Power; Warp Records: An Industry Powerhouse

By George Kowalik

By thirty years old, we’re supposed to have pulled ourselves together, gained some sort of direction, and have evidence of success to be proud of. But the reality is that we’re lucky if we’ve done even one of these.

Perhaps it’s because we’re only human. An example of achieving all three is English independent record label Warp Records, who this year celebrate the 30th anniversary since their founding in Sheffield. There are few labels considered as important to the UK’s alternative music scene; Warp were responsible for vital names in ‘90s electronic and dance, and today work with artists right across the board: everything from IDM to indie rock, R&B to hip-hop.

Warp Records

Just a selection of the artists worked with accentuates the label’s central position within the past three decades of music. The list is dominated by electronic music, but not exclusive to it: Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Flying Lotus and Oneohtrix Point Never; alternative hip-hop innovators Death Grips and Danny Brown; US rock four-piece Grizzly Bear. But the impressive names could go on, almost interminably: Andrew Weatherall, Boards of Canada, Hudson Mohawke, Maxïmo Park, Mira Calix, Mount Kimbie, Nightmares on Wax…

It’s undeniable: Warp are a powerhouse. They’re an organisation that both form the musical zeitgeist and then help decide where to take it next. For the past three years alone, they’ve been responsible for some of the most acclaimed albums in each respective year, take 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition (Danny Brown), 2017’s Take Me Apart (Kelela), last year’s Age Of (Daniel Lopatin AKA Oneohtrix Point Never), or this year’s Flamagra (by Flying Lotus, but featuring everyone from Solange to David Lynch).

Oneohtrix Point NeverDaniel Lopatin as Oneohtrix Point Never. Like many electronic artists, Daniel uses his medium as a means to play on the idea of duel identities and monikers

Warp also work cross-medium, giving space to their artists to delve into film and soundtrack work. 2012 horror film Berberian Sound Studio was directed by Peter Strickland but soundtracked by Birmingham rock band Broadcast; 2017 crime film Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson, contained an original music score composed by Oneohtrix Point Never, with a closing track (and credits sequence) featuring Iggy Pop. Both projects were met with simultaneous film and soundtrack acclaim.

Creatively, Warp are always looking forward and backward. Brian Eno, the undisputed Godfather of electronica, the man who coined the term “ambient music”, has released music as a band member, solo artist and collaborative producer since the early ‘70s; but he has only worked with Warp since 2012. After leaving Roxy Music in 1973, Eno released his first (and most celebrated) solo albums under Island Records, before working with David Bowie on his “Berlin Trilogy” for RCA, and then producing the second, third and fourth Talking Heads albums for Sire.

But he’s a powerful voice in the music industry to this day, and still releases solo projects that are circulated, talked about and rated highly. The most recent three of these were Warp properties. It’s a testament to the label’s reputation that they’re able to work with Eno at this point in his career, while he continues to evolve and reinvent and help pave the way for the next chapter in contemporary music.

Brian EnoBrian Eno at Whitehall’s ‘Stop the War’ protest against Syria, 2015

But Warp’s poster child is and always has been Aphex Twin (AKA Richard David James). Best known for 1994’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II – which has placed high on “best of the decade” lists from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Spin – he’s only released four studio albums since (all on Warp), but there’s few artists in the genre with the same kind of cult following, if any. Aphex Twin rarely plays live shows; when he does, they sell out almost instantly. He’s a curiously enigmatic public figure, rarely giving interviews, invariably releasing his music without warning or much of a marketing campaign. As an artist, his entire image is a play on the idea of creative anonymity – his distorted, grinning face has been a motif for his own posters and album covers throughout his career. Between 2001 and 2014, he took a hiatus as Aphex Twin, but issued music under the aliases AFX, The Tuss and Caustic Window, which he also did in the early ‘90s under AFX and Polygon Window.

In a rare 2001 interview, he famously joked that “a lot of people think everything electronic is mine. I get credited for so many things, it’s incredible. I’m practically everyone, I reckon – everyone and nobody.” It’s entirely a reflection of his power – both within electronica and the music industry generally – that he’s able to retain an almost non-existent public persona in our culture of Instagram followings and celebrity-obsessive media.

Aphex Twin street artAphex Twin is known by the trademark logo he designed in 1991. He often teases new music or tour announcements through its appearance in some of the world’s biggest cities (here: 2014 album Syro, in New York City)

Warp Records are the power giving Aphex Twin the creative space to work this way. For their 30th, the label has a series of events and releases planned, which begun two weeks ago when NTS Radio hosted a Warp takeover: a platform to air over 100 hours of exclusive mixes, live sessions, unreleased music and curated archive recordings. And over the weekend of the 22nd and 23rd of June, Death Grips surprise released a thirty-minute mixtape of unreleased/remixed material, also to coincide with the 30th anniversary.

This must be the start of much to come. Warp are celebrating, as they deserve to. It’ll be a birthday to remember: the music release equivalent of unscrewing the champagne and drinking to you black out, full of exciting new material from the label’s eclectic list of artists. The hangover in the morning will be a killer.



Visit here for more details on Warp, the records they’ve released and their 30th anniversary plans

Image credits:
Warp logo – Mwtoews
Oneohtrix Point Never – Grantb88
Brian Eno – Marek Koudelka
Aphex Twin logo – Autopilot
(all Wikimedia Commons)

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