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RICHARD RUSSELL’S XL-ENT ADVENTURE

XL Records’ Chairman and co-owner Richard Russell—the record man behind Adele and many more—started his career in the music biz as a teenage DJ/producer growing up in the ’80s London rave scene.

After stints working at record shops and as an intern in the warehouse of Island Records (then an independent under Chris Blackwell), Russell tried his luck as an artist himself. 

Alongside XL co-founder Nick Halkes, he formed a short-lived duo called Kicks Like a Mule. Their debut single, “The Bouncer,” was released on Tribal Bass in 1992 and reached #7 on the charts.

While taking his rave and hip-hop demos to Halkes (none of which were considered polished enough to release), Russell hung around at XL making tea until his priorities shifted away from chasing a career as an artist to developing XL as a label. The Prodigy was his first A&R success, and their third record, The Fat of the Land, released in 1997, hit #1 in 26 countries and has since sold over 10m worldwide. 

By that time, XL was Russell’s gig. Halkes had left in 1993 to launch Positiva, and after the other XL co-founder, Tim Palmer, retired in 1995, Russell took over the running of the business in his mid-20s.

Inspired by the ethos he’d witnessed at Island of prioritizing quality and originality, Russell took XL from a dance-centric label to releasing some of the most successful and interesting artists to have spawned from Blighty over the last two decades.

Alongside Adele, who was signed to XL in 2006 by A&R man Nick Huggett (who recently left his A&R gig at Island for parts unknown) after being found on Myspace, acts that have helped XL earn its title as one of Britain’s most influential and contemporary record labels include Radiohead (post-EMI), Dizzee Rascal, Vampire Weekend, The Horrors, Basement Jaxx, Jungle and M.I.A. The xx and FKA Twigs were both signed by Young Turks founder Caius Pawson, whose label exists as a JV with XL. Three XL artists have won the Mercury Prize: Badly Drawn Boy (2000), Dizzee Rascal (2003) and The xx (2010).

Among those Russell has taken inspiration and advice from are Factory Records co-founder Tony Wilson, Mute’s Daniel Miller, Sire RecordsSeymour Stein and his longtime business partner, Beggars’ Group boss Martin Mills, with whom he’s co-owned XL for over 20 years. 

As was evident in those who paid their respects to Russell when winning the Music Week Strat Award in 2012 for lifetime achievement, XL’s artists love him for giving them freedom and autonomy. Adele thanked Russell for “encouraging a work ethic at XL that has allowed me to do everything my own way,” while producer Paul Epworth praised his “innovation, inspiration, attention to detail and cultural awareness.”

Alongside running the day-to-day of XL with MD Ben Beardsworth and a staff of around 15, Russell is still a producer and works with artists in the studio that sits in XL’s London offices. Records he’s contributed to include albums by Gil Scott-Heron, Damon Albarn, Bobby Womack and new XL act Ibeyi

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