The xx win Mercury prize 2010

Indie minimalists the xx take home coveted £20,000 Mercury prize for eponymous debut album

Ethereal indie minimalists the xx last night won the Barclaycard Mercury prize and the £20,000 cash that goes with it for their eponymous debut album, beating 11 other acts.

It was a popular decision loudly welcomed by the great and good of the music industry who cheered loudly – and with genuine appreciation – as the group members took to the stage in the Grosvenor House hotel, in central London.

There was little air punching or exclamations of joy. Once on stage singer and guitarist Ollie Sim managed a breathless "wow". He thanked the judges and the band's record label: "We have had the most incredible year and it's felt like every day we have woken up to something incredible that we were expecting.

"It's felt a bit like a haze to us, being here has been a weird moment of clarity. It just means so much."

Asked what the band would spend the prize money on Romy Madley Croft suggested it might go towards building their own studio, since their first album had been made in a converted basement the size of a bathroom. "We're all very excited to make new music," she said.

Martin Mills, founder and chairman of Beggars group, which houses the band said: 'The xx is a perfect winner for the Mercurys – a completely fresh sound, which over time becomes an intimate friend."

The reason the panel of judges chose this album could be distilled into one word, said chief of judges Simon Frith: "Atmosphere."

He said the decision had not been easy but the panel had been wowed by the album. "It has the most amazing sense of mood and atmosphere and there is really nothing quite like it." Thanks to a number of adverts and endorsements the album had imprinted itself on the public's consciousness, he added. "It appears to have become like part of the soundscape in an almost invisible fashion. It also captures a sense of the uneasy times we live in. It's a very urban record."

The xx had been hotly tipped to win the award since being nominated back in July. Their album, released in August last year, was praised for its "lightness of touch at play that gives The xx a sophistication beyond their years" in the Observer.

The three-piece band from London who formed in 2005, met at Elliott School, notable for alumni including Hot Chip, Burial, The Maccabees and Four Tet.

Recorded, mainly at night, in the basement of the XL studios the melancholic, almost dream-like, album wowed critics when it was released, featuring highly in NME and Rolling Stone's "best of the year" lists.

Released in August last year, The xx entered the chart at 36, slipping to 62 a week later. Showing that the Mercurys still have some power despite the naysayers which question its relevance, after the album's nomination it jumped from 44 to 16 in the charts, quickly becoming the favourite to win the prize.

Rock veteran Paul Weller, despite being the late favourite to win after a sudden surge of bets on his album Wake Up the Nation, missed out along with nominees Wild Beasts, Laura Marling, I Am Kloot, Villagers, Foals, Dizzee Rascal, Mumford & Sons, Biffy Clyro and Corinne Bailey Rae and Kit Downes Trio.

Paul Stokes, associate editor of NME, said that based on pre-awards hype, there might have been a suggestion that the judges would opt for the obvious choice. "But let's not forget this is an album made by self-confessed social outcasts, that merges the fringes of indie and dance culture. That it has become the favourite demonstrates this album's true achievement."


Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

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