The xx: ‚We’re very keen not to be… flash‘

„We ended up with a similar look because we spend all our time together, but it’s not a uniform,“ Sim says. „If I turned up at a rehearsal in bright orange, they wouldn’t send me home and make me get changed.“

By current standards, the xx’s success seems rather steady and organic. They weren’t skyrocketed into the public consciousness by a tidal wave of hype. Partly, you suspect, because their music isn’t terribly immediate – subtle, hushed and, given their youth, strangely mature, the songs on their eponymous debut album don’t stun the listener so much as slowly work their way under your skin – and partly because they are so reticent and shy. Any other band might make a selling point of the fact that Sim is male-model handsome, but the xx decline to appear on their own record sleeves. „We’re very keen,“ Madley Croft says, „not to be…“ She searches for the right word. „Flash,“ she decides.

The first time I saw them live was on a sweltering late summer night in a tiny London venue. They gave every impression they were going out of their way not to draw attention to themselves, a pretty odd thing to do when you’re performing in front of 500 people. That said, the disparity between what was happening on stage – or, rather, what wasn’t happening, unless you count watching black-clad, motionless figures wearing expressions that run the emotional gamut from morose to I-was-forced-here-at-gunpoint an unmissable visual feast – and what came out of the speakers held the audience rapt. It sounded languid, satiated, postcoital. Sim and Madley Croft’s vocals were softly yearning. It was all deeply mysterious and bewitching.

Madley Croft looks slightly horrified at the notion that their songs appear largely to be about sex – which seems a bit rich coming from a woman who appears to spend most of the debut album on her knees, being subsumed beneath various raging tides, asking if she can make it better with the lights turned on or repeatedly begging persons unknown to go slow. „I can honestly say that I’ve never sat down and thought, ‚This song is about sex‘.“ She frowns. Really? „We were writing these songs when we were 17,“ she says firmly, the faintest hint of what-are-you-some-kind-of-pervert entering her voice. „I don’t think we were sitting down and overtly being like, ‚This song is about my sex life‘.“ In fact, she says, she couldn’t say for certain what the songs are about, thanks to the peculiar way they construct their duets: Sim and Madley Croft each write the lyrics they sing, never telling each other what they’re writing about. „It always felt very comfortable and natural to be sort of sharing and collaging our lyrics,“ Madley Croft says. „We don’t really have to explain to each other what we’re singing about, because I already have such an emotional attachment to things Oliver is singing. It’s in the same way that, with your favourite songs, you don’t really want to know what the artist is writing about, because then you can put them into your own life, like, ‚Oh, this is my song.'“

They have managed to maintain a degree of mystery, no mean feat in an age of internet messageboards and gossip websites. For Jamie Smith, this comes via the simple expedient of not saying anything. At one point during the interview, he yawns and mentions that he prefers playing electronic drums to real ones; it slowly becomes clear that this represents a dizzying pinnacle of soul-baring loquacity that he will never again scale in my company. Madley Croft and Sim, meanwhile, have developed an impressive sideline in drawing a discreet veil over things. A couple of early interviews openly referred to the pair as gay, which would certainly add a whole extra level of intrigue to their lovelorn duets, but these days a veil is drawn over their sexuality: interviewers are minded not to ask, because they’re not going to get an answer. They used to be a quartet, but just as the xx’s success snowballed, keyboard player Baria Qureshi departed in slightly mysterious circumstances just before a London gig. They still played, and Sim seemed close to tears on stage as he announced her departure, but a veil has been drawn over that as well. „Things had changed between us,“ Sim says. „The social dynamic wasn’t working.“

So no one really knows that much about them, beyond the fact that Sim and Madley Croft were thrust together as toddlers by their parents and have been best friends ever since – their earliest memory is of playing together in a sandpit when they were two or three. And that all the band’s members attended Putney’s Elliott school, a comprehensive that has in recent years, for reasons no one seems entirely able to explain, turned out a remarkable number of left-field musicians: its list of alumni includes Hot Chip, experimental electronic producer Kieran „Four Tet“ Hebden, Mercury-nominated dubstep producer the MaccabeesAdem. Given the amount of time they now spend together in the cramped confines of a tour bus – a state of affairs that frequently drives bands to murderous distraction – you might reasonably expect Madley Croft and Sim to be sick of the sight of each other, but apparently not. „We’ve been at school together virtually every day, all of our lives,“ Madley Croft says, „so it feels quite natural to see Oliver every day.“ Sim nods: „I think it would be weirder if we didn’t.“

Elliott school is a topic they seem heartily sick of discussing. „It gets mentioned all around the world,“ Madley Croft says. „You just don’t expect to hear so much about this average comprehensive school where there’s lots of different types of people, with different backgrounds, and different interests and styles and music tastes. I’m really glad to have gone to such an eclectic place, but it’s not this holy grail of music.“

No, they say, the xx never appeared at the school’s Friday lunchtime „performance sessions“ that Kieran Hebden set up to nurture incipient musical talent: „To perform in front of a room full of people you go to school with would be terrifying,“ Sim says. „I couldn’t do it now.“

Indeed, they didn’t even bother to tell their schoolmates they had formed a band. This was perhaps unremarkable in the early days, when their musical ambitions, encouraged by their music-loving parents – Sim’s mother, who „developed this massive passion for Jack Whitethe White Stripes when they were 14 – extended no further than crudely fashioning covers of songs by Pixies and, more surprisingly, Wham!’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go („Our version was pretty dark“) in their bedrooms. But they didn’t even tell people when they began playing gigs around London and attracting record label interest. „I don’t know why,“ Madley Croft says. „By that point I already felt a bit dislocated from the school and the people there anyway, so it didn’t feel necessary to brag or show off that we were in a band.“

Perhaps their reticence had something to do with the fact that the gigs they played were, in Madley Croft’s words, „a bit soul-destroying“. Their songs were so quiet – not least because they recorded them at the dead of night, playing and singing softly so as not to wake her father – and so „everyone would talk the whole way through our set“.

