People want products that feel personal, and no one puts more blood, sweat, tears, and hard-earned pennies into their craft than small label owners, who have to be part parent, part curator (and sometimes part dictator) to get the job done. As a result, independent labels are awesome reflections of the people who run them and their aesthetics–a personal touch that should ensure they last long after the BMG/Universals of the world crash and burn. Tons of new labels have surged forth in the last few years, making it again hard to pick our favorite indies–we had to leave some out because we sing their praises on a monthly basis, and we didn’t delve too deep into 12-inch-only imprints. After some agonizing, we whittled our list down to these 25 dependable outposts for good tunes–here are the labels we’re rocking and jocking…and you should be too.
Location: Leeds, England
Artists: Random Factor, Jesper Dählback, Dubble D, Inland Knights
Sound: Tweaky, bass-heavy house, pumping electro techno.
Best-seller: Fred Everything “Light of Day”
What’s in a name: “Our name literally means ‘perfect sight,’ with each artist having free rein with their own view of the 20:20 Vision sound,” says label manager Andy Whittaker.
Upcoming: Silver City’s self-titled debut, with remixes coming from Ewan Pearson, Lindstrom, Phonogenic, and Boogie Corporation.
Location: The Arsenal, London, England
Artists: Roy Ayers, Baby Blak, Jay Dee, The Foreign Exchange
Sound: True-school hip-hop, soulful house, and funk from the greats.
Best-seller: Jazzy Jeff The Magnificent
Funny story: “It’s always about Keb Darge,” proclaims co-founder Peter Adarkwah, “and it involves fighting, swearing, paying silly amounts for records, and not making it to the bathroom on time–the life and times of a Scottish legend.”
Upcoming: Albums by D’Nell and Alice Smith, a Radiohead tribute compilation, and The Kings of House: Mixed by Masters At Work on BBE/Rapster.
Location: New York, New York
Artists: Keith Fullerton Whitman, Animal Collective, Marumari, Signer
Sound: Electronic pop, post-punk reissues (on Acute), and modern psychedelia (on Paw Tracks).
Best-seller: Animal Collective Here Comes The Indian (Paw Tracks)
Funny story: “I was recently with members of Ariel Pink, helping them buy some gear at a Manhattan music shop,” says founder Todd Hyman. “After picking up a new amp and keyboard, the sales guy asked me if we were forming a band. I said, ‘It seems like it, but they’re actually playing at Tonic tonight.’”
Upcoming: A Greg Davis/Sebastien Roux collaboration, plus new albums from Casino Vs. Japan, Panda Bear, and Ariel Pink.
Location: Hollywood, California
Artists: Pony Up!, Battles, Libretto
Sound: Like the best college radio station anywhere, from garage rock to electro-punk to hip-hop.
Best-seller: Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm
What’s in a name: “I started the label when I was 18 and Bruce Lee was a major role model in my life growing up as an Asian in America,” divulges founder Steve Aoki. “I wanted the label name to have some sort of mysterious connection with Lee, and some Chinese elders theorize that the dim mak (which means “death touch” in Chinese) is what ended up killing him.
Upcoming: A 12” from Mike Skinner’s side project, Grafiti, and new albums from The Rakes, Icarus Line, From Monument to Masses, and Neon Blonde (Johnny and Mark from Blood Brothers).
Location: Brighton, England and now Brooklyn, New York
Artists: To Rococo Rot, Black Dice, Mice Parade, Him
Sound: Where post-rock, leftfield folk, and esoteric electronics meet.
Best-seller: Múm Finally We Are No One in the US, Sigur Rós elsewhere.
Funny story: “I traveled in a row boat with the Múm kids through high seas when they were trying to land on the rocky shores of their lighthouse recording studio in Iceland. I was almost shitting my pants the whole time...” says label founder Dave Cawley.
Upcoming: Releases from The Mutts, Songs of Green Pheasant, Charlottefield, and a new Animal Collective album.
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Location: Deep in Bushwick, Brooklyn
Artists: Ge-ology, Dooley O, DJ Spinna, Prince Paul
Sound: Both traditional and uncharacteristically distinctive hip-hop.
Best-seller: Prince Paul Itstrumental and MF Doom Special Herbs Vol. 1
What’s in a name: It comes from the innocent and unadulterated affection towards women, and more importantly servicing their needs on a dancefloor and beyond.
Upcoming: New LPs by Sadat X and Shawn J. Period, and an EP from Spencer Doran.
