Review: Jamie XX at the 02 Academy

Review Jamie xx, O2 Academy, 17.10.15

 

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Entering Jamie xx’s sold-out show at the O2 Academy on Saturday – part of his European-wide ‘In Colour’ tour – one is unsure what to expect from him. Will he be performing a live show or a DJ set? Will he be showcasing only his own material or also that of others? The Young Turks label head – real name Jamie Smith – appears as an enigmatic figure in the world of electronic music. He finds himself positioned somewhere in the middle-ground that separates the scene’s proudly underground artists – those who are firmly immersed in club culture and care not for global fame – from those who have embraced the mainstream and adjusted their sound accordingly to appeal to a wider audience. Despite sharing both similarities and differences with both sides of this spectrum, Smith’s work is neither representative of the average underground club DJ nor the average EDM act.

Regardless of this, his musical talent is undisputed. A string of solid EP releases, a critically acclaimed rework of the music of Gil-Scott Heron, and two masterfully atmospheric albums with indie band The xx all culminated in June when he oversaw the release of his first full length solo album, ‘In Colour’. The album was received positively although failed to encapsulate his full capabilities as a producer.

Revered selector and local favourite Spencer is on warm-up duties tonight. It is a surprisingly dreary two hour set from the Numbers label co-founder and one that only really comes to fruition in the last fifteen minutes or so when two upbeat, old-school New York house numbers are preceded by Italo-disco classic ‘Take a Chance’ by Mr Flaggio. Finally, Smith takes to the stage, to rapturous applause, and the sounds of his steel-drum laden ‘All Under One Roof Raving’ slowly filling the venue. Sample-heavy and paying homage to 90s rave culture: both the tempo and mood of this track are ideal for the opener and get the crowd moving accordingly.

Sadly, the tone and the quality of music takes a turn for the worse shortly after this. Some mundane piano house is followed by a couple of big-room tracks – fitting for the inappropriately oversized venue – that comes complete with EDM-esque crescendos and an overblown light show. As if attempting to steer his set away from the mainstream EDM road it is now heading down, Smith drops two ‘90s UK Garage tracks in quick succession. The latter, ‘138 Trek’ by DJ Zinc, ought to throw him a lifeline but the venue’s sound system allows for only a fraction of the song’s euphoric nature to be captured. The remainder of the set seems to be filled with Smith to-ing and fro-ing between mainstream crowd-pleasing tracks and throwing in something with a degree of obscurity to illustrate the depth of his musical knowledge. For someone endowed with such a degree of musical ability, the overall performance is distinctly off the mark. It gives the impression of someone who is not at ease in his current state of limbo between underground and mainstream and it appears his live performances could be taking a hit as a result.

2/5 stars

 

By Michael Lawson

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