For such an unassuming guy, Jamie Smith sure wears a lot of hats. The driving force behind spectral indie R&B trio the xx, this reticent yet painfully hip 26-year-old has also scored a ballet at the Manchester international festival, is a major-name club DJ and has produced and remixed US R&B and hip-hop luminaries such as Drake and Alicia Keys.
The common thread linking these activities is a fantastically attuned ear to rhythmic possibilities and an ability to locate the ineffable sadness that lies at the heart of so much upbeat music. Smith maximised this ability on his recent debut solo album, In Colour, a record of indisputable club bangers shot through with a piquant, hesitant vulnerability.
He is promoting this record with a DJ tour, yet tonight he is largely a victim of his own success. The best, most profound clubbing experiences take place in small, intimate venues, not in aircraft hangers like this, with his followers crammed together like a football crowd, lucky if they can locate a square metre in which to shuffle from foot to foot.
Nevertheless, like all great club alchemists, Smith takes the faithful on a journey that incorporates lulls of introspective reflection as well as highs of joyous abandon. A twitching, quietly grooving silhouette among the strafing lasers, he plays a set that acknowledges jungle, reggae and dubstep, but is founded on warm, pulsing house beats.
Tonight his fastidiously assembled, unremittingly joyous set eschews the halting melancholy that suffuses his recorded material. All Under One Roof Raving spits with the street patois and brittle banter of the hardcore early-90s pirate radio stations that he is too young to remember: Obvs crafts a voluptuous symphony from the steel drums that are his sonic signature.
A self-confessed geek, he is clearly a record-crate excavator, delving deep for gems as various as MC Vapour’s millennial cartoon drum ’n’ bass cut School and Afrobeat pioneers Black Blood’s 1975 anthem AIE (A Mwana). The number of phones held aloft in the crowd suggests that Shazam will be enjoying healthy Q4 figures.
When he closes an intoxicating near-two-hour set with his own Loud Places, and 5,000 voices roar his the xx bandmate Romy Madley Croft’s gentle words “I go to loud places to search for someone to be quiet with,” it’s a hugely moving moment. For such an incontrovertible introvert, Jamie xx is one resourceful party animal.