„If there were three people in the front row who were into it,“ she says, „that was a success.“

No one talks during their gigs now, but success has brought its own problems. Sim was recognised in Sainsbury’s the other day: from the way he tells the story, you get the impression this was not an event that filled him with joy. He worries how he’ll write lyrics now that he knows people other than the band will hear them. „This album was done with no expectations,“ he says. „No one knew who we were. When I was writing the songs, I didn’t think anyone other than Romy or James would ever actually hear them. Now I know so many people will…“ His voice tails off and he smiles: „I might feel I have to be a bit more private.“

The xx’s self-titled debut album is out on Young Turks.

Olly Alexander: Growing up Gay

Documentary in which Years and Years frontman Olly Alexander explores the mental health issues faced by members of the LGBT+ community.

Recent figures show that more than 40 per cent of LGBT+ people will experience a significant mental health problem, compared to around 25 per cent of the whole population, and are more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide.

In this eye-opening film, young pop culture icon Olly Alexander explores why the gay community is more vulnerable to mental health issues, as he opens up about his own long-term battles with depression. As the outspoken frontman of British band Years and Years, Olly is a powerful voice on mental health, bullying and LGBT+ rights. He has broken taboos with music videos that celebrate queer identities and spoken openly about his own sexuality as well as his ongoing struggles with anxiety.

In the film Olly joins young people on their journeys battling issues that parallel his own – from homophobic bullying to eating and anxiety disorders – and along the way he asks what can be done to address them.

Olly Alexander: Growing up Gay

The xx: ‚It’s abnormal for bands to share so much‘

Faint fingerprints. It’s a weirdly appropriate impediment for Croft, guitarist and singer in a band such as this. The xx make electronic-edged music that’s ghostly, low key, as spare and enigmatic as their curious name. The trio are notoriously reticent, hoping in their promotional commitments to make minimal personal impression; and in the three years between releasing a fine first album and putting out, this month, a second, they’ve done so impeccably. Tracks from their self-titled debut, winner of the 2010 Mercury Prize, are used all over, and their new album, Coexist, deserves to become another cultural fixture. You will definitely be aware of the xx’s stuff. You might not be totally sure who they are, though, these cat burglars of British pop – here, there and everywhere without leaving identifying marks.

In the courtyard of their hotel in Hollywood, the band go unnoticed. They are left alone to blink and wince their way into West Coast time. Beers and coffees are ordered; notes are compared on a wicked, composite jet lag that has built up over close-packed tour dates in Europe, Japan, Australia and now America.

Oliver Sim, the band’s bass player and co-vocalist, 6ft 2in with a backward whip of hair, is coming to terms with it being the mid-afternoon. At 10am on a Sunday the band’s plane left Sydney, spent 13 hours in flight and landed in LA at 7am… still a Sunday. Sim wonders if the experience counts as time travel. Should he have written himself a note? Don’t watch the in-flight Jennifer Aniston movie.

Jamie Smith, multitasking percussionist and producer, is not so bothered by his extreme tiredness. Being not so bothered is Smith’s default position on a great many things. His woolly brown hair shaped into a drooping quiff, he’s been sitting poolside all morning, snatching sucks on cigarettes before the waiters can tell him no, and thinking about reworking some incidental music for the band’s gig tomorrow. It will be at the Fonda theatre in Hollywood, the xx’s first US show in over a year, and a sell-out.

Croft, pale-skinned with a distinctive forward swoop of black hair, has by now been freed from the airport to join her bandmates. She had to wait for an hour to get her passport back, she tells me, listening all the while to another passenger being bullied by guards because he wasn’t carrying the right form. „I felt quite upset by it,“ she says. „I guess … I guess unnecessariness gets to me.“

That is it, the xx’s ethos, if it had to be formalised. Unnecessariness gets to them. They don’t seem comfortable taking praise, or giving interviews. („We’re very private,“ Croft tells me. „We like our personal space.“) They socialise sensibly: karaoke, ideally, and nothing much stronger than Newcastle Brown Ale. They’re in their early 20s though are mistakable in manner for people much older, as long as you allow the odd generational giveaway, like Sim’s reference to Pokémon trading cards, or Croft’s habit of making statements with the rising lilt of a question, or the fact that millennial popstar Daniel Bedingfield was a young hero of Smith’s. The trio dress in black, always have, and it seems to me symbolic of their aversions. They don’t like swank.

It should all make their next 48 hours in Los Angeles interesting, because in this most unnecessary of cities, swank is close to a religion. Before the xx depart, Smith will find himself high on a stage in an open-air nightclub, being showered with confetti and enclosed by writhing go-go dancers. A local promoter will give them, of all things, a box of pornography. Croft and Sim will sing while standing on a giant chessboard.

LA, acknowledges Sim, is the place that pulls the trio furthest from their comfort zone. Certainly it’s a long way from where everything began. Putney.

Their first album might have sounded so spacious, so uncomplicated, because when the band first started writing it they hardly knew their instruments.

Sim got a bass on his 14th birthday, by which time Croft was teaching herself the guitar. They’d been friends since before they could talk, near-identical looking toddlers first plonked down to play together in a sandpit. They grew close in that way early-introduced kids do, unquestioningly and by increment, day after day in each other’s company. They went to the same primary school then the same secondary, Elliott school in Putney, south-west London.

