In 2006 the London Police raided an illegal party in an abandoned TFL building in Shoreditch, unknowingly setting into motion what would become one of the most impressive UK labels the world would ever come to know. The night was called Young Turks, and “it was a total disaster” recalls Caius Pawson, the promoter, but as the police were confiscating the money, the liquor and the sound system, a fortuitous meeting would take place between the then 19-year-old Pawson and one Richard Russell founder of XL Recordings. As some of the revellers took action, pelting police officers with ice, Russel looked on amused and offered the young Pawlson a job at XL. “He advised right then that I should set up the Young Turks record label as part of XL,“ remembers Pawson in an Interview with medium.com “So that’s what I did.”
Pawson set up shop in XL offices in Ladbroke Grove and went to work in establishing one of the most unique voices in English music, walking in the footsteps of XL who had by then established themselves as an axis for innovative new music in the UK. Using XL’s resources Young Turks bided their time, tentatively releasing records from guitar wielding groups like Jack Peñate, Holy Fuck and Kid Harpoon. The label would buck trends and breach the muddling noise of the music industry with a group of artists that all harboured a unique talent and artistic voice, but it would be a young band from Croydon that propelled them into popular consciousness.
They were called the XX, but when Pawson first met them their raw sound suggested to him they weren’t quite ready to make a record, but Young Turks “gave them time to develop their sound” and even became instrumental in the final line-up, introducing the band to Jamie Smith. Young Turks gave Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith the time and room to mature, building a studio for the group to record their debut album in what was XL’s MD’s garage at the office and when the time was just right they gave The XX to the world with the self-titled debut that made one of the most remarkable impressions, considering it was their debut.
Moody, wistful and melancholy, The XX sounded like no group that had come before it and they were incredibly well received, catapulting the band and the label on the tip of every tongue and making an irrepressible mark on the musical landscape. Combining guitars with synthesisers and more significantly programmed beats, The XX also marked a shift for the label, incorporating electronic music artists to their roster that avoided traditional band line-ups.
Artists like SBTRKT and John Talabot followed where The XX ended with strains of music that took its essence from underground roots genres like House and Dubstep and transposed it for a more populist listening audience. John Talabot’s “Families” EP was one such example. Featuring vocals from another Young Turks signee, Glasser on the title track, Talabot programmed elements of balearic beat like a pop track with a joyous resolve, billowing through the track in big clouds of synthesisers. Similarly, SBTRKT would take elements of dubstep and work with vocalists like Sampha, who would also later go on to release a string of successful solo releases on the label too.
Young Turks operates more like a musical academy than a label, nurturing young artists through their ranks to eventual and inevitable success. Their roster stretches far and wide in terms of genre and style, emphasising unique voices in and around the UK. FKA Twigs and Sampha today mark some of their most recent success stories, two artists that embody and imbue unique and innovative sounds and an artistic perspective that sets them apart from their peers.
But they are only the most recent additions to a severe legacy Young Turks have established in their short existence. They’ve only been around for a decade, but in those ten years they’ve managed to go from an indie underground event to a label that everybody associates with innovative pop-centric, but not always mainstream music whose reputation precedes them wherever they go.