19 indie record labels that changed the face of music

30 March 2024, 12:00

Tony Wilson, the mastermind behind Factory Records
Tony Wilson, the mastermind behind Factory Records. Picture: Jon Super/Redferns/Getty/Tony Smith/Kay Roxby/Alamy Stock Photo

From Creation to Factory, we take a look at the fiercely independent record labels that have meant the most over the years...

  1. Creation

    Creation records logo
    Creation records logo. Picture: Press

    Founded by Alan McGee, Joe Foster and Dick Green in 1983, the label released a series of independent classics by The Jesus And Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Teenage Fanclub, The House of Love and Super Furry Animals, but hit the big time firstly with Primal Scream, then - of course - Oasis.

    McGee sold half of the label to major Sony in 1992 and he announced his departure from Creation on 25 November 1999, saying: "It's the end of a decade, a new millennium, and life begins at 40. I feel like trying my hand at new things." Creation went out of business shortly after the release of Primal Scream's XTRMNTR in January 2000.

  2. Factory

    Factory Records logo
    Factory Records logo. Picture: Press

    Founded in 1978 by Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus off the back of their club night, The Factory, the label was made famous by Joy Division and New Order, but also was the home of Happy Mondays, Northside, A Certain Ratio, The Durutti Column, Electronic, Section 25 and - briefly - James. Factory road the wave of the UK club scene in the late 80s and early 90s, but their involvement in Manchester's Haçienda club was a drain on the company's wallet and the label folded in 1992.

  3. Rough Trade

    Rough Trade Records logo
    Rough Trade Records logo. Picture: Press

    Originally operating as a record shop from 1976 under the management of Geoff Travis, Rough Trade branched out into distribution, releasing a range of independent records via The Cartel, a co-operative of labels. Their most famous signing was The Smiths, who released all their albums on the label. Rough Trade distribution folded in 1991, but the label relaunched in 2000 and released material by The Strokes and The Libertines among many others. The Rough Trade stores, meanwhile, have gone from strength to strength.

  4. XL Recordings

    XL Recordings logo
    XL Recordings logo. Picture: Press

    Owned by Richard Russell, XL was a spin off from the independent label Beggars Banquet, with a focus on dance tracks. They hit the big time with The Prodigy in the early 90s and have since worked with Friendly Fires, Basement Jaxx, The Horrors, The xx, Peaches, Radiohead, DIzzee Rascal, The White Stripes and Thom Yorke's Atoms For Peace project.

  5. Mute

    Mute Records logo
    Mute Records logo. Picture: Press

    Founded in 1978 by Daniel Miller to launch his solo vehicle The Normal and the cult hit Warm Leatherette, which formed MUTE 001 in 1978, Mute went massive thanks to Basildon synthpoppers Depeche Mode and their Top 10 friendly hits. Mute has played host to releases by Nick Cave, Erasure, Nitzer Ebb, Moby and Goldfrapp. Despite selling to major EMI in 2002, Miller's deal means that Mute remains independent!

  6. Domino

    Domino Records label
    Domino Records label. Picture: Press release

    Originally founded in 1993 by Laurence Bell and Jacqui Rice to release material by US bands in the UK, the label gained fame with releases by Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys and The Kills.

  7. Sub Pop

    Sub Pop
    Sub Pop. Picture: Press

    Or Subterranean Pop if you will, this classic label was launched in Seattle in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman and by the turn of the decade had become famous as the home of grunge. The first Nirvana album, Bleach appeared on Sub Pop, plus releases by Mudhoney, Babes In Toyland, Tad, Dinosaur Jr, L7 and Hole. In recent years, the label has been home to Death Cab For Cutie, CSS, Fleet Foxes, Flight Of The Conchords and the US home of Foals.

  8. Transgressive

    Transgressive Records logo
    Transgressive Records logo. Picture: Press

    The label was formed by Tim Dellow and Toby L of the RockFeedback website and has worked since 2004 with the likes of Foals, Two Door Cinema Club, Pulled Apart By Horses, Alvvays, The Rumble Strips, The Shins and The Subways.