„Romy knows everything there is to know about me,“ says Sim, but at 14 it took time for them to admit to each other they’d been fiddling with instruments; writing snatches of music; even (behind closed bedroom doors, Sim living with his mum in a Fulham council flat and Croft five minutes‘ drive away) singing. They decided they’d form a boy-girl duo, and their voices paired brilliantly, hers high and airy against his rich lower register. „We learned to talk together,“ says Croft. „I don’t know why our voices fit so well, but maybe that’s it.“

They performed their first gigs, aged about 16, to a CD drumtrack. Their school had for a while been an incubator of young British bands – electropop outfit Hot Chip formed there in 2000 – and pupils tended to be musical. A friend that Croft and Sim had made in the playground, Jamie Smith, started coming to their shows. He was tiny (Croft towered over him) but Smith had from a young age been DJing at local clubs, a great fan of the electronica-tinged hip-hop of RJD2. Sim and Croft asked Smith to improve their drumtrack, and later he joined the band. Inspired by RJD2, Smith decided he’d try to perform the electronic component of the music live, tapping away on a touch-panel MPC sequencer with clawed fingers, playing it like a compact, percussive piano.

By 2006, Baria Qureshi, another schoolfriend, had joined as keyboard player and the band had a name, bashed out among a flurry of ideas on a home computer. Were those lower-case letters to represent kisses, chromosomes? Whatever: under the blinking cursor of a Microsoft Word document they liked the way „the xx“ looked written down. When the quartet left school they were taken on by Caius Pawson, a young music impresario who’d founded a small label, Young Turks. He signed them up and became their manager.

Pawson, today, winces at me. We are in a nightclub in north Hollywood where Smith is shortly to do an hour-long DJ set. It’s a side project away from the band, billed under his stage name, Jamie xx. „All the cool little gigs Jamie does for £30,“ Pawson says, pained, „and I bring the journalist to this one.“ It’s an extraordinary occasion. The dancefloor has its own swimming pool. Tins of Stella, here repackaged as a luxury import, are selling for £8. Smith will get his own dancers, and a bouncer. „Just let me know who I should protect,“ the bouncer keeps saying, and he stars in an ideal moment of farce when Smith moves up to the DJ booth to perform.

The set is about halfway through, a confetti bomb going off to mark a high point and the go-go dancers now sharing their podiums with punters brought to a frenzy by Smith’s manipulation of Kanye West and Adele. Pawson goes to the bar to get his artist a drink. Don’t let anybody into the booth, he instructs the bouncer, who nods. And when Pawson returns the bouncer won’t let him in.

The next day Smith gives a rare roar of laughter when I tell him this. We are now in a residential tower block, a few streets north, where the xx have been booked to play an afternoon warm-up gig: four quick tracks on a rooftop, their audience made up of competition winners. The block has hosted popstars before, and one of its apartments is today serving as a dressing room. It’s here that a war-chest of pornographic DVDs has been left, also condoms, with a note inviting the band to dig in. There are dumbbell weights in the room, should they want to use them.

„Does somebody actually live here?“ asks Sim, staring at a wall-sized mural that says ROCK-A-HOLIC in the style of the Hollywood sign. The LA strangeness is mounting. This morning when the band went on a local radio show there was concern, expressed by the show’s production staff, that it would be somehow insensitive to mention the date of their new album’s US release, 11 September. („Early September“ was the eventual compromise.) Outside, on the tower block’s roof, the band have just done a soundcheck and discovered they’ll be performing in a part of the building normally reserved for residents‘ games. Pieces pushed to one side, the xx will gig on a giant chessboard for the first time in their careers.

Croft is actually more concerned about a red velvet rope that has been strung between the audience and the performance space. Doesn’t it look a bit starry? She and Sim have a muttered discussion, too, about whether they should wear sunglasses for the show. On the one hand, they don’t want to look distant. On the other hand – it’s pretty sunny.

It makes me think of something Smith told me, another bouncer-related anecdote from the night before. The over-zealous minder had kept smacking off people’s hands as they reached out to Smith in his booth. „I didn’t really want to shake their hands,“ conceded Smith. „But I didn’t want them to be knocked away either.“ It’s the kind of contradiction the xx are faced with often, as they worry out the kinks and complications of growing renown. They don’t like to let people close, but nor do they like being kept, showily, at a distance.

Smith offers up another odd moment from last night. In the VIP area after his set he was approached by a figure he recognised. Daniel Bedingfield. „He gave me a new track he’d made,“ says Smith. Any good, I ask? Smith grimaces, and shakes his head. Oh well: it’s a measure of how esteemed he is, anyway, that old heroes seek him out as someone to impress. In the band’s time off between records – most of 2011 – Smith remixed an Adele single and Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here album, both successes, and he’s been courted to produce for others since. He mentions a collaboration with a US star which ought to be fascinating if released. The once-admired RJD2 even sent Smith a crate of new music not long ago, possibly looking to work together.

Any good, I ask? Smith grimaces, and shakes his head. This is his way, gruff and honest. Should one of my questions misfire (and, boy, do they misfire under this kid’s inscrutable stare), Smith stays silent, just letting it pass. In a moment of unusual personal candour, he tells me how he met his Italian girlfriend over drinks in a bar, and adds with a strange sort of pride that he didn’t ask her for her phone number. Smith’s instinct is for passivity, and perhaps this is what makes him such a fine producer. „I work with talented people,“ he shrugs. „I’m just their tool.“

Outside, the rooftop show under way, the xx play through a couple of numbers from their new album and a couple from the old. Afterwards there is an attempt at an onstage radio interview, and Sim hugs himself, embarassed, taking a hit for the team by answering questions on behalf of the others. At one point the interviewer pings a rogue inquiry at Smith, who’s hiding among the big chess pieces at the back. Sim has to step in and translate his friend’s silent answer, a vague upper-body twitch. „That means yes,“ says Sim.

