Why indie record labels still matter

by DGO Web Administrator

Independent record labels continue to be the lifeblood of cutting-edge music. Forget the big-name labels and the artists dying to be on those labels. The important sounds, the timeless stuff people will write about and remember all have been birthed by small labels. Hell, even Sun Records, with its notable lineup of Cash, Presley, Lewis and Perkins, was an indie.

They are the time capsules that document small scenes in cities everywhere, founded by fans and musicians eager to boast about and proud to showcase whatever their “underground” scene may be.

Some have formed and gone away, others purchased by major labels and more have hung on, despite existing in a society where people think art should be free. But it’s not free, and the indies are the farm-to-table restaurants of the music world while the major labels are the places serving up $5 bowls of endless pasta.

Let this be the first column in a series that honor the indies, many which are well worth the attention.

Like Bloodshot. The Chicago-based label has led fans down a long, dark path into a drunk- and degenerate-filled, musically-rowdy world of what people now call “alternative country” for years. Discovering the early Bloodshot releases of The Old 97’s, The Sadies, Moonshine Willy or The Waco Brothers, if you were willing, led to discovering more titles and scenes older than you that you ignored most of your early life. Many associate the genre of “cow-punk” with Bloodshot.

Founded in 1994 by Nan Warshaw and Rob Miller during a time when angst-driven guitar rock was making its way into living rooms, other bands in Chicago were chewing up what is now called “Americana” and spitting out their version of roots music in punk clubs.

“We were part of a scene that was embracing more country and bluegrass,” Warshaw said. “But it was certainly within the punk rock underground scene, playing in the same dive bars around town.”

Their roster continues to include Jon Langford and the Waco Brothers, angry country musician Robbie Fulks, Lydia Loveless, Barrence Whitfield, punk banjo player Al Scorch and countless others worthy of an ear.

Support of any indie label, whether it is a start-up in a dorm room or a 22-year-old outfit that has stretched beyond its geographical boundaries, continues to be a valid pursuit of art. Many of these labels are formed not only to buck normal trends, but to document important work.

“We got into this because we were absurd music fans and couldn’t help ourselves and had the fortune of being able to keep doing this for years and work for lots of great artists,” Warshaw said. “Once punk rock kind of got co-opted by the major labels and grunge had become a major commodity, we were looking for the next kind of music that spoke to us that was intimate, and personal, and dark. When we found these bands that were playing the same clubs we knew and were doing something new and different, it was exciting.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].


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