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The xx: MIF 2013 Reviewed

David Blake is entranced by the ghostly romanticism down in the bowels of Victoria

Written by . Published on July 8th 2013.

The xx: MIF 2013 Reviewed

THE incomprehensibility of The Old Woman and the isn’t everything just f**ked sentiments of Adam Curtis vs Massive Attack had me slightly worried.

Were The xx going to stage something particularly cryptic, perplexing, weird for being weird sake (weirdness is a prerequisite of this trio). Don’t get me wrong, that is the point of MIF, to explore, experiment, try something new.

There was no real acknowledgement of our entrance, no facial expressions, just vacant emotionless gazes. It was as though we weren’t meant to be there

So shout me down as a philistine you may, but when you’re going to see a band – don’t you just want to hear the good stuff? Go on.

Cast me out with the unwashed.

Thankfully that is exactly what I and the other nameless 59 faces received (fire regulations dictated the capacity of 60 was strictly adhered to - much to the annoyance of the MIF volunteers who weren't allowed in), and it was glorious. Breathtaking in fact.

If the sad-eyed and hauntingly subversive music of this Mercury Prize winning group was made for any stage, it was right here. But where exactly was here?

Somewhere in and around VictoriaSomewhere in and around Victoria

To swerve the inevitable tirade of ‘spoilsport’ that would surely follow any exact geographical locations, I’m going to be suitably vague. Victoria Station it definitely was, but this is no secret. It is the designated meeting point after all.

The only problem with meeting outside Victoria, especially after an abnormally hot and thus boozy weekend day, is the sheer amount of tanked up delinquents that converge there as dusk approaches. We lettered folk should not have to witness a shouty vagrant with at least a third of his arse out, attempting to steal a locked bicycle from the railings beside us. That’s not what we signed up for. The critic from The Guardian had to be resuscitated.

After half an hour of intermittent heckling, curiosity had ever-so-slightly turned into discontent. Standing still for half an hour will do that to you. But finally we were off, the queue began to politely edge forward with whispers of anticipation.

Tsst don't break characterTsst don't break character

Let’s just say we didn’t have far to go. Ushered through in small groups the damp musty whiff indicated almost instantly that we were heading down. Escorted through a number of holding pens and tunnels the rabble eventually congregated in the final of the holding cells, the dark brick-clad enormity of the surroundings lent an uninhabited eeriness to proceedings, bordering on the foreboding.

It was rather disconcerting to see Oliver Sim, Romy Madley-Croft and Jamie Smith black-clad and plain-faced, quietly stood motionless on a clear low-level floor in the centre of a square white room.

There was no real acknowledgement of our entrance, no facial expressions, just vacant emotionless gazes. It was as though we weren’t meant to be there, as if every one of us but the band were invisible, as if they’d play anyway, audience or not. The silence was deafening.

As the band opened with Angels and bright spotlights beamed from beneath them, the canvassed walls begin to ripple ever so slightly, perhaps wakened by the music, perhaps caught by a draft. Were we outside again? Had the stairs, pens and tunnels been a deception? Had we been led inside from outside and back outside again? It was impossible to see.

Post-opener there was a slightly awkward silence, do we clap or don’t we? Were we supposed to be a visible and audible audience or not? Nobody dared to make a noise lest these three silhouetted figures be startled and escape back into the shadows. The equilibrium remained intact.

From left: Oliver Sim, Romy Madley Croft and Jamie SmithFrom left: Oliver Sim, Romy Madley Croft and Jamie Smith

But it was an appropriate hush, the quiet only intensifying the ethereal and flawlessly delivered vocal harmonies of Sim and Madley-Croft as Jamie Smith tinkered away in the background, beating drums and twindling knobs like a mad-scientist conducting the whole affair from the back.

As the set continued the ambience, as sharp as Sim’s haircut, began to loosen, foots were wagging, knees were bending, smiles and lyrics broke the lips of the audience as they dropped into CrystalisedSpotlights flittered mystically across the walls and ceiling as the duo danced a sorrowful sway, tracing each other’s footsteps into the corners of the stage, all the while staring intently at each other. 

