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warp records

Co-founder Steve Beckett introduces the dance label that turned left.

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Potted history
"The label grew out of a record shop in Sheffield in 1989 at the height of the acid house boom," remembers Steve Beckett, co-founder with Rob Mitchell, of Warp records. "There were loads of people bringing tapes and white labels into the shop and we just realised we were at the heart of a revolution."

Warp artists: Nightmares On Wax and Beans
Warp artists: Nightmares On Wax and Beans

So the pair began to put out records. The first was Forgemasters' Track With No Name. "We manufactured 500 white labels and drove around the country selling them to shops," Steve grins. "It was a direct thing. We’d get a record, take it to the club and you could just physically see the dancefloors going insane... Then the fifth release went into the Top 20." That release was LFO's El Ef Oh which went on to sell 130,000 copies, almost unheard of for a DIY release at the time.

Since then, the label has consistently grown in stature, taking on electronic boundary pushers like Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada and the aptly named Squarepusher. Sadly, Rob Mitchell died last year of cancer. However, the label has continued to expand, launching a hip-hop imprint, Lex Records in 1999 and Warp Films in February 2003. Their first film, My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117, won a BAFTA for its director Chris Morris. "It feels just like the record label, where we did the second or third release and we were in the Top 20," says Steve. In the words of Warp artist Mira Calix, "They're blessed".

Warp artists: Aphex Twin and Autechre
Warp artists: Aphex Twin and Autechre

What makes a Warp artist?
"When we first started, the only thing we wanted to do was put records out that absolutely killed dancefloors… in a positive way." Nowadays it tends to be "quite maverick people who are pretty much on the fringes of music. A real cross-section of artists - Beans, Vincent Gallo, Nightmares On Wax, Aphex Twin. It’s a diverse spread, but they’ve all got their roots in experiment and pushing the boundaries of whatever music they make. It’s difficult to make electronic music and make it sound your own. Someone like Aphex Twin puts himself into the music and you can hear that."

An alternative approach
Alongside its leftfield A&R policy, Warp were one of the first labels to promote dance acts like indie bands. "We realised that the way for longevity was to develop artists who released albums. We were looking up to labels like Factory and Mute and Beggars Banquet where the label takes a back seat. The artist is what develops you as a label, rather than just sticking to one sound."

Warp artists: Broadcast
Warp artists: Broadcast

Warp artists
LFO, Nightmares On Wax, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Boards Of Canada, Squarepusher, Beans, Chris Clark, Prefuse 73, Mira Calix, Broadcast, BrothomStates, Richard Divine, Vincent Gallo, Jamie Liddel, Plaid, Two Lone Swordsmen.

Steve's picks for 03
Autechre album, Draft 7.30, due 07 April.
Broadcast's Pendulum EP 05 May, album to follow in the summer.
Prefuse 73 album, One Word Extinguisher, 05 May.
Chris Clark album, Ceramics is the Bomb, 19 May. Alastair Lee 07 March 03

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Read members' comments.
  We Are Reasonable People
1 comments | last comment Mar 27, 2003
  Prefuse 73
7 comments | last comment Mar 24, 2003

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