The first time I listened to the track above, I was sat on the sofa in my house, with my eyes shut, a drink in my hand, and one of my friends silently moving around me trying to make sure the listening experience was perfect, turning off lights/messing with the volume/shushing me when I began to talk before the song had reached its climax. A handful of my friends take music seriously as something that can be experienced properly, not unlike film buffs who flock to buy the latest colossal flatscreen, but it’s rare that we’d be as precious as this; my friend had insisted that there was something amazing about this track that warranted such special treatment. It didn’t take until after the 8th or 9th listen (both of which occurred that same night) and our own following drunken excursion to one of Bristol’s many loud places that the reason for its power as more than a mere hauntingly-beautiful-breakup-song became clear (Jamie XX has already been involved a fair few such tracks in his role as drummer for The xx).
No, the reason that this song hit us so hard is that it combines its tail of heartbreak and loss with something rare: a perfectly realised aesthetic of dingey clubbing, fleshed out by carefully selected background sound and simple yet powerful lyrical imagery. In interviews Jamie has commented that whilst making his soon-to-be-released album he liked going to clubs like the – now defunct – Plastic People, alone, to simply focus on appreciating the music. Listening attentively and frequently to a shitload of music isn’t exactly a revolutionary decision for a musician looking for inspiration, but his decision to do this in a club rather than a bedroom has wonderful effects for tracks like Loud Places or the UK rave-paeans All Under One Roof Raving and Gosh. All that time standing alone watching people raving, and most likely analysing what’s making them happy (no it’s not just drugs) has allowed him to perfectly evoke the feel of various areas and moments in a club, be it the peak-time effervescence when you feel amazed at the phenomena of hundreds of grown adults dancing without inhibitions, or the view from the sidelines when you wish you could feel the same satisfaction that you used to when going out with your ex.
Few creatives of any artform take the subject of clubbing seriously in this way (see Vice’s – typically witty – breakdown of Hollywood’s various failures to evoke the dancefloor onscreen). You would struggle to find a popular, well-received novel that gives more than a passing description of clubbing (I’ve tried), and even in the case of the club’s resident artform, dance music, the majority of its producers tend to work harder on creating music designed to work as an accessory to clubbing, not as an analysis, tribute or retrospective of it. And fairly so; dance music’s purpose is to make people dance, and as such a lot of dance producers consider it their duty to create music whose every component is perfectly posed towards this goal, rather than to be artistic or abstractly thoughtful. (Not-at-all-bragging-example: when I interviewed Hannah Wants about her charting dance smash Rhymes, she explained to me that she created it for the exclusive purpose of working as a tool for her sets, something to make people go wild.)
However, the vacuum of music with a direct lyrical focus on clubbing scenes still seems like a pity to me, because it’s such an interesting subject. Clubs are essentially adult playgrounds, where revellers go to play all their favourite games; socialising, dancing, drug-taking, seduction, and most importantly – or least importantly, depending on what clubs you go to – the consumption of music. As a teenager you’re constantly reminded by every other song on the school bus radio that to reside in ‘the club’ is a platonic ideal state of being that every cool, attractive adult loves, and yet for years it remains an elusive Mecca of adult freedom, until you are suddenly thrust into it, and expected to spend every celebratory evening, (or, if you’re a first-year student, every other evening full stop) there. I’m sure that for a lot of people it quickly loses its mystique and attraction as anything other than a social area (a year of nearly exclusively going out on rowing socials definitely did this to me for a bit), but it still has the potential to retain status as a fascinating subject, be it because of the cloud of alcohol and other things that obscures your recollection of time spent there, or the discovery of any large-city-dweller that there are a whole variety of completely different clubbing experiences, unified only in their late hours and horrific toilets.
For most of Britain’s young people, particularly its students, many of their most emotionally potent memories will be set in clubs, be it the first time you pluck up the Dutch courage to force your lips onto the unsuspecting face of your ‘crush’, or the 60 minute post breakup conversation with your ex in the smoking area, interrupted only by a tactful young fuckwit asking for her number (I can lay claim to both of these). As I’ve said before in this blog, I believe everyone has the right to art that relates to them; listening to or reading something that puts forwards an experience not unlike yours, but describes in an artistic way you could never achieve is enormously engaging, so I can only hope that more creatives will follow in his Jamie xx’s footsteps. (If you can think of any good examples of this, please comment below!)
In the meantime, I can only recommend that anyone who has retained any a little love or interest for the dancefloor check out Andrew Holleran’s book Dancer From The Dance. It’s essentially the Great Gatsby, but with sophisticated 20s parties replaced by excessively amorous, drug-addled 70s New York gay clubbing, and it’s fantastic, if a tad dark. My favourite quote from functions as the ultimate reply to ‘why can you be bothered to go out tonight?’ (if you don’t like its overtly camp drama then its best you give the book a miss):
‘Why get out of bed? For this dreary round of amusing insincerity? This filthy bourgeois society that the Aristotelians have foisted upon us? No, we may still choose to live like gods, like poets, which brings us down to dancing. Yes, that is all that’s left when love has gone. Dancing.’