Those who dig the character of club nights, sweaty dancefloors, banging beats, and electronic grooves might easily recall the moment that made them fall in love with the music and the power of these magical islands of togetherness in the hustle of everyday life. For some, that happens during the peak of adolescence but there is no fixed timeline here. I, for example, showed up relatively late to my party. And although I remember seeing a few sweet electronic festival sets during my festival era in the late 2000s it was really going to first legal and illegal house music raves in Leipzig in my late 20s that made me click with the scene and finally ‘get’ what it’s about. Over the past years and since the COVID-19 pandemic shook the planet, that love grew stronger.

For Romy Madley-Croft the path has been a different one as she got infected with the dancefloor euphoria way earlier than me – even before her band The xx won the hearts of millions of people worldwide with their melancholic wave pop. Electronic music has always been a key element to the sound of The xx through various remixes. Jamie xx took care of the production here, leaving one to assume that Romy might be the shy girl-with-guitar kind of type. Her long-awaited debut album Mid Air proves those assumptions wrong. It is a tribute to these powerful moments on the dancefloor, but also one that highlights her songwriting skills.

As much as I enjoy the work of The xx and Romy’s part in there, her solo output hits differently for me. I’m in a state of my life where I am currently re-evaluating lots of things while also trying to fight off a few personal demons. And in that tricky situation, a simple yet touching piece of euphoric disco pop like Enjoy Your Life provides a moment of relief and reassurance in otherwise troubled times. „My mother says to me enjoy your life, “ Romy sings as she quotes Beverly Glenn-Copeland, and as simple as this message might sound: it works. You are free to enjoy your life in the best possible way, no matter if the world is trying to tell you something different. In many ways, Mid Air became a record about that emancipating feeling of self-fulfillment, but also one that is deeply affected by Romy’s own story as she tells me during our get-together on a warm summer day in Berlin.

Let me just start by thanking you for all these songs you put out prior to the release of the album. Ever since Lifetime showed up in the middle of the pandemic lockdown to tell us about the glory of dancefloor togetherness, there’s something that really resonates with me when it comes to your music.

Thank you. I’m very happy that you connected with that song. That really means a lot to me.

The obvious follow-up question would be: Why is this one not part of the album?

Well, to me it felt in a way that it had already been out for quite a long time.  And I felt like I wanted to have space for another piece of new music instead. And like you said – Lifetime had its own moment, it was out on its own for so long that I thought it was nice to just add something new.  It still feels part of the project. It was a hard decision, but it felt like the right one.

There is this theme of liberation that runs through the record. In the press release, you described it as a coming-of-age club album and I really like that idea. It envisions euphoria as an opposing force to personal pain. Was that the story you wanted to tell from the beginning or did the theme crystalize once you started writing and compiling these tracks?

No, not really. I didn’t really set out to make a solo project. We finished touring our third album with The xx and I wanted to remain creative but in a way that was not as much pressure as with the band. It’s a bit more daunting to write a song for The xx and I wanted to explore creativity without that pressure.

But solo music wasn’t your first option here…

It wasn’t, but I felt like I wanted to write. So, I started going to songwriting sessions. I met a lot of people and wrote for other artists like Dua Lipa, King Princess and Halsey. And when you are writing songs with a producer and the performing artist isn’t there, you end up having to draw from your own experiences. I would much prefer it if the person was in the same room so I could ask: How do you actually feel? But that doesn’t always happen. So, I started writing music that was quite personal because I thought no one was going to know it was me. Then some people close to me asked whether I’m sure I want to give these songs away because they’re really personal and I started thinking maybe I could keep them.

And then I met Fred again.. We really connected and wrote a few songs, one of them being Loveher. Fred asked me “Who’s this for?” And I said: “I think, this is for me.”  That opened up the whole process. I started to think: What can I write about?  And at the time I had just gotten into a relationship with my now wife. We met when we were 19 and 20, and had a relationship but it didn’t work out. And then we met again ten years later. I was experiencing that and it became the main topic of the lyrics at that point.

Searching for safer spaces

Clubs and dance music played an important part in that self-emancipation and Romy’s understanding of herself as a queer person. The tracks are often dedicated to a significant other, but also to herself. They are about accepting pleasure, softness, and your own body. And while I’m not a queer person, I can relate to the aspect of making peace with yourself, the way you look, and how you act and – without going into too much detail – I’ve been wrestling with some of these issues in my personal way. The dancefloor and the people on it can provide new perspectives.

How did your relationship with clubs change over the years? I remember reading that you started DJing at a very young age.

