@ BBC News

The Hitmakers: Xenomania

By Mark Savage
BBC News, May 2005

Xenomania is one of the UK's leading pop production houses, put together by writer and producer Brian Higgins.

They've recently worked with artists such as New Order and Texas, and are responsible for all of Girls Aloud's hits.

A sleepy rural village in the south of England is home to one of the country's biggest hit factories.

There, in a converted rectory, Brian Higgins has put together a team of the UK's best writers and producers, collectively called Xenomania.

"The name means an openness and love of all cultures and influences," says Higgins.

It's an apt description of the team's eclectic sound, which fuses glam rock, Motown soul, and pop - with the odd bit of punk and electronica thrown in for good measure.

"I always loved guitar music, like the Buzzcocks and the Sex Pistols, as much as I did electronic music like New Order and Depeche Mode," Higgins says.

"So it's natural for me to look for combinations of both in the music Xenomania creates."

Higgins and his team have produced some of the catchiest and most successful pop songs of the past couple of years.

Girls Aloud, in particular, have benefited from Xenomania's Midas touch - all eight of their top ten singles were produced by Higgins.

"He just makes great songs for radio," says the band's manager, Louis Walsh.

"They just jump out at you and stay in your brain."


But Higgins' path to success hasn't been easy.

Early hits for Dannii Minogue led to the chance to work with Cher, for whom he penned the international hit single Believe.

It won three Ivor Novello songwriting awards, but Higgins found himself out of a job when the label he was involved with, London Records, was sold in the late 1990s.

Left in limbo for 18 months, he eventually decided to strike out on his own and set up Xenomania as an independent production company.

Higgins says they're based in Kent because he wanted "somewhere where concentration would be easy".

"You can get on with things out of London. No-one 'pops' in, so you are less likely to be disrupted."

Visiting artists stay in the hotel across the road, and Higgins' girlfriend can often be found organising food for the likes of Texas and Girls Aloud.

But the homely atmosphere disguises a colossal workload - and not every artist who approaches Xenomania gets to work with them.

"We would never work purely for the fee," says Higgins, "the record would be rubbish".


Lyrics are often based on conversations with the artist, and Higgins stresses that collaboration is key to Xenomania's success.

Recent sessions with Scottish rockers Texas proved to be particularly creative.

"Texas are proven hit writers of a very high calibre, and they wanted to try a fresh approach," says Higgins.

"Our sessions with them were very open with ideas flying in from all angles".

Other artists require more encouragement.

"I needed to be pushed into songwriting, because I wasn't really interested," says Girls Aloud's Nadine Coyle.

But the team insisted the band get involved. "We sat down with Miranda (Higgins' chief co-writer) and another girl called Lisa and they gave us all their secrets," Coyle says.

"I have to say I'm looking forward to when we record the next album. They've made me a lot more interested in it."


Xenomania's partnership with Girls Aloud has been their most successful yet.

After providing three hit singles for the band's first album, the team was asked to write and produce every song on last year's album What Will The Neighbours Say.

Higgins was aware that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

"To make a whole album was a fantastic musical opportunity," he says.

"The pressure to come up with singles was, as always, immense. But having got those out of the way, we were able to have a lot of fun working on ideas that were maybe a little too odd to be on the radio."

The hard work paid off. The album has sold over half a million copies in the UK, and produced five top ten hits. And, according to Louis Walsh, Higgins' journey has only just begun.

"It's just the start of his career," he says. "I think he's going to be massive worldwide."

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