The 10 Best Indie Labels Outside the USA

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About this time last year, we did a roundup of our favorite indie labels from around the US, which stirred plenty of healthy debate in the comments section and was also a lot of fun to put together. With the debut album by Australian garage nostalgists Royal Headache out this week, we thought we’d revisit the idea for labels from outside the US (and Canada, just because we’re pretty sure everyone is as familiar with labels from north of the border as they are with local labels). Royal Headache are on a Sydney label called R.I.P Society, who’ve put out pretty much nothing but goodness for the last couple of years. We’ve collected some of our other current favorites from around the world after the jump. Note: we’ve tried to focus on more contemporary/lesser known labels, which means no Rough Trade, Mute, 4AD, etc. And of course, there’s bound to be innumerable indie labels out there that we don’t know about, so do feel free to give us suggestions — nicely — in the comments.

R.I.P Society (Australia)

Key acts: Royal Headache, Naked on the Vague, Zond

As with many labels, R.I.P Society was founded as a way to put out its creators’ own sounds — founder Nick Warnock used to play in excellent Sydney band Circle Pit, whose debut 7″ would become R.I.P Society’s first release. Since then, it’s grown into Australia’s foremost home for sounds dark, intense and non-mainstream. The Royal Headache album is their biggest commercial hit thus far, although not entirely representative of the label’s sound as a whole — for that, try the Zond track above.

Blast First Petite (UK)

Key acts: Factory Floor, HTRK

A sub-label of a sub-label, which is pretty much as niche as you get. Blast First Petite was created as an offshoot of the now-defunct Blast First, which itself was an offshoot of iconic UK label Mute. Blast First was founded in the mid-’80s to provide UK distribution for the work of US hardcore bands, but Blast First Petite’s sound is far more skewed toward dark, industrial noise — their key act is London trio Factory Floor, and they’ve also released music by everyone from atmospheric techno pioneer Pan Sonic to Suicide’s Martin Rev and Alan Vega.

Labrador (Sweden)

Key acts: Acid House Kings, Pelle Carlberg

If you’re like us, mention of Scandinavian music conjures up images of melancholy and perhaps slightly twee pop — Kings of Convenience, The Concretes, José Gonzalez and, of course, the mighty Jens Lekman. If you’re partial to such sounds, then long-running Swedish indie label Labrador is the place to get your fix — they’ve been one of the key labels for Sweden’s burgeoning indie pop scene for over a decade.

Commmons (Japan)

Key acts: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Boredoms, Yellow Magic Orchestra

Founded by visionary Japanese pianist and sound artist Ryuichi Sakamoto as a “project … to find new possibilities for music, while making meaningful contribution to culture and society,” Commmons (the third “m” is for music, apparently) has put together an impressive roster of local talent — in addition to Sakamoto himself, the label has released music by Boredoms, Yellow Magic Orchestra, OOIOO and plenty of others, as well as handling local distribution for a slew of excellent overseas labels. (PS: we have no idea what’s going on in the above video — our high school Japanese isn’t really up to the task — but it appears to be Sakamoto, in a silly wig, talking about the history of jazz. Which is clearly all kinds of awesome.)

Hyperdub (UK)

Key acts: Kode9, Burial, Hype Williams

The leading light of cerebral (ie. non-Skrillex) dubstep for nearly a decade now, Hyperdub is still the place to hear the most interesting and innovative examples of the genre. They’ve been diversifying of late, too, recently adding Brooklyn ambient songstress Laurel Halo and somber London/Berlin duo Hype Williams to their roster.

Bureau B (Germany)

Key acts: Qluster, Tarwater, gazillions of amazing reissues

We stumbled across the joys of this Hamburg-based label a while back via a couple of reissues of solo albums by Harmonia founders Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius. It turns out that Bureau B are sitting on a treasure trove of kosmische goodness — they’ve put out 180g vinyl reissues of albums by Conrad Schnitzler, DAF, Faust, Cluster, Michael Rother and pretty much every other genre luminary you can name — and they also have a fascinating roster of contemporary artists.

Invada (UK)

Key acts: Beak>, Anika, Gonga

The suddenly ultra-prolific Geoff Barrow’s label is the sort of scattershot indie imprint we love — as the man himself told us recently, there’s no real signature Invada sound, just a whole lot of music that Barrow likes. This has always been our favorite sort of label — like having a hyper-knowledgeable and well-connected friend with awesome taste in music who occasionally hands you a record and says, “Here, you’re gonna love this.” In Invada’s case, the result is a label that encompasses everything from doom metal to futuristic electronic music, along with a heap of Barrow’s own projects.

Sensory Projects (Australia)

Key acts: Lost Animal, Children of the Wave, Love Connection

Similarly eclectic is this long-running label based in Melbourne, Australia. Run as essentially a one-man operation, Sensory Projects has had a decade-plus run of pretty much uninterrupted goodness. If there’s a common thread to be found among the label’s fascinating catalogue, it’s probably what could be described as “atmospheric psychedelia” — sounds gentle and unobtrusive but also immersive and moving. But there are also plenty of records that do — such as the debut album by Lost Animal, which, as we mentioned in our end-of-year round-up, was far and away our favorite album of 2011.

Tri Angle (UK)

Key acts: oOoOO, Holy Other, How to Dress Well

Oh, so you enjoyed our feature yesterday on dark electronic music? Welcome to the motherlode.

Tigersushi (France)

Key acts: Joakim, DyE, amazing compilations

The French do dance music very well indeed, and Tigersushi’s roster mines a quintessentially Gallic strain of DFA-ish hypercolor indie dance sounds. Also, they’re the label responsible for the glorious So Young But So Cold: Underground French Music 1977-1983 compilation, which exhumed a heap of amazing French post-punk and coldwave, and totally deserves a place on your shelf if you’re in any way interested in minimal wave/darkwave/synthpop/etc. Their More GDM compilations are pretty great, too.