Part way through the 45-minute long set, the slight tweak of cable barely audible over the music drew attention up towards the ceiling.

And something happened - but let's not spoil the surprise.

All that needs to be told is throughout 'the reveal' the sound maintained its perfection, the echoes only adding to the minimalistic and monochromatic tapestry laid out before us lucky few.

Like many others, I felt the intimately polished nature of the band was lost slightly amongst the sprawling expanse of the Other stage at Glastonbury.

But this was their natural habitat.

If The xx were moles, this was their hole. They should remain here. Condemned to the shadows. This is where their music belongs. And it’s beautiful.

Follow David Blake on Twitter.

The xx are performing as part of Manchester International Festival. More details here.

Tickets £35. £12 for GM residents. The event is currently sold out, however, MIF have been intermittedly releasing a few extra tickets for each show on most days. Keep an eye on twitter and here.

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

PaulJuly 8th 2013.

I was there Saturday night and saw the 'vagrant' trying to pinch the bike ha. I was queuing for 40mins which was the only downside. Intense to say the least. Great review. Great venue. Great gig. Well done MIF

Kevin PeelJuly 9th 2013.

Going tonight. Have been having lots of fun trying to figure out where it will be. So excited!

AnonymousJuly 10th 2013.

No doubt your ticket was free Kevin.....I’ve got plant councillor type business you could be getting on with if you like.....seeing how you’ve been invisible to the residents of Castlefield for the past 2 years. How about doing something about Peel Holdings and their flagrant disregard of their responsibilities regarding the Bridgewater canal.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
JoanJuly 11th 2013.

Councillors were not given xx tickets. Kevin will have paid for his ticket. I went to the Macbeth Dress Rehearsal and took my niece, also after buying tickets.

JoanJuly 11th 2013.

Councillors, council officers and Castlefield Forum, which Kev does attend, do work together to try to get Peel Holdings to honour their obligations as such a significant property-owner. There's some success, but it's not overwhelming. Any specifics you have in mind? Please email me cllr.j.davies@manchester.gov.uk

AnonymousJuly 11th 2013.

Kevin has not attended in nearly 2 years. No doubt he'll start attending on the run up to election time. I'm glad councillors are paying for their tickets unlike the tickets for Alecia Keys. For the record, MIF is an excellent use of the councils culture budget and the £450,000 used for Alecia Keys would have been better spent here. The publicity from this is really putting the city on the map. I'll move on from Alecia Keys now.......gets my goat!...As for specifics regarding Peel Holdings. There are a number of canal barges that have been in the Castlefield basin for over 18 months. They have dogs that foul the area which I have to pay (via my council tax to have cleared up). There's a dog that harasses visitors and other dogs. They constantly make nuisance of themselves with anti social behavior which put off other (paying) visitors staying in Castlefield. Nothing has been done. I'm sure if a load of caravans rocked up on plot G (next to the Wharf) the council would be straight down.

JoanJuly 11th 2013.

I understand a prosecution for dog fouling is underway and should reach court in the near future. MCC is currently discussing that and other issues with Peel Holdings. I recall being at the same Castlefield Forum meeting as Kevin Peel in recent months. Sometimes Forum meetings clash with other residents' groups so we sometimes arrange that I'll go to the Forum while Kevin goes to the other group. If anyone has any further evidence that would stand up in court regarding dog fouling in Castlefield Basin please report it. Anon: hope to see you at the next Castlefield Forum. Say hello.

AnonymousJuly 10th 2013.

*plenty of

Manc GuyJuly 15th 2013.

Meanwhile...back on topic...best gig ever. EVERRRR!!! The experience of meeting up and the journey to the band was tense. I for one am glad that MIF volunteers weren't there. I paid £35 after all! In fact there were no blue volunteer t-shirts present and only one staff member was present for a short while. He was the one that led us into the venue. I'm sure he was there because well...he could. I'd like to think that your ticket wasn't a freebie Mr Blake, and that it wasn't a press pass, MIF or ManCon freebie that got you there. Because it's people like me that support the MIF, and with hard earned cash. As for "weirdness is a prerequisite of this trio"? Errr...just brush up on your facts there kid.

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