The Greatest Indie Labels Of All Time

20 indie imprints you need to know.


Based: London
Years active: 2004–Present
History: Formed after founders Tim Dellow and Toby L met at a Bloc Party gig a decade ago, Transgressive has been putting out indie’s great and good ever since. The label recently celebrated ten years in the game with a special show at London’s Barbican, headlined by early favourites Mystery Jets.
Essential records: Mystery Jets, ‘Zoo Time’ (2005), Larrikin Love ‘Happy As Annie’ (2005), Foals ‘Antidotes’ (2008), Graham Coxon ‘The Spinning Top’ (2009), The Antlers ‘Burst Apart’ (2011)



Based in: Anstruther, Fife, Scotland
Years active: 1997 – Present
History: When the record shop Kenny Anderson worked in went belly-up, he bought the lease and started flogging home-recorded CDs. It’s retained that communal bonhomie, making it feel like a dusty little haven untouched by the music industry. All of its roster creaks with close-knit vibes.


Based: London
Years Active: 1968 – present
History: Named after reggae legend Duke Reid’s soundsystem, itself namedafter the brand of seven-tonne trucks needed to transport his speakers, Trojan is responsible for some of the best dub, dancehall and rock steady sounds of all time. Such was the imprint’s massive sway with British audiences, it even bred its own subculture: the “Trojan skinhead”, combining mod fashion with Jamaican Rasta style.


Based: London.
Years Active: 2000 – present
History: If guitar jangles and emotional sing-along anthems are your thing, chances are one of your favourite bands from the past decade have passed through Wichita’s doors.



Based: London
Years Active: 1993 – Present
History: Though its initial batch of releases comprised of licensing underground, American artists in the UK, a stream of new signings found Domino at the forefront of British indie – particularly when they provided an early home for Arctic Monkeys.
Essential records: Sebadoh – ‘Soul And Fire’ (1993); Pavement – ‘Brighten The Corners’ (1997); Franz Ferdinand – ‘Franz Ferdinand’ (2004); Arctic Monkeys – ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ (2006); Wild Beasts ¬ ‘Limbo, Pa


Based: Sheffield, before an early ‘00s move to London
Years Active: 1989 – present
History: Something strange was happening in Northern clubs as the 1980s drew to a close: an eerie new sound. Warp began as an outlet for artists dabbling in this, founded in the back room of a record shop with a government grant.


Based in: Manchester
Years Active:
1978 – 1992
History: Named after a nightclub in Manchester, Factory was the northern abode for post-punk and the ‘Madchester’ scene. Home to New Order, Happy Mondays, James and Joy Division, the legend of its roster was only surpassed by the legend of its fucked financial state. By 1992 Factory Communications had declared bankruptcy, but its considerable back catalogue is testament to 14 years of brilliance.


Based in: London
Years: 1990 – Present
History: They took a punt on the Manic Street Preachers,back when nobody else would touch them with a bargepole. They championed the woozy romance of St Etienne and Doves and the folktronica of Beth Orton. They put on some of the biggest BOSH nights of the ‘90s with their club night The Heavenly Social, providing a platform for the fledgling Chemical Brothers and helping to spawn Big Beat.


Based: London
Years active: 1978 – Present
History: Under Daniel Miller’s stewardship, Mute has become a worship ground for angst-filled and lust-ridden devotees of stern music the world over – and its iconic association with Depeche Mode, helping them become one of the planet’s biggest bands, is cause for celebration on its own. Mute’s brilliance is in its diversity: as natural a home to the sparkling synthpop of Yazoo and Erasure as it is the demonic thundering of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds and Einstürzende Neaubauten.

11 DFA

Based: New York
Years Active: 2001 – Present
History: Founded in New York by Mo’ Wax co-founder Tim Goldsworthy and DJ James Murphy, DFA snowballed from an idea hatched at Lower East side parties into an international phenomenon, serving as a launching pad for acts like The Rapture, The Juan MacLean and LCD Soundsystem. These days, neither Goldsworthy or Murphy are much involved in the running of DFA (indeed, the former production partners are currently embroiled in a nasty-sounding lawsuit), leaving co-founder Jonathan Galkin in charge.


Based: London
Years Active: 1978 – Present
History: Rough Trade has grown from a small west London record shop into one of Britain’s most beloved independent labels. The early years were marked by releases from Pere Ubu and Subway Sect but it was The Smiths who put Rough Trade on the map, though Morrissey’s relationship with them was testy.


Based: Olympia, Washington and Portland, Oregon
Years active: 1991-present
History: The label’s first ever release was 1991’s self-titled compilation featuring Nirvana (‘Beeswax’), Courtney Love (‘Don’t Mix The Colors’) and Bikini Kill (‘Feels Blind’). The origins of riot grrrl and grunge are there.


Based: Brooklyn
Years Active: 2008–present
History: Founder Mike Sniper started off his label promoting old-school values – taking a punt on bands before they’d been engulfed with hype.


Based: London
Years Active: 1976-1985, 2007-present
History: Though Stiff has come to be associated with punk and new wave, the label had theirroots in the pub rock scene of the mid-’70s – it was started with a £400 loan from Dr Feelgood’s Lee Brilleaux. Founder Jake Riviera described Stiff’s philosophy as “very simple indeed. Basically, we want to put out singles that are two and a half minutes long and have two and a half chords in them”.


Based: London
Years Active: 1983-1999
History: Creation went from a champion of doomed-to-obscurity indie acts to being the biggest and most celebrated label of its era. Two things made this possible: being assimilated by Sony in 1992 and the advent of Britpop, with which its legacy is irreversibly entwined. Along the way, however, they also released some of the most seminal records of the ’80s and ’90s.


Based: Seattle
Years active: 1986-present
History: Their ethos, according to co-founder Bruce Pavitt, was to focus on all “this primal rock stuff that was coming out”. So they signed Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Tad and Nirvana. The rest is history and Sub Pop was the epicentre of the grunge explosion. Pavitt left in 1996, after Sub Pop decided to get into bed with Warner.


Based: Long Beach, California
Years active: 1978-now (sort of)
History: Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn had his own electronics business, Solid State Transmitters, by his early teens. In the late ’70s SST became a label, with a strict anti-establishment ethos that even angered the hardcore scene when SST began releasing more out-there records by Minutemen and Meat Puppets.


Based: London
Years active: 1989-present
History: XL began as an offshoot of the Beggars Group, specialising in rave. It has since transcended, however, becoming one of the UK’s most respected indies. XL sign few artists, those they do are afforded total creative freedom.


Based: Bristol
Years active: 1987–1995
History: Sarah’s legacy is in thinking gloriously big, and believing that a label is more than a catalogue of disparate releases. They spanned everything from jangly, guitar-pop to ’70s DIY, but they all shared a knack for wide-eyed melodic vulnerability.

1 4AD

Based: London
Years active: 1979–Present
History: Birthed as a testing lab for Beggars Banquet, Watts-Russell and Kent bought the label outright in 1980 and established it as a workshop for alternative alchemists, courtesy of Bauhaus and Cocteau Twins, and graphic designer Vaughan Oliver’s artwork.