In a time when major labels cashing in on the so-called ‘vinyl revival' to press an ungodly amount of Ed Sheeran LPs means ridiculous turnaround times for the very few imprints who can actually afford to go down the vinyl route, and seemingly the only way to make money from digital music being to land a sync deal or get tracks featured in a Spotify-curated playlist, it's become increasingly precarious for DIY labels to keep afloat.
Nonetheless, it's not all quite as pessimistic as it sounds – a recent report actually found that independent record labels now represent nearly 40% of the recorded music market share across the globe, an increase from the previous year and a sign that maybe the major label's monopoly of the industry could be in a slow decline.
But even still, we don't need any reports or statistics to tell us that UK independent music is still on top form. These shores still happen to boast some of the finest DIY labels around, all exquisite tastemakers in their own right - despite the lack of colossal marketing budgets or an arsenal of A&R reps. In fact, here’s five…
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Art Is Hard // WEBSITE
Art Is Hard is a Bristol-based label who are currently celebrating their seventh year at the forefront of DIY guitar music. When they formed the label back in 2010 they had no idea they were planting a seed that would see their own scene form around them - finding themselves slap-bang in the middle of a new wave of guitar bands that would go on to include the likes of Joanna Gruesome, Best Friends, Gorgeous Bully, Birdskulls, The Black Tambourines, Flamingods, Bloody Knees and many more.
Art Is Hard has worked with over 100 artists with an unmatched creative approach and relentless, hard-working ethos. Alongside countless cassettes, 7"s and 12"s, they've also put out music on all kinds of weird and wonderful formats like t-shirts, glow in the dark records, flexi-discs, postcards, cigarette cartons, pizza boxes – you name it, they've almost-definitely done it.
New releases include the Oliver Wilde offshoot Oro Swimming Hour and the woozy lo-fi pop of their debut LP, slacked-out garage gems from Mush and a new single from Brighton grungers Birdskulls amongst many, many more.
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Big Score // WEBSITE
Big Score may be an extremely new label with virtually no online presence but don't let that fool you, they happen to be home to some of the UK's most sought-after musical mavericks.
Their first release was the sleazy, ramshackle punk of Bristol's LICE and their The Human Parasite 7". Next came two of the finest in that oh-so-mythologised ‘South London Scene' – Peckham's YOWL and their glum alt-rock noir and the sadly now-defunct Dead Pretties, revered for their riotous live show.
Big Score's latest release comes from Liverpool art-punks Pink Kink - their debut 7" channelling a sneering, hyperactive mix of The Cramps and Bikini Kill whilst taking aim at themes of sexual liberation and getting stoned. If the trajectory of their fellow Big Score label-mates is anything to go by, you'll be seeing a lot of these guys in the future.
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RIP Records // WEBSITE
London-based imprint RIP Records was launched back in 2013 and since then they've gone on to demonstrate, without-question, their seriously impressive knack for unearthing the finest new talent. Previous releases include Phobophobes, Tangerines, The Pink Teens and an early EP from Blossoms – the latter now a household name, just missing out on having the highest-selling debut album of 2016 by, erm, Bradley Walsh in what might have been the funniest and least-expected music news story of the year.
Where the label truly shines though is their ‘RIP Introduces' series. With a new single released digitally every month, before all being compiled on to a 12" available to pre-order here, the first volume has just three more additions to go.
So far, highlights have included the feral, politically-charged post-punk vitriol of Hotel Lux, swooning and ethereal shoegaze bliss from Dama Scout and The Gametes – an Australian band who sound more like what I'd imagine The Fall would have conjured up if they found a home in 70s New York.
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Stolen Body Records // WEBSITE
Bristol's Stolen Body Records was brought into the world back in 2012 and, whilst being one of the country’s best DIY R'n'R labels and online stores, also happens to curate the annual Bristol Psych Fest.
Stolen Body's shtick is one of hedonistic garage-rock and face-melting psych, with a masterful track-record for rummaging through international waters to find the most innovative, fuzzed-out new sounds.
Stand-out releases from this year include Argentina's Kill West, their sophomore LP channelling a warped head-heavy mix of King Gizzard and Moon Duo, scuzzy-as-hell skate punk freak-outs from Parisian Dr. Chan and a superb 45 from garage-rock grrl gang Ghost Car. That barely scratches the surface though, Stolen Body's roster is packed full of so many gems it's genuinely hard to keep track.
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Odd Box Records // WEBSITE
Cardiff label Odd Box Records is a true linchpin of UK independent music. Before relocating from London to Cardiff last year, the label – helmed by Trevor McCabe – used to host regular events in London, including the famed Odd Box Weekenders.
Having retired from putting on shows, Trev now directs all his energy to the label and running a beer and record shop, Pop'n'Hops, in Cardiff. The label itself deals in all things DIY - be it indie-pop, punk, power pop or just straight up rock'n'roll, have a dig through their back-catalogue and I promise you'll find something to fall in love with.
Since launching back in 2009 Odd Box have put out over 120 releases, working with an incredibly vast array of artists including C86 legends The Wolfhounds, DIY punk-pop bigshots Martha, The Manhattan Love Suicides, Nervous Twitch, The Darling Buds and SO many more.
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Words: Jack Palfrey
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