25 Years XL Recordings: Pay Close Attention (2014)
That iconic track. The one that’s been making a generation after generation dance and go crazy since 1992. The one that everybody knows. The one that you got fed up of hearing because it’s been 20 years for god’s sake and you people should finally move on and open your ears to what’s currently happening on the music scene.
And what’s been happening could be explained with just one word – evolution. The label which released the track in question continued signing fresh talent and established itself as one of the most influential independent record labels in the UK. And we, at mo’fidelity, happen to be huge fans of almost its entire roster.
The track is The Prodigy’s ‘Out of Space’ and the label is, of course, XL Recordings. They hit the 25th anniversary this year, so they’re celebrating it with a killer compilation titled ‘Pay Close Attention’. And if you actually do pay close attention, you’ll notice how this release not only outlines the smooth changes in the sound of the label throughout the years, but also the history of UK dance music in general. While the hardcore veterans The Prodigy are not included in the compilation, their valuable input is celebrated by taking the title from the iconic Kool Keith sample used in ‘Out of Space’ – ‘I’ll take your brain to another dimension, pay close attention’.
From early days’ house and hardcore breakbeats, drum & bass and garage, to grime and all the branches of today’s electronic bass music – it’s all there. ‘Pay Close Attention’ is a like journey back and forth in time and one that is especially enjoyable for the 20-somethings like us who often like to look back at the past to make sense of the present.
Lesson 1: The end of the 80s and beginning of 90s
‘Pay Close Attention’ kicks off with SL2′s ‘DJs Take Control’ – a lively tune from 1990 boasting a classic hardcore synth and break. There’s an element of retrospection here that sounds almost nostalgic, especially 24 years later – the catchy riff from The Night Writers’ beautiful ‘Let The Music Use You’ from 1988 produced by none other than the legend Frankie Knuckles. It’s amazing how quickly music crosses the geographical boundaries of the physical world and how much using this sample means. At least to me, a person rather disconnected from the lively music scenes of Chicago and London, hearing such a reference means paying homage to those that changed the music world for good.
The compilation continues in the same sweet old-school mood with Awesome 3‘s ‘Don’t Go’ and Liquid‘s ‘Sweet Harmony’. I love listening to music from this period, because it always takes me back to a time I don’t remember but that I feel comfortable in. But let’s not stay long, cause we have several more stops on our journey.
Lesson 2: Mid-90s
After Johnny L‘s ‘Piper’ – a nice drum & bass track, we move into the next realm of the hardcore continuum. Here we’re introduced to ‘Gabriel’ – the archangel of love which is making everybody dance by playing. Yes, we’re talking about the classic garage tune by Roy Davis Jr. & Peven Everett released in 1996 first on Large Records in the States and then by XL Recordings in the UK. Even though created across the pond, ‘Gabriel’ feels intrinsically British. Or maybe that’s just a proof of how influenced from each other and connected to each other the British and American electronic scenes are. ‘Gabriel’ is simply gorgeous – the 2-step beat, the trumpet, the tender vocals. Timeless tune that I hope one day my kids will also be listening to.
Lesson 3: The noughties
In the early 00s XL Recordings were releasing material from the kings of grime Dizzee Rascal and Wiley – both of them key figures on the UK sonic landscape, supa-talented MCs and sort of a music visionaries in their own unique way. Dizzee‘s ‘I Luv U’ is a good proof to this statement and even though I’m not a big fan of grime in general, I think this tune sums up the characteristics of the genre pretty well – it’s raw, rude, ruthless and British to the bones.
Lesson 4: Present day electronic hotch-potch
What we’re about to hear in the last part of our journey is quite familiar. It’s all of mo’fidelity‘s super favorite artists like melancholic trio The xx (and Jamie‘s solo work with those lovely steel pans), bass innovator SBTRKT, Sampha and his dramatically velvet voice, sensual Jai Paul, mysterious electro 70’s funksters Jungle.
You also have the American hip-hop sensation Tyler The Creator and although I didn’t catch up on the hype back when it happened, I must admit that in this compilation ‘Yonkers’ fits perfectly, exhibiting the sheer diversity of XL‘s roster. You also get King Krule‘s eerie vocals and super-successful Adele‘s top hit ‘Rollin in the Deep’ – tunes that you never expected to hear in the same release.
But there are two figures who deserve a special attention. Two veterans, two legends who unfortunately are no longer with us. Gil Scott-Heron and Bobby Womack have graced the label’s catalogue with their input both in the end of their careers but both sounding as fresh as ever. Their presence in the history of the label is the finishing touch on XL‘s sonic diversity. But it’s a diversity that is as coherent as possible, because each and every artist who put out a record on XL during the years was a great talent, an innovator, a creator of something unique, a key player in contemporary music’s historical path. So, buy the compilation, press play and learn your lessons, kids 😉
And enjoy the playlist we combined for you including some of the best tracks that came out on XL Recordings.
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