Yes, I grew up in London and I used to be able to get a night bus to Soho. Somehow, I also managed to get into the club at 16.  That was an eye-opening experience for me. I was able to be in this queer club and I got to see role models, to feel comfortable, and to kiss someone I liked. It was also great to connect with people, to make friends, and to see visibility. The music that was playing there was a lot of uplifting and celebratory pop music. It was not listened to in an ironic way. It was just like; “We love this song”.

Was that sort of sound new to you back then or were you listening to these pop tunes before?

I always loved it. But I loved how it was enjoyed in that non-ironic way. Sometimes, you hear [pop tunes] at a wedding and someone is like “Oh this is funny” but I was always more like “No, this is a great song.” So I felt like, for me, my interpretation of the experience of hearing it in a queer club is a bit more of a general appreciation. In quite a sweet way.

So that was your first clubbing experience … through pop, rather than through pure techno?

It was, yeah. But then I went on to different clubs with Jamie when he was doing DJ sets all around the world. I love different sides of dance music, but I like a bit more of a playful, emotional, and lyrical side.

I can relate to that. I get easily bored at a sparse techno set. I love the human element of having a vocal in there at least every three to four tracks. It’s a deeper form of connection.

Yes, bring a human component to it! I realized that, too. When I was making the album, I went out to a club in London and I was missing the emotion. It doesn’t have to be this way, even in techno and even if there’s just a bit of a melody or a bit of a vocal in there. That’s what I’ve been drawn to. As a DJ, I try to find that balance. I’d like to take people on a journey to something they don’t know, but I also love being generous with a song that unites the whole room. That’s my favorite type of playing.

As a part of the community, do you feel like queer spaces have a different way of celebrating? 

Oh, definitely. I think that the LGBTQIA+ community really has to have that extra level of awareness. They need that output of energy to walk into a situation and think “Am I safe here? Can I let my guard down? Can I kiss the person I love? Is this okay?” Going into a queer venue and knowing that you’re safe there is a real relief.  It has been for me, but I also sense that in the people around me.

I think there’s that kind of euphoria of just being.

Lots of other people – aka the majority – don’t have to walk around with this amount of tension and don’t think about it. That’s something I have observed. I can only imagine what that’s like for someone who is trans and experiencing that. The level of awareness and feeling of fear that they might have just trying to do everyday things is really sad. So I think having a place to feel relief is very special.

I think that is why we need records like yours in these times, music that celebrates queer identity and the sounds that shaped it. How did these clubs shape your identity back then?

Well, I think my first experiences of going out included people who are still my best friends today. That to me means so much as well as the music I heard back then. I was given the opportunity to start DJing at this club, and the manager just said “Burn some CDs”. And I was like: “I don’t know how to DJ.” (laughs). So he said: “Just fade it in, fade out”. Naturally, the songs I relied on were big hits that, when you press play, everyone knew. Hands in the air style. Back then, I understood the impact of that style of music and the way that it can bring people together. And that’s something that I realized when I was getting into working on Mid Air. It’s the music I really love and it represents something I was missing when I went clubbing lately.


What I like about Romy’s approach towards club music is that she is not interested in playing with the other techno kids. I think that more and more people are getting bored of the Berghain attitude. These days, hardstyle and trance music are returning to the dance floors, and they often mix trashy but nostalgic 2000s hits into the set that you had almost forgotten about. The playlist by Romy that’s built around this feature includes some of those tunes. As someone who also grew up with that style of music in the late 90s, I’m very much welcoming ATB and Fragma back into my life. Trance embraces the crisp euphoria of the turn of the century, but it is seen in a different light now, that our world is on a fast track to apocalyptic territory.

Mid Air flirts with these sounds and references but is still ultimately a record carried by the songwriting of its protagonist. Romy’s pop sensibility has increased over the years and she explores it to the fullest here.

You previously stated that Confessions On A Dancefloor by Madonna is one of your favorite records. Your album doesn’t come with full Stuart Price disco sound but there is a bit of that spirit in there – a record shaped like a good DJ Set. Who else inspired you?

I think Robyn is a really big influence, in the way that she combines these different worlds. Dancing On My Own is such an anthem by now. It’s something I aspire to because it contains all these euphoric sounds but the lyrics are really sad. It brings everyone together. It’s such a brilliant song. Just as an artist, she’s someone I look up to and someone that I’ve had the chance to speak to a few times. She has been very encouraging. It means a lot to have support from someone like her.

Speaking of anthems, as you just mentioned with your early DJ times, there are a few turn-of-the-century trance nods on the album. You were kind enough to include a few of these go-to tunes from that time in our Electronic Empathy playlist. What are your favorites here?

