Happy Independents Day! It’s always nice to get a day off in the middle of the working week, especially after spending so many hours inside this year. A super long time ago, a whole mess of people that we will never be able to thank enough, kicked the crazy British Empire off our lovely Eastern shores. To hell with taxation, without these brave patriots we might all be wearing pickle pickers and no belt with our slacks, so thanks U.S. Patriots. Belts are as American as Crystal Meth and Crystal Light. Or just Apple Pie. You decide.
So what is “Independents Day?” It’s a celebration of all things indie!
This idea came about as a celebration; we are a fan of these labels and the artists they represent. We wanted all of our readers to know the people we actively work with (or continually pursue) so that we can bring the best reviews and interviews to each and every one of you. By celebrating the pioneering spirit that every indie label has, we hope to influence readers and fans to spend more time listening to what is new and emerging, and not only what they can hear by turning on terrestrial radio.
In fact, the whole project came together because another editor mentioned that it would be funny for us to have a feature named “Indie-pendents Day.” I realized that the joke was really quite horrible, so we instead put out a call to every member of our staff asking for input as to what labels we wanted to promote in our piece. We wanted to also be aware of the contribution that music has made to the American social landscape so we coined this “Independents Day,” a celebration of the indie labels that we personally love and really truly enjoy working with.
We ended up with 17 record labels, and we had 10 more on our original list, but time constraints prevented us from including them all. Don’t fret: we don’t dislike those that aren’t presented here. We just had only so much time to get our point across. We support EVERY independent label that is working hard to promote music for the love of it all.
Happy Fourth and please enjoy Independents Day!
Somewhat of an elitist Canadian record label, Arts & Crafts [Official Site] was formed by indie rockers Broken Social Scene. You can play the six degrees to Broken Social Scene with the majority of their label-mates, with a somewhat incestuous connection. The Most Serene Republic being the first artist to not have any official affiliation with the band. The label is five years young, but recently partnered with City Slang Records (who brought you Arcade Fire, Nada Surf and The Album Leaf) in opening a European office in January of 2006. – Holly L. Perry
Beggars Banquet [Official Site] was founded in 1977 as a series of music/record stores in the U.K. Owners Martin Mills and Nick Austin created the label to keep up with the emerging punk rock, DIY aesthetic that was taking the music world for quite a ride. During these early days, the guys worked tirelessly to ensure music that they cared about was able to reach the masses, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the release of albums by Tubeway Army and Gary Numan, that they were able to secure the financial future of the label. In other words, they are friggin’ golden, super rich. The Cult, Pixies, Cocteau Twins, Prodigy and Basement Jaxx all got their start with the Beggars, either on the main label or an imprint.
Today, XL Recordings, Mantra Records, Mo’Wax Records, Locked On Records, Matador Records, Too Pure Records and Wiiija are all part of Beggars Group and the roster of current acts reads like a “who’s who” in indie rock (Roster) – Shawn M. Smith
Since 1994, Bloodshot Records [Official Site] of Chicago, Illinois has sought out music between genres, most often mash ups of punk, country, soul, pop, bluegrass, blues and rock. It was established by Nan Warshaw and Rob Miller. Standout artists include Scott H. Biram, Old 97′s and Detroit Cobras. According to the guys at Bloodshot, “we like artists who work over American roots forms with chains and velvet gloves with little regard for formality or protocol, who arent’ afraid to molest and caress these forms to take music into uncharted and exciting waters.” – Greg Wind
Dischord Records [Official Site] was started in Washington DC by Ian MacKaye, Jeff Nelson in 1980. The original intent was simply to release a single documenting their defunct band, The Teen Idles. However, the label would go on to do far more. Dischord became the mouthpiece for the city’s vibrant music scene. Artists such as Minor Threat, Rites of Spring, Shudder To Think, Scream, Nation of Ulysses and more released their ground breaking work on the label.
