Independent music has been on the rise for some time now. As the record industry shifts, the benefits of major label resources are not what they used to be, and increasingly, artists are looking to smaller, boutique indie labels for support.
Unlike major most record labels, many of their smaller counterparts bring with them distinct aesthetic vibes. In part, this is just the private owners’ interests naturally manifested. But it can also be a marketing tool and guide that informs future releases, giving fans an idea of what they’re in for now and in the future.
There are thousands of independent labels of all sizes, here are five of our favorite boutique offerings, each with its own unique vibe.
This Ann Arbor, Michigan-based electronic label has built a reliable name for itself since 1999 with a well honed minimalist aesthetic that applies to everything from its music to custom merchandise. Matthew Dear is Ghostly’s marquee artist and was founded on the release of his first 12″ single, but the roster is deep otherwise with releases from Com Truise, Tycho, Gold Panda, School of Seven Bells and more. Always working on new product collaborations, shining light on hip craftspeople and companies, you can come for the music and stick around for the custom branded ceramic Mirth cups.
An amalgam of music industry offerings, the Sydney, Australia,-based record label/artists management team/touring agency/event producers Future Classic has been on a hot streak over the past couple years with releases by local acts Flume, Chet Faker, Jaguar Ma, Panama, Flight Facilities, Seekae and more. In part, the name says it all, as their artists have quickly risen to favorites on all sides of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Turns out the Sydney sound is real and very cool.
For anyone who ever thought Orange County, Calif., was vapid and devoid of culture, Burger Records stands as a testament otherwise. The Fullterton-founded label and record shop was founded in 2007 by the members of power pop trio Thee Makeout Party and has since gone on to release a handful of your favorite albums, primarily on cassette tapes. The attitude is all DIY, as the selections lean towards garage and punk rock, while their favoring of cassettes and avid following have allowed them to work with acts signed to other labels, basically for cool points. Those include the Black Lips, King Tuff, The Growlers, Ty Segall, FIDLAR and even heavyweights like Ryan Adams, Dave Grohl and Thurston Moore. Promoting shows and festivals of their own, the following is real.
Best known as Diplo’s record label, the producer and DJ has built his own irreverent culture with Mad Decent that goes far beyond your standard EDM releases. Thanks to a number of properties — like the Jeffrees singles club, the “Diplo and Friends” radio show on BBC Radio 1, and maybe the biggest of all the annually touring Mad Decent Block Party — Mad Decent has built an ecosystem with multiple points of entry where all roads lead to fun. From Diplo’s many projects (Major Lazer, Jack Ü and one-off collaborations) to releases by Dillon Francis, Riff-Raff, Zeds Dead and more, Mad Decent is a favorite of fans and artists.
The label Flying Lotus founded some 7 years ago seems to really be hitting its stride these days, thanks to releases by funk maestro Thundercat, jazz phenom Kamasi Washington, as well as past works by Matthewdavid, Gaslamp Killer and Tokimonsta. It’s not just the catalogue or celebrity that Flying Lotus adds that make Brainfeeder an exciting label to watch, but the attitude of trippy exploration that’s ever-present that runs through its releases that gives cause for excitement. It’s heady stuff, but as the name suggests that’s food for the brain.