That distinction feels pointed, especially for someone who’s made his home and career for a quarter-century in Notting Hill. Does the London of 2018, with its vast expense and inequality, and particularly West London, with its helipads and oligarchs, still punch its weight culturally?
He pauses. “Well,” he offers, “this is the only place where J Hus happens,” leaning back as if he’s nonchalantly just played an ace. “That sort of thing’s not happening anywhere else. There’s still life here. I mean, rap music from London is much better than rap music from New York and I never thought I’d find myself saying that. That’s meaningful and exciting.
“In fact,” he adds, ever hopeful, “I think the city is pretty on fire for new music actually – sure, West London is pretty fucked, but London on the whole is pretty on fire.”
Russell’s optimism runs through his patchwork album and beyond. The recent live presentation of ‘Everything Is Recorded’ featured twenty-odd musicians recreating the album’s songs in the round, all playing a game of musical catch with one another as one song unfolded into the next. Russell contributed synth and programming work from a corner of the stage, evidently still not entirely on board with being the star of the show, satisfied instead that the team he’s assembled, fantasy football-style, is more than the sum of its parts.
That role of puppeteer is clearly where Russell gets his kicks now. “Running a label, I’d ended up doing something where I never got my hands dirty anymore, and I ended up without any tools, which I really missed,” he explains. “You just had the phone – you’re there to facilitate other people. I facilitated people to have a lot of freedom to express themselves and to make some really good things, but I needed to extend that courtesy to myself, too.”
Earlier in our conversation, Russell ascribes that managerial-curatorial touch simply to “listening to a lot of music, reading a lot of credits, and being able to interpret who’s doing what and who’s going to get on with who.” It seems that if there’s one thing for which Richard Russell should be famous, in whichever guise, it’s exactly that.
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