15 Jul 2015 17:39 IST

Independent record labels that know how to innovate and disrupt

Richard Russell, the visionary behind the XL Recordings label

Indie labels are a discovery ground for new genres of music and a great business opportunity too

Record labels have, for years, been responsible for the discovery, promotion and launches of the best artistes across genres. For the audience, a record label is a great place to turn to when one wants to discover music from a new city, country or genre. Labels bring musicians, music producers, promoters, graphic designers and audio engineers together to create the addictive tunes we get hooked on to every year.

In the West, independent labels that started discovering and signing artists as early as in the 1980s are today managing some of the biggest acts in the music industry. They use websites, Soundcloud pages, Instagram accounts and more to release tracks, promote new artistes and share photos and sets from live performances, keeping fans constantly engaged with the artistes they like to listen to.

The indie music industry in India may just be finding its feet, but looking westwards for inspiration presents a hopeful picture. While we’re still waiting to see labels in India that are more inclusive and disruptive than their Western counterparts, here are three record labels that are growing and innovating every day.

Learning how they started off will perhaps help you appreciate the finer art of assembling a mind-blowing roster of artistes, that span continents, especially if you would like to set up a label, manage artists or work in the music industry someday.

Beggars Group

From its early beginnings in 1977 in Earls Court, UK, right till its current stature as home to some of the most globally recognisable independent record labels (4AD, XL Recordings, Matador, Young Turks, Rough Trade), the Beggars Group of labels is the definitive benchmark for success for aspiring labels to look up to.

As of today, it has its own worldwide independent network and is still owned by a sole proprietor, founder Martin Mills. Each label under the Beggars Group umbrella functions autonomously and has been responsible for the breakthrough of several artists over the past three decades, having released music by the likes of The XX, Prodigy, Adele, FKA Twigs, MIA and Yo La Tengo, to name a few. Quality driven diversity has always been key to the Beggars Group’s way of doing things.

‘Contra’ by Vampire Weekend, is possibly one of the happiest albums ever. Listen to it here .

Recommended artists: Jai Paul (XL), Sigur Ros (XL) Daughter (4AD), Grimes (4AD), Yo La Tengo (Matador), Jamie XX (Young Turks)

Ninja Tune

Ninja Tune logo

Started by the duo known as ‘Coldcut’ — who made this gem with Roots Manuva — Ninja Tune was created to release experimental, underground music and now prides itself on “producing quality music while serving its artistes in a way that no other label would”.

It is home to some of the most experimental artistes, world over. Notable artistes on the Ninja Tune roster include Bonobo, Dorian Concept, Jaga Jazzist, The Cinematic Orchestra, Kelis (yes, the one who sang the legendary song about how her ‘milkshake brings all the boys to the yard’) Blockhead and so on. The list just keeps getting more drool worthy.

Watch Bonobo’s official video for ‘Cirrus’ created by the very talented animator ‘Cyriak’.

Recommended artists: Bonobo, Amon Tobin, Jaga Jazzist, Machinedrum



A label that focuses primarily on electronic music from the rapidly growing LA Beat Scene — their sole representatives from Europe are Lapalux & Mr Oizo — Brainfeeder was started under the Ninja Tune umbrella in 2008 by the artiste Flying Lotus (Steven Ellison).

His initial success, along with the rise of other like-minded Los Angeles-based artistes at the time (Gaslamp Killer, Teebs, Daedelus) led to the blossoming of a healthy ecosystem that encourages honest, artistic expression.

Owing to its unique location at the heart of Los Angeles, California, Instrumental Hip Hop, and to a certain extent Jazz, is very much a part of where these artistes come from. And it seems to bleed into their music in a way that suggests they are keeping up with the times.

Here , Mtendere Mandowa, aka Teebs creates beautiful, melancholic waves in his track ‘Viewpoint’ from the album Estara.

Recommended artists: Flying Lotus, Lapalux, Taylor McFerrin, Tokimonsta

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