Location: East London, UK
Artists: Jimpster,Swell Session, Robert Strauss
Sound: Soulful disco, warm broken beat and jazz, and sometimes jackin’ house.
Best-seller: Switch Get Ya Dub On
Funny story: “At last year’s Freerange Christmas party, Trevor Loveys (our prized caner at the label) got so bleached that he eventually passed out and couldn’t be woken by any of us,” remembers artist/label owner Jamie Odell. “The club security had to call his girlfriend who trekked the whole way across town to come and take him home. She was very cross and tried to ground him!”
Upcoming: Robert Strauss Quasars And Phasars and singles from Audiomontage, Palm Skin Productions, Only Freak, Swell Session, and Marco Da Sousa.
Location: Berlin, Germany
Artists: Booka Shade, Chelonis R. Jones, M.A.N.D.Y.
Sound: Maximal electro/Italo/Chicago/disco house.
Best-seller: DJ T. “Freemind”
Funny story: “Once I was entering the club, the dancefloor was in the middle of the room, and there were 200 people around sitting, standing and waiting,” says artist and co-owner DJ T. “I was late, carrying my biggest case in front of me, hurrying over the empty dancefloor to the booth, not able to see the floor. There was a little platform in the middle of the dancefloor…and you can guess what’s next.”
Upcoming: Chelonis R. Jones Dislocated Genius album, a Booka Shade remix of The Juan Maclean, M.A.N.D.Y. remixes of Fischerspooner and Mylo, and a DJ T. remix of Mylo.
Location: Munich, Germany
Artists: Munk, Headman, Midnight Mike
Sound: German house culture and leftfield disco meets psychedelic rock, No Wave, and Italo.
Best-seller: Headman “It Rough” and Munk Apertivo
What’s in a name: “Gomma means ‘rubber’ in Italian and ‘to be totally stoned’ in Colombian,” says label owner Mathias Modica. “Everybody was using very German-sounding words when we started the label and we didn’t want to have a cliché German name too.”
Upcoming: The re-release of Leroy Hanghofer’s White Trash, and new 12”s from Tomboy and WhoMadeWho.
Location: London, England
Artists: Ward 21, Elephant Man, Red Rat, Steven “Lenky” Marsden
Sound: Hot and heavy dancehall, reggae, and riddims.
Best-seller: Shaggy “Oh Carolina” and Mr. Vegas’ Heads High album.
What’s in a name: “We originally planned to open a chain of record stores and ‘Greensleeves’ is the title of one of the first known English folk songs,” explains co-founder Chris Cracknell.
Upcoming: New albums from Vybz Kartel, Sizzla, and Macka Diamond, plus the Biggest Ragga Dancehall Anthems2005 double disc.
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Location: Chicago, Illinois
Artists: Out Hud, Pan-American, Stars of the Lid, Labradford
Sound: Out-rock, neo-surrealist head music.
Best-seller: We’re not telling.
Funny story: “When we worked together at Cargo Distributors, one of our co-workers pranked co-founder Joel [Loeschke] by writing ‘Honk if You Hate People, Too’ on the back of Joel’s dusty car,” says co-founder Bruce Adams. “That admonition has become a series of label bumper stickers and people sell them on eBay.”
Upcoming: New full-lengths from Boduf Songs, Lichens, Brian McBride, Windy and Carl, and Out Hud’s “It’s For You” single.
Location: Brixton, London
Artists: Colleen, Triosk, Murcof, Clue to Kalo
Sound: Lush, textural electronic pop enveloping rock, folk, and free jazz influences.
Best-seller: Manitoba Up In Flames
What’s in a name: “I wanted something organic and tactile,” says founder Tony Morley. “A friend came up with it in the queue for a takeaway.”
Upcoming: Murcof’s second album, Born Again (a double-disc collection of Sutekh remixes), a 10-year label comp, and a Caribou DVD.
Location: Worcester, England
Artists: Venetian Snares, Exile, Virus Syndicate, Bizzy B
Sound: Techno, dubstep, jungle, grime, breakcore, and noise.
Best-seller: µ-ZIQ’s Bilious Paths
What’s in a name: “Planet Mu is the name of my old recording studio in London,” says owner Mike Paradinas.
Upcoming: New albums from Frog Pocket, Kyler, and Jega plus a DVD, The Sacred Symbols of Mu.
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Artists: Blueprint, Eyedea & Abilities, Grayskul, Brother Ali
Sound: Pure hip-hop.
