XL Recordings Documentary on BBCR1

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.

Info here.


Without realising it, my week has ended up revolving around one three hour slot. Now you wouldn’t think that a three hour old school jungle show that starts at 11am on a Friday morning would be so essential, but honestly, if I’ve got to be out of my house for Uncle Dugs Old School Jungle and Hardcore show, I really miss it.

Like all Rinse shows, it’s always there on the podcast, but for me, I’ve got to listen live. I obviously need to get out more. The show has become part of my week to the point where I have to make sure I’ve got my work finished before the show starts because it’s so hard to concentrate when you’re being assaulted by hyper-energised lemon-facing amen breaks and drops that make you feel like you’re about to fall through the floor. I’m not alone: one twitter fan admitted that he’d “sent students out to lunch early so this tutor can tune in”.

Listening to Dugs rolling out old Slipmatt tunes (this one actually made my body go into some kind of involuntary freestyle shock out) or 1994 Krust records at a time of day when you’re usually in a very different zone makes it even more enjoyable and the fact that a Friday morning slot in the UK is Friday night in Australia hasn’t passed by some ardent Oz listeners.

The show’s been going since March 2011, and on his old station, Kool FM, before that, and has gradually become a focal point for an increasing interest in this period of history that laid the foundations for much of the UK’s music culture. You can hear jungle and hardcore sounds slipping back into new music, including the people that have figured that juke and jungle make excellent bedfellows, and there’s been a bubbling junglist sideline to UK club culture for a while: Zinc and Kode9 played jungle sets at last summer’s Deviation Carnival session, Mark Pritchard’s been playing jungle tracks in his Africa Hitech sets, and any savvy DJ knows that playing the odd jungle classic is a gold-standard guaranteed way to increase the vibes – or to paraphrase a Dugs saying: “vibes for miles”. If there aren’t at least a handful of old school jungle and hardcore sets smashing it at this summer’s festivals I’ll eat my radio.

Dugs been doing a weekly three hour old school show for time without running out of tunes, which tells you something about the huge volumes of music that was made by these artists between the late ’80s and mid-late ’90s. More importantly, the tunes sound just as powerful as they did back then – this really was music that hadn’t been made before born of technological, chemical and social alchemy that’s pretty much unrivalled nearly two decades on.

So obviously I like the tunes, and I like hearing three hours of music from one particular period of time: today was ’94-’95, last week was a birthday show covering ’88 – ’98, but he’s also bringing in key people from the time to chat over an hour or so, whether it’s the promoters behind Labrinth and Desire, or Dan Donnelly, who started Suburban Base. So it’s not just shining a light on important times and important tunes, it’s documenting a scene that was run by renegade producers, promoters and DJs who just did what they wanted, and set off a chain reaction of massive creativity.

Listening to Run Come Follow Friday reminds me how different life was back then. If you knew about this stuff you probably knew about all of it. If you were part of a more mainstream England, then you probably never heard any of it. There was no internet, no YouTube, just record shops and tape packs and people borrowing stuff off their friends. It might have been underground, but back then, underground meant thousands and thousands of people.

See you on the #rcff tour?

Always FWD>>

Genuinely influential nightclubs are rare and precious. FWD>> is one of those places, and this weekend, it celebrates a decade of influence. Here’s a few reasons I’m proud and happy to have experienced it, and why I’m looking forward to tonight, where DJs from Youngsta to Ben UFO will be playing music from the last ten years of FWD>>

The people behind FWD>> understand the need to create and destroy. They provided the foundations for this thing we call dubstep but it was never just a dubstep club and they never got stuck in a genre. The DJs played (and play) grime, house, garage, weird electronic music, whatever they want.

They’ve curated tonnes of new talent. I can’t tell you how many people I saw go from the dancefloor to the DJ booth. If you’re good, they give you a chance. Ask Ramadanman, Oneman, Braiden, Brackles and countless other people. People who went to the club were inspired to to make music, start record labels and radio shows, to write and design blogs and to photograph what was happening. Once you understood the power of FWD>>, you could apply it to your own life. It’s an excellent philosophy to live by.

FWD>> has serious levels of persistence, confidence, attitude and taste. To start with it was just producers and their friends and the hardcore originals. Later, after a location mutation to Plastic People, and stints on Thursday and Friday it would be busy every week, with big queues outside, so they moved to a Sunday night to deter people who just wanted to get pissed and the fly-by-nights.

As a community, FWD>> is very open-minded. If you’re into it, you’re accepted. I went regularly between 2006 and last year and regularly saw baby-faced youngsters, people in their 30s who’d been through jungle and recognised immediately how good this music was, students in battered trainers, Croydon girls in denim dungarees and allsorts, basically.

FWD>> has been brilliant at creating a space for their music, and letting other people join if they want to. There’s no sense that they’ve ever tried to appeal to anyone. They just do what they do, and they do it well. Sarah Lockheart, Geeneus and Neil Joliffe and resident Youngsta have built something powerful that will continue to influence the UK’s music and creative industries for some years to come.

Hats off, that’s what I say.

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