An extract from Richard Russell’s new book ‘Liberation Through Hearing – Rap, Rave & The Rise of XL Recordings’

I try to let my instincts dictate what work I do and how I do it. In my musical/working life I cannot help but push myself. This hasn’t always been a good thing. But I want to make music that can exist on the same extraordinary plane as the work that inspires me. Usually the goal is unattainable, but the pursuit is enough. 

There are moments when it seems easy – when Sampha walks in the studio and I play him an instrumental and he improvises a vocal on it which he is channelling from somewhere else and I know that we will have something that might outlast us. Or when someone plays me a song they have been working on and struggling with and I know exactly what they should do, something that will solve the problem. Or when a sample-based instrumental manifests in moments while I work alone in the studio. These moments of yield always feel like a gift. 

There is a great power in tempering your desires. XL did not resemble the thing I wanted it to until I stopped wanting it to quite so badly. Delusions of grandeur don’t lead to grandeur. I had notions of creating an influential record label before I had developed any real breadth of vision. It was ego-based. 

When I stopped wanting things for the wrong reasons, they became possible. Now that I’m based full-time in the studio, and developing the necessary craft to be truly effective, the label most closely reflects my idealised vision of it. 

I let go to concentrate on actually making records. 

The people at the label are empowered and effective. All over the world, people can listen to any of the music released by XL over the last thirty years, anytime they like. I never saw that coming. 

In our best moments we are all capable of practising a type of alchemy. Pain becomes art. That the worst experiences of a person’s life, the causes of their sorrow, can be turned into the making of their music, is a process possessed of an unutterable, fleeting beauty. It’s why the studio is a sacred environment for me; the most magical place in the world


Here is a ten hours-plus playlist of 140 tracks which I compiled as a soundtrack to my book “Liberation Through Hearing”.

You will find 140 bpm rave and grime on this playlist, and all sorts of other music going at all sorts of speeds, including incredible tunes from the likes of Jai Paul (116 bpm), Frankie Knuckles (118bpm) Joni Mitchell (165 bpm) and John Cooper Clarke (198 bpm).


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