Best-seller: Atmosphere Seven’s Travels
What’s in a name: “We came up with it in ’92, ’93,” says Siddiq, who started the label with Ant, Slug, and Musab. “It’s a play on one of the founders’ last names, which is Sayers.”
Upcoming: Murs and Slug’s Felt Two (a tribute to Lisa Bonet), a new Atmosphere record (You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having), and LPs from P.O.S. and I Self Divine.
Location: Berlin, Germany
Artists: Umod, Sirius Mo, Dixon, Micatone
Sound: Full spectrum club music for the aging b-boy.
Best-seller: Jazzanova …mixing
Funny story: “Our freshest signing is also our oldest artist: a gospel keyboardist from Washington,” explains Alex Barck.
Upcoming: A Jazzanova compilation called Secret Love: A View on Folk, the Kyoto Jazz Massive 10thanniversary record, and new albums by Slope and Wahoo.
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Location: London, England
Artists: A Certain Ratio, Hu Vibrational, Arthur Russell, Jackie Mittoo
Sound: Reggae, funk, hip-hop, house, and punk reissues, many of obscure micro-genres.
Best-seller:New Orleans Funk and Studio One Rockers.
What’s in a name: “Initially we started off selling second hand soul, jazz, funk, and rare groove in the ‘80s and it kinda stuck!” offers owner Stuart Baker.
Upcoming: Electronic compilation Microsolutions, Tropicalia (a collection of ‘60s Brazilian psychedelia) and loads more Studio One reggae stuff.
Location: Highland Park area of Los Angeles, California
Artists: Madlib, J Dilla, Wildchild, MF Doom
Sound: Primarily hip-hop, but we release some jazz (from free to soul), new wave, broken beat, soul, and funk.
Best-seller: Madvillain’s Madvillainy
Funny story: “Before meeting Madlib in 1999 I heard stories about how prolific he was but I assumed it was hyperbole,” says co-founder Jeff Jank. “One night after coming home from a club, Madlib says, ‘I’m staying up tonight to make an album.��� Chris (Peanut Butter Wolf) and I laughed because we were both dead tired. Next morning, I woke up at 8 a.m. to the muted sounds of drums coming from the bomb shelter studio. Madlib had been at work all night recording and multi-tracking an album. He decided it was finished when the 72-minute CD was full.”
Upcoming: Koushik’s “Be With” EP, new records from Sound Directions and Percee P, and Madvillain.
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Artists: Mono, Eluvium, Howard Hello
Sound: Intense, instrumental.
Best-seller: Explosions In The Sky The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place
Funny story: “This guy calmly and politely walked up to Matthew Cooper (Eluvium) to ask him for a light,” recounts label head Jeremy Atkins. “The guy’s hand and arm were bleeding profusely, so Matthew let him keep the lighter. A few minutes later a half dozen cops swarmed around us with guns drawn–turns out the guy had just stabbed an elderly woman, then killed a cop with his own gun, then asked Matthew for a light. I guess that’s not really a funny story.”
Upcoming: New albums from Sleeping People, Bellini, and Explosions in the Sky, plus four limited edition Nice Nice CDs.
Location: Norwalk, Connecticut
Artists: DJ Spooky, Meat Beat Manifesto, El-P, DJ Logic
Sound: Melding well-known improvisational jazz players with hip-hop and electronic artists.
Best-seller: DJ Spooky Optometry
Funny story: “While recording Spring Heel Jack’s first Blue Series release, Masses, John Coxon was trying to explain to an ensemble of some of NYC’s finest free jazz musicians where the ‘one’ was in the beat,” recalls proprietor David Aaron. “The concept of conducting free jazz players is an oxymoron in and of itself.”
Upcoming: New albums from Charlie Hunter & Bobby Previte, John Medeski & Matthew Shipp, and Beans (with William Parker and Hamid Drake).
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Artists: Tortoise, Mouse on Mars, Califone, Sam Prekop
Sound: Unpredictable, encompassing indie and post-rock, improv jazz, electronic boundary-pushers, and even hip-hop and bluegrass.
Best-seller: I’m sure you can guess…but we are most proud of our Jimmy Martin record.
Funny story: “When I first started in New York, I used a really cheap printer on 43rd Street,” says founder Bettina Richards. “They were always really friendly when I called, excessively so. They always used the word thrill–like ‘Hey thrill, baby,’ ‘How’s your day, thriller?’...and so on. One day I finally went over to the printers and found out why. They printed porno boxes and wanted to know what kind of porn we made.”
