March 8, 2001

How Indie Is Your Music?

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Think you want to start listening to indie music? Wanna have the power to say the name of your favorite band and have everyone just go, “Huh?” Well, here’s a quick primer in the indie labels you should be checking out.

DeSoto Records: This Washington, DC-based label is the brainchild of Kim Coletta and Bill Barbot of the now-defunct hardcore band Jawbox. DeSoto’s tiny roster currently includes only five artists, but they definitely aim for quality over quantity. Some innovative DeSoto bands include The Dismemberment Plan, Burning Airlines (poppy hardcore), Juno (soaring three-guitar assault), and The Eternals (dub reggae).

Dischord Records: Started by hardcore stalwart Ian MacKaye — the frontman for Minor Threat and Fugazi — this label remains true to the spirit and intensity of MacKaye’s own music. Bluetip, Faraquet, Smart Went Crazy and many others all maintain a hardcore edge while experimenting and pushing their music outside of the genre’s traditional constraints.

Epitaph Records: This punk imprint was formed in 1980 as little more than a logo and a name thought up by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz. Little did he know at the time that his idea would grow into one of the biggest and most respected punk/ska labels ever. In addition to Bad Religion, Epitaph has housed such famed bands as the Offspring, Rancid, and NoFX.

K Records: Olympia, Washington is known as the capital for light-hearted, innocent pop music in the indie tradition, thanks mainly to Calvin Johnson — deep-voiced leader of seminal 80’s pop band Beat Happening. His label’s roster includes such quirky bands as the cut-and-paste pastiche of The Microphones and the reggae-techno of Johnson’s newest project, Dub Narcotic Sound System.

Kranky Records: Started in Chicago in 1993 by partners Bruce Adams and Joel Leoschke, this indie label is known as the home for experimental music. From the epic orchestrations of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, to the soft lullaby rock of Low, to the spacey soundscapes of Labradford, this label never fails to release a compelling album.

Merge Records: Led by Superchunk members Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, Merge is a powerhouse of an indie-pop label. Bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, The Magnetic Fields (who gained widespread critical acclaim for their unique three-disc set 69 Love Songs), and the hushed melodic pop of Lambchop all personify the very eclectic Merge sound.

Thrill Jockey: This label, owned by Bettina Richards, is at the forefront of the eclectic Chicago music scene. Thrill Jockey artists like avant-garde instrumentalists Tortoise, the jazz-pop quartet The Sea & Cake, and German electronic duo Mouse On Mars are some of the most influential acts in their respective genres. No label represents the experimental, anything-goes spirit of indie music more fully than Thrill Jockey.

— EH

Archived article by Ed Howard