The History of Warp Records

1987 seemed a strange year to open an independent record shop. The charts were full of Stock, Aitken and Waterman production-line pop and the music papers' the arse end of the jangly guitar C86 non-event. For Warp records in Sheffield and it's owners, two self-confessed 'indie kids', Steve Beckett and Rob Mitchell, there was one saving grace. A section in the racks devoted to the nascent sounds of Chicago and Detroit house.

It seems strange now that early house so alien in the late eighties now that its beats and electronic beeps soundtrack family car ads. But back then the badly pressed primitive sulphuric soul of Trax records, the new mo'town sound of Detroit techno and the bass heavy beats from Canada's Big Shot seemed otherworldly. Mysterious, anonymous grooves like the raw 'Acid Tracks' of Phuture, the machine soul of 'Nude Photo' and Mr.Fingers sublime 'Can You Feel It' created a word of mouth revolution as the north went acid. Meanwhile in That London rare groove still ruled the dancefloor.

In 1989, inspired by the independent success of several British artists, Warp records the shop planned to become Warp records the label, a home for home-grown talent. In Manchester 808 State had created Newbuild an acid album as fresh and exciting as their Chicago peers. Also involved in this recording was one Gerald Simpson whose 'Voodoo Ray' soundtracked the summer. It was as dark as it was uplifting. Underground but chartbound. In the capital Baby Ford and Bang the Party were also emulating the Americans with much success.

For WAP 001 (the first Warp Records release) Rob and Steve tried, but failed, to secure the signatures of four Bradford teenagers who had mixed Detroit with Chicago, hop hop with ragga. And on top of the brooding bass heavy fusion: bleeps. Unique 3's 'The Theme' was truly underground, a subterrain sound that Steve and Rob even heard at Blues parties mixed with reggae and hip hop.

The early Warp releases, housed in deep purple generic sleeves, furthered the bleep ethic. Sweet Exorcist's 'Testone' was as Sheffield as steel, the creation of electronic pioneer Richard Kirk from Cabaret Voltaire and influential acid DJ Parrot. Sat above the Warp shop Rob and Steve would A&R their label by hearing the bleeps, bass and beats through the floor, rushing downstairs whenever something caught their ear. Nightmares on Wax were signed when George Evelyn entered the shop hoping to sell his white labels. As Beckett recalls, 'He played "that track" that evreyone was mad about' and was duly signed with 'Dextrous' which entered the top 40.

Winston Hazell, who's Forgemasters graced the first Warp release Djed at the Sunset Boulevard in Huddersfield. Rob and Steve frequented the club and heard DJ Martin play some tapes which consisted of funky drummer breaks and stomach-winding bass. They were made by his friends who called themselves LFO. Their eponymous debut (WAP 005) outdid its predecessors creatively and commercially selling 120, 000 copies. Not bad considering Beckett remembers the indie distribution of the time consisting of "spliffheads wandering around warehouses".

The supporters of bass and bleep - DJ's like Fabio and Grooverider - took the sound into hardcore and then drum'n'bass. Warp turned left again, away from the dancefloor…

Artificial Intelligence introduced the best British electronic artists around. The sleeve featured a robot toking on a spliff surrounded by copies of other classic headphone albums 'Dark Side of the Moon' and 'Autobahn'. At a time when lazy journalists believed there were no personalities behind this machine music Warp put together an enduring squad of talent.

The aesthetic and concept of Artificial Intelligence proved the 'way in' for countless indie kids who feared the anonymity of white labels. They have been devoted ever since to the labels' electronic mavericks: the likes of Aphex Twin, Autechre and the Black Dog.

With a solid history and fanbase Warp could now establish itself as an artist based label extending its tentacles into avenues other than the electric. Leading the charge was Sabres of Paradise' techno Clash, followed by Red Snapper's live drum'n'bass, Squarepusher: the bastard son of jazz and rave and the one Parliament of Jimi Tenor. All very different but somehow all very Warp. Quite an achievement.

1999. Ten years on from the purple sleeves, the bass, the bleeps and Warp are having their most exciting time ever. Boards of Canada cast a huge influence over the years electronic releases. The Aphex Twin's 'Window licker' - a three year old track that sounds three years ahead of it's time - inspired Chris Cunningham's most salacious film to date. Squarepusher has been approached to work with the London Sinfonietta Orchestra (he declined). Plaid have released their best album yet and the Brummie axis of Plone and Broadcast will both make their debuts this year.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary Warp have asked like minded souls like Surgeon, Spiritualised and Stereolab to remix the back catalogue. It is a tribute to the stature of this independent label that the artists approached were (a) delighted to be asked (b) reduced their usual fees out of respect (c) probably asked for the entire back catalogue, cos it's good, like.

Used by permission by Mike from