The future of music

20 Indie Music Labels You Should Know (Indie Record Labels)

June 8, 2023
indie record labels

Indie as a genre has been having a sustained moment over the last thirty years, and indeed, is responsible for possibly the most thrilling, intellectually challenging, iconoclastic output since the Renaissance.

Dramatics aside, indie niches of all sorts have assuredly and swiftly upended the dull conventions and trite conformities of popular music. 

And behind nearly all the most restless, enlivening, cerebral indie acts is a music label doing the leg work, running the campaigns, and booking the initial shows.

Indie has taken shape around the world, and is, by its very nature, unbound from any strictly delineated geographic bounds.

So too are the best indie music labels, which cover a broad range of cities, some glittering, some more nondescript.

Whether you are seeking out underground acclaim for yourself, or you just want to locate the hotbeds of your new favorite musicians, this list will sort you out. 

1. 4AD

4AD

Affiliated with Beggars Banquet, Britain’s preeminent label, 4AD was launched in 1980 and has been a valiant, ravenous supporter of indie, garage, and underground rock since its inception.

It is no coincidence that 4AD’s profile rose along with the entire alternative genre it championed, being intimately involved in so many individual artists’ ascents.

Everyone from quirky-twee Pixies to sumptuous Bon Iver to NYC garage-tinged TV on the Radio to cerebral Future Islands calls 4AD their spiritual home.

A blend of indulgent, resistant, candidly realistic tendencies animates 4AD’s vision and they continue to eschew garden variety acts for something more singular, and ultimately, more disruptive.

2.  Sub Pop

Sub Pop

If you know music, you know the name Sub Pop – the clearinghouse for the grunge movement and the label behind Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and every other Seattle breakthrough from the nineties you can think of.

If that wasn’t breathlessly cool enough, it started out as an eighties fanzine called Subterranean Pop, where founder Bruce Pavitt shared his fervent, insatiable passion with a cadre of Washington alt lovers and loyal zine-readers.

While they have since pivoted beyond a narrow commitment to grunge and alternative and embraced artists from a diverse medley of genres, they have retained their iconoclastic, devil-may-care sense of aloof cool. 

3. Captured Tracks

Captured Tracks

Founded in 2008, Brooklyn-based Captured Tracks lives and creates under the radar, making them an elusive, dangerously cryptic outfit in an already mystifying genre. 

Their roster is a who’s who of lounge-worthy, arthouse, chilled-out magic-makers like Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing, DIIV, and Mac DeMarco.

Their sound is ethereal, spaced-out, and expansive and their artists all share a certain sonic tendency, best described as an introspective, blissful, serene kind of postmodern poetry.

If you want to encounter a sculptural, art school dropout-approved musical ecosystem, you’d be well off to familiarize yourself with Captured Track’s buzzy, woefully trendy roster.  

4. Domino Recording Company

Domino Recording Company

Founded in 1993 in, of all places, a South London bedroom, Domino has been an imposing figure in indie rock for thirty years now. 

Its founders Jacqui Rice and Laurence Bell cut their teeth experimenting with different forms and styles but quickly found their creative home as the engine behind indie rock’s most enduring, vital names.

We’re talking influential, cinematic acts like Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Hot Chip, and Neutral Milk Hotel; bands that truly run the spiritual gamut of the indie universe.

Whatever Domino touches, or puts its formidable weight behind, is a sure thing – it remains an incisive, visionary tastemaker and one of the indie labels all music aficionados need to know. 

5. Rough Trade Records

Rough Trade Records

Perhaps one of the most storied entries, London-born Rough Trade began its life as a record store in 1976 which is about as rapturous and glittering as you can get.

In its incarnation as a record label, it has distributed and promoted the work of indie powerhouses like The Strokes and  Arcade Fire and intimate newcomers like Beach Fossils and Lanterns On The Lake.

At this point in time, they are a one-stop musical, cinematic, and literary launching pad, a place where you can listen to curated Rough Trade playlists and fully steep yourself in the wide-ranging, fertile universe they have created.

6. XL Recordings

XL Recordings

Probably the record label with the most mainstream appeal XL began its life as an offshoot of the British label Beggars Banquet Records, one of the world’s best and brightest.

When it was founded in 1989 it capitalized on the inchoate electronic, techno, and rave genres that were coming to life.

In the nineties, they were the giant shadow looming behind Brit greats Radiohead, which allowed them to show off their star-making, cross-over chops.