  9. Silvertone

    Silvertone Records logo
    Silvertone Records logo. Picture: Press

    Best known for signing The Stone Roses and releasing their awesome debut album in 1989, this imprint also issued records by John Lee Hooker and The Men They Couldn't Hang. ORE 001 was Elephant Stone by The Stone Roses.

  10. Modular Recordings

    Modular Recordings
    Modular Recordings. Picture: Press

    Founded in 1998, by Sydney-based music promoter Steve Pavlovic, Modular came to prominence with The Living End’s eponymous debut, which became the second (at the time) highest selling debut rock album in Australian music history. Cut Copy, The Presets, Tame Impala and The Avalanches have all released material on the label.

  11. Warp

    Warp Records logo
    Warp Records logo. Picture: Press

    Sheffield's Warp kicked off in 1989 with some classic techno tracks, including LFO and Tricky Disco, the label has played host to Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada and Nightmares On Wax, while branching out into "classic" rock with bands like Maximo Park, !!!, Batlles and Grizzly Bear. WAP 1 was the amusingly titled Track With No Name by Forgemasters.

  12. Nude

    Nude. Picture: Press

    Best known for their work with Suede, Nude was established by Saul Galpern in 1991 and has also been home to Black Box Recorder, Lowgold, Ultrasound, before going under in 2001. A brief revival in 2005 only lasted two years. NUD 1 was Suede's The Drowners.

  13. Independiente

    Independiente. Picture: Press

    When Andy MacDonald sold his label Go! Discs to major Polygram in 1997, he set up Independiente, which released classics by Embrace, Gomez, Howling Bells, The Tears, Travis and Paul Weller.

  14. DFA

    DFA Records logo
    DFA Records logo. Picture: Press

    Launched in 2001 by Tim Goldsworthy (formerly of Mo' Wax), James Murphy and Jonathan Galkin, the label is best known for Murphy's LCD Soundsystem project, but has also released music by Arcade Fire, Hot Chip, Hercules And Love Affair, The Rapture and Holy Ghost!

  15. Heavenly Recordings

    Heavenly Recordings
    Heavenly Recordings. Picture: Press

    Founded in 1990 by former Creation employee Jeff Barrett, the label was originally home to Saint Etienne and for a very brief period, Manic Street Preachers. Other acts include Flowered Up, Doves, The Magic Numbers and The Vines, while recent releases include Confidence Man, Pip Blom and the soundtrack to Killing Eve.

  16. 4AD

    4AD logo
    4AD logo. Picture: Press

    Started in 1979 by Ivo Watts-Russell, the label was the home to goth favourites The Birthday Party, Bauhaus and The Cocteau Twins, but made a stylistic departure in 1987 with the No 1 hit by M/A/R/R/S, Pump Up The Volume. They soon became synonymous with the new breed of alt.rock starts, including the Pixies, The Breeders, Throwing Muses, The Big Pink and The National.

  17. Matador

    Matador Records logo
    Matador Records logo. Picture: Press

    Launched by Chris Lombardi in 1989 in New York City, early releases were from Teenage Fanclub, Superchunk and Mark Eitzel, but now the label is home to Interpol, Belle And Sebastian, Yo La Tengo and Kurt Vile.

  18. Fierce Panda

    Fierce Panda logo
    Fierce Panda logo. Picture: Press

    Began by music journalists John Harris, Paul Moody and Simon Williams in 1993, this tiny independent label has been responsible for early releases by Coldplay, Placebo, Supergrass, Idlewild, The Bluetones, The Maccabees and many more. Wibbling Rivalry, a recorded interview with Liam and Noel Gallagher that unbelievably grazed the bottom end of the charts.

  19. Communion

    Communion Records logo
    Communion Records logo. Picture: Press

    Founded in 2006 by Ben Lovett of Mumford And Sons, Kevin Jones and Ian Grimble, the Communion organisation started as a night at the Notting Hill Arts Club, but branched into a label, a promotion company and publishing business. Artists include Ben Howard, Michael Kiwanuka, Treetop Flyers, Daughter and To Kill A King.


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