Vanguards of Creativity
Top Experimental Record Labels
By Luis Antonio Miguel
In 1964, bandleader, engineer and electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott released his groundbreaking album Soothing Sounds for Baby, a collection of minimalist, structurally experimental compositions for electronic keyboards that heralded the advent of ambient music over a decade before the likes of Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno were major players in the musical scene. The record did poorly on the charts and, like most of Scott’s electronic pieces, gained a public audience only through licensing to cartoons and IBM radio spots. Today, the album and artist have a widely dispersed audience of thousands. If Mr. Scott were alive, he would be surprised to see the loyalty of the fans that his experimental works have generated.
What has changed between then and now? In addition to a contemporary culture whose artistic sensibility favors the alternative and avant garde, technological advancements have made it possible for experimental music-makers to connect to listeners eager for something far outside the mainstream. With the internet, musicians are no longer limited by geography. They are able to market and distribute their music to individuals across the globe.
Today’s musical experimenters are more autonomous than ever, an advantage made possible by the availability of software synthesizer or home recording platforms like Logic Pro and FL Studio. Their creations are normally classified as electronic, New Age, ambient, space music, trance, house and Chill-out. However, many of these artists play with form and arrangement to a degree that makes it difficult to formally categorize them. These musicians are supported by a group of record labels that value creativity above popular appeal. These labels act as vanguards and fomenters of contemporary musical integrity. The following list consists of the top five experimental music labels. The labels on the list earned their spot because in addition simply selling cds, they serve as digital gathering centers for the musical community and offer invaluable information related to their selected genres.
Groove Unlimited is the child of Dutch synthesizer musician Ron Boots. Boots has been making music professionally since 1986 and is a leader of the third generation of electronic musicians. He founded Groove in 1990 as a way to improve access to his own recordings, as well as those of his peers and predecessors. Groove is dedicated to all forms of electronic music: ambient, melodic, Berlin School, space music, retro. The catalogue, which consists of Groove exclusives and acquisitions from other labels, comprises more than 2,000 titles. Groove artists include Gert Emmens of the Netherlands, Nattefrost of Denmark and Cadenced Heaven of Bangladesh. The label also distributes albums by more well-known artists like Klaus Schulze, Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream.
Regular Publication? Groove Unlimited has a blog, but it is scarcely updated. You can also sign up for a weekly newsletter related to Boots’ podcast, Dreamscape.
Podcast? Yes. Ron Boots hosts a weekly podcast titled Dreamscape, which plays music by the likes of Vangelis, Mike Oldfield and select Groove artists.
Accepts Demo Submissions? Yes. See Groove’s prospective artist page for submission guidelines.
Electronic musician David Wright launched AD Music in 1988 as a distribution vehicle for his recordings. The label expanded when Wright partnered with Robert Fox to form ambient group Code Indigo; Fox merged his own label, FX Music, to AD and thus grew the company’s catalogue. The leaders of AD Music coined the term “Evolutionary Ambient” as a way to classify their eclectic repertoire, which they describe as “electronic, experimental and esoteric.” In addition to Wright and Fox, notable artists on the AD label include folk-influenced Steve Orchard, New-Age luminary Bekki Williams and space-music duo Enterphase.
Regular Publication? AD Music has a regularly updated blog that details album releases and concerts.
Podcast? Yes. AD’s unique two-hour radio show, “Zero Hour,” airs every Tuesday. A podcast is available for every show in case you miss an episode.
Accepts Demo Submissions? Yes. See site for demo submission guidelines.
GLM provides a diverse collection of world music that appeals to a variety of tastes. The majority of GLM artists use acoustic instruments and ethnic styles. GLM runs four different labels, each with a different musical emphasis. The “Fine Music” label offers a pleasing blend of jazz, pop, folk and orchestral; artists include German acoustic quartet Quadro Nuevo and violinist Martina Eisenreich. “Impulso” showcases artists who fuse reggae, latin, soul, funk, ska and rock. “Edition Collage” features the lively modern jazz music of Mind Games and Hugo Siegmeth, among others. “Dinner Music” consists of rhythmic, mellow instrumentals with pop and orchestral elements.
Regular Publication? GLM sends a quarterly newsletter that highlights their latest album releases and artist information.
Accepts Demo Submissions? Yes. See demo page for submission guidelines.
Basta specializes in preserving the works of the pre-1970s forefathers of experimental music. It acquires and releases obscure records by artists who exhibit quirky and playful musical tendencies. Established artists whose works have been rereleased by Basta include Moog synthesizer wizard Jean-Jacques Perrey, orchestral composer Andre Popp, Space-Age band-leader Juan Garcia Esquivel and the great Raymond Scott. The contemporary roster features groups like Dutch electronic ensemble Schnauzer Radio Orchestra, the legendary and eccentric Metropole Orchestra and melodica player Martin Fondse.
Regular Publication? Basta features a regularly updated blog.
Accepts Demo Submissions? Basta Music has fluctuating space for new artists. To find out if Basta is currently accepting submissions, write them at their contact page.
Ghostly is an all-in-one source for original alternative art. Since its inception in 1999, Ghostly has faithfully served the experimental pop/techno community. Besides its record label, Ghostly operates an art gallery, music publishing company and clothing design service. Major artists on the Ghostly lineup are hip-hop fusion DJ Dabyre, synth-wave innovator Com Truise and Denmark-based orchestral-pop band Choir of Young Believers.
Regular Publication? Yes. Ghostly allows you to subscribe to its “semi-regular” newsletter, which features updates, news and offers.
Podcast? No. However, Ghostly International offers a music service via drip.fm through which you receive every new Ghostly release, along with bonus tracks and behind-the-scenes access, directly to your email address for a low monthly fee.
Accepts Demo Submissions? Yes (via Soundcloud only). See Ghostly International’s submission page for more information.
Give the above sites a visit to experience the best of modern-day musical experimentation. If you are a musician, send a demo to become part of the innovation.