XL Records: The Basics:
- What: Independent record label XL Records
- Where: London, UK
- Founded by: Tim Palmer, Nick Halkes and Richard Russell
- Founded: 1989
XL began life in at the peak of the Acid House explosion in the late 1980s. Tim Palmer ran the influential Groove Records record store in London, a mecca for DJ's looking for sought after 12”s from the burgeoning house scene. Tim began licensing some of the imported 12”s through a label, Citybeat, set up in partnership with the influential indie label Beggars Banquet. Meanwhile teenager Richard Russell was flogging 'not strictly legal' hip-hop mix tapes in Camden market. Russell and Palmer meet in New York - Russell was working in NYC record store Vinyl Mania where Palmer was buying stock for his London shop.
Influenced by the DIY ethos of both punk and hip hop, Palmer and Nick Halkes started XL in 1989 as part of the acid house scene of home recording, pirate radio and illegal raves. Joined by Russell in 1990, the label began as an offshoot of Citybeat, and their first releases were 12”s from bedroom producers. XL soon eclipsed its parent label and was about to enter the UK national consciousness, a process that started when a 10 track demo from Essex teenager Liam Howlet landed on their desk.
4 tracks from this demo were released, under the moniker The Prodigy (taken Howlet's Moog Prodigy synthesiser) as the What Evil Lurks EP. This was followed by Charly, a single which heavily sampled British public information film Charley Says... and reached number 3 in the UK charts. Despite being criticized by the music press for inspiring numerous copycat 'childish' rave anthems Charly, along with SL2's iconic On A Ragga Tip established XL's reputation. The Prodigy went on to enjoy global success with their debut Experience album and the follow ups Fat Of The Land and Music For The Jilted Generation.
Russell Takes Up The Reigns:
By the time The Prodigy's second album was released, Halkes had left to set up Poistiva, a hugely success dance imprint of major label EMI and Palmer had retired from the music industry, leaving Russell running the label. Most of the label's time and resources were focused on The Prodigy, whose brand of house, beats and samples had taken off worldwide. XL proved their continued talent for picking winners, having a massive hit with House of Pain's Jump Around and releasing Roy Davis Jr's timeless house anthem Gabriel.
Badly Drawn Boy:
While The Prodigy worked on their 4th album, Russell had time to expand the label, snapping up Brixton based house duo Basement Jaxx amongst others. However, it was his signing of British singer/songwriter Badly Drawn Boy that surprised fans and the industry. BDB (real name Darren Gough) had caused a storm with his first two independently released EPs and was expected to sign to a prominent indie label. His choice of XL marked a significant shift in A'n'R policy for the label, and an inspired decision as Gough went on to win the prestigious Mercury Music Prize for his debut album.
Now it had established itself as label than reached beyond it's Acid House roots, the label continued to sign an eclectic range of artists, with a simple A'n'R policy, "All our artists are the best in their field" explained Russell. And he has a point - the label has signed up Detroit duo The White Stripes, Sri Lankan electroclash star M.I.A, Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Rós and British grime artist Dizzee Rascal, to name but three.
Russell Kicks Like a Mule:
As well as being the brains behind the label Russell, who began is career in the industry as a bedroom producer, has continued making music. In 2006 he was behind Aluminium, an orchestral reworking of White Stripes music. In the same year he resurrected Kicks Like A Mule, the name he and Halkes had worked under in the early 90's who'd enjoyed success with the classic house hit The Bouncer. Over the last two years they've reworked and remixed tracks by Klaxons and MIA, and re-established themselves as a sort after DJ team, gracing the decks at Bangface and Bestival festivals and clubs across the UK.
XL further cemented their place as one of the UKs top labels when they signed Radiohead frontman Thom York and released his solo album in 2006. The next year when his band's major label contract expired, and they released their album In Rainbows via their groundbreaking 'pay-what-you-want' website, it was no surprise when they signed up with XL for the album's physical release. Despite many in the industry predicting the albums commercial failure, due to it being made freely available via the web, Russell again proved his talent for picking a winner when it hit the number one spot worldwide in the week of release.
XL Records Demo Policy:
XL does not have a specific demo policy, but you should contact them via their website before sending them any music. To reach XL, fill out the form on this page.