The best record labels are, actually, the most eclectic. Below is a list of just that-the most colorful, varied, and storied record labels (some lesser known, some renowned) and their most remarkable artists. Their rosters and their range are what makes them such standout outfits, as well as their artist’s aesthetics (in both sound and presentation). Some you’ll recognize, others you’ll be happy you discovered. Check it out below.
Established: 2006, by Johnny Jewel & Mike Simonetti
Most Notable Artists: Chromatics, Desire, Glass Candy, Symmetry, Johnny Jewel
Italians Do It Better, the 80s synth inspired, Italo-disco rooted label is the epitome of cool. Manned by the ever-enigmatic Johnny Jewel, who works as producer for nearly all instrumentals across artists and bands on the label, and Mike Simonetti (who left in 2013), the indie label does their own thing, and well. While Glass Candy and Symmetry stand out among the label’s remarkable acts, it is Chromatics and Desire that are really the most prolific and brilliant. Since appearing on Twin Peaks: The Return, Chromatics have gained greater fame, but they still remain true to their electronic sound, elusiveness, and mysteriousness rooted in filmic aesthetics and soaking hues of color. Johnny Jewel, really the mastermind of IDIB, who publishes instrumental side projects regularly, remains passionate and hardworking as ever. The band’s ever elusive project, Dear Tommy, is still on the minds of many fans. While we continue the stifling wait for the now seemingly fabled album, there’s no shortage of memorable music among the label’s extensive body of electronic, melancholic and dark dance catalog.
Established: 2006, by Caius Pawson
Most Notable Artists: The XX, Jamie xx, FKA Twigs, Sampha, Kamasi Washington
This label is singlehandedly responsible for some of the most talented alternative artists that have made major waves since their debuts in the late aughts and early ‘10s (which happen to be the notable artists listed above). Starting as an imprint of larger label XL Recordings, Young Turks soon became a full-fledged label and is up there as one of the best. After all, this is the label that brought us the beloved XX. It would, however, be a near crime not to mention the overwhelmingly talented (and even a bit underrated) FKA Twigs (who just released the excellent Magdalene last year), producer and DJ Jamie xx, and equally underrated Sampha. Simply put, the label has an eye for artistry, unique at that. Their genres also run the gamut and are diversified for it (The XX are a blend of indie rock, R&B, and dream pop, while Kamasi Washington’s sound falls under contemporary jazz, and Sampha best fits the label of alternative R&B). Hard to name a label similar to Young Turks.
Established: 1989, by Tim Palmer and Nick Halkes
Most notable Artists: Adele, The White Stripes, M.I.A., King Krule, Vampire Weekend
The parent label to Young Turks, XL Recordings is a heavy-weight in indie record labels. Like Young Turks, the label has signed artists with awesome, unique sounds, and are known for signing the one and only Adele. To say their roster is impressive would be a major understatement, and recent killer artists like house producer Yaeji are a testament to the label’s skill for scouting a wide-range of musical talent. XL is rooted in the dance genre but definitely not limited to it. When you’re a label responsible for the legendary White Stripes, Adele, Tyler the Creator, and so many countless quality artists across genres, then yeah, you’re one of the best. Enough said.
Established: 2004, by Anthony Tiffith (AKA Top Dawg)
Notable Artists: Kendrick Lamar, Sza, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, SiR
Can’t have a best labels list without including the prolific Top Dawg Entertainment. You already know who TDE is responsible for unleashing on the world, but besides Pulizter Prize winning Kendrick Lamar, the label is also responsible for bringing us the renowned (and very much loved) Sza. Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock round out the more obscure but remarkable acts on this label. TDE are relatively young, like others on this list, but their already miles ahead in terms of quality and excellence.
Established: 2012, by Tom Whalley
Most Notable Artists: St. Vincent, Soccer Mommy, Iggy Pop, Rhye, Common, Denzel Curry
For such a young label (LVR is only 8 years old), Loma Vista Recordings has a roster that makes it seem like they’ve been around for ten plus years. Not much else need be said here besides the fact that this label has taken on quality artists ranging from icon Iggy Pop to the soft, subdued vocals of Rhye, the darling St. Vincent, and, most recently, the wonderful Soccer Mommy. LVR is no slouch.
Established: 1978, by Geoff Travis
Notable Artists: Alabama Shakes, Arcade Fire, The Strokes, Sufjan Stevens
The oldest label on this list, and certainly a storied one. Rough Trade is still relevant, thriving, and still signing killer acts (see the inimitable New York native Princess Nokia as a stellar recent example). Acts in the rock genre are mainly their thing, but there are artists who dabble in other genres as well (Edward Sharp and The Magnetic Zeroes, Sufjan Stevens, and Nokia, whom is a rapper first and experimental artist second). Neil Young sang that rock and roll will never die, and it’s likely neither will Rough Trade.
Established: 1988, by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman
Notable Artists: Nirvana, Soundgarden, Father John Misty, Beach House
This list wouldn’t be complete without the likes of Sub-Pop Records holding a spot on the list. For one, the label is memorable just for its hand in facilitating the grunge movement of the ’90s. However, Sub-pop has thrived well past its grunge associations, and is responsible for putting forth the likes of Father John Misty, Beach House, The Shins, Fleet Foxes, Washed Out, Band of Horses, and many others. The label’s moniker, shortened from “Subterranean Pop”, truly lives up to its name.
Established: 1996 by DJ Peanut Butter Wolf (born Christopher George Manak)
Notable Artists: J Dilla, Madlib, Mayer Hawthorne, Madvillain, Sudan Archives
The cool, offbeat, slick oddity that is Stones Throw Records is unlike any other. It doesn’t get any more underground hip-hop than this independent label started by DJ Peanut Butter Wolf (who has a solid discography and excellent debut record himself). Stones Throw feels more like a brand name than a traditional indie record label and they’re all the better for it. They march to the beat of their own drum, which is why Stones Throw is exactly so remarkable (and one of my favorites). The most recent artist they’ve signed, Los Retros, is a new and notable act that roots his sound in the South American and Latin American pop of yesteryear. Their merchandise, thoughtful in their executions and style (see the wide array of fly graphic tees they have, plus colorful art prints that are always quick to sell out), are some of the best music-themed items around. It doesn’t hurt that they’re responsible for signing two legendary artists that crafted one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever, Madvillainy.