10 Best Indie Labels of the Last Decade
While the major label system took a major hit when it was slow to adapt to last decade's rapidly shifting tech landscape, the independent music industry embraced the changes. Behemoths like Universal Music Group had to wade through the piles of paperwork their business-affairs departments threw their way, slowing their reaction time to a crawl and leaving the door open for much smaller indie labels to sweep in and grow alongside the tech companies bringing on the changes.
Suddenly, indie labels didn't have to spend half of an album's budget on quarter-page magazine ads to try and keep up with the majors. Indies knew music bloggers would become the new tastemakers and forged relationships with them from the get-go, giving them early access to new music and letting the word-of-mouth heat on artists spread across the Internet. It's never been easier to discover music (new and old), and with that in mind, we salute the 10 Best Indie Labels of the Last Decade.
Based in Bloomington, Ind., far from all the industry noise of NYC and L.A., Jagjaguwar has established itself as an important force in indie music since forming in 1996. Never tied to a single genre or music scene, the label counts Oneida and Okkervil River among its early successes. More recently, Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ became a watershed moment for Jagjaguwar, with the album garnering year-end list love from Rolling Stone and the Village Voice, among many other outlets.
Started by New Jersey musician Mike Simonetti in 2007 as a spinoff imprint of his long-running Troubleman Unlimited Records label, Italians Do It Better has carved out its own identity through a constant slew of quality Italo-disco, synth-pop and post-punk releases. The label’s not-so-secret weapon is producer/composer Johnny Jewel, who does for IDIB what Harry Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine Band did for TK Records in the ‘70s, writing and producing some of the label’s best releases.
Formed by Lee Rickard and Sean Bohrman (both members of Thee Makeout Party) in 2007, Burger Records has lead the cassette revival, issuing tapes by some of garage rock and power-pop’s most exciting acts. With a retail store in Fullerton, Calif., a subsidiary label called Wiener Records and its own annual music festival known as Burgerama under its umbrella, Burger shows no sign of slowing down.
The most senior label on our list, Merge Records has been supporting the underground music scene since Superchunk bandmates Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance founded the company in 1989. The Arcade Fire, Spoon, Magnetic Fields and Neutral Milk Hotel are just a few of the influential acts that have called Merge home throughout the years. Newer artists such as The Love Language and Mikal Cronin are in line with the label’s fine pedigree.
Next on our 10 Best Indie Labels of the Last Decade list is Brooklyn-based powerhouse Captured Tracks. Beginning with Dum Dum Girls’ 2009 self-titled EP, the label has built a stellar catalog featuring some of the best noise-pop, post-punk and dream-pop you’ll hear anywhere. Captured Tracks has also gotten into the reissue game with its excellent Shoegaze Archives project, giving lesser-known ‘90s acts like deardarkhead and Should the attention they always deserved.
Also calling Brooklyn home, Mexican Summer was originally spun off by Kemado Records in 2008 as a reissue imprint, but it eventually began releasing new music by the likes of Washed Out, Tamaryn and Kurt Vile. In 2009, Mexican Summer and Kemado opened Co-Op 87, a commercial recording studio and record store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. So far, Mexican Summer found its biggest commercial success with Best Coast’s 2010 debut album, ‘Crazy for You.’
One of the youngest labels on our list, Cascine has quickly forged its reputation as a purveyor of stylish pop, Balearic and synth-pop. Taking cues from Factory Records and Kompakt, Cascine boasts a graphic design sense as strong as its musical identity, with gallery-ready artwork and photography completing each release. Recent and upcoming releases from Boat Club, Jensen Sportag and Keep Shelly in Athens will surely keep the label’s small yet dedicated staff -- based in London and NYC -- busy into 2014.
Next on our list of the 10 Best Indie Labels of the Last Decade is another with a powerful visual presence: Brooklyn’s Sacred Bones Records. Founded by Denver native Caleb Braaten in 2007, the label prints its logo – a triangle enclosed by a circular serpent – on the front of each record sleeve, tying its discography together on the visual front. On the music side, Braaten’s wide-ranging tastes (goth, psych-rock, folk) are reflected in Sacred Bones’ diverse artist roster. The label recently landed the U.S. release of ‘The Big Dream,’ cult director David Lynch’s sophomore album.
No other contemporary company championing traditionalist funk and soul has had a release schedule as consistent as Daptone Records. Founded by musicians Gabriel Roth and Neal Sugarman, the self-described “little indie label that could” is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2013 with knockout albums from soul crooner Charles Bradley, afrobeat mainstays Antibalas and veteran British R&B singer James Hunter. Daptone’s first decade has helped prove that there is still a huge audience for soul and R&B that doesn’t pander to the Billboard Hot 100 chart.