Afterwards, backstage, the band seem relieved it’s over and in a good mood. Tonight’s gig at the Fonda theatre will be more demanding but the afternoon set with its small audience has reminded them happily of early gigging days, when they played in pubs and clubs to crowds of a couple of dozen. This was around 2008, when they were working up songs for a possible album and Pawson had installed them in a small rehearsal room in Putney. Womb-like, Sim once called it.

They were still living at home at the time, Croft tells me, „and when I think about it from a parent’s perspective we could have been doing anything. You know: we’re off to rehearse now, bye! Luckily we were doing something.“ They were perfecting their debut, xx, released in summer 2009 to kick-starting critical acclaim. The band began a tour, which gradually extended as their fanbase grew and eventually lasted about 18 months, on and off. A lot of jet lag and Jennifer Aniston films, plus some emotional times along the way.

Difficulties had developed with the band’s fourth member, Qureshi. „She has a place here,“ Sim told the NME at the Mercury announcement ceremony in 2010. „She’s part of the album.“ But Qureshi was no longer part of the band, ejected in October 2009 after a particularly trying few days at a New York music festival. „There were problems that came to light because we were at such close quarters,“ Sim tells me. Croft, at the time, likened the rift to a divorce.

They had to grow up in a lot of ways during that first tour. Most of us go through the buffeting half-romances of early adulthood with a bedroom to retreat to, a duvet to crawl under, but the xx went through it all in minivans and departure lounges – with an entourage. Smith tells me about a DJ set he was doing, somewhere on the tour, when a girl in the crowd approached him with a folded-up note. He was young, and had no clue what to do with it, so he put it in his pocket. Only after much jokey persuasion from those around him did he finally open it, in the cab on the way back to the band’s hotel. It might not be too late to follow it up… The note said: „Why don’t you play some decent music?“

For Croft and Sim there was a more brutal lesson. „The first piece Dazed [& Confused magazine] did on us,“ Croft once explained, „they outed us in the first line.“ Ever since, the pair have not spoken with ease, if at all, about their sexuality. Softening, in 2010, Croft gave a short, intimate interview to the online magazine Tourist in which she and her girlfriend at the time, an art student based in London, talked about love. What does it feel like, they were asked, to be in a long-distance relationship? „Like when you’re eight,“ the rather beautiful answer, „and you want it to be your birthday.“

Sim has kept consistently zipped. „Is there anything you want to say to your gay fans?“ he was once asked by New Gay TV, and seeming to think about it, Sim replied: „Hot Chip are amazing.“ The xx sing almost exclusively about matters of the heart (Missing, a track on Coexist, might be the most aching lament on romantic separation I’ve heard) but their love-lives away from the mic have never been very clearly outlined. I get the sense, speaking to Sim, that he quite enjoys the mystery he inspires. On stage he sways and leers, all eyes and attitude. Exactly as a good frontman should, he makes you – bloke in the crowd, neck craned – feel many degrees less masculine because you haven’t got a guitar and a catalogue of tortured love songs to growl through. Offstage this persona vanishes and he is bouncier, camper, „more smiley than people would think“. His speech is peppered with assertive, accented „yeah“s, almost used as punctuating stops. It’s something I’ve noticed rappers do, a statement of sureness and muscularity. Sim, chatting to me after the rooftop set, does it with a flower tucked behind his ear.

Does he thrive on the ambiguity that surrounds him? „It’s kind of a double thing,“ he says. „I enjoy not knowing everything about a musician I like. At a time when you can find out a popstar’s favourite animal, I think it’s more exciting not to know.“ Part two, he says, is simpler: „I just don’t want to tell everyone everything. If you took anyone off the street and asked them to share as much as we get asked to share, they’d say no. I don’t think that’s abnormal.“ He finds it abnormal, actually, that other bands agree to share so much.

Croft has come to be more open. She is in a long-term relationship with fashion designer Hannah Marshall, and this week has arranged for her girlfriend to join the band in LA. When I meet her, Marshall is a bright, quick-smiling 30-year-old with unusual sheared hair. While the band prepare to leave the tower block for the Fonda theatre, she makes herself useful, steaming the creases out of a top for Croft to wear, keeping everyone’s spirits up with chat.

Having somebody special along for a show, Croft tells me privately, „makes it new“. Like the cheesy bit in a rock movie, I suggest, when the singer sees someone significant in the crowd and does it just for them. „Yeah, always,“ she says, smiling. „If someone’s there that means something to me, it’s all I can think about on stage – that person.“

We are talking, alone, on a balcony jutting off the tower. In front of us are the Hollywood hills, the iconic sign looking haggard and sad. Behind us is the freeway, the 101, enduring LA’s frightening evening rush hour. Croft’s voice is almost lost to the noise of traffic as she talks about her father, who died in early 2010 during the band’s first tour. The xx were in Paris when they heard, and rushed back to London. After that, says Croft, „everything kind of went on pause“. Gigs were cancelled. Everyone waited on Croft. „And then there was a point where I was asked: ‚What do you want to do?'“

What she tells me next surprises me, because I’ve skimmed through thousands of words on the xx by now, and I’ve read their back-stories many times. The band volunteer so little about themselves, though, there are inevitable gaps, and significant ones. Croft tells me she had lost a parent before. „My mum died when I was 11,“ she says. „And I felt quite sad about myself feeling this way, but [when my dad died] it wasn’t a new feeling. It was something that I was familiar with.“

So Croft returned to work quicker than even she can believe, looking back. Within days of the bereavement the band were playing a planned show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. „My dad was always there, carrying my amps, driving me around, and I knew that he would have wanted us to carry on.“ After Shepherd’s Bush, the xx recommenced their tour.

