XL Recordings is a British independent record label that has been releasing music since 1989. They were originally created to release the less commercial electronica & dance/rave artists of the time backed by their parent label, Beggars Banquet. Today they represent more than forty prominent artists signed under their roster and have become known as one the of most innovative and trend-setting labels that still breathes today. Much of the clout that surrounds this label is due to its innate ability to support a versatile list of artists with a highly differing set of skills and approaches to their careers.
XL prides itself on its ability to genuinely support their artists in every way they can, instead of restricting them with guidelines and price point quotas. These are individuals that see music in its true form, as art rather than as a repository of numbers and figures. If you let artists wield their talent without restriction then what you will get is art, and this label knows that. They also take a substantial effort to be involved with almost every step of the recording, creation & release process. They have A&R, their own studio, a small marketing department, the works. But, as a result of an indie putting almost all of its efforts and resources into their records it creates a limiting consequence. XL handles in the range of 6-10 records in a years time, a microcosm when you think about a major’s output. But, what kind of an average return rate does a major have on their records? When you put apples to apples, XL has a much more reliable business plan compared to the big business philosophy of the majors. It’s like using a fishing net vs a well-baited hook, they know exactly what they want and go out looking for it. Then, when you consider the quality of music that they release there is no competition in terms of gross quality content. It brings to mind an old adage, “quality vs. quantity.” That might as well be XL’s slogan.
Richard Russell (co-founder of XL) comments on their approach to interacting with their artists. He states that, “Our purpose is to help people be creative. That’s one of the most important things about the label. And it doesn’t just apply to artists, it applies to staff as well…” “Everyone’s perspective on things is different. As a label I like us to be good at listening to everyone….That’s one of our strengths.”
As of the last 3 years, XL has released top 10 records in the US & UK by bands such as Radiohead (In Rainbows, 2007), The Raconteurs (Consolers of the Lonely, 2008), M.I.A. (Maya, 2010) & Vampire Weekend (‘Self-Titled’, 2008).
In addition to their high profile acts, XL handles other artists that have a more niche appeal. As always the talent is never forfeited. Some of the more avant-garde artists handled by XL include names like Friendly Fires, The xx, Devendra Banhart, Badly Drawn Boy & others alike.
XL started from generous means. It was originally created to be an offshoot label of CityBeat Recordings, a sublabel of Beggars Banquet. CityBeat’s job was to sign acts of the emerging dance/rave/acid house scene, although they aimed for commercial viability. Enter XL. Their job was to sign the artists that CityBeat felt lacked the right level easy accessibility.
The initial event that kickstarted XL into motion began when record store owner, Tim Palmer met Richard Russell & Nick Halkes. At the time, Russell & Halkes were both part of an Electronic/DJ group, Kicks Like a Mule and had a top ten UK hit with ‘The Bouncer.’ After the group established each other as friends they went into business together with XL, Palmer initially at the helm with Halkes and Russell on A&R.
Right when XL took off it did it with a bang. They signed The Prodigy no more than a year after their initial startup. The ratings for both The Prodigy and XL soared, taking them to heights even above their governing label CityBeat. This convergence was a spark waiting to ignite. In 1989, when the crew met Liam Howlett (Prodigy frontman) there was an instant camaraderie. Howlett’s goal was to push the boundaries of electronic music to meet his vision, and Russell’s philosophy was to be the ultimate creative instigator, to allow any music that held a true sense of creativity and originality to be let through. Such is the story of The Prodigy coupled with XL, better together.
Since then XL has expanded itself to become one of the most influential labels still surviving today and one of the most commercially successful as well. They are the poster child for a new wave in the music industry that is coming. They show that through diligent and true love for music as art, they can sell records. They can sell their material because it has true value. And even though great art cannot be properly monetized to reflect its true value, people will gladly pay for something that they love.
A success story like XL’s always comes back to a visionary with the right head on his shoulders. Russell takes a clear stance on his passion for pursuing art vs. gimmicky attractions. Every label and other orginazation that aims to create and release art should aim to have such a visionary on board. Someone with a clear vision to compliment his own DIY knowhow. This is how greatness is truly made.
XL Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XL_Recordings
Official Website information – http://www.xlrecordings.com/information
Richard Russell Interview – http://www.hitquarters.com/index.php3?page=interview/opar/intrview_Richard_Russell_Interview.html
Richard Russell Inside – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandpopfeatures/7918644/Richard-Russell-of-XL-Recordings-interview.html
Comprehensive Discography – http://www.discogs.com/label/XL+Recordings
YouTube interview (Richard Russell)
– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAN9lVidNbs (Part 1)
– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwvPow1IVPA&feature=related (Part 2)
– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwHMJxuDgcQ&feature=related (Part 3)