5-10-15-20 features people talking about the music that made an impact on them throughout their lives, five years at a time. In this edition, we spoke with 43-year-old Richard Russell. As the head of London's hugely influential XL Recordings, Russell has released music by the Prodigy, Vampire Weekend, Adele, Dizzee Rascal, M.I.A., Radiohead, and more across the last 25 years, as chronicled in the new compilation, Pay Close Attention. He's also maintained an identity as an artist and producer for much of his career, making rave records in the 1990s and, more recently, working with Gil Scott-Heron, Bobby Womack, and Damon Albarn. And though he runs one of the most renowned independent labels on Earth, he still finds time for his first love, DJing, including a recent mix for the BBC's Benji B.
My family was Orthodox Jewish, and we lived in a London suburb called Edgware, which was about 50 percent Jewish. These communities with extremely strong religious and cultural identities tend to be a bit insular and cut-off, and Edgware was the kind of a place where people live their whole lives. But I found that world stifling—I didn't want my life to be defined by a particular culture that I inherited from my parents. I had a stable upbringing and I’m appreciative of that, but music offered a potential way to escape from a background that I wasn’t going to be comfortable in.
My parents were second-generation immigrants, growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust. My dad sold insurance and my mom was a primary school teacher. And though I couldn't see this at the time—because I thought of him as this conservative authority figure—my dad was a bit rebellious for the world he was existing in. Part of his rebellion was listening to things like Ian Dury’s New Boots and Panties!!, which he had on cassette. It’s really profane music, quite rude in a lot of places. Listening to that album in later years, I noticed there’s a song on it called "My Old Man", which is Ian Dury's song about his dad. It’s very genuine and heartfelt, and it squared a circle for me.