UK is home to many legendary record labels, some independent, some major and many somewhere in between. Many of these labels were born out of the DIY punk movement in the late 70s, and that DIY ethos continues to inform the attitudes of labels today.
It can be hard to know where to look when you’re researching labels, so we’ve done some of that work for you. This guide presents 25 labels that are currently releasing music, gives you their history, and tells you what kind of music they focus on.
Getting to know the fascinating landscape of the labels in your scene is entirely worthwhile. Let this serve as your introduction.
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Beggars Banquet Records
Beggars Banquet Records is an independent label that started as a chain of record shops owned by Martin Mills. Initially, the label was releasing punk music at the forefront of the DIY punk movement in the late 70s.
The label went on to release music by Bauhaus, The Charlatans, The Cult, The National, St. Vincent and more. Musically, their focus remains alternative.
More importantly, Beggars Banquet turned into the Beggars Group, which is a group of some of the most influential British independent labels of all time. This includes 4AD, Matador Records, Rough Trade Records, XL Recordings and Young Turks.
The label is completely independent but wildly successful. Beggars Group has three offices in London, New York and LA, as well as offices in all of their major territories.
Founder and chairman of Beggars Group Martin Mills has become a key advocate for independent artist and label rights. Mills and his labels are incredibly influential.
4AD is a British independent record label, founded in 1980. It is a part of the Beggars Group, meaning it was originally funded by the Beggars Banquet label.
The label gained prominence in the 80s by releasing some of the best alt-rock, post-punk, gothic rock and dream pop artists of the time. Cocteau Twins, Bauhaus, and Modern English were among their roster.
4AD is still relevant today, releasing music from international artists like Bon Iver, St. Vincent, Red House Painters and TV On The Radio.
Their current roster includes The National, Beirut, Deerhunter, Big Thief, Purity Ring and Future Islands. It’s safe to say they are one of the most important indie labels on the UK scene.
Their releases span alt-rock to alternative and experimental folk. To get an idea of what they are releasing, check out The National, Beirut and Big Thief. You’ll hear some similarities!
Alcopop! Records is an independent British label that is well known for their innovative release strategies and political leanings. They work with artists like Johnny Foreigner, Fight Like Apes, Peaness, and The QI Elves.
The label mostly releases indie-rock artists who have a bit of an edge or alternative sound. It doesn’t hurt if the artists are a little political either.
In a controversial move, in 2015, Alcopop! stepped in after a hacker cancelled the British, right-wing political party UKIP’s website contract and temporarily purchased their domain. They filled the website with multi-colored unicorns and pro-immigration messages.
They later released a 7” record called The Wit and Wisdom of Nigel Farage which, as you might expect, was completely silent. The profits of the release went to Migrants Rights Network.
The label prides itself on releasing in a variety of formats. They have put out singles and EPs cut on Frisbees, scarves, bespoke watches and a Minidisc. They were also the first label in the UK to release a podcast on vinyl.
Domino is one of the longest running and most successful independent labels in the UK. Their high-profile releases include Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys and The Kills.
But they also a release a lot of post-punk, alt-rock and unusual British music. Some of these more unusual artists get released under one of Domino Recordings many imprints – Weird World, Double Six Records, Geographic Music, and Rekords Rekords.
They release everything from Cass McCombs (alt-folk) and Four Tet (electronic) to Arctic Monkeys (rock). They are a well-established, taste-making label.
Damaged Goods was formed in 1988 in east London. They are a classic British punk label. They were founded in a living room and have been slowly growing by releasing a slew of classic punk records.
They are still relevant and active today. In 2010, they were named DIY Label of the Week by BBC, and they continue to release music by up and comers like Amyl And The Sniffers, The Galileo Seven, Thee Dagger Debs and The Shadracks.
The label releases punk rock, garage and indie pop.
Founded in the late 90s, brothers Ollie and Matt Jacob started Memphis Industries. The label was initially created to release EPs for friends, but their first signing Blue States delivered the album Nothing Changes Under the Sun, a surprise success.
The label initially released a lot of chill wave, before releasing The Go! Team, which also became a major success. They have now released music by Poliça (R&B) and Field Music, both of which also found success.
Memphis Industries has a sizeable active roster of indie, indie pop, dream pop, chill wave, R&B and more. Everything tends to have an indie bent to it, but at the end of the day, the music they release must grab the attention of the staff and the Jacob brothers at the head of the label.
Bella Union was started by the Cocteau Twins (Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie) after they had released records with 4AD for most of their career. The label was a vehicle for releasing their own work and their collaborations with other artists.
The label persisted even after the band had split up. They signed the Aussie instrumental rock band Dirty Three, alt-rock band The Czars and melancholic French chanteuse Françoiz Breut.
In 2008, they released the Fleet Foxes, which became an international success. The album went platinum and sold over a million copies.
The label wasted no time capitalizing on this success, releasing several successful follow ups by Father John Misty, Beach House, Explosions in the Sky, M. Ward, The Flaming Lips and more.
The label releases alt-rock, indie-rock, instrumental rock, indie-folk and more.
