Although he came to prominence in the early 1980s dance scene through his work with Sleeping Bag Records, Arthur Russell worked with a wide variety of artists throughout his life such as Philip Glass and David Byrne and produced work ranging from dance, rock and avant garde.
Born in Iowa in 1951 he studied piano and cello as a child and moved to a Buddhist commune when he was 18 where shortly afterwards he met and started work with poet Allen Ginsburg. Moving to New York in 1973 he began studying at the Manhatten School of Music. However, after a series of clashes with a variety of composers he abandoned his studies to become director of the Kitchen, an experimental downtown performance space. Although the performances were usually experimental during his tenure he booked early performances by the Modern Lovers and Talking Heads, an indication of the ease to which Russell would crossover between musical genres throughout his career. Between 1975 - 1979 he was a member of the Flying Hearts alongside Ernie Brooks from the Modern Lovers.
In 1976 he became involved in the nascent disco scene attracted by it's minimalist rhythms and musical patterns. His first venture into recording music in this genre was 'Kiss Me Again' under the guise of Dinosaur alongside Loft DJ Steve D'Aquisto. The record sold well and resulted in Russell forming Loose Joints. The outfit only recorded a small number of tracks, however, "Is It All Over My Face" became a dance classic especially when remixed by Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan. In 1981 Russell co-founded Sleeping Bag Records with the first release being the disco influenced composition "24-24 Music" originally commissioned to be performed at the Kitchen. Other releases by the label included the classic "Go Bang" by Dinosaur L remixed by Francois K and "Wax the Van" credited to Lola.
Russell fell out with others at the label and left during the mid 1980s. He continued to record and perform, often accompanying himself on cello utilising special effects and a small ensemble. 1986 saw the release of 'The World of Echo' regarded by many as his finest completed work. Shortly after it's release Arthur Russell was diagnosed as HIV+ and died at the age of 40 in 1992.
Like many pioneers in music it was only after his death that his genius began to be recognised through a series of compilations, reissues, the documentary film 'Wild Combination' and the biography 'Hold on to Your Dreams' by Tim Lawrence. Russell's reputation continues to grow and his influence on artists such as LCD Soundsystem remains to this day.
World of Echo (1986)
The Sleeping Bag Sessions (2009)
Love Is Taking Over Me (2008)
Calling Out of context (2004)
John Cooper Clarke
The Incredible String Band