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Young and modern: Introducing the xx

By Douglas Jones, CNN
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Who is The xx?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Indie band is beginning to make waves in music industry
  • Guardian UK put them at top of list of best albums of 2009
  • The xx is on their first American tour
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Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- Perfectly imperfect, they are the xx: A modest yet impressive band touring the world and beginning to make waves in the indie music industry.

On interactive music sites and in album reviews, they are mentioned alongside bigger-name indie acts, but the xx has a sound and style that is all their own. The Guardian UK put them at the top of their list of best albums of 2009, Rolling Stone at No. 9.

Hailing from Southwest London, singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, both 20, have known one another since they were in diapers. At 11, they met friends Jamie Smith and Baria Qureshi, and as the foursome came of age, they shared their passion for music, practicing during lunch breaks and summer holidays.

Croft and Sim often traded lyrics over instant messenger late at night while Smith came up with beats on an Akai MPC beat synthesizer he'd received as a birthday present. The group was soon found playing gigs around London, which not only helped them get over stage fright but caught the eye of the indie music label Young Turks. From there, they were able to use a roughly staged studio to hone their sound.

Their music is intimate, honest and composed in its style, arrangements and lyrics, not at all different from the band members themselves. With a list of influences that range from the Cure, the Kills and Cocorosie to Beyoncé, Aaliyah and underground London bass music, they are difficult to pigeon-hole.

The band members themselves have a difficult time placing labels on their music.

"I don't think we've ever been good at describing our own sound," Croft said. "We all have such different tastes in music; I guess it's just a hybrid of a lot of things."

That hybrid piqued the interest of high-profile producers like Diplo, who have worked with M.I.A. and Santogold, but in true indie fashion, Smith -- a.k.a. Jamie xx -- turned them down so the band could create their self-titled album on their own.

Smith, who produced the album, will also gladly admit their weaknesses as young musicians. But those weaknesses can also be strengths, he said.

"When we were making the record, the only thing I had on my mind was to make it not overproduced ... to make it perfectly imperfect," he said. "To keep all the things in, the little moments that made it what it is."

Those little moments can often be found in the bond the members have with one another. "I think our band is very much based upon the relationships and the fact that we are all old friends and we do get along very well," Croft said.

But as with any group, those relationships will have their ups and downs. Second guitarist and keyboardist Qureshi is now absent from the group. Some reports claimed exhaustion was the culprit, but Sim said he doesn't know where those rumors came from.

"It was a decision that the three of us [Sim, Croft and Smith] made; it wasn't a decision that Baria made," he said. "I think, like a divorce, you need a period where you just kind of let each other breathe."

It's hard to say what the future holds for these fresh faces at the cusp of international fame. The group is on a tour that started at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. It will take them all over the United States and Japan, including major U.S. music festivals like Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Coachella in California.

You've probably heard their music featured on television in the UK and North America. Their song "Intro" was used an ad with U.S. speed skater Apolo Ohno for American telecom company AT&T.

The band understands the need for marketing but stays cautious. As Croft said, "I don't feel too comfortable about putting our music on everything, just to put it to anything just for the sake of money."