One of their buzziest releases was the White Stripes’ album White Blood Cells but they don’t merely set their sights on bands with radio appeal. 

They fearlessly and brazenly champion eclectic, catalytic new artists who don’t fit so neatly into the Top 40 fold. 

7. Jagjaguwar

Jagjaguwar

Formed in 1996, the mystifyingly named Jagjaguwar was born in the most unlikely of provenances: Bloomington, Indiana. 

And the idiosyncrasies don’t end there – founder Darius Van Arman has long been a courageous seeker of the eclectic, stratospheric, and erudite in all its musical forms. 

They have produced three Bon Iver albums and launched the quirky, minimalistic careers of the indie-lo-fi act Unknown Mortal Orchestra. 

If you name-drop any Jagjaguwar act you can rest assured that you’ll elevate your own position in painfully hip alternative circles the world over.

8. Transgressive Records

Transgressive Records

Transgression is kind of the catchword of the entire indie movement, isn’t it? Transgressing expectations, boundaries, and tired norms – that’s the genre for you.

Formed in 2004 by Tim Dellow and Toby L, two blokes who met at a Bloc Party concert, Transgressive is the dreamy, unrestrained provenance of indie-pop and rock acts Alvvays, Neon Indian, and Hippo Campus.

Mainstream crossovers like Flume and Damon Albarn also sing Transgressive’s praises through their singular musical visions.

In Transgressive’s own words, the elements of adventure and surprise animate all of their representation choices, and they never deviate from their defiant, cheeky ethos.

9. Young Turks

Young Turks

In a genre where curated, elevated rosters and intentional releases are the norms, London-born Young Turks may be even more elusive and enviable than most.

It keeps its roster fairly small and is radically choosy about who it gets behind which means one thing for listeners: tightly constructed, consistently trendy output you can trust.

Its high standards show in its electro-indie heavy-hitters like The xx, FKA Twigs, and SBTRKT, three acts that have transformed the shape of urbane electro-pop. 

Young Turks are taking to that exclusive gallery with a month-long waitlist and their tight-lipped, bespoke release schedule keeps indie scene-watchers on their vintage sneaker-bedecked toes.

10. Sacred Bones

sacred bones records

Evocative name aside, Sacred Bones has a well-appointed, aloof aura about it, a kind of ethereal, intellectual distance from the masses. 

They help pioneer experimental, iconoclastic sounds for those in the know and they steer clear of the banal and mundane as though they’re allergic. 

They are the record label of choice for strange, surrealist directors-turned-musicians David Lynch, John Carpenter, and Jim Jarmusch which should establish their cultist credentials to any who doubt. 

A Sacred Bones experience is audaciously strange and unencumbered by polite expectations.

11. Glassnote Records

Glassnote Records

If you love generous, big-hearted rock, smooth, dreamy folk, and charismatic rap then you already know three of Glassnote’s keynote acts: Mumford & Sons, Phoenix, and Childish Gambino.

Indeed Mumford’s 2011 album Sigh No More is the label’s bestselling album, and remains one of the foundational works of the indie-folk movement – indeed, some might consider it the Bible.

Rolling Stone Magazine ranked them the best indie label in 2011, and they certainly haven’t been slacking since then, with leading indie-pop acts like Two Door Cinema Club, spacey Flight Facilities, and whiskey-folk Teskey Brothers under their roof. 

12. Wichita

Wichita

Named after a small city in the uncommonly creative prairie state of Kansas, Wichita was founded in 2000 by Mark Bowen and Dick Green.

It has gradually and holistically built up its coterie of indie mainstays since then. 

They didn’t stay under the radar for long, though, releasing albums from early-noughties legends Bloc Party, delightfully sophomoric FIDLAR, sad-boy king Conor Oberst, and indie-dance outfit Simian Mobile Disco.

Wichita is cheeky and audacious and they don’t commit themselves to raising the profile of any one genre. 

Rather, they use every color in the palette, creating a collage of tendencies and stylistic visions: pop, electro, acoustic, and psychedelic jazz.

13. DFA

DFA

Independent record label DFA was founded in 2011 by Mo’Wax co-founder and music scene mainstay Tim Goldsworthy. 

DFA is wildly, disarmingly trendy, and almost too cool for the rest of us with their gregarious, untamed blend of dance-indie, post-punk, and indie-rock.

If you vibe to the splendor of indie mainstays The Rapture and electro-eclectic LCD Soundsystem, thank DFA for that.

