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August 26, 2014

Ibeyi: River

In the Studio with XL Recordings’ French-Cuban Duo

This week London-based label XL Recordings celebrates 25 years of turning next-big-things into global names—and following Prodigy, The White Stripes and The xx on the independent's illustrious roster is latest signing, Ibeyi. The 19-year-old French-Cuban twins Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Díaz are daughters of the late, Grammy-winning Buena Vista Social Club percussionist Anga Díaz. “We probably carry his love of mixing different musics and influences on in an unconscious way,” says Lisa, who recorded the debut album with her beat-making sister and the XL owner Richard Russell during a three-month period: “Recording with Richard has been a deep experience, we learned a lot about our music and about ourselves. He and John the engineer recorded everything that was happening in the studio. If one day you find one of our big twin fights on the internet, you know where it comes from.” Taking in Nina Simone, Meshell Ndegeocello and Reggaeton as influences, at the root of the pair’s music is the culture of ‘Yoruba,’ which was imported into Cuba from West Africa. “Yoruba's culture is part of our lives and our music; mixing ancient religious chants with other western influences is what came naturally to us when we started making songs,” says Lisa. “It traveled to Cuba with the slaves but is largely unknown, so it's important to us that people discover how profound it is.”

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Ásgeir: Going Home

A Brooding and Magical Vision for Iceland's Breakout Troubadour 


“I wasn’t planning on recording an album or releasing any of my songs,” says Icelandic singer-songwriter Ásgeir. “I just called a producer and wanted to record one track. He liked the music and a few weeks later we released an album.” The resulting release Dyrd í dauðathogn became a record-breaking phenomenon after it was released in September 2012: the biggest selling Icelandic debut album by a homegrown artist, with one in ten of Iceland’s population now owning a copy. This month, the English language version of the album In The Silence was released on One Little Indian, translated by the American folk artist John Grant and featuring standout track “Going Home,” showcased in this otherworldly music video directed by local filmmaker and artist Máni Sigfússon. “I wanted to capture characters frozen in time, their surroundings changing around them as the world gets more distorted, all up until the point where they find peace and a new home,” says Sigfússon, who is currently collaborating on live concert visuals for Icelandic musicians Sin Fang and Högni Egilsson. Ásgeir is quick to attribute his success to his own home life and upbringing; both his parents are artists and all five of his siblings play an instrument. “I was starting writing songs when I was 10 and my father’s poetry was all over the house,” he says. “For this album, I wrote the music first, then he wrote the lyrics to that.”

“Going Home” / “Dreaming” is released April 7 and “Here It Comes” / “Heart-Shaped Box” is released April 19 for Record Store Day

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Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton

Kanye, Madlib and J Dilla Share the Screen in a New Documentary On Hip-Hop Institution Stones Throw Records

“Hip-hop was stale, like the worst kind of bread you don’t even want to feed to ducks,” recalls Portishead's Geoff Barrow of the creative torpor that afflicted the world of beats and rhymes in the late 1990s. In part it was Stones Throw Records that helped rescue the rap game—and now it is getting its due as the subject of a compelling new documentary directed by Jeff Broadway, Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton. Equal parts tragedy and celebration of the human spirit, the film shows how the tiny independent inspired some of the biggest names in music, from Kanye West to Snoop Dogg, the Beastie Boys to the Roots.

Stones Throw is the life’s work of Californian Chris Manak, better known as Peanut Butter Wolf. Manak launched the Los Angeles imprint in 1996, to put out posthumously the rhymes of his close friend and musical partner Charles Hicks, aka Charizma, shot dead in a car-jacking at the age of 20. As the label’s reputation grew, Wolf found a new figure to inspire him in the shape of prodigious beat alchemist, Madlib. Working in the studio from 7pm to 7am every day and fueling his endeavors with epic quantities of magic mushrooms, Madlib took hip-hop to new levels of nuance. His innovations earned small-time Stones Throw a big-time reputation, and attracted another visionary to the label—Detroit's J Dilla, whose production skills are discussed in tones of reverence by hip-hop cognoscenti, not least Yeezus himself. 

Dilla’s death from a blood disorder at the age of 32 is a shocking moment in the narrative. But the release of his instrumental album Donuts just three days after his death in 2006 sealed Stones Throw's reputation. Today the label is home to musicians of every stripe, from soul singer Mayer Hawthorne to guitar bands like Stepkids. “Most of the things I sign are things that nobody's heard of,” says Peanut Butter Wolf with a smile of pride. “In 30 years I want to find Stones Throw's records either in the $100 bin or the 99 cent bin: I want people to really love it, or really hate it.”—Tom Horan

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