Has she written about this stuff? „A couple of songs,“ says Croft, „but just for myself. My dad was such a fan of music, I’d love to write something in tribute to him.“ Thinking about it, she adds: „Though maybe it’s somewhere that would be quite difficult to go, every night on stage.“

Separately, both Croft and Sim speak about the depersonalising effect of having a calendar that maps out, day by day, show by show, a great chunk of the near future. It’s another unsettling form of time travel, and „an awful thing“, says Sim, „to see on a screen in front of you“. It might be why they’ve tried to scatter this new tour with plans, targets. They’ll soon play an arena in Antwerp, to test their intimate sound on a bigger stage. On his own, Sim has written a song, not right for the band, that he hopes Beyoncé might consider if he can work up the courage to ask. Smith has plans to build a new instrument, like his beloved MPC sequencer but iPad-like and see-through, colourful graphics conjured with the same finger taps that make his music.

Croft, I sense, simply aims for a less lurching tour than the last. „Right now I can see what I’m doing until next year,“ she says (and from LA the band will fly to Seattle then through Canada and on to New York, eventually to the UK and Mexico and back to the US), „and during that time there’s no room for disasters, or life, or anything else like that to happen“.

At the Fonda theatre, later, the band perform, and I try to look out for Croft looking out for her girlfriend. I want to glimpse the singer as she pares down a capacity crowd to one. But I’m a distance away, and there’s a lot of stage smoke, and anyway the show’s too absorbing to maintain professional scrutiny for long. Soon I’m listing and hollering with everyone else. Nodding, too – people do a lot of nodding at the xx gigs. Group confirmation: oh this is good.

But an LA crowd will demand its swank, and bands playing the Fonda tend to put a little extra zing into their shows. When rapper Azealia Banks performed here, she did so dressed as a pink mermaid, finally lost to view under an industrial dump of balloons from the eaves. Before that, Kasabian in town, their frontman did muscle poses before strolling into the crowd.

The xx don’t do this, nor shower the Fonda with balloons. Yet the production of tonight’s show is unprecedentedly ambitious. The trio perform in front of magnificent new laser lights, tinged pink and gold, that shoot out from the rear of the stage. They play most of the show backlit, and it’s almost a shame the band can’t see themselves as the audience do, framed by these powerful lights. I’m certain they’d approve, because Croft and Sim and Smith are left shadowy, indistinct, really only silhouettes.

The xx: 'It's abnormal for bands to share so much'

the xx is proof that the gays invented both love and music

Lips? I could literally drown in Romy Croft’s voice.

Romy and Hannah flawlessly lovely persons <3I love their love <3always happy when I see happy photos of my favorite peoples

the xx is proof that the gays invented both love and music

Scout: An Apocalypse Story

This story is at about 60,000+  words thus far. I am planning for it to be 10 chapters, 100,000+ words upon completion (probably closer to 150,000 at this point). 

Next chapter? I’m estimating about one month. If you follow me on Tumblr, you’ll know that my personal life has absolutely exploded recently. I’m a one woman team, so I’ve been on the back foot the past few months. Thank you all for your patience!

Issues with saves?  Twine has a cache-based save system that I’m still trying to work around. If you’ve cleared your cache, cleared your cookies, have certain browser extensions, are using a different browser, are using a different device, etc. – you will not be able to access your old saves

It has been over a decade since a worldwide natural disaster obliterated the natural planet and decimated human civilization. There are small groups of humans still alive, fending for themselves, trying to create communities amongst the rubble. 

You are a 24-year old scout living in a small community on the edge of the Orange Plains. You lost your mother and your sister before finding your way here. You are primarily an academic, and you put your skills to use on regular scouting missions. With your best friend and your scouting team leader in tow, your small group is a pillar of the Community. 

On your first scouting mission of the hot season, you meet the leader of the People Across the Orange Plains. Will you break from the Community you have known your whole life? Ask a romantic partner to join you? Discover secrets that your own people have been hiding? Become a leader yourself? 

Choose your name, pronouns, appearance, and scouting team position. Choices you make throughout the story will affect your standing in the community, your relationships, and significant plot points. This is primarily a romance game. 

There are 4 romance options in this game: Two male, one female, and one you can choose between M/F. 

Elle/Ezra Taylor: Your best friend and another member of your scouting team. Charming and intuitive to your every feeling. You two have been inseparable ever since you both arrived to the Community around the same time. Recently, you are worried about losing your best friend to this new tension that seems to be developing between you both. 

Oliver Shen: The leader of your scouting team. Impossible to impress. Easy to annoy. He has absurdly high standards for your scouting team and is constantly on your back. You enjoy openly challenging him on a regular basis. Oliver is intimidating, and you’ve never quite gotten along, but there are signs that he values you more than you initially realize. 

Sabine Langford: A new addition to your scouting team. She is your replacement when you are put on probation. Sabine is a rule follower and abhors any risk-taking behavior from your team. You resent the addition of a fourth team member, especially one that seems to constantly be reprimanding you or getting in your way. But, when you’re in trouble, she always seems to be there. She has been paying attention to you. 

Gage ??: Leader of another civilization group across the plains. You’ve run into each other briefly before on other scouting missions, and it has never ended well. He has shown a keen interest in you, and not only for your scouting skills. Gage intrigues you – he is from across the plains and could show you a completely different way of living through this apocalypse. If you’ll let him. 