I think a song that showed me that trance can often be a ballad within trance music is the Sarah McLachlan and Delirium collaboration Silence, especially in that popular Tiesto remix. I was listening to that, and I was like: OK if you actually take the song off this track, it could be an acoustic ballad. It’s almost Celtic singing, right? It’s haunting. But then with the pads and the build they take it into such a different place. I was fascinated by that because I’ve written a lot of acoustic ballads, and I wanted to challenge myself to do something else. So, that was quite an interesting song to analyze.

I thought about my personal favorite tunes from that era as well – and I’m happy to see that we both share a certain amount of love for It Feels So Good by Sonique …

Yeah, that’s really one of my favorites, and I’ve got a trance remix of it that I play in pretty much every set. After lockdown, when I did my first DJ set in London at a festival, I was really nervous. I was standing in a festival tent and I didn’t know how it was going to go. Then I started with that song. It has a long intro and I watched people running towards me because they heard that song. I loved that. It was the power of a song that people feel nostalgia for, but also are excited about.

I also thought about, as you just mentioned, Madonna. There’s also this fabulous Above & Beyond remix of What It Feels Like For A Girl in your selection.

That’s another great anthem. Last summer in Copenhagen, I discovered a DJ called Courtesy. I had played earlier at the festival on that day, and I was walking through the area when I heard someone play that trance remix of What It Feels Like For A Girl. I literally ran across the festival because I was like: Who is this? I need to know them. I was just so excited to hear someone play that kind of music.

You already mentioned Fred again.. as an important part of your sound and your ongoing creative friendship.  What did you learn from him during your work together? 

Yes, so much. He is a very fast and imaginative creator. He works in a way that he never lingers too long on something. When you’re in the very early creative process, it’s very exciting and it feels like it taught me to try and work quicker and react. Working with Fred again.. was a good challenge to be more reactive and to push myself. Obviously, when you’re working with someone, you’re inspired by what they’re doing. It makes you want to share your good ideas as well. It’s been amazing to see him because, at the time we worked together, he hadn’t released any solo music. He would play me a few tracks and be like; Oh, I make this music too.  I was like: “This is amazing! Are you going to give it more time?” Because he was working for a lot of other people.  Obviously, I’m happy for him that he has, because I’m very proud of him. He’s done so well.

Look at that, now he’s headlining Coachella. He wasn’t on my radar until he released your collaborative track Lights Out, which I clicked on because I know your name. So, thanks for introducing me to Fred’s work. He’s also part of the playlist. Any other hidden treasure we should pay attention to?

An album I’ve been listening to by a current artist I really like is Capricorn Sun by TSHA.  There’s a song from that one in the playlist. It’s got club references, but it’s also based on songwriting. There’s a lot of melody. It’s a great album to have on in the summer.

As we speak your bandmate Oliver Sim is celebrating his birthday and I was fascinated to see that – according to Wikipedia – The xx have been together for 18 years now.

Wow! Has it really been that long? [counts in silence] Yeah, that appears to be true. Oh my God. I’ve known Oliver since we were three. Then we met Jamie when we were eleven. We’ve been making music as The xx since we were fifteen.

How did this bond of friendship change, especially following the cycle of your last album, 2017’s I See You where you mainly took time for new solo experiences?

After the tour, we all needed some time to get to know ourselves off-stage. We settled into life at home in London. We’d been away for most of our 20s. It was good to, as we were all turning 30, feel more rooted at home. In doing that, we’re all still very much weaving in and out of each other’s lives. It’s nice to interact as friends and honestly ask: How are you?” That’s more exciting now because, before that, we all knew the answer as we’d been sitting next to each other all day. I think it’s healthy to do that and just be friends.

It must have been good that you guys had known each other for so long when you were suddenly thrown into a world of global stardom.

I’m so glad we had each other because we were bound together by this friendship. If I had been by myself in that, I think it would have been exhausting and really hard. But to have each other it made it seem okay. Obviously, it was difficult and we were all shocked and amazed and excited but to share it is very special.

Going back 18 years, is there anything you would tell younger Romy with the knowledge of today?

I would talk about my self-confidence and those insecurities and things that everyone feels. I think, as I’ve grown a bit older, I’ve felt less of this. It’s nice to feel more confident in my skin. That takes time and it’s an ongoing process. It’s not like suddenly you turn 30 and you’re like “Oh, I don’t care anymore.” But I think I should have given a bit more of that to myself when I was a teenager. That knowledge would have been an essential gift to me then because I was so in my head and felt so shy back then.

Mid-Air is out on September 8th via Young. You can find music from it as well as personal inspirations by Romy in our “Electronic Empathy” playlist.