Besides the amazing tunes, the label was known for its staunch DIY (Do It Yourself) work ethic. The label would be in charge of making cover art, folding all record boxes, producing and shipping the records, all the while keeping prices insanely cheap. The label is also known for its political and social activism. Dischord donates money to several local, national and international charities every year. Two and half decades later Dischord is still doing it for themselves and are one of the world’s largest and most influential record labels. Dischord doesn’t just rest on it’s stellar back catalog. The genius keeps on coming in the form of The Evens, Fugazi, Black Eyes and The Aquarium. – Dan Berkman
Domino Recording Company [Official Site], based in London overseas and Brooklyn here in the States, was founded in 1993, by Laurence Bell and Jacqui Rice. Success was not immediate, as labels such as Domino, who were releasing more established American rock and unusual British music, were marginalized during the Britpop era, but a steady stream of new signings gave the label increasing credibility. Recent high profile releases from Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys and Clinic have made Domino is one of the most successful independent record labels in the UK. – Greg Wind
Equal Vision Records [Official Site] is a hardcore/punk-rock label based out of Albany, New York. Having grown up in the “Capital Region,” I have always felt a strong connection to the label and their acts; when I used to work Field Marketing for Unnamed Crappy Music Retailer I frequented a lot of their shows and coordinated a great number of signings between the acts and fans. Best known for the mainstream success of Coheed and Cambria, Armor For Sleep and Saves the Day, Equal Vision also house strong, developing acts like Circa Survive, Chiodos, Dear and the Headlights, The Fall of Troy, Olympia and ActionReaction.
A launching pad to stardom, Equal Vision is comfortable with the process of artistic development and they create an environment in which the musicians can interact with one another and pursue their art collectively, a process that has lead to the formation of several “supergroups.” Understanding the artists’ desires is paramount to their success as a whole, so we are proud to support the entrepreneurial vision that EVR has. – Shawn M. Smith
Kill Rock Stars [Official Site] was formed in 1991 by Slim Moon, and eventually became home to the Decemberists and Elliott Smith. Their first major release was a self-titled compilation which featured local Olympia, Washington bands. Now somewhat of a grunge relic, the record boasts heavyweights like Nirvana, Courtney Love, and the Melvins. Other artists in their stable include Deerhoof, Gossip, Born Against, and the Macromantics. – Elie Z. Perler
Founded in 2001 by a then 19-year-old Eric Aucoin, Lujo Records [Official Site] (pronounced lou-hoe) has always been about presenting the simple beauty and powerful message in the music of their artists. He found his inspiration from other labels on our list (Dischord, Touch and Go, etc.) and reveled in their DIY approach to the business. Despite several missteps, Lujo have remained at or near the forefront of an indie rock movement. With a strong commitment to their artists and a firm understanding of the digital market and its trappings, Aucoin and Co. are sure to remain one of the most name-dropped labels in indie rock, with their current: The Dark Romantics, Coho, Look Mexico, Baby Teeth and Silence The Foe; Lujo (Spanish for “luxurious” or “high quality”) is poised to remain a force for years to come. – Shawn M. Smith
Founded in 1989 and based out of Durham, North Carolina, Merge Records [Official Site] is the brainchild of Superchunk members Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance. At first a vehicle for their own band, McCaughan and Ballance began releasing their friends’ records as well. It is, in that sense, a community label that has grown into commercial success. Bands like …And They Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead and Arcade Fire are staples of Merge. Veteran rockers Dinosaur, Jr. and Teenage Fanclub have also both released records on the label.
North Carolina really isn’t the state most people associate with independent artists. But then again, it’s also not exactly the place you’d expect viable methods of human flight to be discovered. So maybe North Carolina is just this secret-filled wonderland, where science and killer independent music lurk unknown to the rest of the world, waiting to be discovered.
Or maybe they got lucky. Regardless, check Merge out. And, also, that whole flying thing. – James V. Mitchell
Originally established by three college students in the Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Rounder Records [Official Site] has brought folk, soul and bluegrass enthusiasts’ quality music for nearly four decades. The label’s musical giant is Grammy winning Alison Krauss, though many of its artists have been featured either on the silver screen or the telly. Juliana Hatfield reignited kissing games with “Spin the Bottle” on the memorable Reality Bites soundtrack. In Good Will Hunting, Minnie Driver’s brief vocal performance while in her Harvard dorm room deserves an automatic record label. And let’s not forget Raffi – where would the world be without “Baby Baluga?” Homage must be paid to a label that dons both Ellis Paul (a personal favorite – check out his live double disc for a passion-filled acoustic treat) and Raffi. Rounder Records, we salute you. – Holly L. Perry
Saddle Creek Records [Official Site] was founded in Omaha, Nebraska by Rob Nessel and guitarist/producer Mike Mogis in 1993. The label was originally called Lumberjack Records, but was later changed to Saddle Creek as a tribute to a road that runs through Omaha. Saddle Creek set out to release the music that their friends bands were turning out at the time. In 1998, Mogis stepped down as co-owner of Saddle Creek to work on performing and production work for the label. The reins were then handed over to Conor Oberst’s brother Justin.