British label Audio Antihero was formed in 2009. They release indie, lo-fi, alternative, acid folk and other left-field genres.
Their first two releases by Nosferatu D2 and Benjamin Shaw brought the label attention and support from BBC, Resonance FM and Pitchfork. From there, the label signed more artists and released a series of EPs and albums.
The label’s profile rose through the 2010s and has been described as “possibly the greatest one man label in the world”. Because of the DIY nature of the label, they have a modest roster of 14 artists, but their compilations include many more.
Rough Trade Records
As mentioned earlier, Rough Trade Records is an independent label that's part of the Beggars Group. It was formed in 1978. They successfully promoted and sold punk rock, post-punk and indie pop bands like The Smiths and The Desperate Bicycles.
The Smiths alone make them prominent. While they were influential throughout the 70s and 80s, the company went bankrupt in 1991.
They were relaunched in 2000 as an independent entity. Since then, they partnered with Beggars Group and released major acts like Warpaint, Howler, Dean Blunt and more.
Today, their roster is as diverse as ever – ranging from alt-rock, post-punk, to psychedelic rock, reggae, electronica and soul. The only thing artists require is fit – Rough Trade ethos and vibe.
Young Turks is another Beggars Group label that was founded in 2006. Originally, it was an imprint of XL Recordings, but it is now a successful and influential label in its own right.
Their current roster includes electronica superstars The xx, indie darling FKA Twigs, Jamie xx and modern jazz legend Kamasi Washington.
The label grew out of all-night dance parties that were called “Young Turks’”. The parties became very popular, and at nineteen, Caius Pawson took a job in A&R at XL Recordings to establish a small label called Young Turks.
The label releases electronica and indie music with a decidedly electronic twist. Their most successful release was The xx’s debut album xx.
Rocket Girl is a London-based independent label releasing mostly experimental, alt-rock, ambient, electronic and psychedelic music. The label was founded in 1997 and has been credited for launching many “lo-fi classics”.
Some of their popular releases include records by Robin Guthrie, Pieter Nooten, God Is an Astronaut, Bell Gardens and A Place to Bury Strangers.
The label’s current roster focuses on experimental music of all genres. Noise rock, electronica, psychedelic and lo-fi are all represented on their roster.
Red Girl Records
Red Girl Records is a London-based independent label founded by former Spice Girl Melanie C. Melanie C was once “Sporty Spice”, but has gone on to establish herself as a wildly successful solo artist, releasing rock and pop records.
After parting ways with her major record label, Virgin Records, in 2004, Melanie C started Red Girl Records to release her own records and other records she and her manager liked.
The label focuses primarily on rock, pop and indie.
Peacefrog Records is an independent label based in London. They release primarily electronic music, but have branched out into folk and indie artists as well.
One of their major successes has been José Gonzálezz, Swedish indie-folk songwriter. The label was responsible for José’s major success in sync licensing.
Much of the label’s roster is made up of techno artists, including popular acts like Luke Slater, Moodymann and Suburban Knight. They are still releasing lots of new music.
Peacefrog Records also has an active music publishing company, which covers everything from new wave and folk to pop to electronica.
Outta Sight Records
Outta Sight Records (aka Outta Sight Soul Essentials) was formed in the UK in 2006. They were an imprint within the Sanctuary Records, conceived in order to reissue the soul catalog owned by the group.
The label is based in the West Midlands (Warwickshire) and focuses on Northern Soul and rare soul music. For example, they released previously unreleased material by the Detroit girl group The Heartstoppers.
The label focuses on releasing soul music that otherwise would never have seen the light of day. They dominated the Northern Soul scene for over eight years and continue to be influential today.
3 Beat Records
3 Beat Records is an independent label founded in 1989. Initially, the label was a dance music record store, but they started putting out music in 1991.
3 Beat was also a management company for many years, offering artist management as well as distribution to many independent labels in the scene. The label was noted for consistently selling over 20,000 units of vinyl for their releases, even when vinyl was not popular.
As recently as 2011, the label achieved their first UK No. 1 single, with “Loca People” by Sak Noel, a record producer and artist.
The label focuses primarily on dance music, house music, electronica, pop and more. They’ve released music for Agnes, who was the winner of Swedish Idol. They are based in Liverpool.
Tempa is a garage and dubstep label founded in 2000 by Neil Jolliffe. Jolliffe is known to have coined the term “dubstep” in 2002.
The label was considered a key part of the formation of dubstep as a popular genre. Tempa Recordings is closely associated with labels Big Apple, and Ammunition, who were also on the forefront of dubstep.
DJ and producer Youngsta is the face of the label, and has been in charge of A&R since its inception. One of their most popular releases was “Midnight Request Line” by early dubstep artist Skream in 2005.
They have a large and influential roster focusing mostly on dubstep and UK Garage music. Tempa is based in London.
Stolen Recordings is an independent label based in Tottenham, London. Their first release was in May of 2005.
In 2009, they founded Stolen Publishing and partnered with the Beggars Music group, which significantly raised their status and influence. They went on to win the AIM Award for Best Small Label in 2011.