Upcoming: New Adult. and Tom Verlaine records, Tortoise rarities, and a series of books of artwork with music (the first will be from Aki Tsyuoko).
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Location: Oakland, California
Artists: Soft Pink Truth, DJ/Rupture, The Bug, Knifehandchop
Sound: The intersection of computer music and punk rock: hard, soft, nasty, or nice.
Best-seller: Kid 606 Who Still Kill Sound
What’s in a name: “We were still teenagers when we started the label,” shares Miguel “Kid 606” Depedro, “and thought it would be funny for us to adopt the name of an old teeny-bop magazine we thought wasn’t around anymore–it turns out it was, so that’s why we threw the 6 on.”
Upcoming: New stuff from Quintron and Miss Pussycat, Christian Vogel, Boy from Brazil, and Phon.o.
Touch & Go
Location: Chicago, IL
Artists: Calexico, !!!, Slint, Blonde Redhead, Supersystem, TV On The Radio
Sound: Punk rock to chamber music to dance rock.
Best-seller: Big Black Songs About Fucking
Funny story: “At our CMJ showcase in 2002, the members of !!! took the stage dressed as human disco balls,” remembers owner Corey Rusk. “Initially, anyone not familiar with them was pretty freaked out, but by the time Nic scaled some speakers 20 feet above the crowd and started performing what looked like an update on the Humpty Dance, the whole room was into it. On the down side, since the costumes were made by gluing hundreds of pieces of broken mirrors to thin, black, stretchy, nylon clothing, most of the band was bleeding throughout the show.”
Upcoming: New albums from CocoRosie, The EX, and Dirty Three.
Location: Costa Mesa, California
Artists: Quantic Soul Orchestra, Beatless, Jeremy Ellis, Nostalgia 77
Sound: Organic, funky sounds from the realms of broken beat, house, Afro-Cuban music, and hip-hop.
Best-seller: Greyboy, but SA-RA, PPP, and Breakestra are nipping at his heels.
What’s in a name: “We got our start releasing hard to find soul and funk tunes and trying to make those records and the artists who originally recorded them ubiquitous,” says A&R man Andrew Jervis.
Upcoming: New albums from Ohmega Watts, John Arnold, Breakestra, SA-RA, and Greyboy, compilations with HVW8 and Gilles Peterson, and the second volume of Bay Area Funk.
Location: Jamaica, New York
Artists: Capleton, Lady Saw, Wayne Wonder, Tanya Stephens, T.O.K.
Sound: Dancehall, reggae, and soca burners.
Best-seller: Sean Paul Dutty Rock
Funny story: Promotions don Chris Schlarb writes, “We have a kitchen where Shirley, one of our employees, cooks up curry goat and steam fish that stinks up the whole building. Smells bad, but tastes great!”
Upcoming: New albums from Elephant Man, I-Wayne, Assassin, Warrior King, and Sizzla.
Location: London, England and New York, New York
Artists: Autechre, Squarepusher, Two Lone Swordsmen, Maximo Park
Sound: Twisted IDM, pastoral laptop sounds, spliffed downtempo, leftfield hip-hop, and guitar bands.
Best-seller: Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker
Funny story: “Statistically, Warp artists are the most unprolific in the world,” says US label manager Simon Halliday. “Aphex Twin: four years since Drukqs. LFO: three albums in 15 years. Boards of Canada: two albums in eight years. Jamie Lidell took five years to deliver Multiply. The Olympics are more frequent.”
Upcoming: New albums from Broadcast, Jackson, and Boards of Canada.
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The dons of nu-jazz and broken beat queue up to record for this Amsterdam hotshot.
Portland, Oregon’s homestead for bucolic, acoustic/electric micro-pop.
Showing off groundbreaking Norwegian talent (Lindstrom’s kinky disco, Future Prophecies’ intense d&b).
City Centre Offices
Intimate IDM and highly detailed ambient from Ulrich Schnauss, I Am Not A Gun, and The Remote Viewer
Dark New Wave and dirty techno hand-picked by The Glimmers.
No-nonsense classic rap from NY’s well-respected hip-hop one-stop.
Laptop futurists like Pole, Deadbeat, and Burnt Friedman purveying boom and bass.
This Scottish stalwart keeps pumping out the hits, from slamming techno and minimal electro to searing tech-house.
Sinister, otherworldly drum & bass that places a premium on clever beat programming.
Organic house, quirky downtempo, jazz breaks, and new school funk.