A closer look at their roster reveals a veritable who’s-who of the garage-electro-indie hitmakers like Hot Chip, Prinzhorn Dance School, and Holy Ghost!

14. Mute

Mute

Born in 1978 and raised in London and New York, Mute Records was an early advocate of post-punk, new wave dream-makers Depeche Mode, surrealist auteurs Nick Cave & The Bad Seed, and the introspective intellectual Moby.

Artistic freedom and a willingness to explore both the minimalist and maximalist tendencies within indie-electro and new wave inform Mute’s recording and managing decisions.

Some of our post-modern dance faves like Goldfrapp, New Order, and Cabaret Voltaire call Mute home, and they have not lost any of their visionary dynamism and luxuriant ethos in the forty-five years since their founding. 

Their project Mute Song has a lush, verdant catalog that is 20,000 songs deep. 

15. Warp

 Warp

While it shouldn’t come as news, it deserves a reiteration: indie is not just for rock, folk, and pop – indeed, some of the most electric, shimmering indie tunes belong firmly in the electronic music aisle. 

Warp has boldly and unapologetically worked with some of the most unusual, bizarre, and visionary electronic acts in history: Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, and Boards of Canada for starters.

They continue to cultivate unsettling, minimalistic sonic palettes that confront, provoke, and mystify. 

16. Modular Recordings

Modular Recordings

Founded in 1998 in Australia, Modular has been a keen and ferocious advocate for musical flourishing down under.

Nearly every surrealist indie-synth or arthouse-tinged act to come out of Oz and Beyond has fallen under the intoxicating sway of Modular. 

Think surrealist and party-ready Australian mavericks like Cut Copy, Van She, The Preset, Bag Raiders, and Wolfmother or international big-names like Chromeo, Klaxons, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Modular loves a bit of electronica and audacity and favors artists who incorporate groundbreaking instrumentals and radiant soundscapes.  

17. Carpark Records

Carpark Records

Proving Washington D.C.’s mettle beyond politics, Carpark is obscure, cerebral, and reflective, refusing to use cheap tricks or marketing sparkle to garner critical attention.

If you ever spend a breezy, introspective afternoon listening to the serene indie-synth of Cloud Nothings, then you’re already a Carpark acolyte.

They lean toward the electro, synthy, minimalist side of indie with a passion for experimental tangents and unforeseen stylistic choices.

Many on their roster should brace themselves for broader underground success; Rituals Of Mine, Over The Atlantic, and Young Magic are too good to stay a secret for long. 

18. Matador

Matador

If you swim in the currents of the underground, you know the looming giant Matador, founded in the gritty and turbulent NYC of the late eighties, and now a mainstay of the Beggars Group.

They have a razor-focus on marketable, arresting new talent and they cast their discerning gaze on genres as rarefied and strident as indie, punk, experimental rock, and electro-alternative. 

The most prolific, intrepid acts in modern music owe much of their rise to Matador – think Belle and Sebastian, Kim Gordon, Yo La Tengo, and Spoon.

Theatrical musician Perfume Genius probably summed it up best: “To me, signing to Matador was like getting into a really good school.”

19. Tough Love Records

20 Indie Music Labels You Should Know (Indie Record Labels) 1

Founded in 2005, the team at Tough Love has been busy as heck, discovering and signing a lengthy catalog of buzzy, unconventional, luminous indie acts.

They represent a wide swathe of the indie ecosystem, and while they started out with a more singular indie-pop focus they have since expanded beyond it to a surreal and discordant melange of campy acts. 

Signed bands like Situationists, AUTOBAHN, and TOY demonstrate a fervent, wily ability to capitalize on micro-trends and brave new musical worlds, and guaranteed they will soon be spinning on all the cool kid’s stereos.

20. Asthmatic Kitty

Asthmatic Kitty

Founded by indie-folk Godfather Sufjan Stevens, this entry would get in the door based on name alone, but, to our endless delight, it doesn’t have to.

It began as a passion project and vehicle for Stevens’s own luminous, curious brand of folk but has expanded beyond that to become a champion of other indie folk acts.

Asthmatic Kitty seeks out musical poetry, thought-provoking chords, and cabin-core melodies that pay homage to the DIY, back-to-the-earth spirit behind the indie-folk ethos. 

Indie Music Labels – Final Thoughts

We hope this guide to the most unbound, resplendent record labels has given you a point of entry for discovering your new favorite bands.

Go imbibe in the eclectic, electric currents of the indie universe and consider yourself one of the trend-forward chosen ones.   

You may also like: Top UK Record Labels

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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