Meet electro-funk newcomer XO.
Spring is looming on us, the light is changing in the evenings and we need a new tune for walking home to, that fits the atmosphere. 20-year-old British electro-funk newcomer XO might just have the perfect solution with his new double A-side release, Divine Disaster/Night Time Solace. Teaming up with Aussie nu-soul vocalist James Chatburn, who’s buttery-soft R&B lines are warped and bent over glitchy city grooves; it’s debatable which side of the genre-fence this music falls in to, making it more interesting than the standard vocal-y dance-y tracks that continuously get pumped out but the music industry. Is it deep-house, is it electro-soul… Or are we detecting softer notions of UK bass? Whatever you pick-up from it, we are sure Divine Disaster is going to be one of those tunes you play repeatedly this year, and actually don’t grow tired of.
Since uploading edits to Soundcloud two years ago, XO has accumulated praise from DJ giants across the globe, including SOHN, Diplo and Annie Mac of BBC Radio 1 – and rightly so. As if reading about him releasing widely acclaimed records by the time he barely entered his twenties wasn’t enough to make you give your own life a reality check, the young producer, whose real name is Sunil Heera, put out the songs on his own record label He Loves You Not Recordings – adding yet more weight to a heady start in his career.
Art is often a soul-searching process for its makers and recording this EP has turned out to be somewhat of a cathartic process for the musician. “Divine Disaster”, XO tells us, is about how “our head and heart can sometimes be in two different places”, referring to the song’s lyrics. “In some cases we confront it” he continues, “and in others, well… We just learn to live with it”.
Wonderland caught up with the superstar-in-making to chat about his influences, how he got this far and dream collaborations. Oh… And we managed a virtual heist of his record collection.
You’ve come a long way at such a young age, has any part of the process been tough for you? Or have you been making music and playing gigs for so long that it’s all natural by now…
Thanks! I wouldn’t say it’s been tough at all, especially being in the place I am now. Music is something I’m very passionate about and so I’ve never felt any real pressure when it comes to creating. Though in retrospect, all the musical knowledge I’ve gained has been self taught which I guess does sound like a bit of a task!
Your tunes would go down well in a London warehouse party. Do you create a soundtrack to the city or town you live in?
I’ll be honest. I don’t really like London, I’m a bit too chill for the hustle and bussle of that place! Although, I will say I love the cultural diversity down there, not to mention it’s a lot more aesthetically pleasing than where I’m from. With regards to a soundtrack inspired by Stoke, I think it’s probably best I didn’t.
What kind of feeling were you trying to get across with the Divine Disaster track – We’re picking up vibes of twisted R&B…
Twisted R&B is a great way of putting it. With this release in particular, I wanted to expand my sound a little bit more. With a lot of my previous work being quite bright and happy, I felt it’d be great to put out something a little darker and well…twisted.
How did you come across the vocalist James Chatburn… We love the distorted vocals.
I came across James on another one of my late night SoundCloud binges. The first track I ever heard from him was called Wait For The People and I couldn’t believe how amazing his voice was. So rugged yet incredibly soulful. He then went on to work with Jordan Rakei, another great Aussie musician – that sealed it for me, I had to reach out.
What would be your dream-team collaboration project?
This is always the hardest question I ever get asked! I can’t just pick one, so if I was to create a super collective of artists and producers to collab with right now I would choose the late great J Dilla, Hiatus Kaiyote, James Blake, Thundercat, Anderson .Paak, Justin Timberlake and Timbaland. Let’s throw MJ in there for good measure too.
Thundercat – good one! Where else do you draw your inspirations from?
Mainly things like movies I’ve seen, the weather, art, life… You know, man, just pretty much everything. It’s crazy sometimes.
What drew you to making music in the first place, who inspired you, were there any key events in your life that led you to electronic music producing?
I wouldn’t say there was a key series of events as such, I don’t really come from a musical background. I do have a couple of uncles who used to be DJs though, one being a full on Drum & Bass puritan. I guess that was my first real insight in to electronic music, though at the time I never saw it having any sort of impact on me. I was a very curious kid and had always been fascinated by the actual construction of songs so I had to see it for myself. That curiosity seems to have gone a long way…
How do you work when you’re laying down a track, do you hide away and go into a working-trance, do you listen to other stuff a lot to keep inspired, do you make field recordings?
A bit of everything you’ve just mentioned actually, yeah! You never really know when the next ‘lightbulb’ moment is gonna hit you and usually it’s totally unexpected. There’s no real formula as to how these things work, inspiration comes at the strangest of times.
Give us your top five tracks to listen to – the weirdest and most wonderful you’ve got!
1. Hiatus Kaiyote – By Fire
2. Anderson .Paak – Room In Here (feat. The Game & Sonyae Elise)
3. Beaty Heart – Flora
4. Rina Sawayama – Where U Are
5. Frank Liin – Swallow
Words: Lizzy Nicholson