The label continues to release great music while remaining strictly independent and Omaha-centric. To this day the label has only signed one band not from Omaha, Rilo Kiley. On June 8th 2007, Saddle Creek opened up their own 500 seat music venue called Slowdown (which is named after early Saddle Creek band Slowdown Virginia.), which is located in downtown Omaha. – Dan Berkman
Secretly Canadian [Official Site] of Bloomington, Indiana was started in 1996 by Chris and Ben Swanson, Eric Weddle, and Jonathon Cargill. Weddle later left and formed his own label, Family Vineyard. Chris Swanson also runs Jagjaguar records with Darius Van Arman. Their first release was a re-issue of an album by June Panic. In February, 2007, the partners behind Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar, along with Phil Waldorf, announced a third sister label, Dead Oceans. Prominent acts include Damien Jurado, Antony & the Johnsons and Magnolia Electric Co.
According to a rare press release about the label itself, Rockit’s Famous Pizza is a better Bloomington landmark than SC offices and a few years past its inception, SC albums still weren’t shrink-wrapped, sleeping space doubled as office space and the website address was garbled syntax of tildes and slashes unable to be translated over the phone: http://php.indiana.edu/~bjswanso/sc.html. After 11 years and more than 100 releases, staffers still respond with eye-rolls to “what does Secretly Canadian mean?” As an editor of a site formerly called “Broken Dial,” now known as Radio Exile, I will resist asking the question when I next speak to them. – Greg Wind
Sub Pop Records [Official Site] started in 1979 as a fan zine called Subterranean Pop (the title was shorted to the now familiar Sub Pop by the 2nd issue) by Evergreen State college student Bruce Pavitt. With every issue a tape was included featuring some of the most exciting sounds from the indie underworld. In 1986 Pavitt released the compilation LP, Sub Pop 100, which featured the likes of Sonic Youth, Scratch Acid, U-Men and Steve Albini. Later on that year Pavitt met up with Jonathan Poneman and the two decided to make Sub Pop a label.
Thanks to signing bands like Green River, Mudhoney, Soundgarden and most importantly, Nirvana, the label was known for the “Seattle Sound” aka grunge. Since the fall of grunge, Sub Pop now specializes in indie rock in every form the genre takes. Some of the labels biggest acts at the moment are, The Postal Service, Iron and Wine, The Thermals and Wolf Parade just to name a few. – Dan Berkman
Touch and Go Records [Official Site] started its life as a Michigan fan zine run by Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson in 1979. In 1981 Tesco teamed up with Necros bassist Corey Rusk to head the label with him. After Tesco moved himself and his band, The Meatmen, to Washington DC in 1983, Rusk took full control of the label. Rusk then moved Touch and Go from Michigan to Chicago. While in Chicago, Rusk found bands like Big Black, Naked Raygun and several others to add to his already exciting roster.
Nearly 30 years later, Touch and Go is still releasing the highest quality alternative rock with a furiously independent stance and a artist and customer friendly attitude. Here are some bands currently signed to Touch and Go who are sure to go down in history: Pinback, Calexico, Black Heart Procession, TV on The Radio, Ted Leo and The Pharmacists and many more. – Dan Berkman
You’ve heard of TVT [Official Site]. Go on, flip over that old copy of Pretty Hate Machine… there it is. The New York City label was founded as Tee Vee Toons by Steve Gottlieb in 1985 with the expressed purpose to release Television’s Greatest Hits, a series of recordings of American television theme songs.
Things didn’t exactly go as planned. After the success of Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, TVT picked up a number of releases by notable EBM & Industrial rock acts after purchasing the bankrupt Wax Trax! label in 1993. Recent acts include several of Radio Exile’s favorite bands, including The Cinematics and The Polyphonic Spree. Oh, and when Jimmy Page and The Black Crowes get together to release an album? Yeah, that’s a pretty good litmus test for whether or not a label rocks. – James V. Mitchell