XX scoop Mercury prize for 'record of its time'

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The Independent Culture

The Barclaycard Mercury may have had a history of awarding its prize to the outsider bet, but this year's prize went to the favourites, the xx.

The south London trio's self-titled debut album, released last August, wowed critics with its minimalist indie-pop. The band met at the Elliott School in Putney, south London, whose famous musical alumni include Hot Chip, Burial, Adem, The Maccabees and Four Tet. Forming in 2005, they created their stripped back arrangements – skeletal guitar motifs, sparse drum machine beats and the sultry male/female vocals of Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft – which recall the late-Seventies electro indie band Young Marble Giants.

They beat off competition from veteran Paul Weller, who received his first Mercury nomination in 16 years for his acclaimed album Wake Up the Nation, and Dizzee Rascal, for whom this was his third nod. He won the prize for his debut album Boy in Da Corner in 2003. Other nominees included Laura Marling, who was nominated at the age of 18 in 2008 for her debut album. In an unusual twist, she was competing against another London folk act, Mumford & Sons, whose frontman, Marcus Mumford, is her boyfriend.

Collecting their award, frontman Sim said: "I don't know what we were expecting but we weren't expecting this. Thank you so much. We've had the most incredible year and it has just felt like every day we've just woken up to something incredible we just weren't expecting. It has felt like a haze and being here is like a moment of clarity in all that's happening."

Later, Sim said: "There is a lot of disbelief. It is incredible, so incredible" and claimed to have put his money on Wild Beasts and Laura Marling. Asked what they would spend the £20,000 prize money on, Romy Croft suggested a new studio. She said: "We made this album in a converted garage the size of a bathroom."

Chairman of the judges Simon Frith praised the winning band. "The Xx have a unique sense of time and space – urban and enigmatic. The result is a wonderfully atmospheric album – sparse, urgent, hypnotic and powerful". He said it was "a record of its time" that "captures a sense of the uneasy times we live in. It's a very urban record, it is part of that urban soundscape when no-one has any idea what is going to happen next."

He claimed that the judges' decision had been easier than in previous years. "It wasn't as fraught as it sometimes can be", he said.

But the Mercury can yield a positive effect on all its 12 nominees. Since the nominations were announced in July, Mumford & Sons have remained in the Top 10, while I Am Kloot and Laura Marling returned to the Top 75. The XX were most impacted since the nominations, when they were instantly regarded the favourites for the prize, and their album went straight back into the Top 40 the following weekend, jumping from 44 to 16.

"The Mercury's are a key part of the musical calendar for just this reason – they bring attention to albums which either haven't previously been widely recognised, or throw the spotlight back onto albums which have passed out of the public gaze after a few months on release," said Martin Talbot, managing director of the Official Charts Company. "As Elbow showed a couple of years back, when they won, it can also provide the spark to take a critically acclaimed album and pull in much wider awareness and turn it into a true best-seller."

Gennaro Castaldo of HMV said the xx is "a popular choice within the Industry and probably the album that will go on to sell the most of any of the nominees by winning. It's enjoyed great word-of-mouth since its release with respectable sales, and with the Mercury prize now lighting the touchpaper, we expect demand to rocket - at least three or four fold over the next few days."

DJ Jo Whiley said: "To say they were the obvious choice would be unfair. They were the one band everyone has been talking about."