Scout: An Apocalypse Story

Welcome to Your Best Nightmare!

Unsure of where to start with your brand new college degree? Are the bears in your life already taken and/or not ghoulish enough? Yearning for the exhilaration of possible demise in your dating life? This queer dating sim can help! From the soft himbos to the party hoes, all of these human-ish men are ready to start a new life with you. This campy dating simulator is about helping your partner achieve their dreams and nearly getting arrested, injured, or killed in the process.

All girls, gays, and theys are welcome to romance these men! So long as you’re cool with foul language and a few almost-bare man chests, this demo is safe to play  in a room your mom might walk into – it has no sexual content. The full game will offer a NSFW version with plenty of horny shenanigans, as well as a SFW version for those who are only interested in romance and silliness.

Play in your browser, or download at the bottom of this page!

This demo of Very Scary Gays features about an hour of content for a single playthrough (some choices lead to additional scenes!), including over 14,500 words, eleven custom backgrounds, six datable monster men, and a setup to the silly little plot for your silly little heart. Now then, enjoy the demo.


I’m absolutely in love with this game and all the monsters. I can’t wait for the full version. So Far Boris and Froster are my favorites. I love the art style. Good luck with the rest of the Dev team! 

thank you so much! all of the monsters are in love with you too 😉 we post updates on our Kickstarter page and devlog if you wanna follow along with the full game’s progress!

The writing in this demo may genuinely be the funniest I’ve seen in any VN yet. I mean legit, intentionally funny! Even though this is a game about dating monster men it felt like a very human experience. I was unsure about the art at first, but it very quickly grew on me, just like all the characters, including the supporting cast! Really curious to see where this project is going, and I can’t wait to see the full routes for Foster and Boris! <3

this is so thoughtful – thank you so much! we really love these men, so we’re glad that their humanity is coming through!

I can’t say how much fun was to play this demo! I liked each one of the main characters. They are just too funny and cute to interact with! Please keep it up. You are doing an amazing work on this game!

we’re swooning! so glad you like the demo and thank you so much for the kind words. we’re hard at work on the full game, and it’ll be out next February if our Kickstarter gets funded!

Foster is the best friend I need in life. Really good game, y’all! I’m looking forward to seeing the full product. <3

thanks so much!! Foster would LOVE to be your best friend. we’ve been really excited to play your game Loving You Fully as a team this weekend ?? 

the demo isn’t compatible with touchscreen devices unfortunately. we’d definitely consider patching the full game once it’s released to be apple and android compatible if there’s enough player interest!

wow i had fun with this really good and i like the art. Keep it up

thanks so much! we’re hard at work on the full game so keep those eyeballs peeled for updates!

foster is so cute and lovable that i honestly dont care if he’s plotting to kill me and wear my skin :)))) great game so far, i’m really looking forward to playing more of it!!! 

LMAOOO I see you’re picking up on some things 😉 but he’s totally normal and there’s definitely nothing to worry about! so glad you enjoyed your time together!!

Good start to a VN! Looking forward to seeing more.

So glad you had a good time! If all goes as planned the full game will be out this time next year!

6. (2014 TV Movie)

A sexually awakening gay teen athlete finds himself in a budding relationship with his mutually attracted relay race teammate.

Director:Mischa Kamp | Stars:Gijs Blom, Ko Zandvliet, Jonas Smulders, Ton Kas

7. His Secret Life(2001)

After a deathly car accident, Antonia starts dating her husband’s friends and finds the truth about his life.

Director:Ferzan Ozpetek | Stars:Margherita Buy, Stefano Accorsi, Serra Yilmaz, Gabriel Garko

16. Freier Fall(2013)

A soon-to-be-father policeman falls for a gay fellow officer and his life starts falling apart.

Director:Stephan Lacant | Stars:Hanno Koffler, Max Riemelt, Attila Borlan, Katharina Schüttler

26. Prayers for Bobby(2009 TV Movie)

True story of Mary Griffith, gay rights crusader, whose teenage son committed suicide due to her religious intolerance. Based on the book of the same title by Leroy Aarons.

Director:Russell Mulcahy | Stars:Sigourney Weaver, Henry Czerny, Ryan Kelley, Austin Nichols

28. The Lost Language of Cranes(1991)

A young gay man comes out to his middle-class parents, which has repercussions for his father who has long since been trying to repress his own sexuality.

Director:Nigel Finch | Stars:Brian Cox, Eileen Atkins, Angus Macfadyen, Corey Parker

33. (1997)

William, a once obese and depressed adolescent, is able to move past his teenage years when he moves to the city and comes out as being gay. When he returns home though, he can’t cope with his memories.

Director:Thom Fitzgerald | Stars:Chris Leavins, Kerry Fox, Ian Parsons, Peter MacNeill

42. Nico and Dani(2000)

A Spanish coming of age story focusing on the antics of two 17 year olds, who have a posh beach house almost all to themselves one summer. This is also a summer of sexual awakenings.

Director:Cesc Gay | Stars:Fernando Ramallo, Jordi Vilches, Marieta Orozco, Esther Nubiola

43. (2011)

Portrait of a closeted gay husband/father living a life of quiet middle-aged desperation who becomes fixated on a friend’s handsome collegiate son, leading to an incident.

Director:Oliver Hermanus | Stars:Deon Lotz, Charlie Keegan, Michelle Scott, Albert Maritz

49. (2004)

Pedro, a gay man with an active social life and many friends, takes in his nephew Bernardo for a couple weeks. When the arrangement becomes permanent , Pedro turns to his friends for guidance as he and Bernardo forge a household together.

