Whether tapping out sparse sampler beats with the xx or spinning vinyl behind the DJ booth, Jamie xx (born Jamie Smith) exhibits a modest, head-down stage presence. His brand of U.K.-garage-inspired club music demonstrates a similar restraint. With a stripped-down mix of shuffling kicks and snares, sub bass, steel drum melodies and bare vocal samples, Smith’s talents lie in his deft handling of empty space, making less sound like more. On his debut LP, In Colour, he fleshes out those stylistic fundamentals with added splashes of ambiance and vocal collaborations with his bandmates in the xx and rapper Young Thug. In anticipation of his upcoming concerts in NYC, we sat down with the English spinner to chat about, what else, records.
It's clear from your interviews you keep your ear to the streets—what current dance labels are you paying attention to?
I just went shopping with the guys from Mood Hut who are a Vancouver-based record label that started up about a year or so ago—I’m really into the output coming from there.
What about rising American scenes like Chicago footwork and Teklife?
I was listening to a lot of footwork a couple years ago when the Chicago scene was heavily influencing UK dance music with British producers like Pearson Sound drawing from it. But I haven't really been following it for a while.
Any trends you're disliking?
Not really, actually. I don't hate on the whole EDM thing happening in America because, although the music is not of my taste—a little bit brash for me—I think it's also introducing a lot of young people to dance music, and then they're discovering better dance music through it. So there's a growing audience for dance music in the US because of it.
How do you see that American mainstream scene differing from UK music?
A lot of the mainstream pop in the American charts now is influenced by UK garage and Chicago house, with English acts like Disclosure reaching number one. But the American scene is still much more restrained than the big EDM scene over here.
You’ve mentioned in the past trying to steer away from trends to give the album a timeless quality.
Because it was made over such a long period of time [five years], all the songs on the album just ended up not conforming to any specific era or trend. I always just experiment with different sounds and styles until I find something that evokes the feeling I’m going for. I’m not trying to think too much about what anyone else is doing.
How did your songwriting change over that long period writing the album?
I just started thinking less about everything really. Just enjoying myself making music. Whereas for a while I was overthinking everything as part of the process.
What have you been listening to outside of club music recently?
A lot of ambient stuff. I just did a mix for Beats 1, which starts out with a lot of that—nice for staring out the window on the tour bus. Ricky Eat Acid sent me a bunch of demos that he’d done that were quite nice and ambient.
How do you feel about digital deejaying versus turntables?
I’m always getting sent new stuff, so I have to incorporate digital equipment into my sets, but I try to play vinyl as much as possible. It’s just the best-sounding format still. And I’ve been using vinyl since I started deejaying, for over 15 years, so it also just feels the most natural for me.
Jamie xx plays Terminal 5 on Aug 8 and 50 Kent on Aug 23.