Stolen’s roster included alt-rock, indie rock and rock. Their artists include Japanese band Bo Ningen, American rock band JEFF the Brotherhood, UK-based Race Horses, and English harpist/singer-songwriter Serafina Steer.
Suburban Base Records
Suburban Base Records was one of the biggest breakbeat, rave, jungle and drum and bass record labels. Now defunct, they operated from 1989 to 1997 and were hugely influential.
Danny Donnelly started the label as a record store specializing in dance music and released his own track called “Hypersonic”. This track exploded, and from there he founded the Suburban Base label.
The label was at the forefront of the drum jungle/drum and bass movement, releasing tracks by DJ Hype and Boogie Time Tribe. The label’s Drum & Bass Selection compilation series sold over 300,000 copies.
The label does not accept new artist submission, but will license tracks from its back catalog for compilation use, placements and so on.
Southern Fried Records
The label was founded in 1994 to release his own music and other artists’ releases the major labels wouldn't touch. The label maintains a focus on alternative electronic dance music.
Southern Fried Records has featured some of the electronic scene’s leaders like Cook himself (either as Fatboy Slim or his pseudonym Mighty Dub Katz) as well as electro funk pioneer Kurtis Mantronik.
Now, the label is releasing more album-based artists like The Whip, The Black Ghosts, Crookers, and Brighton Port Authority. Still, their focus is on house, electro, breaks, techno, indie and dance music.
Unrelated to Southern Fried Records, Southern Records is closely associated with Crass Records, Corpus Christi Records and Dischord Records. Southern Records is based in London.
Originally, Southern was a recording studio owned by John Loder, but it morphed into a label with the release of Loder’s experimental progressive band EXIT. This band was a collaboration with author, musician and poet Penny Rimbaud.
The label then released Rimbaud’s anarchist punk band Crass. Crass needed their own record label due to the blasphemous nature of some of their lyrics.
Ever since, Southern Records and their associated labels have released punk, anarchist, metal and post-punk records. They release records by like-minded artists that don’t have a home in traditional labels.
Visible Noise Records
Visible Noise is a British independent label. It was founded in 1998, since then, they've been releasing British bands exclusively.
The label was founded by Julie Weir, who worked for Cacophonous Records. The goal of the label was to break new UK rock music, because she believed that everybody gave American bands too much attention.
Bullet for My Valentine, Bring Me the Horizon and The Stupids were all popular releases for the label. Their current roster is small, home to The Dead Formats and Blitz Kids.
Their focus on British rock, alt-rock, indie-rock, emo and hardcore is unchanged.
Wrath Records was founded in 2002 in Leeds. The small label is entirely independent, without backing from major labels.
The label was originally set up by the English rock band The Scaramanga Six to produce and market their own records. They then went on to release records by Beachbuggy, Eureka Machines, The Lodge and Magoo.
Their focus is on alternative popular music. They are still active and represent an old-school DIY ethos that will send you back to the British punk days.
Transgressive Records is an independent record label based in London, founded in 2004. Their debut release was a song called “At 1AM” by English rock band The Subways.
This single was quickly followed by successful releases from bands like Mystery Jets, Young Knives and popular artist Regina Spektor.
The label now releases electronic, pop, indie-pop, alt-rock, punk rock and dance music. One of their biggest artists is the massively successful producer/DJ Flume. They are also home to American indie darling Alvvays.
Transgressive also has a management company looking after Johnny Flynn, Let’s Eat Grandma and Blaenavon. Their publishing arm is home to Two Door Cinema Club, Foals and more.
Xtra Mile Recordings
Xtra Mile Recordings is an independent label based in London. They were founded in 2003 and release an eclectic mix of artists with a focus on rock and folk.
Their first artists were post-hardcore band Million Dead and alt-rock band Reuben. Million Dead split up and produced Frank Turner – Frank Turner became a massive success, performing at the London 2012 Olympics and selling out Wembley Arena.
The label continues to focus on breaking new artists instead of acquiring established ones. They don’t have a particular genre that they focus on, but rock and folk with an alternative bent seem to prevail.
Recently, they’ve released successful records for Skinny Lister and Will Varley, and announced distrobution deals with companies in the US and Canada.
Tigertrap Records is a London-based label established in 2005 by two writers from the Drowned In Sound magazine. Their focus was on breaking some of the unknown talent that they had come across during their time as writers.
The label had a hit with 586’s single “We Got Bored”. It became an indie club hit and opened the door for the label to sign new artists.
Over the years, the label has focused on alt-rock, indie-rock and punk rock. Their roster is active and includes acts like Gum Takes Tooth, Fidel, Pseudo Nippon and Comanechi.
Top Record Labels In The UK, Conclusion
How many of the above record labels and artists were you familiar with? Isn't it amazing to see the broad range of talent represented by each?
Whether you're interested in collaborating or partnering with a label, it can be helpful to know what labels are out there. It all starts with researching and knowing what you're all about as an artist. Then, you must keep an eye on it as it evolves.