You’d never suspect that ‘Devylz’ - a lingering ode to Southern rap that’ll creep out of your headphones and follow you into your nightmares - would have come from a former neuroscience student who grew up playing jazz piano.
But Leeds-born, South London-based producer Xao (who wouldn’t disclose his government name to CLASH) isn’t in the business of being predictable. After taking over the Astral Black crew’s monthly Radar Radio show since March last year, he’s just made his production debut on the forward-thinking label with his brand new ‘Alloys’ EP.
The release started out in the realm of trap and grime until a taste for adventure overtook any sniff of loyalty to genre, and it got spectacularly lost along the way resulting in a listening experience unlike any other.
We’re pleased to be offering CLASH readers a free download of opening cut ‘Devlyz’, and caught up with Xao to discuss the new release, his top three songs to play on the radio and his plans for the rest of the year…
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What does 'Alloys' mean to you?
It's the fruit of the last three years or so, since the inception of the Xao project. I've tried to cultivate an approach and style, which references the music I've been exposed over this period without fully emulating it. It's also the first time after many years of making and studying music that I have been happy to call anything finished and fit for purpose.
What do you want it to say about you as a producer?
Hide yo kids, hide yo wife.
Do you ever consider genre when you're making music?
When I first set out making the tunes that would end up as ‘Alloys’, trap and grime were certainly the two main inspirations. But as time has gone on that has kind of fizzled out. The way it's panned out, I wouldn't consider them the primary influences on the release. I don't set out to make a tune in a certain mould. But if I've been bumping a tonne of baile or whatever, then it will inevitably rear it's head in some form next time I sit down to make a beat.
What would you say remains consistent throughout your work?
I'm not sure exactly. Hopefully there's a 'sound' to speak of- but I wouldn't really be able to describe it. I suppose there are elements that stay fairly consistent across different tunes. Things like drum processing and the way I approach resampling vocals probably tie things together a little bit.
Why is Astral Black the perfect home for your music?
Astral Black manages to simultaneously deliver high quality music to DJ, MC and "headphone listener" alike. And I suppose I'm sort of trying to fit in between these three spaces myself. A space that others on the label successfully occupy. So it just works.
You've also been running Astral's Radar Radio show since March now, how has that experience been?
Incredibly rewarding. I've got to meet a load of artists and people I might not have otherwise met. And it's also been a big learning curve, getting to see and appreciate the running of a show and to a much lesser degree, the station. Radar is a hugely dynamic environment and there's always someone around or something happening to make you feel gassed about the whole music and radio thing. So shouts to them! My DJ game has definitely been sharpened by the experience also.
What are your top three tracks that you've been playing on there?
MicRo - Lele Dale I randomly came across this tune on the internet a while ago and I still can't get enough. From what I can gather, MicRo is a young producer from Moldova or Romania, and I think this is a flip of a traditional Romanian song. The beat is really stripped back and cold,. The SoundCloud description says "This is a joke, don't take it serious lool", so I'm assuming over there it comes across as a novelty bit, but to me it just fucking bangs!
Superficie - Dengue Drums This is a cert percee. I have rinsed it. There has been so much interesting club music from South America coming to light of late. This is a track from a Brazilian producer on a Uruguayan label, and is a prime example of why over here we need to start paying more attention to the gold that's being spun in Latin America.
Rtkal and Shokryme - B.B.S. Both MCs go IN over a corking, slightly wonky beat from Equiknoxx's Gavsborg. Needless to say I absolutely lost my shit when I first heard it.
Why should people care about cassettes?
Cassettes are great because they are detached from the audiophile elitism that can be associated with vinyl. They sound sick, but in more of a lo-fi way, and they are in no-way durable. You can make them look wild and they often come in limited runs. They are the perfect item for collectors that just want to own a physical token of an artists music. I'm sure there are plenty of people who buy cassettes just to own them, and don't even own a cassette deck. I think in some way they are analogous to Pokemon cards or football stickers...
Lastly, what have you got planned for the rest of the year?
Make more music. Start to play more shows. Eat more vegetables n that.
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Photos: Natalie Rose Dodd