Jamie Smith of the xx has a special way of winding down after a gig with the band: spinning real vinyl deep into the night. Several nights a week, the producer/multi-instrumentalist hosts a party as a DJ in whatever town the xx are passing through, sharing his favorite sounds and remixes, and he’s doing the same at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
The day after the xx played the festival mainstage on Saturday – with a surprise appearance by Solange to help cover Aaliyah’s “Hot Like Fire” – Smith appeared in the Yuma tent as Jamie xx for a forceful 75-minute set. Smith will be back again next weekend for the second round of Coachella with the band and as a DJ.
Though he remains committed to the band, who last year released Coexist, Smith has also become an in-demand DJ and producer. He’s remixed a wide range of artists, from Gil Scott-Heron to Florence and the Machine and Radiohead, though he tells Rolling Stone of his remix projects, “I’m keeping those on the back burner for the moment.” Sitting in the band’s air-conditioned festival trailer in Indio, California, he chatted about the band’s first Coachella gig in 2010, the new xx show and performing double duty in the desert.
What are your memories of your first Coachella in 2010?
I remember it being the biggest crowd we’d ever been in front of at that time, and being rushed about. I remember it being one of the most beautiful sunsets we’d ever seen – probably because emotions were running really high. The main stage caught on fire while we were playing [on another stage]. And we had Beyoncé and Jay-Z in the front row mouthing along. It was a combination of terrifying and amazing things.
At that point, it hadn’t been that long before that the xx were playing tiny rooms. Was that a big moment for the band?
Yeah. I remember feeling like it should have felt more incredible. But at the time, I was just trying not be sick. Now, looking back, it was great. I’ve got great video on my old phone, and we all look so young.
The three of you are known for wearing black at all times. How do you dress for the heat?
Last time we played Coachella, we decided to play in white because of the desert. Looking back, we’d much rather look like ourselves, I think. We stick it out for the fashion.
What are you doing for your Coachella sets this time?
We’re working out a new way to do things. We’ve been touring this album since the beginning of last summer, and working out how to play it. We’re changing up the show. We spent a lot of time on the different moods throughout the show and how it changes, how the pace goes, different reveals. I’m quite excited about it.
In your DJ set, do you spin records or also use a laptop?
No laptops. I play vinyl and CDs. Playing vinyl is the best sound quality you can get playing music loudly, so that’s the main reason I do that.
Did you know that before you had access to really loud sound systems?
I started using vinyl because I stole all my parents’ records when I was 10. I didn’t think about sound quality then, but I always loved how they sounded.
What mood are you going for in the DJ set?
It depends on what the party is like. I just came back from the Winter Music Conference [in Miami], which was mad – great parties, and people were up for it, but it was also quite chill because it was in the sun. Most of the time was spent on the beach. I got to play a whole range – from playing late at nightclubs to playing on the beach. At Coachella, I want to start separating how I do a big festival set from how I do a club set. I’m trying to work in more of my stuff as well.
Do you make a specific plan?
Sort of. I have an idea in my head, but where to go depends on who goes on before me and what the crowd’s saying. At festivals, you can go a lot bigger than a club and have massive euphoric moments because there are so many people there all feeling the same thing. I want to create that.
How does that relate to the new xx show?
It’s definitely separate in sound, but with the xx show, we’ve been getting more into creating a long moment of dancing, which hopefully people can get into – with lighting effects that you would find at a rave. That definitely came from DJing and equally from playing live. We’ve worked out how to take a journey.
Do you often play DJ gigs while on tour with the xx?
Usually every other city. It’s too tiring to do it after every gig, although it’s fun. I try to curate a party in every city with my favorite DJs in that area.
Does the rest of the band come along?
Yeah, it’s nice because the cities where I normally end up DJing are in places where we’d want to go out and have fun. It just gives us that environment to do it, and other get to enjoy it too. It’s good to make your own party.
You released the single “Far Nearer“ as Jamie xx in 2011. Any plans for more?
I’ve got a lot of stuff that is nearly done, but who knows? I’m looking into making a mix tape.
When you‘re remixing, is there something about working with a well-established band like Radiohead that’s different from an unknown act?
I don’t think there should be. Sometimes, I might get a little bit stuck thinking it has to be a certain way. I wanted the Radiohead one to be perfect, considering that all of their stuff sounds incredible.
How did that project happen?
Thom Yorke posted one my remixes on his blog. Then I DJed with him and we got to meet and chat. The career and the way he’s done it is the ideal path that we’d love to take.