The BBC are broadcasting a documentary about XL recordings tonight. It’s made by the extremely talented Becky Jacobs and is well worth a listen as Richard Russell’s label is one of the most influential we’ve ever had, right up there with Island, Factory and Rough Trade.
XL started out as a hardcore breakbeat label born out of the acid house explosion, releasing the music people started making when the Roland 303 acid bleeps faded out and breakbeats took over. They were there when Prodigy did their first gigs at rave chaos-pit Labyrnth and that signing bankrolled the label for the whole first phase of their life. Happily, and unlike other label heads, they chose to spend the money on more music rather than a big diamond watch and a Boxster.
There’s a million things you could say about XL: the way they shifted to bands in the early 2000s; the finely-tuned radar-ears that allowed them to sign Dizzee on the back of the I Luv U white label and allowed them to release Boy In Da Corner in all it’s pristinely raw-from-road honesty; the genius of re-releasing the first two White Stripes albums and getting Jack front and centre of their newly-expanded internationalist roster. And that’s only the half of it. All record labels go on about only releasing music they like but either a) some of them are lying or b) some of them like horrible music. XL have remained like that music loving person you know: slightly arrogant but pretty much right about everything, and hallelujah for that.
If you were to ask me which labels are doing the same thing now, I’d have one answer. The Rinse family of labels, events and radio. They’re connected to the roots of their culture in exactly the same way XL were, and to a pretty large degree, still are.
One way of ensuring that you stay relevant is to focus on the roots, not fruits of a culture, and XL are definitely in camp roots.