship with a record label, as there’s always something happening. It’s like going out with your friends – you get to discover new stuff all the time.

So do you often get to go raving?

Yep, absolutely.

In Colour by Jamie xx is out on 1 June

(Image: Tom B/Rex)

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