Young Turks: How Caius Pawson built the label that signed The xx

Caius Pawson was 19 years old when his club night was raided by riot police. Panicked, he noticed a music industry icon laughing at the spectacle. The same man then suggested he launch his own music label. Here, Pawson details the five milestones he passed through in setting it up Young Turks:

01. Like everyone else in the music industry, I did club nights in my teens, meeting people from across the industry. It gave me an insight into how everything worked, but also confidence; I could organise something people seemed to like. Mostly though, it set in place something I’ve done ever since: meet people and collaborate. I’ve always thought my role is to just meet people and make things happen for the talent.

02. We did a night called Young Turks some time in 2006 at an abandoned TfL building in Shoreditch. It was a total disaster, but probably the biggest turning point. The riot police shut it down and I lost everything: my booze, money and sound system. I was 19 at the time and remember standing by the pub nearby and was at my lowest point when I saw Richard Russell (founder of XL Recordings) just watching it all and laughing. The music was going off, 3,000 people were raiding the ice we used to keep the club from getting too hot and throwing it at the police. Richard just said: ‘This is wicked!’ He advised right then that I should set up the Young Turks record label as part of XL. So that’s what I did.

Caius Pawson

03. We took on The XX when no one else wanted them. They were young, raw, unique, had potentially great songs, but weren’t ready to create a record. We gave them time to develop their sound, introduced them to their fourth member (Jamie Smith) and built a £2,000 studio for them in the garage of XL in Ladbroke Grove. (XL MD Ben Beardsworth had to subsequently park his car around the corner). We just took the pressure off and gave them time. It took two and half years, but they went on to sell three million of their first two albums and they’ve had 657 million streams.

04. We’ve been working with Sampha since 2008, and he’s only just making his debut album. We’ve developed a new approach with him. He’s done collaborations with people like Drake, vocals, remixes, and a lot of production. It’s highlighted to me the importance of providing the right environment for the artist to be creative, that every artist is different and the potential of new approaches with artists.

05. I’ve worked with lots of incredible people, but meeting Molly (who
I later married) was a big milestone
. She worked at Young Turks on events and quickly developed the idea of Young Turks festivals, taking our game to a whole new level. We did one in Tulum in Mexico in January. Her creative sense for events has really sharpened us, and she’s now running her own consultancy.