Director:Miguel Albaladejo | Stars:José Luis García Pérez, David Castillo, Empar Ferrer, Elvira Lindo

51. Defying Gravity(1997)

Griff wants to maintain just a superficial relationship with his all-gay boyfriend, who gets seriously wounded in a gay bashing.

Director:John Keitel | Stars:Daniel Chilson, Niklaus Lange, Don Handfield, Linna Carter

59. Floating Skyscrapers(2013)

The story of a young man discovering his homosexuality, while his girlfriend tries to cling onto him.

Director:Tomasz Wasilewski | Stars:Mateusz Banasiuk, Marta Nieradkiewicz, Bartosz Gelner, Katarzyna Herman

60. Tell No One(2012)

Matthia is about to move to Madrid to be with his boyfriend Eduard, so he won’t have to reveal to the family of being gay. Eduard, however, is convinced that their marriage has the blessing… See full summary »

Director:Ivan Silvestrini | Stars:Josafat Vagni, Monica Guerritore, Francesco Montanari, Antonino Bruschetta

64. (2004)

A close friendship between two crew teammates is tested when one slowly discovers he’s gay and attracted to the other.

Director:Marco Kreuzpaintner | Stars:Robert Stadlober, Kostja Ullmann, Miriam Morgenstern, Jürgen Tonkel

65. Wilde(1997)

The turmoil in poet/playwright Oscar Wilde’s life after he discovers his homosexuality.

Director:Brian Gilbert | Stars:Stephen Fry, Jude Law, Vanessa Redgrave, Jennifer Ehle

70. (2009)

An English professor, one year after the sudden death of his boyfriend, is unable to cope with his typical days in 1960s Los Angeles.

Director:Tom Ford | Stars:Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult

71. (2015)

On Manhattan’s gilded Upper East Side, a young gay painter is torn between an obsession with his infamous socialite best friend and a promising new romance with an older foreign concert pianist.

Director:Joey Kuhn | Stars:Jonathan Gordon, Jason Ralph, Haaz Sleiman, Britt Lower

73. (2014 TV Movie)

A gay activist attempts to raise H.I.V. and A.I.D.S. awareness during the early 1980s.

Director:Ryan Murphy | Stars:Mark Ruffalo, Jonathan Groff, Frank De Julio, William DeMeritt

79. Love, Simon(2018)

Simon Spier keeps a huge secret from his family, his friends and all of his classmates: he’s gay. When that secret is threatened, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with his identity.

Director:Greg Berlanti | Stars:Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford

85. (2018)

The son of a Baptist preacher unwillingly participates in a church-supported gay conversion program after being forcibly outed to his parents.

Director:Joel Edgerton | Stars:Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton, Russell Crowe

100. (2016– )

When a young gay couple witness a triple murder, they will do anything to avoid being outed to their small town.

Stars:Julianne Nicholson, Tyler Young, James Paxton, Gil Bellows

American remake of the Norwegian mini-series. Not as good as the Norwegian original, but still worth a watch.

Oliver Sim for Another Man Issue 24

Recognition and the sense of worth it brings is a central theme of The xx’s stunning new album, I See You. Recorded in Texas, New York, Los Angeles and Reykjavík as well as London, it sees this extravagantly talented South London trio – Sim, co-vocalist/guitarist Romy Madley-Croft and programmer Jamie Smith – fully embracing their role as global players.

“We wanted songs we could sing out,” says Sim, acknowledging the galvanising effect Smith’s solo success with the rave-centric In Colour as Jamie xx had on the band. “We feel a lot more confident now. We want people to connect with the music and with us as people.”

While its predecessors – 2009’s xx and 2012’s Coexist – only contained arrangements the band could reproduce live, I See You is full of sonic surprises. From brassy opener Dangerous and the Hall & Oates sampling On Hold to the spooked space-gospel of Test Me, it nods to club culture while maintaining their trademark emotional intensity. As we’ll discover, however, for pop’s premier wallflowers learning to look the world in the eye hasn’t been easy.

London Fields, 3 January 2017, and the sky is the colour of a flooded ashtray. It’s the first day back at work after the holidays, and a chance to catch up on the events of the last fortnight. Like the rest of the music community, Sim is still reeling from the death of George Michael on Christmas Day.

For The xx, the star’s music holds a special significance. When Sim and Madley-Croft started making music as naïve 14-year-olds at the music-focused Elliott School in Putney, an early staple of their set was a cover of Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.

“I’m a huge fan, we did it because that song is fun,” he says. “It was easier in the beginning not to take ourselves too seriously.”

“[Kanye West] told us that our music reminded him of Steve Jobs, who’d taken something as big as the computer and put it into a cell phone” – Oliver Sim

You sense that Michael must have loved The xx. With its minimalist beats and murmured vocals, their debut ushered in a new kind of suburban soul music: intimate, yet desolate. Sultry and seductive, the intertwining voices of Sim and Madley-Croft made the listener feel as though they were eavesdropping on private conversations as they quarrelled, confessed and made up. Yet the simmering sexual tension was illusory – both, like Michael, are gay.

Winner of the Mercury Prize and one of only three gold-certified debuts by a British band in the last decade – along with Mumford & Sons, and One Direction – The xx’s stripped-bare sound quickly became a byword for understated cool. Sampled by Rihanna for Drunk on Love, covered by Shakira and an atmospheric staple of TV (CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl), their ability to express complex emotions in a simple way was summed up by Kanye West after one of the Armory shows.

“He told us that our music reminded him of Steve Jobs, who’d taken something as big as the computer and put it into a cell phone,” says Sim with a grin. “Was he right? It’s not really for me to say, is it?”

