Meet the musician from Leicester making waves with a genre-defying sound that spans hip-hop, funk, soul and psychedelia.
Leicester’s influence on contemporary music culture is negligable. The East Midlands’ most populous city has long lagged behind the behemoth that is London and larger provincial rivals such as Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow and, in recent years (be sure to whisper it), Nottingham.
Scratch below the surface, however, and there is a thriving culture of creativity and collaboration in Leicester’s musical circles.
Scott Xylo is a case in point. This 22-year-old bedroom producer creates an uncategorisable blend of sounds which owes as much to Jimi Hendrix as it does to J Dilla.
But how does a sound like that find its place in a city such as Leicester?
As I speak to Xylo our conversation flows effortlessly and we quickly zip through topics that we could discuss for hours. He has an easygoing air and he shows humble gratitude at every hint of a compliment that I pay his music – perhaps a sign that he isn’t accustomed to receiving plaudits from someone so close to home. “Most of my fan base isn’t in the UK,” he says, “I tend to get a lot more interest from the US and that’s where most of my collaborations come from.”
So, doesn’t that make it tough trying to make it as a young musician in Leicester? “If you’re someone who’s artsy, experimental or making a non-pop genre, it’s damn near impossible,” Xylo laments, “unless you move out of your city or focus your music on the internet.”
For now, Xylo is concentrating on doing just that. He has been building his profile domestically and, despite acknowledging the fact that “most people living in London don’t realise that people make music anywhere else”, he says that a move to the capital might be the next logical step for him. A London-based manager and live performances in Brixton would indicate that he’s already laid the foundations for success in the south east.
Gilles Peterson’s prestigious Brownswood imprint has shown huge support for Xylo, and, since featuring on his BBC Radio 6 Music show, the young artist has received an outpouring of support from all over the UK. Xylo’s latest release ‘Before U Let Go’ made its way onto the XL Recordings Spotify playlist, and he’s currently working on a new EP which is due for release later this year.
The EP, which will feature collaborations with LA beat scene stalwart MNDSGN and Berlin-based vocalist Wayne Snow, has clearly been keeping Xylo busy. So busy, in fact, that he’s considering giving up his 9-5 to focus on music.
Becoming a full-time producer would be quite a feat for a 22-year-old sci-fi and cartoon aficionado who describes his own sound as “afro-hippie soul; psychedelic sounds that touch the soul.” But how did Xylo end up making music like this?
Growing up between Braunstone and New Parks, he was always surrounded by friends and schoolmates who idolised grime MCs such as Skepta. “I was one of the only people who would be listening to MF Doom at that time,” he tells me as he enthusiastically recounts his creative influences. “I started off listening to soul and R&B before I heard Kanye sampling all these old songs that I loved. I thought I could do the same.”
This curiosity led Xylo to delve deeper into the world of hip-hop production. He cites J Dilla and Madlib as two of his idols for completely revolutionising what could be done with a hip-hop beat, and he soon found himself entranced by the burgeoning LA beat scene of the late 2000s. These early influences are easy to spot in Xylo’s music, but he also draws on some more unconventional inspiration.
“Jimi Hendrix got me heavily into blues and psychedelia, and Funkadelic made me feel proud to be who I am.”
Xylo found his spiritual and creative kin among the innovators of yesteryear, and this element of self-discovery has clearly been instrumental in his development as an artist: “growing up I always felt I was too white for the black kids and too black for the white kids, and seeing musicians embrace that mentality was comforting and confidence boosting.”
With elements of so many diverse genres and eras blending so seamlessly in his music, where might Scott Xylo end up in the future? Maybe on a record label like Brainfeeder or Stones Throw? “That’s the dream, man, that’s the dream!” He grins through the phone.
Of course, Xylo allows himself to dream, but he is also thoroughly realistic and he has set himself the goal of capitalising on what is now a steadily increasing profile. “Hopefully I’ll be doing a lot more shows,” he tells me optimistically, “and producing tracks with some awesome musicians around the UK.”
Listen to Before U Let Go by Scott Xylo: