The xx's New Short Film Is a Very Sincere Celebration of South London
The 22-minute short, made during their recent Night + Day residency, tries to tackle community and music all at once.
Sincerity is The xx's brand. There's no getting away from that, and there's also nothing wrong with it. Often, it works for them—see their still-outstanding first album xx, which overflows with the real emotion of the relationships you form and destroy in your late teens and early twenties. But especially in recent years, it has become, on occasion, a bit cloying.
That seems to be the issue with the band's newest venture, a short film documenting their recent seven-night Night + Day residency at Brixton's O2 Academy in south London. Objectively, it's an interesting look at the process of putting together an event on a large scale. It features appearances from a number of the band's guests from over the course of the dates, including Robyn and Jehnny Beth of Savages, and it's also a diverse look at south London and some of the worthwhile organisations it's home to, which were supported by the event. All very good, very admirable, just like The xx themselves, a "good," "admirable" band.
But the film also reflects the band's seriousness, which can sometimes leave listeners and audiences feel as though something is lacking. Don't get me wrong: this short is beautifully shot. It incorporates the sort of ruminations on art and the purpose of creativity that you'd more often find being chewed over at about 1AM in the living room of a jobbing musician, rather than on the YouTube channel of a hugely successful band. The final five minutes feature a live performance of "On Hold" filmed over a number of nights, and to watch this is to understand the magic that the band is capable of creating.
But, elsewhere, their "we are serious musicians and we are not taking our reaching-out-to-the-local-community role AT ALL lightly" vibe feels not necessarily boring but like an example of the awkward tension that always exists between a wealthier donor and someone they're hoping to help. The intentions are good, with mentions of Brixton's Baytree Centre and Raw Materials charities, but don't quite create the sort of intimacy that's given the music documentary form its potency. It's probably not great news when the most exciting and unexpected part of your music documentary is when Florence Welsh joins you onstage to roar like her house is on fire.
The best music films should leave you feeling as though you've had a mythology revealed to you; like you've been allowed to peep behind the curtain. Despite the great work Night + Day did, this short didn't feel like it showed me anything I didn't already know. When a band's expression is the sort that seems to look inwards, rather than hit out at the world outside, that can be hard to relay. It's like the musical equivalent of people thinking you're rude or standoffish when you're actually shy: there are processes going on silently in your head that don't always translate as clearly as they could. Here, the visuals are on-point and the musical moments can make the hairs on your arms ripple just a little bit, but the band's mystery still seems to stick. In this case, the focus isn't really on The xx alone, is it? That said, you can probably form your own opinion.
Find Lauren hitting rewind on Florence Welch's high note on Twitter.
(Image via YouTube)