Oliver Sim, 26, has the languid delivery of a latenight radio DJ and the dashing good looks of a 40s matinée idol. Scrupulously polite, he exudes a warmth rarely found in pop stars. He’s also immaculately dressed. Today his 6ft 2in frame comes swathed in black turtleneck, trousers and boots, all by Ann Demeulemeester, giving the impression that he’s arrived off the catwalk rather than from his East London flat, ten minutes away. He modelled for Dior Homme last year, and is passionate about the relationship between fashion and music.

“I think they can feed into each other so much,” he says, citing the example of gender-fluid Venezuelan producer Arca as someone willing to push the sartorial boundaries. “One of my favourite movies is Depeche Mode 101. Seeing these English musicians walking around small-town America in fetish gear – it’s such a bold image.”

A teenage fan of James Dean – “I liked the Hollywood rumours about him; the love affairs with men, that he was a masochist” – Sim’s first pop-star crush was Chris Isaak. “I remember seeing the video for Wicked Game and thinking, ‘Now that is a cool man,’” he recalls. “I had the same feeling when I saw Josh Homme. They made me excited, made me think, ‘That’s how I want to be.’”

“I remember seeing the video for Wicked Game and thinking, ‘Now that is a cool man. I had the same feeling when I saw Josh Homme. They made me excited, made me think, ‘That’s how I want to be’” – Oliver Sim

Equally inspired by the look of 90s R’n’B artists The Fugees, D’Angelo and En Vogue – “I’ve never seen wearing black as a goth thing, to me it’s chic” – his own signature look is central to The xx’s carefully cultivated image.

“The xx do simple things very well,” explains Imogen Snell, creative consultant at label Young Turks. “They’re consistent and there’s a wonderful confidence to that. Oliver personally has a wide appeal. He’s confident, charming and beautiful, but also has a wonderful gentle sensitivity – as well as being incredibly down to earth and kind.”

If Sim appears to have been born with impeccable taste, blame his parents. Raised in a council flat in South London by his mum (a social worker) and father (a charity administrator), he was encouraged to express himself from an early age. His dad – a fan of Talking Heads – brought him his first bass, while his mum took him to his first gig, The White Stripes at Brixton Academy.

Friends with Madley-Croft since nursery school – their parents were close – it was natural for the pair to play music together. Both cripplingly shy, they would initially exchange song ideas by email, with no ambition, at least on Sim’s part, to take it any further. “I left school thinking I wanted to be a nomad,” he says, almost wistfully. “Free-floating. Of course things didn’t work out like that.”

Signed by record label XL at 17, The xx were internationally famous while still teenagers. “We had no idea what was going on. We were thrown into it,” he says, recalling a rabbit-in-the-headlights showcase at New York’s CMJ in October 2009, reviewed by Pitchfork with the words: “Their live presence is not exactly dynamic.”

“We were promoting the album and we just didn’t have the answers,” he remembers. “Where does the simplicity come from? Where does the space come from? The truth was that those things happened through mistakes, who we are as people, and our own limitations.”

“I learned that I need something: not a routine, but a structure. Being idle is not my friend. I did a lot of regrettable things…” – Oliver Sim

When The xx’s global touring commitments finally came to a close in 2014, Sim suddenly found himself at a loose end. “It was the most anti-climactic feeling,” he says, running his fingers through his hair. “We’d been on the road for so long with a tour manager looking after us and telling us where to go and suddenly I didn’t have that.”

With Madley-Croft temporarily relocating to Los Angeles and Smith promoting In Colour worldwide, Sim filled the void by plunging headlong into the capital’s nightlife. “I wanted to celebrate being back in London – get a bit of life in me,” he says, choosing his words carefully. “I wouldn’t change it, but it wasn’t necessarily successful. I learned that I need something: not a routine, but a structure. Being idle is not my friend. I did a lot of regrettable things…”

This self-destructive side of his personality reveals itself on I See You. “Am I too needy, am I too eager?” he sings in Say Something Loving, while the spectral Replica hints at an uncomfortable reconciliation. “Twenty-five and you’re just like me,” he sighs. “Is it in my nature to be stuck on repeat?”

While he doesn’t go into details, it took private interventions from his band mates to make him seek help. He’s been off alcohol for a year. “I’m in the programme,” he says, referring to the 12-steps of the AA. “I go to meetings. It’s fine. But I’m still figuring out how to celebrate.”

Spending an hour with the sparky, energised Sim, it’s clear sobriety suits him. He enthuses about Duncan Macmillan’s 2016 play about addictive urges, People, Places and Things and cites Trumbo – about blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo – as the last film he saw; his New Year’s resolution, he says, is to “read more”. Being clean has also brought some unexpected bonuses. When The xx played across Europe in December, it was the first time he’d played live without having had a drink. “Booze took away a lot of the nerves but it also dampened the highs,” he explains. “I’m not sure if it’s a spiritual thing, but when I’m up there it’s really intense. The connection with the audience is the strongest thrill there is.”

It’s time to go. But there’s one last thing. Rather than play arenas in support of I See You, Sim explains they’re deliberately playing smaller, more intimate venues, including a record-breaking seven-night run at Brixton Academy. For Sim these shows will have a special significance. “I can still remember staring Jack White in the face,” he says, recalling the thrill of seeing The White Stripes there at 14. “Those are the things you don’t forget. The album title is a message to the fans, saying that we can definitely spot them when we’re on stage.”

For Oliver Sim – songwriter, musician, model, A-list magnet and all-round pop visionary – it’s all about recognition. He says goodbye, offers a firm handshake, and strides away down the corridor. He’s got people to see.