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April 6, 2010
Over the weekend in Canada this well-hyped triple bill (of double letters, ridiculously lowercased) provided an across-the-board survey of the great powers and limitations of onstage electronics.

Nosaj Thing, a/k/a 24-year-old LA native Jason Chung, looked happy as anything to be doing for a downtown Toronto crowd what he's probably done for years in his bedroom. For half an hour he pressed buttons, turned crankshafts, zipped his finger across a busy box and made his more-danceable-than-dubstep techno sing and ripple with buzzy effects and drilly drum breakdowns. I don't care if his laptop was doing all the work and he was merely pantomiming--it was his jerky movements, not the done-to-death beat manipulation, that made the show. If you're going to triangulate three different kinds of non-original--hip-hop, dub, IDM--you might as well do it enthusiastically.

Photos by Katie Greene.


Chung's set was free of the pretensions usually associated with such "bedroom" DJs, all of which were exhibited full-force by Gothenburg, Sweden duo jj--whose imagery one positive reviewer described last year as "Enya-esque." Supposedly, this dubious distinction is to be balanced out by a blogger favorite that flips Lil Wayne's not-well-loved U.S. #1 "Lollipop" as a chill-out piece. The problem is that the world's thousandth "serious" cover of a "silly" song no longer impresses on drollness alone, and invites name-dropping and irony accusations at worst. Me, I just wish it was nearly as joyful as Wayne's original. The group revels in other quiet stunts: hasn't named its members publicly and names its albums after consecutive numbers. jj's set was mostly anonymous as well: the electronics went unseen, a shawl-clad blonde woman sang and occasionally strummed a guitar. She looked like she was dreaming the audience. A long-haired male counterpart danced onstage a couple times to make goofy gestures and also strummed said guitar. The Lil Wayne one was recognizable halfway through. They'll return yet to the anonymity they want so badly.



As far as I'm concerned, The barely-legal drinkers in The xx took the latter and made it the former--only farther, with ten of eleven identifiable songs ("Heart Skipped a Beat" was the only one I wasn't sure afterward if they had played; they did) and a real stage show (On-the-beat red lights during the chorus of "Infinity"!). They have interests that elude anonymous groups, like branding (their plain white-on-black 'X' album cover and de facto logo is still my favorite thing about the group at all) and covering pop songs that they actually seem to love (British dance-maven Kyla's "Do You Mind" was solely given the honor of real drumming at the Phoenix gig).

And their hugely-talked-about debut album, which slowly, steadily grew on me last year, performed an old trick on stage: different highlights than on the record. After arranging the album's intro for a shadow play, my favorite xx song "Crystalised," also their most "rocking" cut, opened a little too perfunctory. Immediately afterward they used up another well-known one, "Islands," also heard in Grey's Anatomy a few weeks ago. Pretty cocky moves for a shy fresh-faced band, but they know nothing if not how to highlight negative space. The album's dirge "Fantasy" became a subwoofer symphony onstage, and choruses I forgot I even remembered, from "Shelter" and "Infinity," became the ones I sang along to. I danced during the appropriate guitar interludes in "Night Time," one of the few instances where the xx actually lets go; Romy Madley Croft gets to show off her tricky, Carrie Brownstein-like guitar chops and drum-sample-trigger-finger Jamie Smith gets to use both hands (the band refuses to loop a single beat). Their shrewdness involving space and patience after only one album has rewarded them and even rarer, they deserve it. And while I wouldn't call their stage show exhilarating, I bet it beats the Young Marble Giants. To echo plenty of reviewers and converts, it's nice to see them withstand such restraint. But it's even nicer that they reward.

SEE ALSO: www.thexx.info
SEE ALSO: www.secretlycanadian.com
SEE ALSO: www.nosajthing.com

--
Dan Weiss
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.

See other articles by Dan Weiss.

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